As someone that writes about fitness, you might have expected me to have spent the past few months pumping bean cans in my bedroom and squatting in front of Netflix. In fact, the opposite is true. In a pattern I’m sure will be familiar to many, I kept it up for the first few weeks and then it tailed off, as I found myself saying “ceebs” more than not and choosing take out over tricep dips. Unsurprisingly, I’ve lost a fair bit of strength as a result – and I wasn’t exactly a tank before.
So when Chelesa’s KXU gym
invited me down to try out their new ‘Dumbbell Strength’ class, which for now replaces their signature but shared equipment heavy ‘The Games’, I was fully prepared to feel embarrassed. Not only am I in less than peak shape, but the Insta photo they used to advertise it featured a man who looks like he might actually eat dumbbells for breakfast. “You’re going to die” was the not so supportive response of my boyfriend.
Nonetheless, The Games – which features at Balance Festival every year – is a class I can’t get enough of, so I was confident this one would be equally creative. Plus, it gave me a chance to check out what new Covid-friendly hygiene measures KXU had put in place, something I’ve been enthusiastically hopping between studios judging for the last few weeks. And so, on a sunny Wednesday morning, I head down to get my strength training fix.
With touch-free temperature checks before you even reach the front desk, it’s clear from the outset that KXU mean business when it comes to staying safe. Screens run the length of the desk and shake bar, with socially distanced floor markers in place all the way throughout the studio and contactless water dispensers on hand. Dropping my stuff in the changing rooms – which are for now limited to five people, with a request not to use them unless really necessary – I pass five or six cleaners, more than I’d expect for a relatively small studio.
At the very start of the class our instructor, Will, sets out the hygiene pointers for the session, explaining that we need to keep to our individual floor marker, reminding us to keep our distance when getting weights out, and pointing out the designated area into which we need to put any equipment we’re done with, so that it can be deep cleaned afterwards. Oddly, I realise that this is the only studio in which this has happened so far and although I didn’t miss it in the others per se, it’s a reassuring addition.
Now to the workout itself. The concept is simple: four exercises with a one-minute rest in between each, for three rounds, and a ‘go heavy or go home’ mantra. Throughout each round you keep count of your total reps and try to beat it in the next one. Fortunately, Will added the caveat that ‘heavy’ means challenging for you
, and that the focus should be on form, offering 7kg-ish as a starting guide for the women and 12kg for the men. Just as I’m thinking that a minute sounds like a long recovery after just one minute of work, Will pipes up to say that if you’re feeling good to go after 30 seconds, you’re working too light. With that as a warning, we set off.
First up is a dumbbell hang clean and press, followed by alternating lunges. So far, so good. Then came my nemesis: push-ups into renegade rows. Frankly, I don’t believe there’s a human on earth who actually enjoys renegade rows, and with the whole combination counting as one rep, I don’t even get above five in the whole minute. Wisely, I swap to lower weights second time around. The final of the four is a dumbbell squat; by round three it feels like squatting a 10-tonne truck. With class participants limited due to social distancing, it feels closer to a small-group PT session, with more individual attention than you would usually get.
Between each round, we’re encouraged to let Will know our total rep count, saying it out loud in front of the rest of the class. I keep quiet after the first round, mostly because I’d spent it focusing so much on what I was doing that the rep count completely slipped my mind, but the idea of everyone hearing it horrifies me a bit too.
In fact, when I do count during next round, I’m pleasantly surprised to find I’m more or less on par with the other women in the room. Going into round three, it’s the motivation tool powering through to the end. Unusually for a strength class, it seems remarkably equally well-suited to both those new to strength training and those already lifting regularly. I’m not strong, but some of the others clearly are, averaging a solid 100 reps to my 60.
And then – just when I think it’s all over – comes a twist I did NOT sign up for: Four minutes of treadmill interval sprints on parachute mode, a setting that essentially mirrors the resistance of pulling a parachute behind you. When Will tells us this is what we’ll be doing I literally say “what?!” out loud. “It’s amazing anaerobic training” he protests, “It’s because I love you all”, he laughs. We do not love you, my face says in reply.
To my surprise, I survive this brutal finisher. Fast forward to the shower and, as I stand there with legs still shaking, I reflect on the fact that it’s clear that doing this a couple of times a week, maybe even just once a week, could really make a difference to my strength levels. I’m pleasantly surprised to find hand sanitiser next to the hair station, something else I’d not found in other studios so far. Being extra nosy, I poke my head into the barre room on the way out to see it’s been kitted out with designated spots – another tick in the box for KXU.
All in all, I’m impressed. The class is just the right level of challenging; sure, it’s slightly less ‘unusual’ than The Games – with slightly more of a low-key CrossFit vibe – but the instructor manages to bring it to life in a way that’s anything but dull. As for the hygiene, there’s genuinely nothing that I could find fault with, which isn’t something I say often!
Find out more about KXU over on their website or Instagram