The gym floor is a safari — and to an interloper, it feels duly perilous. Hulking Mr and Mrs Muscles pumping iron, their grunts reverberating around the chamber; lean runners going for a sub-two-hour marathon on a corner treadmill, their legs moving at cartoonish velocity. You start to sidle towards a kettlebell — but it is plucked from the rack by a nimble athlete who heads for a floor mat, virtually swinging it around their little finger. Gymtimidated, you sit on a stationary bike and text for seven minutes, then leave, cancelling your membership on the way out.
Don’t go: all you need is a guardian angel — in other words, a personal trainer. Someone to help you seize kettlebells with assertion and drop into a squat like a pro. Moreover, this someone will ensure your reps really count: that you neither do too few, nor too many, and that each one is safely executed (ie no risk to the knees, spine or dignity).
All well and good, but for those who don’t mint their own money have you considered a faithful PT who will dispatch a crib sheet via WhatsApp? That’s the idea at 13, a new luxe pay-as-you-go Chelsea gym by the team behind boxing studio Kobox (it’s upstairs at Kobox’s Sloane Street site). Not that you need to go there at all: the training programme is delivered via phone, including GIFs of your 13 trainers showing how to execute each move. “We are trying to bridge the gap between having gym membership and not knowing what to do when you go, and having a PT which for many can be too expensive,” says Kobox and 13 founder Shane Collins. “Clients get 80 per cent of the benefit of a PT at 20 per cent of the price.” It’s £20 for a single e-PT session, £200 for a four-week programme, and £375 for eight weeks.
And it’s simple: all you need is a phone and WhatsApp. Your PT will send you a programme of moves, detailing the number of reps, then send GIFs demonstrating each one. This visual element is the flourish of the service. “If people have a visual example they can usually follow it pretty well,” Collins says. “If the exercises are just written down, people often don’t know exactly which exercise is which.” The GIFs both improve form and limit the likelihood of injury.
Plus, just like a real PT, you can ask them questions. “It allows us to open up an instant chat situation. If you have queries or feedback we can deal with it in real time.” Workouts are specifically for the individual. “Maybe you want to lose weight, gain muscle, learn to run better, train for golf, tennis or skiing — it doesn’t matter, we can build you a plan.”
In that way, the programme is tailored for both novices and those who want to maximise the efficiency of a workout. I am not a beginner but often feel a bit unfocused at the gym: after a 15-minute warm-up on the treadmill I’ll slope over to mess on the machines and do squats or presses. But I’m never sure if it amounts to a coherent workout. Road-testing a Strength programme was reassuring: in between dumbbell single-press lunges and plank step-ups (ouch), I was sure I was getting a proper workout. “The main thing the programme has done is give confidence to the clients,” says Collins. “Instead of walking aimlessly around the gym, they’re coming with structure and purpose and being efficient with their time.”
Plus, for commitment-allergic Londoners with unpredictable schedules, it’s flexible. “You don’t have to fit in with your PT’s schedule, or anyone else’s, you work through the programme when it suits you. You’re in charge and we’re just there to help you get the best workout you possibly can.”