Fun Fit in South West London
(This post contains some affiliate links, not all of them though, sometimes I just link to places and things that I like so that you can enjoy them too.)
I’m really unfit. I’ve not done any regular structured exercise in YEARS. I tried joining a gym last year but it was horrible, I mean really horrible. For a start the gym’s corporate colours are grey – yes, grey. If you can think of a less inspiring colour do let me know. I suggested that they brighten the place up a bit, they said no. When I stopped going (after some disastrous attempts at classes, one was in the dark with a cheap disco light and someone’s sweaty butt in my face, the other was a yoga class in a room hotter than the sun with an instructor who spoke in barely audible whispers and didn’t really open her eyes for an hour), they sent me passive aggressive text messages saying things like ‘We understand it can be hard to stay motivated, please come and talk to us about that’. You can imagine what my reply might have been… So why did I hate it so much? I realised it was because the joy had gone. As a kid, exercise is marketed to you as fun, exciting, all consumingly joyful. When you’re an adult it’s marketed to you as an opportunity to change your not-good-enough-self, something measurable, something that pits you in competition with other totally normal human adults to be an unattainable version of optimal health and perfection, whilst doing repetitive motions on a machine that’s showing you all the bad news in the world on an endless loop on the screen in front of you like some kind of sweaty, miserable battery animal. Where, oh where, is the fun, excitement and joy in that? I want to be fit and healthy, but I’ve had to back up a little and ask myself some questions. When I was active and fit, what was I doing? What makes me happy to get moving? What are the alternatives to gym based drudgery? What can I do that doesn’t involve running (I hate running. And when did it stop being jogging? I Guess ‘Park Jog’ isn’t quite as catchy…). So rewind to my weekly exercise schedule circa 1994 and… Trampolining, dancing, swimming, country walking. Can I do all of those things here in South West London, as an adult? Turns out that yes, I can!
Exercise Grail. Found.
So, not one to shy away from throwing myself in at the deep end I booked five consecutive days of fun and engaging activities to get me moving again.
Day 1: Fit Club on the Common by Peake Condition
(£70 per month for up to three sessions per week – awesome value for money. The club runs Sunday 10am, Tuesday and Thursday 7pm, contact Peake Condition for details).
I’d seen a post on Instagram from our brilliant local news hounds at Tooting Daily PRSS (it’s a one stop shop for local info) about a local PT called Lisa Peake who runs Peake Condition, focusing on a holistic approach to personal training and coaching. I spoke to Lisa on the phone as I wanted to gauge that we were on the same page in our approach to exercise, and it turns out that we are. She explained that her group fitness sessions are not a boot camp, there’s no shouting, no beasting, just encouragement and support with a lot of laughs along the way and no one taking themselves too seriously. She also explained that it took place outside in all weathers (don’t get me started on people who drive to the gym!), which sounded right up my street, so I paid up for the month and headed over to the common on Sunday morning armed with a mat and a bottle of water. (Note: Lisa wasn’t hosting the first session as she was on a course that day so a PT called Kate was covering, and she was great). Knowing that I was so far from being used to exercising, I had trepidations, but I needn’t have. The welcome was friendly, we were even joined by a lovely dog (dogs make EVERYTHING better!) The exercises were the kind of thing you’d do in a gym, but everything is more fun outside in the fresh air, nothing went on too long, it was a cold day but I didn’t feel it and before I knew it the hour was up. I’d broken a sweat and been out of breath, I’d had some laughs and met some lovely people and I was on my way back to the bus stop. I did feel utterly pooped, and knew I’d ache in a couple of days, still, it was done, and I had the rest of my day ahead of me to enjoy. Having utterly messed up knowing where my bus stop was, I ended up walking home (admittedly, slowly, and in a bit of a daze), but happy all the same.
