There’s a notion that unless you’re sprinting like a maniac on the treadmill, burpeeing to infinity or deadlifting your bodyweight plus your weekly shop, you’re not working hard enough in the gym. Barbells, box jumps and leap frogging your gym buddies all undoubtedly lead to fitness gains, but you don’t need to up the impact to achieve lean, mean results. Strength derives from many sources; hardcore weights and hopping about don’t have the monopoly on muscle. We even have it on good authority that only partaking in particularly ‘aggressive’ exercise isn’t necessarily the healthiest option in terms of maintaining overall wellbeing, as nutritional therapist and co-founder of Wild Nutrition Henrietta Norton indicates:
“Exercise and movement help us to release ‘happy’ hormones called endorphins, but it can be best to avoid more vigorous exercise such as intensive spinning, fast running or HIIT if you are going through a very stressful time, or suffer from fatigue. These types of activities tend to further over-stimulate the adrenal glands. Instead, try low-impact activities such as brisk walking, swimming, a barre class or yoga. These ‘calmer’ kinds of exercise are more likely to put the nervous system into a desirable parasympathetic state; away from the more ‘panic’ or anxiety-inducing mode of the sympathetic nervous system.”
Before you flop into savasana, a calmer style doesn’t by definition mean that you won’t be attaining definition, by any means. Check out the latest muscle and brain engaging classes, along with tips from the experts on how to get the most out of low impact, non-weighted workouts. Prepare for abs of steel, the balance of a mountain goat and the flexibility of a slinky. Maybe.
When I say no weights, I’m not excluding bodyweight, or you know, gravity. Bodyweight resistance makes for a killer workout without equipment, but adding apparatus can accelerate the fun. Boutique London class based gym Frame this year launched Gliders, a dynamic, high intensity but low impact workout that uses slippery ‘discs’ attached to feet and hands to make lunges and the like more challenging. At 30 minutes it’s a short session, but your core will get a roasting in a way that’s tricky to achieve via machinery or static weights.
If you can’t make it to Shoreditch to have a slide around, Frame’s impressive roster of classes has a comprehensive labelling system, so that you’re clued up as to the impact and intensity of each class before you go along, you’ll know precisely what you need to bring, what you’ll be working and for how long, and whether you’re likely to get excessively sweaty. There’s even a ‘forgot your kit’ kit available to borrow if you turn up without leggings et al. In addition Frame offers one of the best pre and post natal services around, with low impact yoga, pilates and general fitness classes, and a two different Mums Clubs at different levels of intensity. Plus, if you are keen to master flawless form when using weights, workshops such as Frame Lift Technique (8th and 15th of October) will furnish you with all the skills you need for solo and group weightlifting, in a safe and seriously efficient way.
With a recently opened studio in Bristol and an upcoming site in Leeds, Barrecore locations are expanding along with their low impact but leg shaking repertoire. The latest ballet based brainchild of founder Niki Rein and her expert team is a resistance band powered workout that isolates muscles and works them to trembling exhaustion, without the risk of injury of over egging it. In fact, the resistance bands used during a challenging barreSCULPT class (can vouch for the fact that it’s a burner) actually serve to improve your technique, but the faster than usual pace does mean that to book in, you’ll need to have signed up for three regular barreMIXED classes beforehand in preparation. The speedy, butt firming results are worth it though, and you’ll find normal barre classes a relative breeze after a sculpting session. If you’d like to road test it, sign up for a barreSCULPT class this Sunday 2nd October and the barrecore team will lay on a brunch spread afterwards, and if I’m not mistaken it includes some bubbles. Nice touch.
Hydro at Virgin Active
Given the swimming pool medal haul we tend to pick up at Olympic Games, there’s possibly something in these here British waters, along with a huge surge of talent, training and Lottery funding of course. To capitalise on our swimming forte, Virgin Active has just launched Hydro , a high intensity group water workout developed with Speedo and trainer Dan Bullock. With Rio medallists Siobhan O’Connor and James Guy overseeing the press launch, the workout improves endurance, cardiovascular capacity and strength, all in a weightless environment, so it’s the ideal type of training to seek out if you’re recovering from injury or don’t want to put pressure on your joints. From speed and distance drills to swimming with training aids and a coach at your side, this isn’t your average resistance class. If you need some spurring on to get into your swimmers, Dan Bullock has a word or two of encouragement:
“Researchers from Speedo found that swimming for 30 minutes was just as effective as an hour of land-based exercise, so you get the same result in half the time! It is also recognized as one of the best full body workouts, developing shoulders, upper pectorals, arms, glutes and calves. The limited oxygen intake also ups your heart rate, so in short, you’ve got a tough fat-burning workout that develops all of your most important muscles as an added bonus.”
