From candlelit yoga to leisurely weightlifting sessions, Londoners are turning their backs on high-intensity beasting, says Peta Bee.
Six months ago, workouts were all about intensity. Anyone you knew who was vaguely fitness-minded seemed to be hacking the duration of their workouts but ramping up the effort they made in their downsized sessions. It seemed to suit the moment. We were all rushed off our feet, increasingly struggling to find time for the gym, so HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) offered a guilt-free solution. What we didn’t expect is that HIIT can be a source of stress in itself. By its very nature, it is hard. On body and mind. Yes, we were all reaping the benefits of more athletic-looking bods but the pay-off was that we were starting to flag.
It is, perhaps, this growing sense of workout weariness that has led to an unexpected backlash against fast and furious fitness classes in favour of slo-mo approaches conducted at a fraction of the pace.
Millie Mackintosh might have the lifestyle (and body) to cope with endless high-energy HIIT sessions at the Skinny Bitch Collective, just as Victoria Beckham can almost certainly schedule in recovery time from the speedy circuit-style drills that underpin the approach at Barry’s Bootcamp. But as much as trainers charged with honing the most desirable A-lister bodies love speed, it can take its toll on the rest of us. It’s not just the stressed-out who are opting to go slow but those who own the fittest and slenderest gym-buffed bodies.
Friends now talk about ditching at least one of their Crossfit or hot yoga sessions and dropping their battle ropes for the very antithesis — a deliberate dawdle of a workout. An army of glossy mummies is apparently queueing to try restorative yoga, a class involving minimal movement, at branches of Triyoga (triyoga.co.uk) and The Life Centre (thelifecentre.com). Anna Ashby, who teaches the approach at Triyoga, says she has seen demand soar in recent months.
It’s the same story at the Good Vibes (goodvibesfitness.co.uk) studios in Fitzrovia and Covent Garden, where founder Nahid de Belgeonne says hardcore, status-symbol sessions are on the wane. “There’s a big trend towards slower, more gentle classes,” de Belgeonne says. “Among the most sought-after here are Bliss Yoga by candlelight and Glow Yin. They are nourishing and help to rebalance the ferocious speed of life.”
Slow-mo workouts are cropping up in the most unlikely places. Even Psycle (psyclelondon.com), the glamorous and permanently booked-out spin studio that is the place to go for fast buttock-firming, has branched out into yoga with Psycle Zen, its seven-day urban retreat in which frenetic spinning is alternated with serene postures performed at Crossrail Place Roof Garden. It’s not just Londoners who are becoming more laid back about fitness.
Trainer Adam Zickerman, who runs a chain of gyms called Inform Fitness in New York and California and has a long list of celebrity clients that includes Sharon Stone and Uma Thurman, is spearheading the movement away from explosive workouts with his slowed-down weights sessions.
Zickerman’s approach is to get his clients to reduce dramatically the speed of each repetition during weight- training to a slow-mo 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down push or pull. It’s the polar opposite of the hell-for-leather approach advocated by the likes of Tracy Anderson, whose clients (Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz among them) think nothing of performing 100 nifty repetitions with weights in ultra-quick succession. Yet he says his clientele is growing. “Fitness has become all about the ultra-speedy exercises that are fashionable,” he says. “But the problem is that they are always coupled with risk and are really not necessary for results.”
The nearest Londoners have to Zickerman’s boutique weight-training gyms is a train journey away at Rev-5 (rev5.co.uk) in Windsor, although plenty are making the trip to try it out. Each session entails just 15 minutes of lifting weights on five different machines — a compound row, torso pull-down, shoulder press, chest press and leg press — with the aim being to push for 10 seconds to lift and 10 to lower the weight, continuing 90 seconds to three minutes in total. “We’ve had a tremendous response,” says Dr Tahir Masood, who runs Rev-5.
“Clients love the fact that it’s short, it’s slow, but it creates real muscle fatigue. You can feel it is working.” Such has been the rush of Londoners heading for the out-of-town workout that there are plans to open a more central venue soon.
Not that we need to wind down all our workouts. A report by the American Council on Exercise, a not-for-profit consumer watchdog, finds the fast and slow approaches seem to complement each other perfectly. A 20-minute HIIT session just pips a super-slow weight-training workout of the same duration when it comes to calories burned (200 versus 270 respectively), the ACE found, but the benefits of both were deemed important when you’re after a lean body.
In other words, we should balance every fitness yin with a yang, every competitive gut-buster of a class with a foot-off-the-pedal recuperation session. And life is looking good in the slow lane.