If I had to write a precis to this piece (for those who didn’t do the precis exercise in the ICSE board exams, or who were born north of the ’90’s, that’s basically a TL;DR), it would be this: I went to Barry’s Bootcamp and I didn’t die so I’m feeling pretty fucking smug. Or even, in the immortal words of Jay Z, let me upgrade ya. Or maybe, in the equally immortal words of Gwen Stefani, this shit is bananas. (I mean, take your pick, they all work.)
I was in London a couple of weeks ago and decided well in advance of departure that, this time at least, I didn’t want to come back with soaring blood alcohol levels and that gross halo of post-holiday ugh. London is behind cities like New York and Sydney in the boutique fitness boom, but there is a hell of a lot of fun shit going on and there just weren’t enough days to sample them all, but I made it to Barry’s Bootcamp not once, but three times and I am sold.
Barry’s Bootcamp’s been called “The Best Workout in the World” (their PR deserve a big bump for that one) and it has, since it launched in 1998, also earned itself a reputation as one of the most brutal. I was nervous before, that part-anticipation part-dread that I’ve now come to expect whenever I try a new studio or workout, that feeling that no matter how often you work out, that this will be horrendous and be the one that kills you. The internet didn’t help my nerves either (does it ever?) because every review or testimonial I read included helpful counsel like “scream through it.” Still, if you like bootcamp-type encouragement (see also “being shouted at”) and a hardcore environment, this is the workout for you.
But what is Barry’s Bootcamp really?
Barry’s was probably one of the first on the boutique fitness scene, launching in the late nineties at a time when the scene was more gym-dominated and highfalutin’ studios dedicated to specific classes just… weren’t a thing. If the name hasn’t already clued you in, these are old-school, bootcamp-style workouts with alternating bouts of intense cardio and weight training. You work out with weights and then you jump onto treadmills and sprint or do intervals until you feel like your legs might fall off. Your heart rate is up right through, which also means that you are increasing your lean body mass while raising your resting metabolic rate (i.e. you keep burning calories even when you’re collapsed on the sofa hours later). The workout is designed for efficiency, and their rooms are designed to help you get into that balls-to-the-wall zone: dim red lighting and music up high.
They focus on a different muscle group every day. Their website will tell you that, “the programming carefully pairs opposing muscle groups to ensure your body has the perfect balanced workout, and proper time for recovery.” Their instructors are all (predictably) ripped, walking-shouting testimonials to the power of the classes they teach. Like most classes, you have to find the instructors whose style you like. Each instructor has his or her own method. Some split the class into two 30-minute halves, while some do four 15-minute intervals, or whatever they like really. If you really hate the treadmill you can opt for a ‘double floor’ class, where you skip the treadmill and just repeat the floor circuit. I did three classes in my week there, with three different instructors. I had a relatively gentle introduction with my first, and I walked out really smug, even texting my trainer in Delhi to tell him it’d been a doddle before sauntering into my second the next day only to be screamed at to amp it up on the treadmill and then wobbling out on jellylegs after. Yeah, that class was brutal, but it was also really fucking fun. The third was my favourite, an hour of squat-hop-run-burpee circuits to a banging bass soundtrack. All three were different, all three were great.
How do I get involved?
Barry’s is now in cities across the US, as well as in London, Dubai, a couple of cities in Norway, Sweden, and in Italy and you’ll find the full list here. If you’re lucky enough to be in one of these cities and you want to give it a go, you need to book ad pay for your classes online, and I’d recommend doing this at the start of the week when they open up that week’s slots because these fill fast. For noobs, classes on Saturday and Sunday are probably best to start because they do a full-body circuit. Every other day of the week is devoted to more focused body parts so if you don’t work out often, you will be in a world of pain after.
They’re not cheap. Barry’s London classes are 20 quid a pop, and only marginally cheaper if you buy classes in bundles, but when you’re in there it is easy to see why this workout has a cult-like following. There’s also a Fuel Bar at all Barry’s locations, where you can book your post-workout shake so it’s ready for you when you wobble out of class.
Like other group classes, what’s compelling about Barry’s, besides the great studios and trainers, and the hour away from your phone, is the sense that it really drives you both to let go as well as turn your focus inward. It is, in that sense, a complete mind-body experience, an active meditation, if you will. There’s a genuine vibe in the room, with everyone moving and sweating and really going for it on the treadmill in unison, that has the ability to transform more than your body. You walk in preoccupied and possibly a little afraid, but you’ll leave feeling strong and fucking badass.
For more information, visit the Barry’s Bootcamp website.