Every so often there comes a time in a beauty editor’s life when you have to shift up a gear, go back on something you vowed never to try, or break a promise to yourself you thought was inviolate. And, no, I am not referring to Botox. The fact is that after some 20 years of avoiding gyms like the proverbial plague, it’s time to cave into peer pressure and face the cross-trainer. Or the real trainer. Or the real trainer who is about to become a cross trainer.
I understand this is shocking: a middle-aged beauty expert who doesn’t exercise. Don’t I know what a little sport does for your bones, heart, etc? Yes, of course. But I also know that friends who work out religiously still complain about their “problem” areas, which makes me wonder if it’s really worth forsaking after-work time with my children to labour on a treadmill. And I know that gyms themselves seem to recognise they might not have all the answers – one swanky Notting Hill place even offered me a free television set if I would sign up. If they don’t have faith in their own abilities, why should I?
But … two words: beach-worthy.
So off I went to begin my own personal gym odyssey. There were trials, and there were tests, and in the end I found my way home a (literally) changed woman.
First stop: Equinox (personal training from £75 per hour), which recently opened in London but already has 61 branches in the US. There I found a fair amount of preening in front of mirrors by the Lycra-clad gym-goers, which is entertaining enough to keep one’s mind off the agony of squats, as well as an abundance of terrifying state-of-the-art machines that can do things like let marathon runners train for hours on specially simulated treadmills that won’t ruin their knees (it’s called the AlterG).
But here’s what got my blood really pumping: the endless treadmill slog of days gone by has been replaced by two minutes of this and three minutes of that because, as James Duigan, founder of the Bodyism gym (gym number two, in the basement of the Bulgari hotel in Knightsbridge) explains: “Too much cardio can raise your stress hormone cortisol, which dumps fat on the front of your tummy. We call it ‘running yourself fat’. Your body responds better to short bursts of intensity.”
Then there’s the new generation of personal trainers. The boys at Bodyism, who train Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Elle Macpherson and Hugh Grant, are devastatingly good-looking.
“You have the weirdest job in the world,” I tell David Higgins, the co-founder of TenPilates at gym number three (a sort of fast-track version of Pilates) as he squidges my bottom to see if my gluteus extra-maximus muscle is “activated”.
Higgins tells me that I can be beach-ready in three months, if I attend only two classes a week. I’m pretty chuffed about this, until he tells me that some supermodels (he won’t name names) can get toned up in a matter of three weeks. “But three months is good!” he adds. A personal training session costs £80 for 55 minutes, with group classes from £27.
The tips come flying; Higgins shows me a handy way to strengthen the muscles under my armpits, which will pull back my shoulders and help to prevent migraines. If you’re sitting on a chair all day, you can perk up your bum by squeezing it tight for five seconds, releasing it, then repeating it 20 times. He says that even just by standing straight, pulling your shoulders back and down, you can increase your height straight away, effectively “losing” 5lb.
“No pain, no gain” seems to have been replaced with a series of uplifting bribes. At Bodyism, (personal training from £100) they offer you healthy milkshakes made with quinoa milk, supergreens and added protein and fibre after a workout, or sometimes a stretching session with the supremely beautiful Tegan Haining (she’s a girl).
They also give me a rubber band to take home to put round my ankles and do sidestepping exercises to firm up thighs and bottom. Plus there’s always Duigan’s favourite move: the Disco Lunge, like a normal lunge but as you move into the genuflect position you throw your hands up in the air and wave them like you just don’t care.
OK, I made that last bit up.
At Equinox, after measuring you with calipers, checking your body fat-to-muscle ratio, they deliver their workout plan so confidently you actually believe it will work: “So, here’s how we’re going to lose that stone.”
I’m only four weeks in and no one has yet mistaken my body for that of a siren. But I have noticed some side-effects already. I enter the gyms my normal grumpy self and leave a happy, springy sort of person. And I’m stepping up the overall grooming; when your ankles are lifted in the air by handsome men on a regular basis, you suddenly realise how grey your skin is and how your pedicure needs re-pedicuring. My gym-phobic husband barely recognises me.
This article has been amended since publication. The original article incorrectly stated that Equinox has 10 other gyms.