Though I knew that Gymbox were never going to ask me to actually risk my life, the prospect of trying out a class entitled Death Row did have me slightly concerned. Was I being punished for missing the staff Christmas party? Had an instructor finally realised it was me cancelling that 7.30am TRX class every week?
With these personal sins in mind, it took me an awfully long time to realise that I would not, in fact, be dying.
I would be rowing.
Having arrived at the gym bleary eyed and slightly anxious, it became apparent that I would be trying out the class alongside 12 Gymbox instructors, a fairly daunting prospect. I was greeted by the Functional Master Trainer himself, Firas, who explained that the classes ominous name derives from its focus on ‘death by’ training. This is when you raise the number of reps you do of an exercise every minute until you’re incapable of adding any more. In other words, you work as hard as you possibly can until you ‘die’.
After going through the class structure, we headed out onto the track to get first hand experience of what was in store for week 1. We were told we would be working in partners for 20 minutes, switching every minute between the rower and everyone’s favourite exercise, burpees. The partner starting on the machine would begin by rowing 30m whilst their partner would do 9 burpees. Both would then have a 10 second rest before swapping over. However, in applying the ‘death by’ principle this seemingly easy exercise would become increasingly challenging; each time the partner returned to the rower they would add an extra 30m to their previous amount rowed. The aim of the class was that by the end of an intense 20-minute stretch, each partner would have managed to row 300m over the course of a minute through gradual increases of 30m.
This is much, much, easier said than done.
For a start, it is seriously hard to disentangle yourself from a rowing machine at high speed in order to let your partner take over. Firas actually gave us a 5 min drill session of practising just this in order to make sure we wouldn’t be falling over ourselves and waylaying our partners during the next 20 minutes.
It was after nailing this surprisingly tricky manoeuvre that our first minute began. I started on the rower and finished quickly, feeling fairly optimistic about completing my 300m. I even sped through the burpees at a decent speed.
However, as the minutes went on, those pesky added metres were getting to me. I was forced to row more intensely in order to get the distance completed on time, and for every set of 9 burpees I miraculously accomplished it became harder and harder to get the rowing machine going again. At this point, my pride was the only thing spurring me along as I fought to hold my own against the other Gymbox instructors, who’re infinitely fitter (and cooler) than myself.
By 180m I was resisting the urge to give up, having discovered that once you’ve been rowing intensely for over 15 minutes it gets a bit hard to mentally transport yourself from the gym to a canal in Venice. It should come as no surprise then, that my time of death followed soon after: I had managed a respectable 240m. Though 300m had seemed manageable before the class had started, the ‘death by’ principle had turned what would normally be an easily attainable goal into a mammoth task.
Firas had instructed us to row 60m less in the turns after our ‘death’ to be able to finish the remainder of the class, so for the last few minutes I pushed on and managed to consistently make 180m - though it’s worth noting that at this point my burpees were resembling belly flops, and it was getting difficult to get drag myself back off the ground. It was consequently a relief when the final timer went off and we were able to indulge in some much needed recovery time.
Once we’d got our breath back, Firas went through a few techniques with us, focusing on how a rowing sprint start alone could carry you through 30m easily. I appreciated that, as well as being an aptly termed Sweat Drench class, Death Row also teaches functional skills that help you get the most out of your workout. Once we’d mastered the art of the sprint start, it was time for us all to depart, distinctly sweatier and more dishevelled looking than we’d been upon arrival.
Having initially arrived at the gym feeling apprehensive, I left feeling tired but ultimately in high spirits. Rather than killing me off, Death Row had reminded me that I actually enjoy rowing, and had inspired me to come back to the class in January.
If you’re an avid rower, or just someone seeking a fun, high intensity workout like myself, then perhaps you should join me; You may even make it out alive.