Searching for a New Training Space for 2022? These Are the 17 Best Gyms in the UK

·12-min read

There’s an argument that 20 March 2020 – the day the gyms closed – changed the fitness industry irrevocably. But perhaps it was more of a catalyst: a switching-up of gears on progress that was already in motion. Away from the IG Lives, the weekend Zoom classes and the experimental podcast launches, many trainers spent the various lockdowns working furiously to overhaul their offerings for the post-Covid world.

Concerns about hygiene? Private PT areas and open-air class spaces would take care of that. Isolated home-workers? Social meet-ups and team throwdowns could rebuild a sense of kinship. Newly flexible weekday schedules? Less proscriptive membership options and added virtual workouts could make fitting in a sweat session simpler.

As a result, many gyms have moved through the pandemic not just surviving, but thriving. Many are now bigger, bolder and better than ever before– none more so than those on this page. Let’s call it a comeback.

The Future is Hybrid

The ability to transfer your training from weights room to living room is indispensable for those with a busy, varied schedule (most of us, then). These quick-thinking gyms didn’t miss a rep.

Third Space: London

Photo credit: JAMIE MCGREGOR SMITH
Photo credit: JAMIE MCGREGOR SMITH

So named because its gyms offer a haven away from your ‘first’ and ‘second’ spaces (home and office – these days one and the same). When you can get away from your desk, its seven London venues offer both luxury – UV-purified pools, steam rooms, fluffy towels – and a take-no-prisoners training ethos, encompassing everything from HIIT to martial arts. But when its saunas and spin studios shut last year, the gym chain proved it’s more than just a pretty space with the launch of a comprehensive virtual training programme.

Designed with the WFH crowd in mind, its app includes an extensive library of more than 500 fitness classes, led by the gym’s top trainers, including shorter ‘express’ workouts for those between-Slack-call breaks. Recreating the luxury spa experience at home might pose more of a challenge.

The Foundry: London

Photo credit: Provided by Laura Hoggins <laura@foundryfit.com>
Photo credit: Provided by Laura Hoggins

It’s the gym ‘where the strong belong’, as the slogan goes, but in recent months, many of the strong have been training at home, without the Atlas stones, tractor tyres and prowler sleds they’ve come to know and love/hate. Maintaining the ‘belonging’ part was never a problem for the gym’s team, who were streaming classes on Instagram by the first day of the first lockdown. The Foundry quickly assembled a comprehensive schedule of virtual workouts, replicating the energy and camaraderie of its in-person classes. Now the chain operates a permanent app-based fitness platform, offering hundreds of gains-delivering workouts spanning strength, conditioning, core and mobility, plus guidance on nutrition and running. Or drop in to one of The Foundry’s three gyms for a Sweat class with director Laura ‘Biceps’ Hoggins – and expect to be wringing out your tanktop by the end of it.

Boutiques Built Better

Pay-as-you-go gyms have always offered a commitment-free way to get your fitness fix. But now many are offering far more than just 45 minutes of feeling the burn in a basement.

Barry’s: London, Manchester

Photo credit: Provided by Eliza Melville <eliza.melville@sciencemagic.inc>
Photo credit: Provided by Eliza Melville

Since dropping the ‘Bootcamp’, global fitness phenomenon Barry’s has been on a mission to prove that it’s more than a walk-in calorie furnace. Far from being dissuaded by the pandemic, UK co-founder Sandy Macaskill says it helped him realise that the gym is more important than ever. Back in 2019, Barry’s introduced mental health first-aid training for its instructors as a way to help them better support members and spot signs of (non-dumbbell related) struggle. Last year, it put those tools to work through its ‘In My Head’ scheme, which encouraged anyone feeling isolated to call for a chat, as well as running PE-style classes for kids.

Camden Boxing Club: London

Photo credit: Provided by Zach Scott-Gray <zach.scott-gray@redlionpr.com>
Photo credit: Provided by Zach Scott-Gray

Pay-per-class isn’t limited to cardio beastings with a nightclub aesthetic. Opened in September, this Camden studio is big sister to Fitzrovia’s Rathbone Boxing Club and shares its mix of grit and authenticity with the comfort of a high-end boutique. It is, however, in a higher weight class. The second Boxing Club has expanded to include two rings, two group class zones and a dedicated self-training area with all the bags, weights and cardio kit aspiring AJs and Furys could need. The less gritty stuff? A steam room, sauna, on-site cafe and a Hum2n treatment room.

