Over the past couple of years, the fitness world witnessed the mushrooming of numerous boutique gym studios, aimed at those people who are looking for something different to the factory-style big chains and traditional gyms. Boom Cycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, Heartcore Fitness and 1Rebel are only a few ‘rising stars’ among those in the UK whose fresh and imaginative approach, focus on personalised customer care and premium service make them formidable contenders to mammuth chains such as Virgin Active, Fitness First and David Lloyd. This suggests that people are likely to go where they feel they belong to a special ‘tribe’ and where they can enjoy a truly specialised experience. (Even if it means having to dig somewhat deeper into their pockets for that kind of experience.)
I was excited to find out through social media about a relatively new boutique fitness studio which stepped onto my local fitness scene last September, launched by Tom Edwards and Jon Williams. The Fitness Experts (TFE) base themselves in the Cressex business park area of High Wycombe. (They also have a second studio in Basingstoke which opened before this one.) Although not a huge town, it is fair to say that High Wycombe is already saturated with gyms of all sizes and shapes (including a recently refurbished multimillion pound complex at the Handy Cross roundabout with an Olympic sized swimming pool), so needless to say, I was more than curios how a relatively small gym like TFE could possibly thrive and attract clients in this climate and how they could appeal to me in particular – a competitive runner and self-confessed fitnut who has ‘seen it all’.
Even though I am quite happy with the gym that I go to, I felt intrigued when TFE were offering 10 (!) free sessions for a select number of lucky people on Facebook. (And you may have seen these adverts, too, wondering what the heck is this all about.) Naturally, at first, I thought it all sounded too good to be true, however, upon playing a bit of detective, I established that it all sounded safe and genuine so I submitted my details online to apply for a free spot. At the end of the day, we all love a freebie, don’t we? To my greatest delight, I received an email confirmation in less than 5 minutes advising me that I had managed to secure a spot!
So who are The Fitness Experts of High Wycombe?
They offer primarily high energy classes in their modernly equipped studio for groups of up to 20 people at a time. They also offer 1-2-1 personal training and nutritional support for those who are seeking a bit more personalised help to achieve their fitness goals. Their unique selling point is that each day they do a different theme for their classes so you won’t end up doing the same routine all the time, as opposed to classes in traditional gyms (or am I the only one getting Les Mills’d out here?).
So here is my account of my 10 day free trial with TFE and my verdict – which I left to the very end, of course!
Induction to the Gym and How it is Different
The site is clearly signposted once you reach the Cressex business territory. I was pleased to register that there is plenty of free parking spaces reserved for the visitors of the gym (and you can also use the Play Train bays outside business hours), so parking is a stress-free experience.
Upon entering the building, I found myself in a giant, warehouse style gym, a bit like Crossfit – the tall ceilings, the big airy space, the fresh lime and white colours and the cleverly chosen motivational quotes on the walls immediately made me feel excited. The first thing that stood out for me was that there are no traditional cardio and fixed weight machines at TFE, so it was at that point that it began to dawn on me that this is not gonna be the ‘same old, same old’ kind of gym experience. Whilst we were waiting for our induction to start, I eyed up the rich array of equipment through my ‘experienced gym bunny’ eyes. This was another huge thumbs up from me as there is everything here I would choose to have in my very own dream gym!
This modern looking and functional fitness space was designed and installed by Anytime Leisure. You can find a wide variety of items here from the Origin Fitness range, such as punchbags, kettlebells, weighted ropes, plyo boxes, medicine balls, gym balls, slam balls, free weights, a half rack with bumper plates – you name it!; and other essentials from leading brands such as Alpha Strong, TRX and Impulse Fitness. All of this comes with great quality flooring. And by the way, there is even a turf sprint track in the middle (!)
Our instructor explained that they deliberately chose a minimalist design for the gym space and built everything around the concept of purposeful workouts – here you will definitely not find any jacuzzi’s, smoothie bars, dreadmills and fluffy towels as none of these will help you get in shape, those are only distractions. ‘No faffing about, that’s for sure!’ I thought. The studio however has all the essential facilities you would expect as a minimum, such as drinking water, toilets and showers, a waiting area and the previously mentioned car park.
