FUNday FITsporation: Navigating London’s gym scene to find out what works for me

Happy Sunday everyone 🙂

My latest post on my relationship with exercise got me thinking just how important is to listen to our bodies and take our own interests into consideration in order to find what exercise actually works for my mind AND body. I’ll also be giving a shoutout to some of my favourite classes in London, which some of you may feel interested in trying yourselves 🙂

My mentality with exercise used to be that it was only effective if it was very hardcore- but when I took a long break from it and attempted to jump straight back into rigorous forms of physical exercise, the effects of becoming so sedentary for so long hit me harder than ever before. I remember it quite clearly, I took a body pump class at my local PureGym and 10 minutes in felt like I was going to pass out/vomit/go into a full on panic attack mode. After that I preceded to do other classes such as Step and Spin- all which started to give me the worst after affect even though I completed full sessions- migraines.

I have suffered from quite severe migraines since I was around 17, but I never found that exercise had any bearing on triggering them. I became so frustrated with this- it was like I was being punished for trying to be ‘healthy’ (intentional quotations, please read my previous post for my explanation on this as I don’t want to go on a tangent). Sometimes the migraines after exercise were so bad that it would lead to vomiting.

After doing a lot of research online, I discovered that a potential and reasonable explanation was that while exercise could decrease migraine regularity, a period of inactivity leading back into fitness could actually trigger them.

So I started thinking it was time to listen to my body- time to think about what I enjoy and what relaxes my mind 

I guarantee anyone who suffers from migraines can empathise with me on how f**cking debilitating they can be. Naturally, the discovery that exercise was triggering my migraines was a scary thought.

Was this going to happen forever? Was I doomed into having to accept 24 hours of pain in reaction to any form of movement I decided to partake in? 

But around the time I started to find self-motivation to become fit and properly healthy for the right reasons , I also started to change that go hard or go home mentality I was desperately clutching onto when it came to exercise.

Thinking about it, I never actually enjoyed spinning, running or bodypump- I just signed up to these classes because I thought they would be fastest way to burn fat. And perhaps that’s true but wanting quick results for the sake of a number on the scale, only to fall back into old habits once the number is acceptable by the media’s standards, it’s not healthy. That was why I was doing it. There’s nothing wrong with liking these exercises FYI- I’m just saying you should do them because you want to and it’s what makes you happy.

Exercise shouldn’t be a chore- it should make you happy! 

I get it, and I get it more than most people do- sometimes the thought of doing nothing seems so much more appealing than sweating it out and getting your heart pumping. Especially when you live in London in Winter, when you often find yourself waking up and going to bed when it’s dark.

But there’s no denying that exercise is wonderful for the human body, and with all the stress factors going around in our chaotic modern world it not only gives us some much needed endorphins, but it can helps us ground ourselves from our own minds.

 

As I discovered with my migraines, however, not all forms of exercise are wonderful for everyone. I also don’t have great knees, so I need to be cautious with exercises such as running- which I don’t even enjoy to begin with.

The only form of high-intensity cardio I ever really enjoyed was dancing and Zumba, but it was hard to accept that I would need to be cautious with those classes as they too triggered my migraines.

But like anything in life, you have to give it a try, see what works from you and work from there 

So after dabbling in a variety of classes and trying different instructors (they make all the difference in how much you enjoy a class as everyone has a different approach that works better for some than others)- I have found the classes that work best for me and try to plan a routine each week that integrates those exercises.

And so I have taken advantage of London’s wide variety of class options, mainly thanks to ClassPass. These are the classes that I enjoy the most:

 

Reformer Pilates

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I really credit reformer pilates for helping me get my groove back. I had tried mat pilates before, but never felt particularly connected with it.

Then I tried the reformer, and try to build my exercise routine to include at least 3 sessions per week. For those who don’t know, the difference with the reformer is that it is a bed-like machine with springs (for resistance) and straps that allow you to perform a variety of dynamic exercises.

I find that reformer pilates has really encouraged me want to become stronger, and to become much more aware of my posture, something I really took for granted. I work at an office full-time, often slouched over my chair working on a screen. It wasn’t until I started reformer pilates that I realised just how out of touch I was with my body. Every time I’d do a move the instructor would have to come over and completely distort my body into the correct position. It is so easy to naturally fall into a habit of not thinking about how we sit or stand, but it is amazing what a difference it makes when we connect our minds to our bodies and become aware of how important it is to look after our posture.

I really needed to, and still am, retraining my mind to automatically activate my body into the right position- whether I’m standing or sitting.

Beyond correcting your posture- reformer pilates give your body an amazingly liberating stretch after each session, but it also really activates your core and allows you to become stronger by improving your endurance. You will discover muscles that you didn’t even know you had!

I always go for two studios for reformer:

Ten Health and Fitness

Ten ain’t cheap, but it’s worth every pence in my book. The instructors are highly qualified, and even when the sessions are fully booked (no more than 10 students per session), the instructor will always actively engage and check in with you. I started doing reformer last year but still opt for beginners sessions as I am listening to my body and I know it’s not ready for intermediate yet.

Don’t be fooled though, beginners is still challenging and you’ll get a good workout from it.

