In the past few years, in line with the rise of wellness among young professionals, London’s boutique fitness scene has boomed. From furious boxing classes to Barry’s Bootcamp sprint sessions or Boom Cycle’s spin singalongs, we’re all quite comfortable walking into dark rooms, alongside to 20, 30 or even 40 other people, and sweating off our workday.
But now, there’s a new concept that seems to be rapidly gaining traction: the personal training group class. Commonly thought of as two notions inherently at odds with each other – after all, isn't personal training meant to be all about me
? – they tend to consist of small groups, usually less than 10 people, working out together in a group setting where they can receive more direct attention from an instructor, without the hefty and often inaccessible pricetag of a private PT.
Among the studios specialising in this approach is Outrivals, tucked away just off Old Street roundabout, which despite being available through ClassPass and offering drop-in sessions and member bundles, still seems to fly relatively under the radar. Keen to find out how a small group training actually works, I headed down for a chat with Head Trainer Josh Ward who, while he was at it, put me through one of their ‘Body MOTs,’ a 1:1 session offered to all new clients during which fitness levels are assessed.
Full disclaimer: Before arriving at the studio I was nervous
and distinctly regretting my decision to be the office guinea pig – admittedly not the first time that’s happened. Despite (perhaps too flatteringly) considering myself relatively fit, there’s something about the idea of being assessed that just doesn’t induce calm. Walking in to find a session in progress didn’t immediately assuage my fears either: although few in number, these people looked strong.
Within a few minutes, I felt more reassured. True to their promise of bridging the gap between PT and boutique studio, the first difference I noticed compared to other class-based studios I've attended was a much more personalised approach to individual goals, as well as an interest in what I already liked doing. As I was suffering from the residual effects of an ankle sprain at the time, having an ‘any injuries’ chat that felt more comprehensive than just “don’t do the tuck jumps” was reassuring.
As for the actual MOT, it consisted of me doing exercises relating to different body areas, progressing to harder moves once the first stage was ticked off. Fast forward to the end of the session and Josh was able to advise me on exactly what classes would benefit me, when to rest, and – with an unexpected degree of honesty – which classes not to bother with. Somewhat depressingly, he also made it (politely) clear which ones I’d struggle in.
It was obvious that there was a real sense of community to these classes. Everyone seemed to know each other, while the staff – even those not directly teaching a class at that point – bantered with customers throughout. It was clear that attention to detail was key; adjustments were constantly being made and instructors pushed participants to use heaver weights where they felt they were capable, in a way that is often not possible in bigger classes.
In the ladies changing rooms – where towels are provided but the sleek rose-gold-and-spa aesthetic we’ve come to expect from boutique studios isn’t – women chatted in a way that you tend to find less in bigger studios, where people tend to talk to the friends they came with, rather than making new ones. Admittedly, the whole vibe is a little grittier than other studios, but I guess that’s where you make the trade-off for a more personal experience without adding too much cost.
Outrivals is, of course, far from the only studio offering such a service. The Foundry, which has studios in Vauxhall, Bank and Old Street, offers ‘semi-private training’, where classes are capped at four people, but this service is available to members only. Similarly, LDN Fit Club offers a semi-private PT class of four people, with 2 classes per week costing £280 per month.
Although my love of a thumpy Kobox class will probably never fade, the sense of community and focus on tweaking your posture to make sure you’re doing things ‘just right’ felt important, and I can totally see where the appeal for these kinds of classes comes from. After all, how many times have you walked into a group class that’s usually packed and silently cheered when it’s half empty?
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