Health Tech, Turbocharged

Tomorrow’s gym is not a mere gym at all, but a fully loaded wellness playground, promising to reboot your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

GSquared: Manchester

Hidden below Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, this newly opened health club prides itself on offering what’s possibly the most extensive introductory assessment ever thought up. This includes digging into your posture, movement, muscular imbalances, spinal alignment and metabolic ‘type’, as well as a turn in the BodPod: a sci-fi-looking egg-shaped device that delivers accurate data on body composition. Owner Andy McGlynn was keen that the site cater as much to the holistic as the high-intensity – pertinent at a time when the ‘health’ part of health and fitness feels more pressing than ever. The ‘fitness’ side of things is catered for, too, with a comprehensive gym set-up, plus added bonuses such as an indoor running track and soundproof sleep pods – handy if that last circuit really finished you off. Want to test the strength you’ve built? Try GSquared’s mini marine-style assault course, complete with monkey bars, ropes and a climbing wall.

A Breath Of Fresh Air

Outdoor training is hotter than ever (even in this weather), after lockdowns got us used to sweating outside. These innovators do more than dumbbells in the park.

Farm Fitness: Essex

Photo credit: Tom Watkins
Photo credit: Tom Watkins

Fancy an escape to the country? This does-it-all open-air gym was installed on founder Tom Kemp’s family farm, with a sharp focus on functionality, blending endurance with strongman-style training. Plus a dash of bodybuilding, just for fun. Friendly competition has always been central for FarmFitness, which often hosts throwdowns and comps (including Britain’s Fittest Farmer). These were growing in popularity even before the social wasteland that was 2020, but now Kemp is on a mission to help his community flourish, with more space, a bar area and a busier calendar. For those who also enjoy training in the, um, great indoors, Kemp and team are building Farm Fitness Urban, working alongside local ecologists to ensure the new space is green in all senses. Expect a ‘living’ grass roof – which insulates the building, as well as looking cool – added cycle racks to encourage car-free travel, and gym features constructed from recycled materials.

Brixton Street Gym: London

The first iteration of the south London gym was built by volunteers in a converted loading bay. Founder and calisthenics fanatic Terroll Lewis wanted to provide an accessible training space for the local community – cheap day rates, cash accepted. In 2019, it found a new, improved home in Brixton: more space, new equipment and a class roster that encompasses everything from circuit training and handstand tutorials to boxing, Muay Thai and kids’ classes. Its impressive outdoor yard space is kitted out with battle ropes, tractor tyres, prowler sleds and pull-up bars – pretty much everything you might need to give your body a serious beasting. You won’t feel the chill.

Future Cult Hero

It’s been a turbulent year for the sport of fitness, but this CrossFit box has come out (kipping) swinging with a want-to-be-seen-in clothing range – and the odd celebrity guest.

Whatever It Takes (WIT): London

Photo credit: Provided by Kate@fittestpr.com
Photo credit: Provided by Kate@fittestpr.com

It’s commonplace, now, for gyms to flog merch from the front desk. But WIT turned this model on its head, starting out as a hype-generating sportswear pop-up before opening the doors to its shop-cum-gym in 2018. Since then – much like the gym’s members –it’s only grown stronger. Last year, when many of us were resorting to burpees in the hallway (whatever it takes, right?), WIT released more than 100 free video workouts, hosted by the gym’s athletes and coaches – including head of training Gus Vaz Tostes, who believes in ‘changing lives’, not just building bodies. The WIT team also took the opportunity to transform their flagship store, creating extra space for PT sessions, offering more members a chance to learn the ropes and bars before throwing themselves into a class. (New to the game? ‘WITHIT’ is aimed at beginners, with tutoring on moves and techniques.) But the highlight is WIT’s social calendar: on Thursday nights, it hosts community events with drop-in speakers and team experiences. Recent guests have included CrossFit legend Sara Sigmundsdóttir and Hyrox champion Hunter McIntyre.

The Mental Health Champions

Gym-goers know fitness can be transformative for mental wellbeing: a fact these programmes put front and centre.

Move Forward Gym: Exeter

To some, the fitness industry can seem focused on helping the already very well get even weller. This did not escape Scott Britton, founder of global fitness fundraising initiative Battle Cancer, who launched his new endeavour in 2020. The Battle Cancer Programme is a free 12-week training plan that turns cancer survivors into fitness coaches, who can then in turn support other people with their recovery. Britton launched the programme out of his Exeter gym, and it’s now being rolled out in venues across the UK. So far, Britton and his team have helped more than 100 people. Move Forward is also now offering free group classes for those struggling with their mental health, accessed via GP referral, with an added focus on military veterans and emergency services workers– an initiative championed by one of the gym’s coaches, a marine on leave. That, or simply come for the gym’s 40 weekly classes, expert seminars, on-site sports therapy and hangout space.

