Micro-gyms – bijou and characterful – are a far cry from the impersonal mega-gym behemoths. From SoulCycle, an intimate and intense cycling workout by candlelight, to Chaise23, a fusion of Pilates, aerobics, strength training and ballet for a select few, small classes are big news.
And while the micro-gym trend is booming in the US, particularly in LA and NYC, London is hot on their heels with the arrival of Barry’s Bootcamp on Euston Road, Barrecore on the King’s Road and Boom! Cycle in Shoreditch – which is where I find myself today…
After a 40-minute trek across London – a workout in itself – I reach the studio, which is tucked away in the quirky backstreets of the capital’s hipsterville, in the bowels of an industrial-looking building.
I descend the stairs to the basement, with its graffiti walls and concrete floors, where Hilary Gilbert – a model turned fitness guru and founder of the centre – greets me. She explains that when she first moved to London from New York she realised how difficult it was to find places offering indoor cycling in a boutique club setting – with the exception of KX and The Third Space – so she decided to launch her own facility offering expert-instructed indoor-cycling classes.
Classes have been designed to suit a range of needs. BodyBoom! is a cycle session combining upper-body and core-strength training, which involves moving small hand weights in a choreographed pattern; Turbo Cycle is an intense class aimed at increasing fitness and endurance; Hip Hop Ride is “a tough ride with even stronger beats”; Disco Cycle is a high-energy session to disco music under the gleam of glitter balls; and Boom! Cycle offers hardcore cardio.
I opt for the Boom! Cycle class. When I ask what to expect, Hilary says: “Great exercise, fun, brilliant music – all in a group atmosphere that still lets you maintain individual control over your workout. The class you are doing is our very own brand of kick-ass cardio across flats and up hills.” She then goes on to say how the business is really growing and has a cult following – so much so that they’re now starting to look into individual fitness training, with metabolic exercise testing (MET) and programmes tailored to the individual.
I enter the large studio, which is so dark I can barely see anything. I just about make out the Schwinn AC sport bikes, surrounding mirrors, glitter balls hanging from the ceiling and a DJ booth. I sidle up to my pearl-white aluminium machine, which I recognise from my class at Equinox, ready to commence my 45-minute session with instructor Dennis Ball, who is waiting on a mini-stage ready to direct the class.
He immediately makes me feel comfortable, even though I am a newbie among five regular Boomers (not a bad turnout for a Monday mid-morning class). He explains that we will start with a very comfortable cycle on low resistance at a speed of about 85 RPM, as shown on a little screen on each of our bikes. Sitting on his own bike facing the class, he demonstrates what we should do and encourages us to follow his lead.
The music starts off quite chilled, with an upbeat Hôtel Costes-style mix, at about the same noise level as in a nightclub. As the beats kick in, my adrenaline starts to pump.
Dennis tells us: “Never let a teacher come over and change your resistance for you; you should always be in control.”
After about five minutes of medium-speed cycling, I think it doesn’t seem so bad… until the instructor explains that this is just our warm-up. “If you feel comfortable, turn your resistance up a notch.” I do so, and feel my legs having to work harder. I begin to build up a sweat.
The music changes to Ibiza-style club music; our bikes virtually vibrate with the loud beat, but this makes us spin faster and work harder. We follow Dennis’ lead and at a continuous speed of about 100 RPM we begin a hardcore routine of standing up on the bike for 30 seconds and sitting back down in the saddle for 10 seconds: up-down, up-down in short, sharp bursts, which works our legs and bums. I feel as if I am at some sort of cycling rave.
After 10 minutes we sit back down and slow the pace, cycling at a steady 65 RPM. I use the moment of calm to take a much-needed swig from my Boom-branded water bottle.
Just as I catch my breath, Dennis instructs us to cycle as fast as we can for two minutes. With the help of the high-energy club mix, I manage to reach 160 RPM without my legs spinning totally out of control.
We then slow the pace slightly and begin another routine of standing up on the bike (as if we’re going uphill) for 30 seconds, then sitting for 10 seconds. As I stand, I grip the handlebars to distribute my weight and steady myself as I pedal hard at 85 RPM. Dennis counts down from 30 seconds. I feel my legs getting wobblier and wobblier while waiting for him to say, “Two, one, zero and back down on the saddle”. Sweat is now covering every inch of my body; I can feel a real burn through my thighs and calves, as well as my abs.
Before I have time to dwell on the pain, Dennis shouts, “Ok, up again, another 30-second standing session”. The whole class is huffing and puffing now and I have to rest my elbows on the bike’s bars to gain control and take some strain off my legs. This part of the class really takes it out of me – yet the fun and high-energy atmosphere makes me want to keep pedalling.
At the end we step off our bikes and do some stretching. I have to lean on the bike to stay stable, my legs are so wobbly. But still – it’s a great end to the class.
I wave farewell to my trusty two-wheeled steed, pack my little bag and go back to Belgravia where I belong.
The bottom line:
This is a fun, hip and effective class. You are not pushed too hard, it’s up to you to set the resistance level that suits you – unlike Barry’s Bootcamp, where they can take the drill-sergeant attitude a little too seriously.
The atmosphere is charged to say the least and the music deafeningly loud – so much so that you can only hear snippets of the instructions – but on the upside it is totally distracting, which makes time fly. I also appreciated the mood lighting: I didn’t have to see my red and sweaty face reflected in the mirror.
Boom! Cycle delivers a killer workout that burns serious calories and gives a major endorphin rush. If you go with friends, it might even feel like a night out – in a weird way. With 33 packed classes a week, it’s no wonder they are introducing a new series tailored to the individual. I’ll have to come and try it out. Well, perhaps if it weren’t on the wrong side of London…
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, therapies and accommodation.