With a famously loyal following and a favourite of celebs including Ellie Golding and the Beckhams, Barry’s
has developed somewhat of a cult-status among London’s fitness aficionados in the past few years. Burning up to 1000 calories per session, it’s a high intensity interval training method designed to push you to your limits by interspersing treadmill sprints (and sometimes hills) with floor-based strength training.
And if Barry’s is known for being addictive, there’s one challenge that pushes that to the limit. Dubbed ‘Barry's Hell Week’, it sees participants complete seven of super-sweaty, muscle-aching, devilishly draining classes in seven days. The challenge runs every few months and welcomes everyone from the five-time-a-week crowd to those that visit a few times a month but fancy trying something new.
It’s fair to say I’ve got a certain penchant for taking on challenges I think I can’t succeed at, so this sounded perfect, if intimidating. A kind word of advice if you’re nervous about taking it on: don’t be tempted to search #barryshellweek on the ‘gram – it will only scare you more, those people are sculpted from the muscle gods. The good news is that I am not
and – spoiler alert – I survived. So, how was it?
Day 1: Barry’s East, Shoreditch
Focus: Full body (lower focus)
Day 1 and I am N-E-R-V-O-U-S. I’ve done a few Barry’s class before and while I’ve never had to leave halfway through, they’re no walk in the park. But the idea of doing seven in a week, oh god.
Thankfully, before class even starts Alex asks if it’s anyone’s first time at Barry’s; I admit that while it’s not, I haven’t been in a long
while and so he takes me through the basics again, reassuring me that if I’m not quite reaching the ‘beginner’ level then not to worry. Phew.
I opt to start on the floor section, figuring it’ll give my body (more specifically, my knees) a bit more time to get warmed up. While I expected the class to be slightly empty (it’s 7am), it’s packed out.
After a mixture of manageable length tread stretches and weight-based floor drills, I leave feeling optimistic that the week ahead might be doable after all. Funnily enough, by 3pm the tiredness has kicked in and I’m not quite
Day 2: Barry’s Central, Euston
Trainer: Olly T – don’t be fooled by his friendly, motivating exterior.
Focus: Chest, back & abs
It’s only Day 2 but having started with leg day suddenly feels like a foolish idea – just walking to the kitchen at work feels like a half-marathon. How are my tired little legs going to fare with round two, let alone beyond that?
As it turns out, they survive, despite feeling slightly creaky at first. I’m pleased to realise that while every class follows the tread-floor rotation structure, each instructor runs it slightly differently, allaying any fears that the week would get boring.
Today’s class features longer tread intervals (eurgh) but also lots of deadlifts (yay). Due to my lack of any kind of significant upper body strength it turns out to be the most challenging session all week, even with my 5kg weights. Weirdly, it's also one of the most enjoyable.
Day 3: Barry’s East, Shoreditch
Focus: Abs + Ass
Somehow, Day 3 seems easier than Day 1 or 2 – I’m not entirely sure if it’s the class itself or I’m just getting better? Either way, the tread intervals feel easier – lots of shorter, sharper, speedier bursts, with more varied floor rounds than previous classes. At one point, the guy next to me is moving his legs faster that I knew normal humans could.
As an instructor, Jason is super friendly and really encouraging, and I leave feeling pumped up as can be. Nonetheless, I found myself fully wiped out when I got home – which is exactly why you go to Barry’s, surely.
In an unexpected bonus, I find that by Day 3 I’m already naturally tending towards healthier foods than I was at the start of the week – craving less junk food and hoovering up all veg like it’s going to stop growing. Maybe this is the reset I needed.
Day 4: Barry’s Central, Euston
Focus: Full body
To say I spend the day dreading this class doesn’t even cut it. I feel completely dead. My body is trying to work out where its rest days have gone and my hamstrings are tight as can be.
I make a mental note to stretch more after class. Add in the fact that my skin is breaking out (from all the sweat, I presume?) and as it’s a Friday night so the rest of the office are trudging off happily to the pub, and I really, really, really
don’t want to go.
