Greater London may technically contain 32 boroughs, but in my mind there is only east and west – and which you choose defines and influences you, from the type of coffee you drink to the restaurants you go to and the clothes you wear.
And with spa junkies it is no exception. While the west Londoner (moi, quelle surprise), may spend her Saturday morning having her chakras balanced at Chelsea’s KX gym, the east Londoner will more likely be in a hard-to-find warehouse working up a sweat in a pair of ironic fluorescent leg warmers.
With a lunch date in the diary with my only east London hipster friend on her home turf, I decide to make the most of the trip and book in a class at Frame, a trendy micro-gym, for a high-energy workout. Frame is a dance and fitness studio with a reputation for having a fun, laid-back vibe and cult following – and with classes including Bend it Like Barbie, it’s easy to see why. But my inner west Londoner puts her ballet flat down and I opt instead for the signature Method class, which combines a series of isometric exercises using a ballet barre and Pilates ball.
Despite my sat nav, I get hopelessly lost en route. I finally find the studio hidden down a backstreet under some railway arches.
I enter through a large wooden door and find myself in a buzzing and ultra-cool studio. Music blares out from the room opposite and I glimpse a bundle of legs and arms waving in the air. On a quick wander through the facility I discover five studios, including the barre room, where my signature Method class will take place, the yoga studio, where weekly power yoga classes are held with a DJ, and a Pilates reformer space upstairs, equipped with top-notch equipment such as Schwinn IC Pro bikes and VibroGym machines.
After a quick stop in the busy changing rooms, I head into the studio where I’m greeted by my instructor, Brad, who disappointingly fails to resemble my all-time crush, but has an impressive dancer’s physique and the sort of haircut you only find in Shoreditch.
I collect a mat, a Pilates ball and some weights and wait as the class fills with eight regulars, who all know the drill. I pick a spot right behind an American girl with a derrière to die for – no doubt she’s a regular at Bend it like Barbie.
Brad turns the music up full blast before standing and facing us at the front of the room. He tells us to stand on our mats, take a 2.5kg weight, one in each hand, fully extend our arms down and lift the weights up 45°, while doing some squats. I can feel my upper triceps and quad muscles working. After seven repetitions we raise our forearms and flex them upwards at a 20° angle – first in quick pulses, then quick circular movements. My biceps burn, and I can feel beads of sweat pricking my skin.
We lose the weights and drop down for seven press-ups. My muscles are already exhausted after the weights, and I find it hard to hold myself up as I attempt seven shaky reps. Brad tells us to slowly curl into a downward-dog position, to stretch out before doing five more presses.
Next we lie flat on the mat, placing the small pink medicine ball behind our backs, using it as a support for sit-ups. We then introduce our arms and legs into the routine, stretching our legs up off the floor and outwards, and lifting our arms up straight above us. Then it’s time for the dreaded pulsing. I can really feel the burn in my legs and abs.
We flip onto our sides, each rolling the medicine ball underneath us so it continues to give support as we lift up our left legs and arms. The ball slips a couple of times from underneath me as I try to maintain control. I’m feeling rather uncoordinated next to the faultless Barbie in front of me. With legs raised and rib cages resting on the ball, we perform small circular movements with our limbs, first clockwise, then anti-clockwise. I can feel just about every muscle in my leg screaming. We repeat on the other side, swivelling the ball underneath us as we move, focusing on our core stability.
We are then instructed to manoeuvre the ball in a controlled movement from under our ribcages to under our bottoms. We lie over the ball, head and feet on the mat either side of it, facing up at the ceiling. We are told to lift our legs up while maintaining control of the ball. It’s a master class in core stability – to the rhythm of a Michael Jackson remix. But it proves too much for my brain and body to handle and the ball flies out from under me numerous times. Brad huffs at me, singling me out from the Flashdance mob, and holds my stomach as I lift my legs up in order to steady my balance on the ball.
We stand up, holding the ballet barre for support, position the balls between our thighs, stand on tiptoes, lock our heels together and squeeze the ball – like cracking a (large) walnut with our thighs – in a series of poses. “You must keep your heels together to get the most out of this exercise,” Brad calls to the class. I feel muscles I didn’t even know I had working in my thighs and calves.
To finish, we cross our hands over the barre and lift our legs, one by one, out to the side at a 90° angle, pulsing, holding, bending and stretching until my legs are shaking in distress. Once again, Brad, noticing my struggle, huffs and comes over to adjust my position.
We end with a final stretch and I hobble back to the changing rooms, aching all over.
I head out into maze of galleries and cafés that line the jumbled streets of Shoreditch and soak up the atmosphere. It may have taken me an hour to cross town, but I’m happy I did.
The bottom line:
Here is another trendy east London studio space with a class that really challenged me and tested the limits of my body’s flexibility and balance.
Bijou and intimate, this chic micro-gym eschews a focus on quantity of equipment (row upon row of same-branded elliptical and cardio machines) in favour of the quality of the workout. With personalised touches and a sense of community, Frame captures the zeitgeist with style and substance.
While predominantly a studio for dancers, the variety of classes and niche training options seem to keep clients excited and coming back for more – I for one vow to return to try Bend it Like Barbie. And next time I may just bring my leg warmers.
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, therapies and accommodation.