See on the diving board in Tokyo then.
Xtend Barre Stick
From Olympic inspired swimming to wielding a stick, low impact exercise is nothing if not diverse. This barre class with a twist reminded me of waterskiing when I went along, and Xtend Barre London founder Catie Miller assures me that there’s method in the unusual concept:
“Xtend Barre Stick is my favourite type of workout to build strength without using weights. The stick is attached to our barres and has an elastic band inside. Using a band creates enough resistance to sculpt muscles and build strength, yet has little to no weight to it. When you work with a resistance band you are able to perform more reps and maintain proper form easier. You are also able to work the positive and negative force of the push/pull action therefore getting a more effective sculpt in a faster amount of time.”
While Stick is not recommended for first timers (it’s probably the toughest workout on offer at the Xtend barre studio), barre and similarly low impact workouts can be particularly motivating and effective if you’re a fitness fresher, as Catie explains:
“Anyone can benefit from this style of workout, but it’s most beneficial for participants new to exercise. This less stressful workout is doable yet the results are real and fast. This keeps them coming back for the long term, and long term is the ultimate goal of working out; it should become a lifestyle.”
As for technique improving classes such as Stick, mastering the moves initially is fundamental to any workout regime. Catie underlines that going hell for leather isn’t always the answer:
“Workouts are not as effective if not executed properly. Listen to your body and perform what you can with good form. As you continue to build upon each workout you will do a little more to improve day by day. The most important thing is to listen to your body, if something hurts, stop, try again and move on.”
Wise words from the stick wielding lady.
Fitness First SoulBody Barre
Another US barre import, Fitness First’s partnership with SoulBody is ideal if you’re after a boutique barre experience but can’t make it to London, as it will soon be rolling out nationwide. Whether you opt for the regular barre class or Barre Unhitched, which uses a 3 kg or 4 kg weighted ‘free bar’ (so technically weights here), expect to sweat. Movements are slow, controlled and seamless, eliciting jelly legs at relatively regular intervals, and for high impact fans there is a plyometric cardio burst section to add on, but modifications are clearly demonstrated throughout so that you’ve got a suitably stimulating alternative. Described as a blend of interval training, yoga and dance, it’ll tick a lot of boxes no matter where you’re coming from fitness-wise.
Not a new phenomenon per se, but expert trainer Jess Schuring’s Heartcore studios are mushrooming across London for a reason. The signature Heartcore workout is gentle on joints but by far the toughest reformer class I’ve tried, and the same goes for the Heartcore breed of barre (think small groups, one-to-one tutoring and masterful attention to detail). Jess and the team have also just launched a second Notting Hill studio offering such low impact class additions as Ride (low-lit spinning in a chilled yet energetic environment) and Yoga. In a particularly harmonious move, Ride2Tone combines the two, so that you can incorporate low impact cardio with strengthening, rebalancing stretches. Get in quick to enjoy a free Ride or Yoga class at the new Notting Hill studio on Saturday 1st October, with a complimentary healthy refuel provided courtesy of local Farm Girl Café.
Ten Health & Fitness #MoveBetter Campaign
Incorporating five classes that can be tailored to your body and fitness preferences, a comprehensive 60 minute body MOT for clients and a 60 minute sports massage, the MoveBetter block devised by the Ten Health & Fitness team of trainers and physiotherapists is designed to get your body moving as it should, which unfortunately isn’t a given in today’s desk/sofa based society. Obviously investing in a realigning, strengthening programme such as this will pay off dividends where physical performance is concerned, but new Move Better classes such as Pilates for Cyclists and Pilates for Runners will allow you to target common sporting niggles and recover from injury like never before, under the guidance of the pros (incidentally Ten’s Trainer Education programme is tip top). The #MoveBetter campaign is about more than just hands on contact time, however, as the team aim to change thinking around exercising and working out, focusing on quality rather than intensity. Think ‘prehab’, not ‘rehab’, and a concentration on our overall health and wellbeing, not just burning fat as fast as humanly possible. You know the saying about slow and steady…
Want to pick up some weights but don’t know where to start? Check out these 5 weights based classes that’ll teach you the basics