Gym? Fitness Centre? Studio? Crossfit? Park Runs? With an abundance of choice nowadays, it is super difficult to find the perfect ‘wellness sanctuary’ unless you know exactly what you are looking for! For those of us with experience, it is easy to quickly eliminate the underdogs and the wannabes. It is easy to identify whether the equipment is up-to-date and more importantly, whether there is enough of it. Is this a chill-zone for the yummy mummies who want to come and stretch their legs after their glass of green juice? Or is this a place where fitness gurus will come and throw some extremely heavy weight around until their hands are callused and their hair is soaked in sweat. By glancing over the list of classes and checking out the equipment, it is obvious whether your workouts are going to be group play-dates or whether you will leave feeling broken and satisfied. The general atmosphere and the opening hours can also tell you a lot about whether it is striving for a culture of fun or WERK.
But how do you choose? First, decide what your goals are. Is the gym going to be more of a social occasion where you can wear your best neon and mesh lycra? Or is it going to be somewhere you can go to put pedal to the metal and get absolutely shredded. Having lived in London for a couple of months and having explored a few gyms, I wanted to make some recommendations based on what I have seen and experienced.
Puregym is a 24-hour gym with locations based all over London and the UK. And for only £34.99 a month, you can be a member of all of them. This gym is probably what you would call a “budget gym” as it is no-frills and has all the equipment you need, but without anything fancy. They have all the most up-to-date cardio machines and plenty of free-weights, bars, squat racks, smith machines, etc. They have TRX at some locations and loads of dumbbells, kettle bells, mats and weighted balls. There is always a stretching area and plenty of free space to do your jumping lunges, burpees or whatever other bodyweight exercises you desire. You enter the gym using your unique pin-code, there are vending machines carrying Nutramino protein bars, towels, locks, and everything you need for your workout. Their vending machines even accept Apple Pay and contactless payment so no need to have a wallet with you. They have an app where you can sign up for classes and you can also do this on the online dashboard on your member’s page. Can you tell I’m a fan?
GymBox is part of the new wave of “super-cool” gyms. In my opinion, they are trying too hard to be cool and I found it really off-putting. Enter Holly; the overly-enthusiastic sales associate who tried to get me to sign up for a membership and then essentially harassed me for 2-4 weeks with emails, phone calls, texts, etc. In the end, I had to politely ask her to f*** off. The GymBox I visited had a really big weights area with a clear focus on lifting heavy. They had several studios for classes with trapeze equipment, trampolines, neon lights and all sorts of interesting hardware. They even had a boxing ring on one floor. Monkey bars, aerial equipment, TRX… it was like a circus. Oh, I must add that they also had a DJ so it felt like a night club. For some people, this is an absolute dream gym! But for me, it was too much. I prefer to pick a curator’s playlist on Apple Music, my personal DJ, and design my own workout session. I can see the appeal; it felt really fun, but it was too busy, too expensive (upwards of £65 a month) and I know that my busy work schedule wouldn’t allow me to truly get my money’s worth.
3. Fitness First
I have yet to try out Fitness First but I’ve got a free guest pass so I plan to visit their Covent Garden location this week. For those of you who haven’t heard of Fitness First, it’s a global chain with a focus on general fitness and heart-rate training. In fact, some of their classes specify what heart rate range you should expect to get up to. They also boast that they are the preferred choice of training facility for Team GB; the olympic athletes. They have all the most up-t0-date Lifetime Fitness cardio equipment and plenty of medicine balls, dumbbells, kettle bells and basically all the essentials. They also offer the most popular basic classes (i.e. Spin, Body Pump, Circuits, etc) but some different/more advanced classes too (i.e. Dance, Bounce, GRIT, HIIT). When I try it out, I’ll let you know more, but this gym could be one to watch. A membership doesn’t come cheap as it costs between £60-80 a month.
4. Dolphin Square Fitness Club
Dolphin Square Fitness Club is one of two gyms that I am currently a member of (yes, I’m a fitness freak) and it’s just OK. At £60 a month, it’s in the lower price range for London and some of the main perks are the pool, sauna and steam room. The cardio equipment is MAJORLY due an upgrade, I mean, majorly. The treadmills are the same ones I used back in 2009 when I was an undergraduate at the University of Glasgow. And don’t even get me started on the rowers. But I don’t use this gym to do cardio, I use it for strength training and HIIT. They have just updated their dumbbells and added an extra rack, thank god. They have EZ bars but no straight bars. There are never enough benches but it’s also rarely above capacity in terms of how many people are working out at the same time. The range of classes are excellent and they have three separate studios for spin, yoga and circuits-style classes. They also have squash courts and some outdoor tennis courts, which is a rarity in London! For these reasons alone, I would rate it quite highly. The changing rooms are always extremely clean and very spacious. With the variety of equipment, classes and instructors, this is truly a gym for beginners or the more advanced.
Frame is a gym I have yet to try out but I read a great article about the two women who founded it. My friend also raved about it and tried to persuade me to go to a class but at £15+ per class, I politely declined! This is your typical ‘Made in Chelsea’ gym for women who are celebrities, models or who want to feel like one for a day. If I’m paying £17 for a class, I better come out either 2 lbs lighter or with 2% less body fat! I mean, seriously, that money would buy me a month’s worth of protein. If you are seeking a class from an instructor who is extremely qualified and you already have a generally high level of fitness, this is definitely something for you to try. But at £110+ a month, you better have the salary of a celebrity too. You can read the article about the founders of Frame fitness here.
6. British Military Fitness
BMF is something I tried when I lived in Glasgow in 2007-2012. It was one of the most fun, and challenging, workouts I have ever done! You meet in a park with a genuine military instructor who brings tires, ropes, cones and essentially creates a military-style obstacle course for you to complete. We did everything from tire flips to hill prints to push ups, box jumps and a million burpees. The next day, I was in agony, which of course gave me a huge sense of achievement as I knew my body had WERKed! Today, I downloaded a free pass to try it out again in Battersea Park in London and I cannot wait. Outdoor workouts mean better oxygen flow and your body is training in a natural environment, which is so invigorating. If you want to try it, click here and find one near you. This is for the hardcore fitness lovers who want to be pushed to their limits. Oh, one more thing, it’s normally at 9:00am at a Saturday but don’t let that put you off, think of it as the best way to start your weekend!