At first glance, Helle Hammond’s GymClass is just another boutique fitness studio thriving in the UK’s capital.
The former personal trainer and Barry’s Bootcamp and Gymbox instructor is behind what has been dubbed one of the “toughest” and most “hardcore” workouts in London.
But as soon I walked through the door and was greeted with a warm northern welcome and a friendly wink from Helle, 38, her 20-year-old daughter Suzie, and resident dogs Mini and Missy, I was immediately put at ease.
Having founded their first studio in Holland Park in 2015, the mother and daughter duo opened the doors to a second gym in the City two months ago.
Before her 5.45 p.m. class I sat down with Helle over a coffee that I would later come to regret a few minutes into my abs and upper body class.
She told me that the thing that most differentiates GymClass from its competitors is the vibe.
“All of my trainers have to be really friendly, they can’t be arrogant, that’s the whole ethos behind my brand and my career,” she said.
As a young adult and teen single mother, Hammond suffered from low self-esteem and eating disorders. Getting into high intensity interval and strength training was her catalyst for change.
She was never really into sport. “I’d join a gym but not know what I was doing, I’d just run on the treadmill for hours, or join a prescriptive class,” she says. “And I’d very soon fall off the bandwagon.”
She was intimidated by groups of men at the gym, and found herself driving there only to sit outside unable to muster up the confidence to go inside.
“I don’t want anyone here to feel like that girl who was me all those years ago,” she said.
“I want my clients to feel welcome to pop in and say hi, get a warm welcome from our front of house and trainers. All of my staff look good and are approachable,” she said. “When we have had someone that isn’t I’ve had to get rid of them.”
And I’d have to agree. There’s certainly a glamorous feel to GymClass, but it doesn’t feel intimidating. The attractive front of house staff – led by Suzie – buzz about the studio in preparation for the next class, and appear to address everyone who walks through the door by name.
The stylish studio is minimalist with a retro feel.
For some classes, it’s lit with a selection of disco-esque coloured lights.
An electric pink staircase leads down to the second studio.
Downstairs it’s darker and feels cooler. Helle said: “It’s the same concept, just with different equipment.”
The swanky changing rooms are equipped with digital lockers, free toiletries and spa products in the shower.
Helle said she identified a gap in the market for her fitness class. “From my years as a PT and then working in group training sessions I knew there were limitations to both, so I wanted to bring the best of each to my class,” she said.
“The best bits about PT are strength sets, and prescribing things. When you do that in a group dynamic you get the element of competition, community, and motivation.”
“We’re bang for buck here,” she added. “People come here because they want to spend 50 minutes getting that ultimate burn.”
Helle’s washboard abs are testament to her gruelling workout. So what’s her secret?
She said she prefers to train fasted, but emphasises it’s not for everyone. “I go crazy in the morning before I’ve eaten because eating something would slow me down,” she said.
“When I’m being lean, or when I’ve got abs, I usually don’t eat after 7.30 p.m. or 8 p.m. and then I probably wouldn’t eat again until like 11.30 a.m. I like it because I have a window when I can eat whatever I like. So I try and do it most days.”
She warned that when you first start training, it can be hard to train fasted and can make you feel “really light headed.”
“Someone else might train fasted but only be able to give 50% of what they would had they eaten 150 calories, but are gonna burn 600 going twice as hard,” she said.
“I usually say at the beginning to make sure you eat something digestible 1.5 hours before.”
GymClass sessions range between 45, 50 and 55 minutes. Helle explains it’s all about getting the most out of your time.
“I always go for full body movements that use more muscle groups,” she said. “I mix HIIT and strength training together but always try and do it in combination moves.
“Like, for example, a push up is a full body move. It feels like an upper body but you’re actually using your core, and your butt should be really tight as well. Or squats with an overhead press, or a backwards lunge with a curl.”
“No one is going to be bullied here, that’s very important, but we do believe in picking up heavier weights because that’s going to burn faster and create those changes,” she added.
Despite her open attitude, there are some movements she’s not a fan of. “Exercises are all relative. I don’t like girly movements,” she said, motioning a side leg up. “They have a place, just not in GymClass,” she said with another wink.
“Oh, and I hate mountain climbers when not done properly! That’s one of my pet hates. Or when people do too much in plank position.”
She added: “We (women) tend to be quite tight across here,” pointing to her chest, “while men can take a lot more pressure. So if you are doing too much here it becomes less effective and people start rounding out and not doing things properly.”
With all of that to look forward to, the time had come to test her workout for myself, so I headed downstairs to the changing rooms.
- Business Insider
I have to admit, I’ve never fully managed to integrate hardcore exercise into my weekly routine, apart from the odd run or yoga class. Having had one very bad experience at a circuit training class at a fancy gym I joined a few years back, I had decided HIIT training was not for me.
I spoke to a girl in the changing rooms who told me she couldn’t walk for two days after her first class, and she looked to be in pretty good shape. Great. I headed back upstairs.
The first thing I liked about Helle’s class was that it was relatively small. The City studio fits 22, and Holland Park 14, so it feels intimate with a sense of “We’re all in this together.” There’s enough mirror space for everyone and a good amount of room – not like so many of the hot yoga classes I’ve been to where we’ve been packed like sardines, made all the worse in 40 degree heat.
The RnB music started and we were off. We began with some squats, which I found manageable, but it quickly spiralled into hardcore kettlebell/dumbbell/burpee hell, while Helle hurled encouragement from the sides. Even the fittest looking of the group were crying out in agony during the last full body burpees.
Finally, our 50 minutes was up. I had made it through the class. I was handed a chocolate-based protein shake – which was delicious – and stumbled down the stairs to get changed.
It was by far the most hardcore workout I’ve ever endured, but also the most fun. It left me struggling to walk for five days, but also wanting more. I’ll be back.