Let me introduce myself. My name is Laura and two years ago, I couldn't remember the last time I exercised. I mainly dwelt on the sofa, doing stationary activities like drinking tea and reading books. What changed all this was the founder of Project Awesome, a free fitness class in London, encouraging me to attend a session. Had I been exercising alone, I wouldn't have returned but it was the sense of community, of finding people I liked and who encouraged me, that brought me back. The power of engaging people through shared experience and community cannot be under-estimated. It is the only thing that got me to Project Awesome week after week. Slowly, my levels of fitness rose so that next month, I am starting out on a 1249 mile run from Rome to London, which you can follow here, if you are interested.
Intrigued by this spirit of community-led free fitness, Vahan Hovhannisyan (the founder of Look Mate socks) and I, who met at a free fitness class, decided to test-run the best that London has to offer by attending different clubs every day of the week.
London City Runners - 7;15pm at Southwark Brewery near London Bridge
A 5k run along the river Thames taking in some of the big sights - St. Paul's cathedral, the Globe and the Golden Hinde, to name but a few. The slower runners set off in the first wave and the fastest in the last wave, so that everyone finishes around the same time together. The Brewery has a fantastic selection of beers and the post-run beer is an important part of the social scene that Tim, the founder, has created at LCR. It was because of this that Vahan met industrial designer, Nick Rawcliffe, and they decided to design a sock together which became the most iconic of Look Mate's socks.
London Midnight Runners - 7.30pm at 1 Pilgrim Street near St. Paul's
Most of the other things we attended felt like equal parts sociability and exercise and as a back-of-the-pack runner, this suits me perfectly. LMR is intense exercise and it definitely feels like it! It is essentially a moving bootcamp over 10k. Thankfully, because there is a stop every 2k and the group is big, you can never really get left behind. The group runs fairly fast and the exercise stops can be challenging. I did leave with a feeling that I had worked hard and earned brownie points. There are post-workout drink afterwards too.
Project Awesome - 6.30am at The Scoop near London Bridge
Project Awesome is probably the brightest, happiest, excessively friendly workout there is on the London scene - not surprising given that it was set up by one of the Independent's 100 Happiest People, Danny Bent. Newbies are welcomed immediately into the fold and the workout is styled so that you can push yourself to do more repetitions of the circuit or take it easy by doing less. The post-workout coffee and breakfast has an important place for the group and is not to be missed.
November Project - 6.29am at the Duke of York steps on The Mall
This free fitness movement was started in Boston, USA, and has since exploded and gone worldwide. Their workouts are based on short sharp bursts of running the steps, then around the block then doing exercises at the bottom of the steps before starting again. There is a good community feeling with music and constant encouragement.
Happy Bootcamp - 10.30am in various locations
As indicated, my love of exercise often comes from the sense of community I feel when working out and this group have definitely hit the nail on the head. The group leaders have a genuine desire to deliver free fitness in an accessible way. Thankfully there is a fair amount of banter to relieve the toughness of the exercises and plenty of partner work to help you get to know your fellow attendees. Afterwards, there is breakfast together in a lovely local cafe. Their vision is to bring one million people to Happy Bootcamps globally.
Parkrun - 9am in various locations
Whether you're smashing out an 18 minute 5k or pottering in at 40 minutes, one thing Parkrun does well is its mass appeal. These free 5k runs in parks all over the world have worked out a great formula for engaging people. Everybody is welcome - and I mean, everybody. Dogs, children, babies in buggies, OAPs - literally anybody can turn up at 9am on a Saturday and move themselves forward for 5k and they will be welcomed by the Parkrun world.
We had a great time visiting all of the above free fitness classes and have plans to return to all of them. At the end of the day, it matters little which you choose to attend and why, it's ultimately all about the people you will meet and the stories you will hear.