He also highlighted the benefits of the two key concepts behind the design of their classes: Functional Fitness and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Functional training is far more effective and enjoyable than traditional fixed machines and repetitive classes as these help our bodies move in the way it is designed, challenging all muscle groups. Research has proven that HIIT is the most effective way to burn fat, build muscle and increase fitness.
At the end of the tour of the facilities, we were given a 10 minute taster workout, comprising of a warmup and a set of different exercises using the 30 sec work/30 sec rest format. This was literally just a foretaste to give us an idea of what sort of exercises to expect in a proper 45 minute class.
After the taster, we were invited to sign up for as many or as few classes as we liked for the 10 day trial period, using the electronic booking system in the iPad Corner. Members are advised to aim for 2-3 classes per week, so I enthusiastically signed up for 7 (!) classes right away plus a nutrition workshop about ‘Fat Loss Secrets’. I walked away clutching my gift TFE drinking bottle, a couple of information leaflets and very much looking forward to giving these classes a go.
Yes, I did do all the aforementioned 7 classes – it was a great way to experience the variety these classes offer and also meet most of the instructors and speak to as many members as possible about how they were finding the gym.
About 85% of the classes are the ‘Bootcamp of the Day‘ class following the principles of functional intensity training, using a variety of equipment to push you hard, often including an element of teamwork and competition; so you will definitely get a good sweat out of these classes. The Bootcamp classes which run on the same day are exactly the same so you only need to choose a timeslot the day you want to go.
The rest of the classes include ‘Build and Burn‘ where you use heavier weights and lower reps to help you get stronger and build muscle. Metabolic Conditioning classes (‘MetCon‘) are where you can get fantastic cardiovascular fitness using the principles of HIIT and Metabolic Resistance Training – another great way to torch some serious calories. And finally, there is 1 x ‘Yoga/Pilates‘ fusion class, 1 x ‘Boxfit‘, 1 x ‘Recovery & Restoration‘ to support mobility and flexibility, and finally, 1 x ‘Movement Matters‘ which is geared towards beginners who need help perfecting their technique.
Each class is designed to be 45 minutes, which includes the explanation of the exercises, a warmup, the main session (at least 30 mins) and a cool down with some stretching. The classes can accomodate up to 20 people and run between 6.15am and 8.15pm. The ones I went to were either almost full or at least half full (7.15am and 7.15pm classes plus one Saturday class). As you would expect, you need to book each class in advance online to secure your spot, but with flexible options to reschedule or to cancel if you need to.
What I really loved about the 10 day experience…
- Always having lots of variety, so exercising never got boring here, I felt motivated all along and wanting to come back for more. And you are guaranteed to be challenged every time you turn up!
- The clear explanation and demonstration of exercises at the beginning of each class (and the exercises are always written on small whiteboards as a reminders so don’t worry, you don’t need to memorise 3,000 moves!);
- The fun and energetic group setting – despite being in pain, I found myself having a good giggle with others a couple of times;
- The timer on the wall – which definitely helped push ourselves more when we were given a time bound goal to achieve as a team;
- The upbeat music and the instructors motivating you to push hard (within your own limits);
- I often felt I was taken outside my comfort zone (in a good way) which I do not often experience in the traditional gym classes, being fitter than the majority of the participants. I felt I was actually working hard because of the intensity, an unfamiliar move or a heavier weight than I would have chosen to pick up had I been doing a solo-workout;
- The ‘supercharged’ and ‘walking on air’ feeling I left the classes with, and which often stayed with me for the rest of the day – definitely not something I often experienced elsewhere.
- The healthy eating resources and yummy recipe collection you get access to during the free trial. Good nutrition and training definitely go hand in hand here!
- Great customer service – all my questions got quickly and thoroughly answered without the usual ‘hard sell’ attitude you often get elsewhere.
My favourite classes were…
- A bootcamp class based on the ‘Modified Strongman Training’ (MST) formula where the focus is on building true functional strength. During the class we were lifting, pushing, swinging, holding and carrying heavy, or awkward equipment (like those you encounter in life). This was the first time I came to very close contact with a 32kg KB 🙂
- A bootcamp class which included a rowing challenge between all the groups who did the same class on that day – I am proud to say I was in the winning team who rowed the longest distance!
