Jackie Chan Eat Your Heart Out
I can't get it out of my head. Our hour's kickboxing lesson was the best fitness experience I have had (bar skiing down a black run, but they are hard to find in Central London). Emily and I had a private beginners lesson at The Martial Arts Place, a super cool dojo in Swiss Cottage. Although kickboxing isn't strictly a martial art it does obey some of the rituals– we began each new move bowing and saying the Japanese word 'uso' (pronounced 'uss'), which means 'understood', a clever technique for bringing your mind into focus. the lessons are great for overall fitness (aiming to develop your fitness, flexibility, strength and body tone) but above all it is fun. I have never been told to punch the living daylights out of anything before. Excellent for any latent anger issues and cheaper than therapy. And unlike Pilates and Yoga, you are guaranteed to be in a sweat by the end. I was smiling for at least 24 hours; it certainly does reach the parts that no other regular exercise class seems to.
EMILY: I love Strictly. I love the tacky glitz, the perma-tans and fixed smiles, the sense the world may be collapising, but if Brucie is still on prime time TV it can't all be bad. I love how the contestants improve too. Anita Dobson is plainly not a natural dancer but by the end of the series she wasn't half bad.
In the growing old gracefully stakes, losing oneself to the rhythm is not a good look. My children cringe with embarrassment at family festivals when mum starts rocking. It's time to learn to waltz. I don't want to do it in a flashy way - I just want to be able to float around. Plainly this involves finding a partner who can whirl me. In the absence of my other half, I signed up for a taster session with Nick at the Karen Harding School of Dance.
We start with a waltz. Nick explains the basics, the correct hand position and the ‘look over the shoulder of your partner’ gaze perfected by Strictly competitors. ‘One two three, one two three’, we are off round the room. Nick is very good. I am not – but he’s making me feel as though, with a little practise, I could do it. I look at Sandi’s pictures and he has made me bend quite gracefully.
My half hour introductory slot is soon up. I am hooked though; and am signing up to a programme of 1:1 private sessions and technical group lessons. Blackpool here I come!
Karen Hardy Studios
Imperial Wharf, SW6
tel 0845 567 1155
ANNIE: My ballet class is held in the Mercury Studio in Notting Hill, in the prestigious,
though slightly scruffy, original Royal Ballet studio. You can feel the history: there are wall-to-wall mirrors and different-height ballet bars and students all with their hair in buns. In preparation for my first lesson since I was eleven I had bought myself a pair of Bloch satin ballet shoes. ‘Oh, and wear something tight,’ Allessandro says. Everyone is wafer thin and dead serious. Mine is not a remotely ballerina-like sight. As we launch into the first bar exercises, all the French names – plié, battement tendu – come flooding back but I feel like Dawn French in the hilarious French and Saunders Royal Ballet sketch (youtube it).
The first bit of the hour and a half lesson is held at the bar; Allessandro, our lovely Italian teacher, goes round correcting positions and commenting. Whilst my friend has perfect
poise and balance, I have ‘wonderful’ toe extension. I am hanging on to that compliment for dear life until some skill kicks in. Ballet seems to be all about pulling in your gluts and
tummy muscles, stretching yourself to be as tall as you can, and living in the music. We are lucky enough to have live piano for the lessons. The delightful Daria is Bulgarian and from a bygone era (nipping upstairs to have a fag from time to time) and transports me more than the actual ballet into my childhood. She plays more slowly at first, then with gusto once we have got the hang of a particular exercise. You can copy your neighbour with the bar work. Once it comes to the floor/dance work, you have to concentrate a bit harder and the dancing in pairs diagonally across the room is still excruciating after week four. The time flies by. We curtsey lavishly to our teacher and to Daria and I leave feeling a foot taller, care free, and privileged. I have since bought a more appropriate pair of black cotton ballet shoes but I still stroke my satin ones from time to time.
ANNIE: Always on the look-out for ways to shed a few pounds and tone up this find takes a bit of effort but results are almost as instant. Away for the summer from my Pilates class I needed to get into a routine to prevent muscles going soft.
