All workouts are not created equal.
Sometimes, a gentle yoga class or 5K run around our favourite bit of the park ticks our wellness box for the day.
Other times, we want to sweat. And grunt. And push our bodies to the next level with a challenge that takes us to new heights. Sometimes literally.
Of course, we’re not talking about going from couch-potato land to Olympic athlete levels of fitness from one day to the next. Rather, for those of us who are already athletically inclined, there are some seriously cool, intense and unexpected workouts to shake up a staid fitness regime or get new muscles working. Which offer other unexpected benefits, too...
Here are five of the most intense workouts we’re loving at the moment. You game?
Elevation: Hypoxic Chamber Workout At Third Space London
You may have heard that pro athletes head for the hills when they want to enhance their performance, but you don’t need to climb any mountains to get an altitude rush: just pop into London’s Third Space Soho gym, which boasts a hypoxic chamber that reduces the amount of oxygen in the air.
“One of the largest and best-known benefits from using a hypoxic chamber is the increase of red blood cells,” explains Third Space master trainer, Bobby Rich.
“Due to this increase of red blood cells, more oxygen and nutrients is able to be carried into the blood to the muscles. For a professional athlete, this is key as it will allow individuals to work at a higher intensity, thereby increasing their aerobic capacity. The red blood cells also carry away waste such as lactate quicker, therefore allowing the athlete to have a higher lactate threshold and to recover quicker.”
Even us mere mortals can benefit from training at altitude: that increase of red blood cells helps our bodies to become more efficient at transporting oxygen to vital organs and muscles, which can boost the immune system, improve blood circulation and also decrease high blood pressure.
According to Rich, the hypoxic chamber is also helpful for those suffering from fatigue or recovering from an injury.
“Because of the reduced volume of exercise needed in a hypoxic chamber, to achieve the same cardiovascular results you get in a normal environment you don’t need to stress your body or the recovering injury by enduring long workouts.” See you at the summit.
Flatline Workout: Gymbox
Now, considering Flatline is billed as “the hardest and most dangerous gym class in the world,” it’s pretty safe to say this isn’t a workout for the faint of heart. The 45-minute class - think weighted rope climbs, box jump burpees, kettle bell thrusts, 45-metre sprinting with ammo cans and atlas stone throws - requires participants to wear a 12kg weighted vest as they test their strength and stamina. Over and over again, five times in total.
“The way I describe it is that it’s for those people who want to put the hottest sauce at Nando’s on their chicken,” says head trainer Firas Iskandarani. No one has completed the whole class yet, but a handful of fit people usually manage the first round.
“The class is scale-able and the idea is to challenge yourself to achieve better each time,” says Iskandarani. If you’re looking to help improve your mental toughness, then this should do the trick.
And if it is all too much, help is at hand: there’s a sick station in the gym at Gymbox’s Farringdon site, as well as oxygen tanks, heart monitors and defibrillators (there are even on-site paramedics). Keen for the challenge?
Aerial Classes: Flying Fantastic
If you’re looking for a “a kick-ass workout that makes you feel like a superhero,” then you should probably run off to the circus. Or to one of London’s Flying Fantastic studios, where you can train on aerial silks, slings, hoops, straps and trapeze. Basically, this is a great one for making all of your childhood fantasies come true. But being able to fly is a lot harder than it looks.
“Aerial workouts are intense because you have to learn to hold and manoeuvre your whole body in the air to perform tricks and drops,” explains Flying Fantastic manager, Edel Wigan. “Even the simplest of moves requires the arms to fire up, core to kick in and legs to engage!”
For lots of people, pulling their own body weight up the silk is the initial struggle.
“This ‘grip strength’ comes from your hands and your forearms. These are muscles that we take for granted and don’t regularly use with such a load (our own body weight), so many beginners will notice tight or sore forearm muscles after a lesson. However, it’s such a rewarding experience to see those arms tone and the hated bingo wings disappear, that it quickly becomes addictive.”
Another tricky move? Turning upside down in mid-air in a controlled manner, which requires a strong core.
“There’s no strong like aerial strong! We get body builders and PTs, yoga instructors, fitness professionals and time and time again we hear, ‘I didn’t think it would be this hard! I’ll be back!’” says Wigan.
The fun of the workout is that there are constantly new tricks to master - and greater heights to scale (beginners start off about 10cm from the ground).
“There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush from an aerial drop, or the satisfaction of not only being able to do a pull-up in the air, but then being able to hold yourself there to turn your effort into something amazing!”
SHRED: Fitness First
It isn’t just the boutique gyms that have classes to make you break a (serious) sweat: just check out Fitness First’s SHRED, which combines high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with compound lifting (weights). This 40-minute class takes a specialist workout combining the disciplines of speed, high-intensity, resistance, endurance and dynamic and makes it accessible to everyone.
This class helps to improve strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. It also happens to be a killer. But your muscles will thank you.
The cult-indoor cycling craze that has devotees across the pond practically living in their SoulCycle and Flywheel studios to feed their obsession has a UK equivalent: Psycle London. Imagine a nightclub where you’re plunged into darkness as dance, rock and R&B music blares around you, so you feel free to go for the ride of your life - time and time again. This workout takes you through climbs, sprints and high-intensity intervals for a strengthening, toning and cardio workout that gets your whole body going. The truly hardcore can choose the 90- minute class for a double ride that will test your stamina - and possibly, your sanity, too.