There was a time when most gyms in London were functional, slightly clinical looking places that came with a whiff of sweat and chlorine about them. They certainly weren't the sort of place you’d choose to hang out in on a Friday night. What a difference a few years makes. Today the best gyms in London feel closer to nightclubs or fancy restaurants – some have DJs, others schedule ‘raves' and more than a few have comfy leather armchairs. In short: exercise has never been so much fun, whether you're after a bit of boxing, swimming or spinning. But where do you start? By taking a look at our round-up of the best gyms in London, of course.
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The best gyms in London
London's east end has a surprising lack of boutique gyms. Blok in Clapton is an attempt to correct this imbalance. This fitness newcomer, which opened in early 2016, is a seriously trendy offering. Occupying a former warehouse it has all the vibes of a hip Berlin hangout, with a cafe specialising in bone broth and exhibition space for local artists. It's a class-based gym and you pay-as-you-go. Their signature class is a gruelling circuits-type workout called Blok-Fit and there's also boxing, yoga, dance and calisthenics. The owners have thought about the little things too: the bathrooms even have underfloor heating, so no need to do the ‘cold floor hop’ in the dead of winter.
Swanky gym chain Third Space has cottoned on to the fact that many fitness fans have fallen out of love with hefty membership fees and restrictive contracts. So their newest gym is strictly pay-as-you-go. It offers three classes: HIIT (a mix of boxing and floor work), cycle (spinning with a focus on core strength) and yoga (take your pick from hot or ‘ambient’). The gym itself is bright and light, and the changing rooms are packed with everything you could possibly need, from hair ties to wet bags. There’s also a small café, serving healthy snacks and protein shakes in every hue.
The thinking behind Third Space is that after home and work the third ‘space' that you'll choose to spend time in is here. If you think that doesn't sound too far off members club territory then you’re right: the atmosphere at this small chain is refined. Gym equipment is top of the line, the décor is considered and the towels are extra fluffy. There’s a full schedule of strength and cardio classes, plus a wealth of instructors on hand in case you’re wondering what exactly you should be doing with that kettlebell. One stand-out feature – and a clear advantage over the wealth of drop-in gyms in the city - is that at the Soho and Tower Bridge gyms they offer a health check, which you can use to steer yourself to health and fitness glory.
Gymbox has grown impressively since it started in a car park in Holborn back in 2003. Right now in London you can take your pick from 8 Gymbox gyms, each committed to making getting sweaty and out-of-breath fun. A quick look at their schedule gives you a sense of the vibe: there’s a class called Drill Sergeant, a gruelling military fitness workout; another called Surfset where yoga is performed on mini surfboards; and another dedicated to aerial hoop acrobatics. Their gyms also feature boxing rings, functional fitness rigs, and resident DJs. This is working out with added party vibes.
Equinox gyms have a seriously swanky reputation. Established in New York in the early nineties, they opened their first gym outside America in London in 2012. Housed in an art deco building a moment from Kensington High Street station everything about Equinox says ‘high class’, and that includes the monthly fees which are £200 plus. But you certainly get bang for your buck: there’s a boxing studio, a spin studio, a pilates studio, a spa, a packed class schedule and a crèche (which gives you a pager for your piece of mind when you drop off your little ones). There are also chilled eucalyptus-scented towels and an abundance of Kiehls products in the changing rooms. Oh, and wifi available in every part of the club. If you can splash the cash, it’s the gym of dreams.
Call us shallow but we’re in love with 1Rebel’s changing rooms: spacious, with an endless row of showers and large bronze lockers that have graced many an Instagram feed. Thankfully 1Rebel’s commitment to creating an amazing gym experience goes beyond the locker room. This hipper-than-thou studio, in two buildings close to Liverpool St, focuses on 3 classes: Cycle (that’s spinning to you and me); Reshape (high intensity exercises across treadmills and benches) and Rumble (a boxing fitness class). Instructors are top of their game and classes are well planned. Be prepared though: they fall on the challenging side. But after your session you get to stand under one of their heavenly rainforest showers. Bliss.
Frame was set up to bring a more positive vibe to the whole process of getting and staying fit. That philosophy is evident a soon as you arrive at their Shoreditch gym (their first, which opened in 2009), where emblazoned on the outside is a huge mural with the words ‘Be bad until you’re good. And good until you’re great.’ You can now be ‘bad’ (or ‘good’ or ‘great, for that matter) at four Frames – in King’s Cross, Queen’s Wood and Victoria as well as Shoreditch – each offering an overwhelming number of classes. Amid the abs workouts and yoga classes there are some quirky options, like Frame Rave and Music Video, plus there’s a weekly running club. That little lot should keep even the most jaded gym bunny coming back for more.
This swanky workout destination is slightly more expensive than its central London counterparts, but for west Londoners after a thorough workout it’s a sweet spot to head to. On arrival you’re greeted by a huge café and chill-out area with large Chesterfield sofas – you’ll be grateful for these post-class. Downstairs is where the hard work happens. Take your pick from four fitness classes – spinning, TRX resistance, high-intensity and ‘sculpt’. (The latter a mix of ballet, contemporary dance and cardio.) There are also yoga and pilates classes on the schedule. Staff are particularly helpful and the equipment is shiny and new.
Try a dance class in London
Tucked in between the Central YMCA and 24-hour diner VQ, Tang is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Singaporean noodle joint specialising in dairy-free broth. You can choose between rice, glass or wheat noodles: a nice touch. Chinese newspapers plaster the walls and chef Chen Ng serves straight to communal wooden tables once diners have ordered at the counter. The rich, spicy broth in a bowl of ‘prawn tang’ came with a generous dollop of caramelised onions and fat king prawns, though another bowl of gingery ‘chicken tang’ sadly lacked depth. Portions are huge but expensive (around £11 a pop), so it’s best to forgo the pimp-my-soup protein extras (pulled pork ribs, six-minute-egg). If you’re really starving, there are generous starters such as crisp battered black bean tofu, which comes piping hot with a tangy, homemade white miso dip; it’s a moreish combo. On my Wednesday lunchtime visit, the place was deserted, but staff were sweet-natured and more accommodating than that YMCA next door.
Venue says: “Summer Weather has been arriving and we have some refreshing dishes for you to try! Cold Noodle Salad and Broccoli Salad”