Gymbox member Genevieve Teevan went to see if Flatline, “the toughest class on Earth,” lives up to its hype at Gymbox Farringdon.
“You want the body to die for, you gotta be willing to die for it,” says Firas Iskandarani, creator of Flatline and a hero of the Gymbox pantheon. It’s billed as “the hardest and most dangerous gym class in the world… to test all elements of strength and stamina with increasingly difficult tasks over a 45-minute period”. Participants have to sign a waiver beforehand and paramedics are on duty in case of cardiac arrest. In the weeks since the New Farringdon Gymbox site opened, I’ve heard a few sneers about Flatline – its detractors say it’s just a glorified circuits class juiced up as a PR stunt. So why not try it then?
One of the biggest obstacles to reaching and maintaining peak fitness is demotivation or boredom. Boredom is often caused by lack of challenge. Ergo, probably everyone could benefit from a more challenging fitness routine. And that, folks, is what Flatline does: it challenges the socks off you. Firas admits, “If you want to get lean or ripped or good at pull-ups or whatever, there’s a better class for that specific thing, but this will be harder than any of them. It’s a test.”
At the risk of giving away Gymbox state secrets, the format consists of four rounds of seven stations. At each station, participants spend 45 seconds with a 15-second rest in between. One of the seven stations is even a complete rest, but the exercises are so intense and use such heavy weights that I thought the paramedic on duty might have to step in before the first round was over. Firas insists, “If you can manage one round, then, theoretically, you have the potential to complete all four”.
Flatline sits in the Sweat Drench section of the Gymbox timetable and it lives up to that categorisation by the 15-minute mark. But if anyone besides the perspiring participants deserves sympathy, it’s Firas. He keeps a watchful eye out, corrects sloppy technique, and bellows to be heard above the screaming music and clanging weights. The class is too focused on the task of not dying to respond. “Ask yourself why you came here!” he booms, sounding like he’s coaching his London Blitz American Football Club quarterbacks. When the groups get straggly, “If you’re not with the people you started with, either YOU or THEY are STUPID.”
No one smiles at any point, but they all keep going. The class has only been running for a few weeks, but it’s already developing a hard core of regulars. “I thought I was fit, but this proved me wrong,” one told me.
“I need it,” says another.
“I have no self-motivation – really none – I could not exercise without loud music and someone yelling at me. This is the best class there is for that,” one guy tells me (he copes surprisingly well for someone who lays claim to such a total lack of self-discipline).
After class, as the paramedic takes blood pressure readings, it occurs to me that Flatline is pitched at the most extreme point that is bearable, a bit like 1Rep Max or World War I army generals calculating the precise length of time troops could tolerate being at the front line before they gave up fighting.
So: 6pm Monday evenings at the New Farringdon Gymbox. See you there.