Day 2: Trampolining at Flip-Out Wandsworth
(Book online, £12 per 1 hour standard bounce session, loyalty card available for your 6th bounce free. It’s cheaper on a Wednesday if you can make it then. You need to buy the socks, but they wash and wear well and they’ll last. Details of bounce fitness classes here)
From the ages of 10 to 16, I went to a trampolining club once a week, after school on a Wednesday. I already did gymnastics (although I was rubbish, I enjoyed it), but trampolining was just something else, I LOVED it. The class was small, the instructor was amazing, and I was good at it. Our little club even took a punt competing in the county championships one year, winning team bronze, which wasn’t bad for a bunch of rookies! When I went to college in a different town for 6th form, I couldn’t make it back in time for the class, so I gave it up, and I’d always missed it. I found a club when I was at university, and I did that for a term, but then life took over. That was 20 years’ ago and it’s been near impossible to find any adult trampoline classes until we started to see trampoline parks pop up across the country. I went to the one in Wandsworth a couple of years ago for my birthday, it was good fun, but a bit loud and chaotic. It’s much better midweek term time, so long as you don’t accidentally go on an inset day – it was utter pandemonium – faceplant! That said, it was a good chance to get back into bouncing in short bursts (I had to let the kids have a go too), and to see where I was at. Knowing how low my fitness levels were, and how strong my core wasn’t, it was no surprise that a lot of the moves were a struggle, and my arms ached horribly when I was trying to get some decent height (worth mentioning though that I won a ‘who can bounce highest’ competition again a couple of eight year old boys!). It was fun, I was exhausted but happy by the end of it, but I knew also that I needed to find myself a structure to fill the hour when I’m there, so I have decided that I want to get back to my competition standard (yep, I still know the routine), but I’ll take it one element at a time and work on perfecting one move each week. Trampolining really is a brilliant, whole body workout, and you’ll end your session a very smiley hot mess. If you’re new to trampolining, there are fitness classes offered for adults in the evenings which I’m sure are a ton of fun. They’ve even got pole dancing classes there (not on the trampolines – yeah, I had to clarify that!). Having been taught to bounce in the safest way possible, I would like to ask please, bounce responsibly.
Day 3: Swimming – Tooting Leisure Centre
(£5.20 per swim, no booking required, check pool times and other details here.)
After two days of pretty strenuous, on-my-feet type exercise, I’d planned in some ‘laying down’ exercise. I do love lying down, and I love being in the water, so swimming is a pretty perfect activity for me, and I knew that I really needed to give my body a bit of a rest whilst also keeping moving. I didn’t learn to swim until I was six years old, but you couldn’t keep me out of the water when I was young, so it’s no surprise that I’ve become a mermaid as an adult, it just feels like the most natural thing in the world to me. I tend to use swimming as a form of meditation, I have a wearable lane counter but I choose to count repetitively instead, it’s the only effective way I’ve found to really switch off my busy brain. I’ve mentioned Tooting Leisure Centre on my blog before, the pool is one of my favourite places. Check out the very supportive lockers in the changing room!
Day 4: Russian Pilates Technique – The London Russian Ballet School
( 42 Clapham Manor St, London SW4 6DZ , Wednesdays at 9:30am, £15 per session or £210 per term – no classes during the summer break, class details here.)
I dabbled in different types of dance class when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I started to do contemporary dance at college at the age of 16 that I recognised the importance of ballet technique, and I found a love for the discipline (odd for a rule breaker like me) and precision (I’m a details person). When I moved back to London and started working full time, I tried a few classes in the West End but they were expensive, and my work schedules meant that my attendance wasn’t consistent. It was another thing that just fell by the way side. In 2004, I stumbled across The Manor Studio (as it was then called) whilst out exploring on my bike. It was close to home and I liked the look of the classes, so I tried out what was then called ‘The Bolshoi Workout’ and I absolutely loved it. Now called Russian Pilates Technique, the class can best be described as a balletic, pilates, gymnastic floor based routine in the style of a constant yoga flow that lasts for 1 hour, followed by 20 minutes of barre/floor exercises. This was the second of my laying down days, but this was by no means a rest – it’s a really hard workout. Just because I wasn’t on my feet, didn’t mean that I feel like my legs wouldn’t fall off by the end. Don’t let that put you off though, if you enjoy anything like ballet, pilates and yoga, you should give this class a go, you won’t regret it. After 14 years, coming back to this class was tough, but I remember how I saw my body change, and how much better I felt the last time that I did it regularly. It also gave me the perfect opportunity to buy a new leotard (yes, really!). It’s the only class of its kind (that I know of) and South West London is lucky to have it.
Day 5: Fit Club…in the dark!
I’m not too proud to admit that by day 5, I was absolutely exhausted. Mid-afternoon, I had to have a nap – and I never nap. Despite this tiredness though, I was undeterred in my determination to complete the first week, so that it becomes absolutely normal to exercise regularly again. Having suffered previously with S.A.D, the sun setting at 4:30pm makes me both anxious and angry. I don’t like going out in the dark, I really have to force myself, so getting on a bus to go to a class that was on the common, in the cold and the dark at 7pm on a Thursday evening, was challenging. I was really nervous, but luckily my determination to see this through trumped that, and before I knew it I was batting swiss balls around a car park with a group of like minded people, and thoroughly enjoying the absurdity of it all. I wore a thermal so I didn’t feel the cold, and the hour again passed so quickly that before I knew it I was warming down, saying ‘see you Sunday!’ and hopping on a bus home (got the right bus stop this time!). There was a first time for everything, and I’ll keep at it, but in all seriousness, I can’t wait for the warm summer sessions in the evening!
After a week of this brilliant, fun an alternative exercise, I can confirm that there is no need to ever go to a boring gym again. Unless you want to, and that’s fine too, but I won’t see you there because I’ll be having all the fun doing all the other things! Hooray for South West London.