amid flashing strobe lights at a SoulCycle class in Notting Hill, our instructor MJ stands on a platform, his baseball cap flipped back and his facial hair trimmed into designer stubble, looking like he’s straight out of a boy band. “I’ve had a bad day and I didn’t want to come to work,” he says softly through his headset. “But I’m so glad I did because the energy brings me to life!” Everyone around me – women between the ages of 25 and 35, all dressed in one-shoulder casual clothes – roars in response. “Sit up straight, don’t let anyone make you feel down,” continues MJ. “You are all legends, don’t let anyone judge you!” I pause to catch my breath after yet another manic burst of energy cycling on the spot. Then we have to pick up dumbbells while on stationary bikes and do a choreographed workout to a Taylor Swift song.
This special Swift-themed class will take place on Monday evenings at 8:30pm and at the same venue First Lady Jill Biden and Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty attended a spinning class together after King Charles’ coronation in May – reportedly with 10 guards in tow. I feel a little out of my depth. I’ve been looking for my lycra leggings for two hours and I’m totally unfit. Aside from walking my dog, I haven’t really exercised since 2017, when I tried eating clean and working out intensely at the gym for a few weeks. But now I’m ready for SoulCycle’s “unique mind-body-soul experience”.
This jump back to exercise is inspired in part by the black comedy of Apple TV+ Physically, which returns next month for its final season. It’s about a housewife played by Rose Byrne who battles her demons and a cruel and self-critical inner voice while finding solace in aerobics. Could it also work for me? Is exercise the answer to my endlessly spinning mind? Would it serve as an instant slingshot into a world of empowerment and success?
Everyone in this class knows the words to every Taylor Swift song blasting out of the speakers. “Now drop everything/Meet me in the pouring rain,” she sings on “Sparks Fly.” “Kiss me on the sidewalk / take the pain away.” But all I can think about is the pain I’m currently in. We have special shoes on that click into the pedals of the bike, so it’s not easy to untie yourself. But soon I become grateful for it: being super glued in this class means I can’t give up so easily. As MJ says, “No struggle…no progress”. It doesn’t matter if you can’t move the wheel on the front of the SoulCycle bike, or if you’re kicking it like a gazelle; if you’re sweating and panting, you’re part of this love-in. And wow, it feels great.
I’m not alone in loving it, and some of my fellow riders were here even before, for “part one” of a lesson modeled after Swift’s setlist on her current US tour. (Each class costs £26, while an extendable pack of four is £86, or eight for £160). It’s a little piece of joy I didn’t know about as I sat at home snacking in front of my laptop and gained weight. As I leave the SoulCycle studio and walk into the night, I take a deep breath. It feels good to be back in the saddle, even though my legs are like jelly. I have to ask my friend to drive me home because I’m not sure I’ll make it on foot.
There are a few reasons why I haven’t been to the gym, or even the occasional relaxing yoga class. Having children alone has been an intense journey. For years, my idea of exercise was holding a baby or chasing two kids in a park with an unruly dog. But as I read a few different headlines lately (“Fit and Fabulous at 54: Jennifer Aniston Emerges from Her New Workout Class”; “Nicole Kidman, 56, Flashes Her Incredible Abs in Revealing Black Dress”), I felt a pang of guilt. These women are older than me but super fit. My five and seven daughters are both in school now, so there’s no excuse for being so inactive.
I had some blood work done and my cholesterol is creeping up. I’ve been told to give up sugar and start exercising. How can I be a good role model for my kids if all they see is me eating the chocolate rolls that are meant for their packed lunches? And where do I start with fitness? After the excitement of my Taylor Swift class, the idea of walking past my local Virgin Active feels mundane. I wonder if it would be easier to stay fit if I were super rich.
I can’t possibly afford the bespoke member-only gym Bodyism in London’s Westbourne Grove, whose clients include heiress Tamara Ecclestone. It caters to high-intensity, low-impact workouts, with premium packages costing £23,000 a year. More affordable, however, is their class membership – which costs £1,500 a year for 72 lessons and promises to help lengthen and strengthen the body. But it’s also full of the clean-eating squad – I might not fit in.
Then there’s London’s BXR, a boxing-themed private boutique gym set over two floors. From the street below, I can glimpse a huge boxing ring behind huge glass panels – a manifestation of the idea that celebrities feel like they’re living in a goldfish bowl. It’s also full of A-listers who get free guest passes when they stay at the luxury Chiltern Firehouse hotel opposite. Membership fees from £2,500 a year and up (a lot), and the Fashion editor Edward Enniful and fashion designer Julian Macdonald are apparently fans of BXR’s Versaclimbing – an intense, low-impact workout on a Versaclimber. This cardio fitness machine features a 75-degree vertical rail with pedals and handles that mimic the natural motion of climbing. When I hear that the machine burns up to 800 calories in a 45-minute session, I have the booking team on the phone in no time. Unlike treadmill or spin classes, it’s a full-body but low-impact exercise — meaning it “minimizes unnecessary stress or trauma to your body.”
At the state-of-the-art Repose, a wellness clinic in London’s High Street Kensington that includes members Made in Chelsea‘s Millie Mackintosh, the specialty is “anti-gravity fitness”. It may sound unusual to train from a silk hammock suspended from the ceiling for £40 a class, but sessions include pilates, suspension fitness, air bar and both restorative yoga and aerial yoga.
Models and celebrities, including Poppy Delevingne, are also lining up for personal training at E-Pulsive in London, which costs £85 per session. In the electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) class, you strap yourself into a full-body vest that zaps you with low-frequency electrical impulses to manually contract your muscle fibers as you exercise, increasing the intensity of your workout. It seems ideal for people like me who are too busy to work out but want super fast results – apparently a 20 minute EMS workout burns 500 calories and can produce the same results as a 90 minute intense gym class. It sounds heavenly.
Then there’s roller skating at model Liberty Ross’s glamorous Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace in West London or New York – the original 1970s LA Flipper’s was run by Ross’ father Ian Flipper-Ross, and became so associated with glamorous fitness it was dubbed “Studio 54 on wheels”. A one-on-one beginners lesson at the new skate school costs £50, or £35 in a group lesson of up to 12 skaters. Or you can just sign up for a general skate with your kids – that kills two birds with one stone as they have fun while you burn calories. A two hour skate session for adults starts from £15.50 and from £11.50 for children.
This all sounds great – but if I were to go for a training scheme of my choice, I can’t see it totaling less than £30,000 a year. Keeping in mind that exercise is addictive and makes you feel good, it can also be much more in the long run. It’s also a bit out of my price range – I don’t plan on going to Equinox at Kensington Roof Gardens or the Bulgari Hotel gym anytime soon. Instead, I see myself signing up for four workout sessions rigged with an electric current. Because why not?
If money were no object, I’d install a gym and Pilates studio in my own home, with a cryotherapy chamber and a personal trainer on tap. But until then I plan to go for a run with the dog, my two kids behind me on their scooters. It’s much cheaper and — unlike the late Taylor Swift class — you don’t need a babysitter.
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