I went to an outdoor gym and it made me feel like a caveman
You haven’t felt manly till you’ve flipped a truck tyre in Shoreditch
There’s something primal about working out outdoors – at least that’s what I tell myself, standing in a Shoreditch garden beating a worn-out truck tyre with a sledgehammer.
This caveman-like feeling of exercising in the open air is just more rewarding than Bikram yoga in a boutique studio – so maybe that’s why more and more people are shunning their gyms for the great outdoors.
PT Jason Doggett certainly agrees: “When I used to tell people I was a personal trainer, their next question would always be: ‘What gym?’ Now it’s very different.”
At Jason’s company Muddy Plimsolls, he and his trainers utilise London’s surprising array of green spaces and outdoor gym equipment to bring a slice of LA’s Muscle Beach to the people of Mayfair.
Jason blames an interest in functional fitness for the recent exodus outside: “Clients want a well-rounded fitness program, and dumbbell training on a bench doesn’t give you that.
“Speaking from a London-centric point of view, a lot of the gyms in the city are underground and limited in terms of space. But with the space and headroom of being outdoors, you can do a much more well-rounded workout. All you really need is a flat surface and something to jump up and down on.
“Of course there’s also the benefits of being outdoors, and most often being in quite a beautiful location. It tends to be you and the trainer and the tweeting birds, you get to feel the wind on your face, there’s no pounding music – it’s nice.”
It’s the capital’s exodus outdoors which brings me (and my hammer) to Shoreditch’s BaseFit, London’s premier outdoor gym, and a place which doesn’t seem to subscribe to Jason’s “no music” policy.
To be fair, I find myself grateful that A$AP ROCKY’s “F**kin’ Problems” is blaring out to mask my uncomfortable grunts. It’s gruelling stuff – and not just because I’ve jumped in at the deep end with the “Strongman Circuits” class. The bulk of the exercise is in rapid 30 second bursts, with just as much rest.
However for a gym which is little more than a few yards of land and a freight container, it’s also extremely hard to get bored. The menu this evening involves flipping truck tyres, slamming heavy ropes into the floor and pressing beer kegs over our heads. “We haven’t got any lorries or aeroplanes to pull today,” our instructor Danny Brown half-jokes.
BaseFit doesn’t rely solely on quirks, though. The gym offers a range of Calisthenics, Tabata and conditioning classes in which members exercise with little more than their own bodyweight.
The benefit of this, like Jason says, is the space: there’s ample room to sprint, lunge and throw kettlebells around – it’s easy to see why people are flocking here, and to Muddy Plimsolls’ even more open-air alternative.
Jason says: “I don’t think outdoor training is a fad. I think it’s just opening people’s eyes up to reality: gyms are busy, and if you’ve got people standing in line for a free treadmill in January then they might start reconsidering their membership.”
The big problem, I suggest, is the weather. It’s all well and good now, but surely people will be sprinting back to the gym when the rains return?
“People ask what we do when it rains,” Jason says: “I tell them: ‘you get wet.’ The thing is, once we get people as clients, the change in season doesn’t actually tend to put them off. They know we’re outside, so the assumption is that at some point it isn’t going to be gloriously sunny.
“Obviously we get more interest on a hot, sunny day. Our job is therefore to show people the benefits of training outdoors, so that when the weather changes they don’t change their mind.”
Both Jason and Danny say much the same thing, and it’s easy to see why – I’m hooked already, and I’m not sure a bit of rain would put me off coming again. Jason isn’t surprised: “There’s no gym politics outside. There’s no posing, there’s no mirrors – there’s no-one else. All you need is you, and an empty plot of green space.”
Whether that’s a patch of AstroTurf in East London or a scenic park in Putney, one thing’s for sure: either’s more fun than your local gym.