'I've been going to Barry's Bootcamp for 5 years, here's how my body & mind have changed'

barrys bootcamp london
'I've been going to Barry's Bootcamp for 5 years'

This year, Barry’s UK celebrates a decade since the opening of its first studio in January 2013. Now, there are nine studios across the country, all boasting the same dark rooms illuminated with red lights, the same ‘nightclub spec sound system’ (their words, not ours) and, turns out, the same unwaveringly loyal clientele.

The OG boutique fitness studio markets itself as ‘the best workout in the world’, but despite being famously challenging, the community (known as the Fit Fam) keep going back. Ray Perry from Walthamstow, London, is one of those people. She’s been attending three-four classes per week for the past five years. Here’s her honest review, and everything she’s learned in her time there.

I was born with several health conditions. My mum was pregnant with me during the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the radioactive contamination she was exposed to managed to affect me. One of these conditions was something called congenital amputation; I was born missing my foot and part of my lower leg. I didn’t have to have anything removed, and I managed to learn to walk while still missing part of my leg by the time I was nine months old. But, when I was 1, I got my first prosthetic leg so that I could learn how to walk with a ‘proper’ leg, before I got too used to not having one.

Over the years, despite some physical pain from having my prosthetic leg fitted and getting used to walking with it, and the frustrations I felt in accessing the little medical support there was for disabled people at the time, the hardest part about having a prosthetic for me has been self-acceptance. I was bullied until my early 20s and still deal with people staring and making comments daily. It took me nearly three decades to accept and appreciate myself, and Barry’s Bootcamp has definitely helped with that.

Before starting at Barry's, I led a pretty sedentary lifestyle. Growing up in the 90s/00s, there was almost no support for disabled people in fitness spaces, and prosthetics weren’t as advanced as they are today (it was only about six years ago that I finally got a prosthetic leg that allowed me to exercise). So, I spent a large part of my life feeling defeated by physical activity; I was often told that I couldn’t do things and the rare occasions that I did attempt to exercise would usually finish with me in tears.

I never felt welcomed, included or supported in the gym classes or studios that I did try, and all of this fed into my feeling that fitness “wasn’t for me”. But in 2018, when I was 30, I decided to give fitness one last go, and try Barry’s. I had met a lot of people who raved about the workout for the high it gives you afterwards and how much fitter they felt since going, and I was curious, but I’ll admit it wasn’t easy.

Every class follows the same format: you spend half the time on a treadmill and half the time on ‘the floor’ – doing weights, burpees or other strength training exercises. When it came to running, I instantly fell off the treadmill, despite going at 5mph (a beginner’s running speed), and the weighted exercises seemed super challenging as I’d never done much strength work before.

It was definitely the hardest workout I had ever tried, but my instructor Shannon Belcastro worked with me to understand my abilities and limits, demonstrated everything clearly and gave me the encouragement I needed to continue.

I was made to feel like I belonged in the 'red room' – what the studio is known as – alongside everyone else, and the other clients also welcomed me and celebrated my wins that day.

barrys bootcamp london
barrys bootcamp london

I instantly felt like a member of the Barry’s family and the whole experience made me want to try it again. Suddenly, I was fighting against all of my barriers - and not just proving society wrong, but also showing myself what was possible. I went five times in that first week.

Fast-forward to 2019, nine months after completing my 100th Barry's class and I applied for Barry’s Lucky 7 programme. It’s an initiative that anyone can apply to, that requires you to commit to five classes a week for eight weeks. In that time, you’re paired up with two Barry’s instructors and a mentor to support you to achieve the best of your ability through one-to-one sessions.

I realised I had already made huge progress on my own in the classes, but I believed the programme would help me to step up another level. I still had confidence issues, and whilst I had shown myself I could do more than I thought possible, I was far off achieving my more ambitious fitness goals – more on these to come. I knew that the programme would provide me with the support and direction I needed, and after being accepted, it did.

