Top of the class
From yoga to Pilates, ballet barre to gymnastics, these five fab classes will get you shipshape before you can say 'body beautiful'.
If you want to get fit but struggle with self-motivatation (yup, that’s me), a fitness class could be just the thing to whip you into shape. Here are some of the best classes I’ve found in ascending order from gentle to gruelling.
Dru Yoga at Stroud Yoga Space, Stroud
I’d never heard of Dru Yoga before (and I’ve been around the block a bit with yoga), so when I saw it on Stroud Yoga Space’s class timetable, I was hot-footing it down there before you could say downward dog. The studio is beautifully calming and Rachel, who takes the Dru class, is the suitably Zen owner of the space she opened five years ago. The class is something of a cross between yoga, tai chi and a beautiful spiritual dance. All the usual elements of yoga are there – sun salutations, balances, warrior poses – but you do them as if you’re dancing, flowing from one movement to another, your breath and your hands leading the dance. The class is very accessible – I reckon most people of any age or fitness level could manage it – and it gives you a lovely, gentle workout, which you can take to your own limit (I did feel I’d worked out the next morning). It was also a lovely cleansing session for the mind – the class I went to finished at 9.20pm and afterwards I slid straight into bed for an incredibly restful sleep. It’s the perfect way to get moving for anyone who hasn’t exercised for a while as it gently works on strength and flexibility, and it would also be an excellent yin companion to more yang exercise commitments, such as running or HIIT.
Dru Yoga, Mondays, 6.30pm & 8pm, Tuesdays, 9.30 am & 6pm, Fridays 9.30am, Stroud Yoga Space, Stroud, stroudyogaspace.com
Reformer Pilates at Cheltenham Pilates & Yoga, Cheltenham
This venerable studio (and winner of the Best Yoga/Pilates Studio in the Muddy Awards!) has been around for 10 years, and when it comes to Pilates (and yoga and barre), it really knows its onions and covers all the bases with more than 70 classes a week catering for everyone from complete beginners to advanced athletes – Gloucester Rugby come in weekly (for private sessions before you try and book in with them!) as do many people in their eighties. The great thing about Reformer Pilates is that it really is for everyone and the Beginner Reformer class with the very lovely and very experienced Josie was a perfect fit for me, as I’m completely new to it. I was at a bit of a loss to start with, but Josie explained every move and soon I was stretching muscles I didn’t know I had on fancy machines I was too scared to play around with, leaving it to Josie to adjust (I’ll have a go next time!). The class is gently paced and encourages you to focus on what you’re doing. You get a full-body workout with the smallest of movements without having to break into a sweat. Which isn’t to say it isn’t challenging. As my legs swung around restrained by the resistance of various springs and ropes, I was feeling it pretty much everywhere. It’s very exacting and pinpointed the parts of my body that weren’t quite in balance. It felt like precision surgery and is especially good for anyone with chronic pain or injuries. If you’re embarking on a new fitness regime, I’d say this is an excellent place to start.
Reformer Pilates, various times, Cheltenham Pilates & Yoga, pilatesyogacheltenham.co.uk
Fitness Yoga at Quay Yoga Studio, Gloucester
I was intrigued by this class offered by the beautifully quirky Quay Yoga Studio, which, with its upscaled furniture and homely touches, dials down stress levels the minute you walk through the door. Owner Jodie, who opened the studio a year ago in October, is the loveliest teacher ever, and her inspired Fitness Yoga is essentially circuit training without the pain and high intensity. Yeah, sounds good doesn’t it! Yoga postures are the foundation of the hour-long class, but instead of flowing through vinyasas, you hold the poses and then do reps, which is when you start to feel the burn as your muscles fire into action. The encouraging and dulcet tones of Jodie keeps everything very mellow though – there’s no boot camp-style shouting here – so the class doesn’t feel like an ordeal, which means you’re more likely to return. I floated out of the class afterwards feeling super chilled and reckon this is the ideal way to gently build up all-over body tone while starting the weekend with an injection of Zen-style calm.
Fitness Yoga, Saturdays 10-11am, Quay Yoga Studio, Gloucester, quayyogastudio.co.uk
Ballet Barre at One Grove, Cheltenham
I wasn’t a dancer as a girl, but have always had leanings and so was keen to try this ballet barre class at One Grove where Jojo, a former dancer at The School of Atelier Ballet in Toronto and École Supérieure de Ballet du Québec, teaches. She’s actually something of a pioneer, having started the first Pilates-inspired barre classes in Cheltenham at another studio before bringing her students and business to One Grove when it opened its doors last January. Barre classes, she says, are the perfect place to work strong arms, legs and abs. When you stand balanced at the barre, you need to engage your core to hold your balance and, as One Grove is a specialist Pilates facility, they’re on you like a rash to make sure your stance is perfect! I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up at first, but Jojo explained everything beautifully and all the other women (who seemed to be regulars judging from their figures) were incredibly friendly and patient when my legs went in the wrong direction. Intense movements worked every angle of our arms and legs to ensure 360-degree toning (bye bye batwings!), and the barre work engaged every muscle in my body, many I’d never said hello to before, but they were sure talking the next day! The dance-inspired movements were a bit of a coordination challenge, but this apparently helps improve posture, adaptability and strength. Add in lithe, super-toned muscles – my thighs felt rock hard after just one class – and I’m thinking Darcey Bussell, watch your back!
Ballet Barre, Mon 9am, Tue 12.15pm, Wed 10am, Sat 9.30am, One Grove, Cheltenham, onegrove.co.uk
Foundation Gymnastics at Forma GymnasticBodies, Gloucester & Stroud
I’m not going to lie, this class is not for the fainthearted. After the five-minute warm-up where we ran in two circles round the room – forwards, backwards, sideways, change direction (at which point I fell over, embarrassing!) – I was already properly knackered and thought I wouldn’t be much good for anything else. But, Jo, the instructor knew what she was doing, as she then got us on the floor to get our breath back and work our abs (Jo, who’s in her forties, was in a crop top and, my, her abs were firm), after which we paired up and did circuit training-style rounds at different stations – plank holding onto a bar and using different grips, a hamstring stretch with weights, pull-ups from a very high bar (ouch!) and finally hanging upside down off wall bars (OMG!). Muddy commercial director Rachael is a bit of a whiz at this and is testament to the efficacy of this programme – only 18 months ago, she was in a car accident that left her in a wheelchair and she’s now completely rehabilitated and able to do handstands and bridges like a nimble teen (and she’s in her forties too!). So if you want a tiny waist, a rippling six pack (Mr Muddy, are you reading this?), long toned muscles, better posture and a super strong, flexible physique, this is the class for you. But be prepared to sweat.
Foundations, various times, Forma GymnasticsBodies, Gloucester & Stroud, formastrength.uk