Gymnasium: London

This strength and conditioning gym launched its ‘Legends’ classes – workouts designed for the over-60s – at its London site, as a way to help the older relatives of its members stay sharp, mobile and healthy. When the UK first went into lockdown, it shifted its programme online, where it’s stayed ever since, growing largely by word of mouth. With many people forced to isolate, even as the world reopened, Legends offered a chance to connect with others. It’s now such a part of the weekly ritual that the attendees stay on the call for a post-sesh chat. The equipment-free (and fee-free) workouts run three mornings a week via Zoom. Somewhere out there is a 70-year-old man who can match you for squat form...

Your Remote Coach

Looking for a fresh challenge and goal-focused programming? Let your next coach meet you where you are – which, we’ll presume, is quite often staring at a screen.

Ronin Strength: roninstrength.co.uk

Photo credit: JAMES PURVIS
Photo credit: JAMES PURVIS

Despite their rising popularity, weightlifting and powerlifting are still slightly niche sports. After noting how tough it was for aspiring athletes to gain access to top trainers, Ronin Strength founder Khrys Speed decided to launch an online platform to link up lifters of all levels with experts in the field, virtually. Speed – who you might call a ‘polyathlete’: a professional rugby player turned national-level British weightlifter and PT – is the sort of coach other coaches look up to. Today, his team of eight trainers offers app-based programming, daily feedback and even nutrition consultation. Although the platform launched before lockdown, the gym closures forced Speed to move, well, quickly– expanding his virtual offering and ensuring coaches set up regular video calls with members to lift morale (with perfect form, presumably). Next, he hopes to add gymnastics tuition to Ronin Strength’s programme. Don’t know your power snatch from your hang clean? Sign up for one of the group’s four-week Learn to Train courses and you’ll soon be piling the plates on your bar.

Work Easy, Work Out Hard

If you can do your job remotely – but are bored of staring out of your spare-room window –why not set your laptop down near the gym? These spots blend desk space with dumbbells.

Manor SW1 at Thomas House: London

Photo credit: Provided by Hannah Tucker TM <hannah.tucker@tinmancomms.com>
Photo credit: Provided by Hannah Tucker TM

The intention to train and the desire to train are not the same, so removing a few obstacles can make all the difference. Which means investing in a co-working space with a fun fitness set-up pays back. The Office Group has co-working spaces across the UK, and one of the best is Thomas House in Victoria. Members get access to functional training space Manor SW1, with daily classes ticking off strength and conditioning, boxing and mobility. As for the ‘work’ part, there’s plenty of space for meetings or quiet study, while the cafe will stop you flagging during those post-HIIT Zoom calls.

David Lloyd: Nationwide

Punching higher than the average health chain, while still keeping its memberships affordable, David Lloyd could be described as ‘boutique on a budget’ – with pools, spas, spin classes and a few new class concepts available to members. Its latest class offering, Delta (no relation to the variant, we presume), is a six-week fitness programme in which you’re put through your paces with a select group of like-minded people. The chain is also expanding its outdoor provisions with Battlebox: all-weather, bootcamp-style circuits. Then, when you’re done breaking a sweat, break out your laptop in one of the gym’s ‘business lounges’, which are quiet with desk space, fast wifi and, crucially, lunch.

Action Stations

There’s no denying it: CrossFit’s on the up-and-up. Here are four of the UK’s best venues.

CrossFit BFG: Leicester

Photo credit: Supplied by Kate@fittestpr.com
Photo credit: Supplied by Kate@fittestpr.com

Owned by the UK’s Fittest Man and former MH cover star, Zack George. Come here to be pushed. Would you expect any less from a man whose favourite move is the thruster?

Train Heald Green: Manchester

The original Train gym was open by CrossFit legend Sam Briggs, but despite its elite origins, this box prides itself on catering to all levels – including yours.

CrossFit Putney: London

Photo credit: Pablo_Byrne
Photo credit: Pablo_Byrne

This box does more than just CrossFit, offering a holistic array of classes including strength and conditioning and yoga, with an on-site Livewell clinic.

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