“I’m just nipping out to the gym,” my family know is code for, “See you in four hours; eat without me; don’t wait up; AMFYOYO.” Once there, I do back-to-back classes until closing time. The super-efficient half-hour MetCon format is part of my routine only as a chaser after an hour of Gymboxing with Tony Milch on Saturday afternoons, so I was sceptical about whether it would be a sufficient workout on its own.
MetCon, which stands for metabolic conditioning, is the Gymbox version of HIIT: high intensity interval training. The recent vogue for replacing long workouts with eight-minute max intensity HIIT or Tabata-style sessions seems to have slightly peaked. I’d guess this is because, first, you need to add a warm-up, cool-down and stretching, so the acute among us realised that these terse little miracle workouts weren’t really all that different from other fitness class formats. Secondly, moving your body is a pleasure; like other activities that trigger the release of endorphins, getting it over with as quickly as possible curtails the fun, even if the fitness gains are comparable to longer, steadier training. Thirdly, experts have pointed out that reaping the benefits of HIIT requires high levels of “subject motivation”. That means it doesn’t work if your effort is half-assed.
This is where having a dynamic coach makes all the difference. Hattie Grover, b-girl, aerlialist, multi-faceted dancer and all-round bobby dazzler, gets you to the required peak intensity level through the sheer force of her personality. She’s super peppy and organised so everyone is in and set up with a bench, weights and mat in under three minutes. There’s a quick warm-up and then we’re straight in starting with a set of three exercises which we do for thirty seconds each with short recovery periods.
Hattie pounces on poor form and offers constant corrections and encouragement. She uses the recovery period to offer mini-tutorials and to provide graceful demos of the next exercise. Nothing about the combinations of superman planks, squat jumps or kettle bell swings is novel, but Hattie focuses on explaining the technical elements in a way that makes you strive to make every rep as precisely perfect as hers.
Hattie changes the exercises every week to keep it fresh for her regulars – who are very keen indeed, see below – but she always makes sure there’s a balance of upper body, core and lower body work. You could find countless similar workouts on YouTube but the combination of her energy, expertise and the collective dynamic prevents you from putting in a mere token effort.
The 30-minute session flies by and, while I’d prefer the class to have been longer, I definitely worked up a proper sweat. The obvious advantage of such a short class is that you don’t need to think about pacing yourself. You can just give everything you’ve got the whole time – which is both cathartic and effective.
Now, about those regulars. Instructor fandom is not unknown at Gymbox, but you seldom see quite such a cluster of members stanning after a class. One woman asked if she’d consider training her one-to-one (The answer, sadly, was no. Between teaching and performing, Hattie’s dancecard is full.) Another guy told me, “The way I feel about Hattie is the strongest love-hate relationship I’ve ever experienced. She makes me work so damn hard but I love it. Other instructors make me feel like shit to get me to work – but she’s so smiley and happy, it makes me feel good when she’s killing me.”