The beginners classes are advertised even for people who have no fitness background- and that was very appealing to me when I first joined as the foreign machine was pretty frightening from afar. However, my first session, I remember the instructor greeted me in reception, explained how everything works, and constantly checked in with me and corrected my posture throughout the whole session. Even though there were several us in the class, it felt like a one-on-one session (and the instructor still made sure to look after all other students in attendance).

The more I have gone to these beginners sessions, I have found that different instructors have different methods. Some instructors have a much more hands-on approach, where they come up to you and physically assist you in getting your body into the right shape. Others have a much more self-awareness approach- in which they explain to you how your body should be positioned so you can engage yourself in the right posture. You also may find that as you go to the same instructor, with the same students, the instructor will make the exercises more challenging even at a beginners level.

I have to admit, with the exception of one disappointing experience at their Fitzrovia branch (the teacher was a bit of a douche), every other instructor I have had has been nothing short of lovely, friendly and encouraging.

 

Bootcamp Pilates

I’m kind of on the fence about this one- not because I don’t love the class, but because when I compare it to Ten Health the experience is drastically different.

I also have taken a fair amount of beginners classes at Bootcamp Pilates sessions.

Of course, you can expect this to be more intensive as it has the word ‘bootcamp’ in it after all.

The sessions are much more intensive, and we do a lot more challenging exercises that I have yet to be see attempted in a Ten beginners class.

The instructors have also all been lovely, but that being said, it is far less engaging. I have hardly ever had an instructor come up to me and aim to get me to get my body into the right posture (and I doubt it’s because I’m doing it right all the time).

I do it enjoy it nonetheless, but am glad to take it in combination with the Ten classes where I am getting a much more personalised approach.

Also, if you’re a complete beginner with little endurance, I’d highly recommend trying Ten first to ease you into it.

 

Dancing 

I love dancing- it’s a passion that I have carried with me from a young age. I am by no means a professional, not even an intermediate, but I love it ferociously and have immense admiration for it as a profession.

I find it beautiful, mesmerising, and for me dancing is simply art coming alive.

After I started easing into my exercise routine, and increasing my endurance abilities, I found that I could once again dance without having to automatically assume a migraine would proceed.

Two of my faves in London are:

Seen on Screen

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The beginners sessions at Seen on Screen are advertised for those with two left feet- so this eased my nerves before I embarked on my first session. SOS is a dance studio that teaches routines inspired by the music industries most iconic Divas- such as Beyonce, Ariana Grande, and Brittany Spears.

Oh, and yes, the class is named DIVA.

Expect a lot of hair whipping, booty popping, chest pumping and completely body empowering moves. I find this class really fun, and yet again, challenging even for a beginners class.

I feel like a badass after each session and who wouldn’t want to walk away feeling like one after exercise?

 

The London Dance Company 

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Zumba at LDC is nothing short of an hour of fun aerobic and salsa movements propelled by a kick-ass soundtrack. Coming from Latin America, Zumba and it’s accompanying soundtrack always manages to fill we me with heart-warming nostalgia.

It’s simply fun, and the hour whooshes by.

Only reservation is that the class I love is mainly held at Zoo Bar in Leicester Square, so space is quite restricted and the class gets very busy.

However, the class is so fun I can easily let it slide!

 

Another class that I am really recently dabbling with is Barre, in particular the Signature lite class at Barrecore.

 

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Yet again, another beginner class I take that should not fool you by being a beginners version, it’s still a good workout. I’d done the regular one before and found it too strenuous at my current fitness level, so the lite version is much more suitable for my level while also improving my physical health.

 

And even once you find your routine and what works for you, don’t be afraid to try something new…

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Last week, I decided to give Cardio a go at Ministry does Fitness after some encouragement from a coworker. I’ll admit- I was quite apprehensive. I looked it up online before and it is essentially a high intensive interval class with 7 different stations. Then we arrived, and my heart sunk more when I saw what looked like the least sexy version of Dorian Gran’s 50 Shades of Grey kink room. Treadmills were lined up against the wall, there was a massive truck tire, loads of weights, and incredibly enthusiastic instructors.

Then, the class started, and I made it. I made it through the whole session. And you know how I made it through this session, which was much tougher than the body pump session I attempted over a year ago as my local PureGym? Well, of course part of it has to do with the fact that I am in much better shape. But a bigger part of it has to do with the fact that unlike that infamous Body Pump session- I listened to my body. No, I am not in shape to flip a tire so I’m not even going to attempt it. I don’t enjoy running and it’s bad for my knees, so I am going to take it steady on the treadmill. And whenever I felt like my body couldn’t take it anymore in a certain position- I didn’t let it take it anymore. There is a difference between challenging yourself and torturing yourself, and I’m over torturing myself.

Unfortunately, however, I had a migraine after the class. Whilst it was gone by the next morning (thank goodness), it got me thinking that such an intense class is very different for what I am used to and I was feeling quite off that day in general, and didn’t eat well- I need to make sure I take extra care of myself if I am to attempt such classes as of course I don’t want to be getting migraines.

Tomorrow, I am trying it again. Because despite the migraine, I did enjoy the class and going with a friend made it much more enjoyable and less intimidating. I’ll make sure to eat and drink well tomorrow and see how I feel after the class, and well if I get a migraine again it isn’t the class for me!

 

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