My trainer helped me identify what my boundaries were, and taught me how to adapt the workouts accordingly, while still making them challenging. For example, they suggested that I increase my speed instead of my incline on the treadmill, since incline running is very difficult with a prosthetic leg.

That way, I could still increase the intensity of the treadmill sections in each workout, at the same time as everyone else. They also taught me alternative weighted movements, but it was the confidence they gave me that was most significant; I finished the seven weeks feeling like I could achieve anything I wanted to.

barrys bootcamp london
barrys bootcamp london

Everything Barry’s has taught me

1.It will make other forms of fitness more enjoyable

It's now five years since my first Barry’s and I’m still going to class three or four times a week. This is the perfect amount for me; it allows for recovery time, as well as some other activities. I always try to walk where I can, take the stairs (very challenging with a prosthetic leg, FYI), and I also enjoy mountain climbing and scuba diving. These hobbies have become so much more enjoyable since I started Barry’s because I’m stronger and more mentally resilient.

2. There are plenty of physical and mental benefits

My energy levels increased significantly within the first couple of weeks of attending Barry’s, and I also noticed my anxiety was more manageable after about four weeks. At the six-to-eight week mark I also started to notice some significant physical changes; I felt stronger, and I noticed that my muscles looked bigger and more defined. I also started to experience deeper sleep. All of these benefits have increased over the years.

barrys bootcamp london
barrys bootcamp london

3. It’s great for relieving stress and anxiety

Going to Barry’s has encouraged me to pay more attention to my nutrition. Before, I would use sugar to help cope with my anxiety and stress, but now I find myself naturally leaning towards healthier foods that give me more energy. For example, I've swapped the chocolate I would usually snack on for a protein shake. I’ve also stopped drinking alcohol and am now sober. What’s more, instead of turning to sugar for stress relief, I turn to Barry’s!

An average day of food for me now might look like:

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal made with soya milk and chopped banana + an oat latte

  • Lunch: A salad; cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli, mozzarella, avocado, pine nuts

  • Dinner: Something hearty, like a Quorn spaghetti Bolognese

  • Snacks: Greek yoghurt with berries, apples, and dark chocolate

4. Staying in your own lane is key

The most surprising thing for me is how unintimidating Barry’s is. I totally understand why some people may find the loud music, dark rooms and intensity of the workouts daunting, and I certainly felt nervous on day one, but it’s the only studio where I have felt like I was in safe and welcome hands.

You get an introduction on your first day, and the trainers are always on hand to answer questions or address concerns. Every class has three intensity options – beginners, intermediate or advanced, and if those don’t work for you, you can adapt the workout in your own way. The most important thing is not to compare yourself to others and remember that everyone is on their own journey.

barrys bootcamp london
barrys bootcamp london

5. The sense of community is unmatched

The sense of achievement and the influx of energy after a Barry’s class is incredible, and I live for the sense of community at Barry’s. It really does feel like you are part of a family, and everyone cheers each other on.

6. You can’t half-ass a workout

Barry’s is all about pushing yourself to do your best. I’ve had countless knock-backs, but that’s what makes you stronger and keeps your workouts from going stale. My goal has always been to push myself to the best of my ability; to try and increase my strength and feel my best mentally. I would love to be able to sprint at 12mph (the fastest I’ve hit is 11.7mph!) And this year I’d love to make it to my 500th (maybe 600th) class! I'm 450 classes down so far.

barrys bootcamp london
barrys bootcamp london

7. Consistency is hard, but you’ll never regret a class

I don’t always feel in the mood for a class, and it can be difficult to get back into a routine if you’ve been off sick or travelling elsewhere, but I always remind myself that I’ve never regretted going to a class. I also love going to other Barry’s studios when I'm travelling - they're all over the world. That said, I always listen to my body and never force a workout if I’m in need of a rest day.

8. Your ability doesn’t define you

It took a while for me to quieten my inner monologue telling me “you don’t belong here”, but over time, and thanks to the clients and staff at Barry’s who never made me feel like an outsider, I realised that was totally unwarranted. Every day I step into the ‘red room’ feels like a proud moment.

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