From 'animal movement' to power yoga, we step out of our comfort zone
WE all know how intimidating it can be the first time you visit a new gym. It's why so many emphasise how friendly and accessible they are on their websites.
So it takes a bold vision to do the exact opposite of that. But BLOK, the new fitness studio in Cultureplex, is nothing if not bold.
Its images are of super-human Olympian figures, quite literally placed on pedestals. Ballerinas: skinny, sinewy, ultra-strong. Meanwhile the classes have daunting names like Cardio Killer and Animal Movement. And the cost? We'll come to that in a bit, but it's not for everyone.
On first look, BLOK can seem not just aspirational but unattainable. For two Confidential writers, non-gym bunnies in our late thirties and early forties, it felt a little unnerving to agree to try something so outside our comfort zone. But after sampling it for six weeks or so, we were both impressed enough to consider making it our regular gym.
At £15 a class, that says something. We pay a fiver elsewhere.
So what made BLOK seem worth the extra cost? Did it transform us into the optimised Olympian versions of ourselves? Strong, graceful, flawless, like the models on their website?
Spoiler alert: no. But training there had a different, unexpected effect: it made us feel good. Not less-than, or out-of-place, or physically inadequate, but good in body and mind.
Partly it's the design. BLOK is a very stylish gym housed in a very stylish building. The golden light that flows over Cultureplex - which is part NYC Library, part NQ cocktail bar - gives way to industrial chic in BLOK, with its Scandi pale wood and stainless steel.
Most gyms don't pay much attention to how they look. They're workmanlike, no nonsense and often a bit 'masculine'. But if you want to feel better, the environment is surely almost as important as the classes.
BLOK Manchester offers 25 different classes, with 180 in the schedule each week. Whether it's an hour of circuit training or an hour of conscious breathing, they're all the kind of exercise that will bring on an endorphin high.
It means you get an immediate, noticeable benefit – a lift in mood - as well as the long-term benefit of physical fitness.
In our view, BLOK is worth it if you can afford it. It's £15 for a single class, dropping to £8.40 a class (£84 a month) if you pay monthly for a year. There is also a 30-day unlimited-class trial for £100 available at the moment.
From 'animal movement' to power yoga, here's what to expect from some of the classes we tried...
Box Con with Liam
Short for boxing conditioning, this session is based on three-minute rounds, just like a boxing match except the punch bags don't hit you back. The rounds alternate between pounding the bags and strength exercises - if you've never boxed before, prepare to be shocked by how much stamina and concentration it takes. It's intense and you get completely immersed; the 45 minutes pass in no time. Liam is an ex-professional boxer and his enthusiasm powers this class along: it's an upbeat fun workout, even though half the participants are dying by the end of it. It's for all levels but Liam doesn't dumb things down for beginners – he assumes you can do it and then you find that you can (sort of, in a way). It's empowering, energising and exhausting, all at the same time.
Animal Movement with Skoti
Skoti clearly takes this unusual practise very seriously and is quite a solemn and spiritual teacher. If you prefer to laugh and smile a bit while exercising - if only to trick your brain into thinking it’s enjoying itself - this might be a challenge. The moves are a combination of ones you might have done in other classes, from HIIT bear crawls to yogic downward dogs but with a focus on letting the animalistic side out. No primal screams though - awww! The name of the class conjures up an image of Mark from Peep Show attending Rainbow Rhythms but it’s not quite that awkward. You might be asked to pair up with people you’ve only just met and try to poke each other with a long stick though.
BLOKstrength with Sam
If you do yoga, you'll be used to the teacher cautiously telling you not to push yourself too hard and, if something hurts, stop. This strength-building class is a little different. “It's supposed to be hurting” is the kind of thing you might hear Sam cheerfully telling you halfway through a banded plank hold. It's not the kind of pain that leaves you injured but the kind that makes your muscles grow and, weirdly, leaves you feeling better than before. Samantha McGowan is a personal trainer and an Under Armour athlete who knows how to get results from her students – she encourages you to lift heavier, for longer, and really challenge yourself to reach the end of the set. It's also a good class for improving your technique on everything from weighted lunges and squats to deadlifts and overhead presses.
Power Yoga with Stefan
Every instructor and every yoga class is different and finding the one for you is sometimes a journey of self discovery in itself. I occasionally go to a new one only to be disappointed by an hour of lying down barely moving - the words ‘yin yoga’ always make my heart sink. So if you, like me, are firmly in the ‘make me sweat’ camp, power yoga might be your cup of namas-tea. Described as ‘not for beginners’, your yogi starts by telling you to get in control of that monkey. Don’t worry, you’ve not accidentally joined an NA meeting - he’s on about the annoying ‘monkey mind’ that wants to jump around all over the show. Relatable. This is a nice long session of controlled breathing and ever more challenging moves and yes, you might well get a bit of a sweat on. A 7.30am class is great way to ensure you start the day feeling smug.
Boxing with Johnny
While Box Con is fast and furious, this is more focused on building a solid technique but it's still an intense workout. You start with a short combination of punches then gradually build it up into a longer sequence - with Johnny guiding you on footwork, positioning, and what you're supposed to be doing with your head. You move from punch bags to hitting a pad held by a partner, and this adds a whole new energy and dynamic (think cheering each other on, not knocking each other out). Johnny DiLusso is a sports massage therapist as well as a personal trainer, with a specialism in martial arts. It's another endorphin-boosting class that completely takes you out of your normal life for an hour or so.
BLOKparty with Melissa G
If - like me - you dance like Snoopy on ketamine and dream of becoming a bit more Miley, you might have the guts to join this rather intimidating class. Having tried zumba previously and left feeling about as sexy as a turnip, I bravely convinced myself that this street dance party vibe might be more my thing. But beware, you will be required to gyrate your hips in one direction while doing other stuff with your arms and you might feel like one of those inflatable flailing things outside a car dealership. The pièce de résistance comes when you’re asked to ‘freestyle’ in pairs up and down the gym like Naomi Campbell meets Bruno Mars. I’m more like Patsy Stone meets Mr Bean so I found this an exercise in humiliation more than anything. Of course there’s a high chance that you have better co-ordination and a more ardent exuberance for dancing in public than I do. After this class I went to a wine tasting - if it had been the other way around, things could have been very, very different.