Not having the willpower to do a full hour of exercise, I looked into short cuts. By doing a few of my regular exercises, I could double their effectiveness (and more importantly halve the time I needed to be doing them), by using a power plate. Similar to the branded Power Plate found in lots of gyms, my BSlimmer machine was simple to get the hang of. Lunges (excellent for glute muscles), arm stretches (to correct bingo wings) using the stretchy handles attached to the bottom of the machine, planks (great for core muscle strength) could be done easily on this machine. The constant vibrating movement then does all the rest. It is perfect for busy mums who don’t want the commitment of joining a gym class, and who can only snatch a short time to exercise. Make sure you do exercises that are familiar to you; or, better, get in a trainer to talk you through the best exercises. And watch those pounds go and those muscles tone – all in the comfort of your own home.BSlimmer Vibration Plate £180 bslimmer.co.uk
Pay as You Go Fitness
There is a new way to get fit with pay-as-you-go fitness, yoga and pilates classes – and one-to-one training – at the gorgeous new Lomax Bespoke Fitness centre in Chelsea. I love the pay-as-you-go aspect as I find having a gym membership is on a par with sitting in a taxi in a traffic jam: expensive and pointless.
I tried out the personal training in the light gym and was put through my paces – cycling, weights, balance and boxing. Work your socks off in the gym and then you can treat yourself to a spa treatment just along the corridor. The spacious spa of 5 rooms offers a range of treatments: I had a zen-like facial. There are plans for outdoor workouts in the summer. Then downstairs for nutriitious meal, coffee, smoothies to eat at large social table or take away.
Lomax Bespoke Fitness and Wellbeing 293 Fulham Road SW10
0871 512 0770
I didn't want to like Grace Belgravia. It sounded smug. A women-only member's club off Belgrave Square, it promises to make you feel the best you ever have, inside and out, through every stage of womanhood. But, as we were shown round its gorgeous light filled spaces, treatment rooms, fitness studios, library, restaurant I felt my resolve weakening. Yes, it is expensive (£5,500 p/a), but you will be getting access to the best practitioners in health and fitness, not to mention its exclusive on-site medical centre. And a calm, creative haven in the middle of London. If I had the cash I'd be signing up.
11c West Halkin street, SW1X 8JL from membership enquiries call 020 7235 8900
Don't be under any illusion that the fitness class held in the beautifully carpeted, mirrored room with elegant barres is anything other than an extreme workout. I joined my first class this morning. I have been going to the gym once or twice a week since January and thought I was fitter than I had been in years but ten minutes into the Barre class I thought I was going to have to put up my white flag.
It was exercise where you raise up onto the balls of your feet whilst dipping your knees, holding in your core that did it for me. I am writing this account today because I am sure I will be pretty sore tomorrow.
The class is divided into three: warm up (including those dips), barre work and then mat. The essence of the exercise is the use and fatigue of tiny muscles in your body. \'Shaking is good,\' Esther, owner and teacher of BARREtoned assured me. By the end, my body feels a foot taller than usual and energised from the stretching.
I asked the other ladies how they were liking it. 'My body changed shaped within a month', 'it's addictive, I come five times a week'! The new client special pack is excellent: £130 for a 30-day unlimited classes.
It is ideal for all body types and all ages; you should be able safely to do it while pregnant (but ask your doctor first).
Annie: I think the only fitness class my mother has ever attended was to one run by a woman called Lotte Berk in Fulham. In about 1970. In my head, it makes Joan Fonda sound cutting edge. So when I read that the new Barre toned craze was based on Lotte Berk’s methods I was intrigued.
I turn up for my first class in Notting Hill at 7am on a Tuesday morning. I put on my special socks and go into the studio. A ballet barre lines the mirrored walls. The tiny Esther who is taking the class has a microphone to talk to us over the music as we do our warm up routines. Very low impact, it is all about small movements, stretch and hold. I do a bit of pilates and don’t feel totally out of my depth. It hurts though. “Good Emily, great shaking” says Esther as my muscles scream against me. We move on to the bar. I am no ballet dancer and grip on for dear life. Crouching in what I think is a plié with a ball between my legs, it’s not a look of elegance. After a bit we are back on the mat for some stretching. I like this better. The hour flies by and as Esther gathers us all into a calming yoga prayer pose at the end, I feel it must be a good way to start the day. The following morning I can hardly move.
A week later I go back to do it again with Annie for our photos. I think it is a bit easier. And tiny Esther tells us her baby is only 11 months old. She has the strongest abs I have ever seen and says this is the only exercise she does.
They are currently offering an introductory offer with unlimited classes over a one month period for £130. It is going to be my Back to School fitness resolution.
BARREtoned, 12 Chepstow Road, W2 5BD 7229 8668 barretoned.com
Over the years we have tried out many exercise and fitness classes. Here is a round up of the best.