But my mind is about to be changed…
To cut a long story short: Harry Styles was in my class! I’d heard the Harry-loves-Barry’s rumours long before I’d even tried the workout but didn’t expect it to be true. I can now say I went to the gym with Hazza. Nothing else matters.
Celeb spotting aside, it turns out to be a great class – maybe it was the Harry-effect, or maybe I’d just spent the day overestimating how tired I was and underestimating what I had in the tank. Either way, Shannon is a cracking instructor, the perfect mix of pushy and confidence-boosting, the soundtrack is top-notch, and I find my effort levels remaining consistently high, particularly on the tread sections.
I head home feeling smug that I’d just done something great for my body on a Friday night - definitely a rarity.
Day 5: Barry’s SW1
Focus: Full body (upper focus)
After a good sleep, I’m feeling revived and ready to tackle Day 5.
In between hilly tread intervals to slay the legs, there’s lots of resistance band work, dumbbell wood chops and leg raises to kill the arms and core. As an instructor, Harry is particularly great at demonstrating what you should be doing and explaining why it’s important to do it this way. Enjoyably, it’s all peppered with terrible jokes too!
Between the swishest Barry’s changing rooms I’ve come across so far and sauntering off afterwards with an ice-cold Barry’s & Brunch smoothie
, this session feels like a proper weekend treat. It’s not often you say that after a run!
Excitingly, I’m starting to notice small changes in my body – whether it’s weight loss or bloat-reduction I’m not sure, but it’s just the motivation I need to keep me going. And oh boy, am I going to need it…
Day 6: Barry’s St Paul’s
Focus: Full Body
Today, I hit the wall. Reading a few reviews from other people who had done Hell Week before me, many said that they found around the Day 4 mark most challenging but got back into it by the end of the week.
It turns out I wait until Day 6 to hit rock bottom. While I feel like I’ve been making steady progress throughout the week, today I’m barely hitting the ‘lower’ levels on the treads. At one point, I seriously think I might throw up.
Reminding myself that this is my
workout and that no one knows my story – background, niggles, the fact that it’s my sixth day in a row – carries me through. By the end, I’m basically chanting this mantra under my breath.
I treat myself to another smoothie from the Fuel Bar as a reward and focus on the fact that a workout is a workout, no matter what it looks like. All in all, it’s a good exercise in mental resilience and proof that the mind is just as important as the muscle.
Day 7: Barry’s Central, Euston
Trainer: Olly T
Focus: Arms & Abs
For my final day it only seems right to return to my favourite trainer of the week – Olly T. After yesterday’s travesty, I’m not sure what to expect of myself, but as soon as I start I find that today I’m actually feeling pretty good.
Although the tread sections are lengthier than other classes, it’s ‘rewarded’ – for want of a better word – with lengthier floor sections too. Of course, by the time you get to the final stretch of one, you’re desperate to be back on the other.
After a long day at work it’s exactly what the doctor called for; between the red-lit room, the loud music and the buckets of sweat, it’s next to impossible to remember there’s a world outside.
The class – and therefore my Barry's Hell Week – is over before I know it. I’ll be honest I’m a little relieved, and the idea of an Epsom bath and a rest day is pure magic, but it also occurs to me that I’m kind of going to miss it.
All in all, it’s fair to assert that Hell Week lives up to its name – it’s perfect for a glutton for punishment, challenge addict or someone who doesn’t like the idea of ‘quitting’ things but needs a kick up the backside to get them back on the fitness straight-and-narrow. Not only did I finish it feeling stronger, I challenged my own expectations of myself and started eating healthier and drinking less (trust me, you won’t want to try this on a hangover) without even really trying.
Did Barry's Hell Week almost break me? Yes. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. And would I lovingly complain all the way through it? Without a doubt.
Barry’s has six studios across London, one in Manchester and an at-home on-demand service. Find out more about their classes over on their website and keep up with studio re-openings, post-Covid safety measures and when the next Hell Week will take place over on their Instagram. Do note that for now, all classes are will be working on a structure of one-tread section, one-floor section.
Photo taken February 2020.