- A bootcamp class with a sled pulling challenge where we took turns leaving the circuit exercises to pull the sled as many times as we could, aiming to achieve the score our instructor challenged us to do at the beginning of the class. This was my first encounter with the sled which I have found to be a real killer and possibly a new favourite (!) as it challenged me both strength-wise and cardiovascularly.
Spot me wearing red pants and a white Tee!
In case I have not made it obvious enough, I was totally hooked right from the start, so decided to join this little gemstone of a gym in July, even though going for the free trial was not necessarily driven by me being unhappy with where I train currently. It’s just that my butt has not been kicked so hard anywhere else, and yet been so much fun at the same time (in a slightly masochistic way, I guess)! Needless to say, can’t wait to come back for more.
I also considered how training functionally like this (by choosing the right mix of classes) could help my main sport, which is running – through cross training, I want to be faster, stronger and hopefully injury proofed as well. And in the meantime, as a by-product, if I can end up with an expertly chiselled bod, that will be an added bonus 🙂 But what ultimately matters to me is how I feel during and after a workout, and the personalised support I can get to achieve my fitness goals, which TFE has completely nailed down in my eyes.
So, in summary..
I would definitely recommend TFE, if:
- You are short of time or you mean serious business when you step through that gym door – you are here to get fit or torch fat in as little time and as efficiently as possible.
- You are after a bit more personalised and results focussed experience – TFE will work with each member to set their personal goals and also provide the means to monitor progress and keep them accountable (whether your goals are to shed weight, tone up or supplement your sports specific training be it running, triathlons, rugby or football etc.). As I mentioned earlier, you will also get nutritional advice and access to healthy eating resources. This is all factored into the membership price so you do not need to purchase this service as an additional extra.
- Your motto is ‘go hard or go home’ and are an adrenaline junkie who thrives on heart-pumping sessions that take you outside your comfort zone each time, in a fun group environment.
- You are bored with the repetitive routine of the classic franchise classes and are after a different challenge each time you go to the gym.
- You are looking to belong to a ‘tribe’ i.e. do not just want to be a number but a true member of the gym – TFE has a lively Facebook and Twitter group page to bring the ‘tribe’ together outside the gym building.
- You are a bit self-conscious about your body and others looking at you whilst working out – there are no mirrors (except in the changing rooms, of course) and the classes are so intense I can guarantee that people will barely be able to register who is working out next to them, not to mention stare!
- You live/work in High Wycombe or commute through Handy Cross – due to the flexible timetable, you can almost certainly fit in a workout straight before work, during your lunchtime or on your way home.
It might not be for you, if:
- You are specifically looking for a budget gym – TFE’s pricing is towards the medium-high end, based on their value-offering.
- You are into the ‘full monty’ or luxury health club experience rather than just wanting to ‘get in and get out as quickly as possible’ after each workout. If you like to enjoy a host of amenities e.g. have a relaxing sweat in a sauna after a tougher workout session or grab a cuppa in the café with your friends whilst leaving your toddler in the crèche, I suggest you look elsewhere.
- You often use the gym to do your own workout rather than attend group classes. Even though TFE do offer open gym slots when you can go in and do your own workout, unfortunately, this comes with an extra charge and you have to book it in advance instead of just randomly showing up on a whim.
- You simply can’t live without the classic group classes such as spinning and other franchises (such as Les Mills RPM, Body Pump, Body Attack, Body Combat, Body Balance etc.) – these are not on offer here.
- You belong to the Yoga/Pilates tribe – TFE currently offer only one Yoga/Pilates fusion class on their timetable (and I hope this will change with time.)
- You prefer to wear ‘Sweaty Betty’ rather than look like one!
I hope you have found this article helpful, whether you are looking to change things up a bit in your training, or not (!), in the South Bucks area. My final piece of advice is…
If you reach a plateau with your training or in life – change it up! Do something different and fun 🙂
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In health and happiness,
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are my own and are based on my personal experience. I am not affiliated with TFE and I was not paid for the content of this post.