At-home HIIT: is it worth the workout?

How do apps and Zoom classes measure up to the fitness-studio experience? Flora Macdonald Johnston puts four to the test

Flora Macdonald Johnston takes to the mat
Flora Macdonald Johnston takes to the mat

I am unashamedly a workout fanatic. I am obsessed with Barry’s Bootcamp – the cult chain of fitness studios where, bathed in the signature red lighting, you power up inclined treadmills while instructors yell at you to increase your speed. I like the Australian version, F45: 45 minutes of circuit training with no breaks. More recently, I’ve become addicted to Boom Cycle, which describes itself as a “high energy, party-on-a-bike experience”. Think SoulCycle but without the candles and chanting. 

And then… Well, we all know what happened. But over the past month, the titans of the gym industry have been slowly adapting to an era of at-home workouts. Many are offering their clientele personal training sessions or classes over Zoom. Barry’s Live Red Room sessions launched last month, Boom Cycle will even deliver a bike to your door, and new workout apps are on the rise. Do they match up to the real deal? I gave four a go. 

Barry’s Bootcamp, Live Red Room

I had high expectations for this bodyweight HIIT class, and was not disappointed. I joined via Zoom, where around 18 others had also buckled in for the ride. “It's an abs and ass day, team!” cheered the instructor with glee as a thumping high-energy playlist boomed in the background. It was a gruelling session: three rounds of exercises, all finishing with heart-raising burpees. At one point, I stopped to stand as a squat hold started to burn. “Do not stand up, Flora!” came a shout from my laptop. I winced, wondering how the instructor had even seen me, and returned to my wobbly position. By the end, my thighs were on fire, my body ached and I had worked up a sweat. I was impressed, and found the call outs to class attendees to be a successful alternative to real-class interactions. If HIIT isn’t for you, there are also weight classes and Pilates bands. In typical Barry’s style, if you buy a bumper pack of 30 classes, it must be completed within 30 days. Live classes from £12; barrysbootcamp.com

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H+Performance, HIIT class

Personal trainer to CEOs and television stars, Henry Ives has relaunched his website since lockdown with a Zoom-focused training plan. There are 16 classes to choose from each week, as well as nutritional guides and healthy recipes, while Ives continues to offer one-on-one sessions across the ether. I logged on for an afternoon HIIT class, which immediately felt more lighthearted than the Barry’s session. The class consisted of four rounds, focusing on all parts of the body while elevating our heart rates. Each round had three individual exercises on rotation – from bear crawls to squat jumps to bicycle crunches – which made the class interesting (and painful). I also found the level of engagement to be particularly good. Manoeuvres were demonstrated before each round, so I knew exactly how I should be working my body. Then Ives, watching us all on screen, critiqued individuals on forms and gave words of encouragement. It felt intimate and, most importantly, was a great workout. Zoom pack, £160 per month; personal training sessions, £299 for eight; hplusperformance.co.uk

Shreddy App, Fat Loss programme

The bubblegum-pink and lemon-drop-yellow branding of the Shreddy App suggested it might not be for me – and logging on only confirmed this. Peopled with women in pristine matching workout sets, the app feels geared towards a certain type of body ideal – the peachiest of peachy bums, abs that look as if they’ve been painted on. The app itself, however, is fairly impressive. After choosing your subscription, you’re asked a series of lifestyle questions before setting your goal and ideal outcome. I chose the Fat Loss series: five weeks of tailored workouts combined with daily meal plans (to my surprise, a peanut butter and jam bagel is allowed at breakfast – although only on Wednesdays). The first workout focused on the upper body and told me I needed dumbbells, bands and a mat (luckily I had these to hand, but this might be off-putting for newcomers to at-home workouts). The session was comprehensive, with plenty of tricep dips, push-ups and planks. After five circuit rounds, I felt pretty good. On the downside, there’s no voiceover to give you tips and no music for that added “vibe” – and with a series of beeps signalling the last five seconds of each exercise, it’s slightly difficult to follow. £9.99 per month; shreddy.com

Third Space, Live PT 

London gym Third Space is renowned for its impeccable high-tech facilities and quality trainers. As a colleague of mine once put it: “It’s the Rolls-Royce of gyms.” Two weeks ago, it updated its app for members, introducing a range of Zoom classes and personal training sessions. I opted for the latter and was paired with Seb James, PT and fitness manager of Third Space’s newest – and most swanky – location in Islington. The day before our Zoom call, James asked me to photograph all my equipment so he could tailor our workout; this was already a step up from other workouts I had tried. James did not let me slack for one minute as I held positions until the muscles of my legs and arms burned. The final round of four exercises I had to finish in a faster time than the previous set. It was utterly brutal but great. And with the constant chit-chat and critique, it really felt like I was back in the gym. “Do you miss the gym?” I asked James, as I did the cool-down stretches. “I don’t actually miss it as much as I thought I would,” he says. “My clients and I still maintain relationships over the computer; we can talk and banter, and I can still see their progress. For me, it’s really working just as well – with the added benefit that I don’t have to commute.” Membership from £170 per month; personal training from £35 for an online session; thirdspace.london

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