My Taylor Swift exercise class has led me down a luxury fitness rabbit hole

Taylor Swift – in concert in March – has inspired a SoulCycle class soundtracked to her hits (Casey Flanigan/imageSPACE/Shutterstock)
Taylor Swift – in concert in March – has inspired a SoulCycle class soundtracked to her hits (Casey Flanigan/imageSPACE/Shutterstock)

Amid flashing strobe lights at a SoulCycle class in Notting Hill, our instructor MJ stands on a platform, his baseball cap flipped backward and his facial hair trimmed into designer stubble, looking as if he’s straight out of a boy band. “I’ve had a f***ing s*** day and I didn’t want to come to work,” he says, softly, through his head mic. “But I’m so glad I did, as the energy is bringing me to life!” Everyone around me – women between the ages of 25 and 35, all of them dressed in one-shoulder leisurewear – roars in response. “Sit up tall, don’t let anyone make you feel down,” MJ continues. “You’re all legends, don’t let anybody judge you!” I pause for breath after yet another manic burst of energy cycling on the spot. Then we have to pick up dumbbells while atop stationary bikes and do a choreographed workout to a Taylor Swift song.

This special Swift-themed class is taking place at 8.30 on a Monday night and in the same venue where First Lady Jill Biden and Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty attended a spinning class together after King Charles’s coronation in May – reportedly with 10 security guards in tow. I feel slightly out of my depth. I spent two hours looking for my lycra leggings and I’m totally unfit. Apart from walking my dog, I haven’t done any real exercise since 2017, when I had a go at clean eating and did a few weeks of high-intensity training at the gym. But now I’m ready for SoulCycle’s “unique mind-body-soul experience”.

This leap back into exercise is partly inspired by Apple TV+’s dark comedy Physical, which is returning for its final season next month. It’s about a housewife played by Rose Byrne who battles her demons and a vicious and self-critical inner voice while finding solace in aerobics. Could it work for me, too? Is exercise the answer to my endlessly spinning mind? Would it serve as an instant catapult into a world of empowerment and success?

Everyone in this class knows the words to every Taylor Swift song that booms from the speakers. “Drop everything now/Meet me in the pouring rain”, she sings on “Sparks Fly”. “Kiss me on the sidewalk/Take away the pain.” But all I can think about is the pain I’m currently in. We’re wearing special shoes that click into the pedals of the bike, so it’s not easy to detach oneself. But soon I become grateful for it: if I’m superglued into this class, I can’t give up so easily. As MJ says: “No struggle... no progress”. It doesn’t matter if you can’t move the wheel at the front of the SoulCycle bike, or if you’re peddling down on it like a gazelle; if you’re sweating and panting, you’re part of this love-in. And wow, it feels great.

I’m not alone in adoring it, and some of my fellow riders were here even earlier, for “part one” of a class modelled after Swift’s setlist on her current US tour. (Each class costs £26, while a renewable package of four is £86, or eight at £160). It’s a little pocket of joy I knew nothing about while I was sitting at home snacking in front of my laptop and gaining weight. As I leave the SoulCycle studio and wander into the night, I take a deep breath. It feels good to be back in the saddle – even though my legs are like jelly. I have to ask my friend to drive me home because I’m not sure I’ll make it on foot.

There are a few reasons I haven’t been hitting the gym, or even doing the occasional relaxed yoga class. Having children on my own has been an intense journey. For years my idea of exercise has been holding a baby or running after two kids in a park with an unruly dog. But when I read a few different headlines lately (“Fit and fabulous at 54: Jennifer Aniston emerges from her new workout class”; “Nicole Kidman, 56, flashes her incredible abs in revealing black dress”), I felt a pang of guilt. These women are older than me but super fit. My daughters, aged five and seven, are both at school now, so there’s no excuse for being so inactive.

I had some blood tests done and my cholesterol is creeping up. I’ve been told I need to give up sugar and take up exercise. How can I be a good role model to my kids if all they do is see me eating the chocolate rolls meant for their pack lunches? And where do I even begin with fitness? After the excitement of my Taylor Swift class, the idea of strolling along to my local Virgin Active feels mundane. I ponder whether it’d be easier to stay fit if I was super-rich.

I can see myself signing up for four workout sessions rigged up to an electrical current. Because why not?

I can’t possibly afford the bespoke, members-only gym Bodyism in London’s Westbourne Grove, whose clients include heiress Tamara Ecclestone. It caters for high-intensity, low-impact training, with top-tier packages costing £23,000 a year. More affordable, though, is their class membership – which costs £1,500 a year for 72 classes and promises to help elongate and tone the body. But it’s also full of the clean-eating squad – I might not fit in.

Then there’s London’s BXR, a private, boutique boxing-themed gym that’s spread over two floors. From the street below I can glimpse a massive boxing ring behind enormous glass panels – a manifestation of the idea that celebrities feel they live in a goldfish bowl. It’s also packed with A-listers who get free guest passes while staying at the luxury hotel Chiltern Firehouse that’s located opposite. Membership costs from £2,500 a year and up (by a lot), and the Vogue editor Edward Enniful and fashion designer Julian Macdonald are apparently fans of BXR’s Versaclimbing – a high-intensity, low-impact workout on a Versaclimber. This cardio fitness machine has a 75-degree vertical rail with pedals and handles that mimic the natural motion of climbing. When I hear that the machine burns up to 800 calories in a 45-minute session – well, I’m on the phone to the bookings team in a flash. Unlike treadmill or spin classes, it’s exercise that is full body but low impact – meaning it “minimises unnecessary stress or trauma to your body”.

At the state of the art Repose, a wellness clinic in London’s High Street Kensington with members including Made in Chelsea’s Millie Mackintosh, the speciality is “anti-gravity fitness”. It might sound unusual to exercise from a silk hammock suspended from the ceiling for £40 a class – but sessions include pilates, suspension fitness, air bar and both restorative and aerial yoga.

Models and celebrities, including Poppy Delevingne, are also queuing up for personal training at London’s E-Pulsive, which costs £85 a session. The electrical muscle stimulation class (EMS) sees you strap yourself into a full-body vest that zaps you with low-frequency electric impulses to manually contract your muscle fibres while you exercise, increasing the intensity of your workout. It seems ideal for people like me who are too busy to exercise but who want superfast results – apparently, a 20-minute EMS workout burns 500 calories and can offer the same results as a 90-minute high-intensity gym class. It sounds like heaven.

‘It’s a little pocket of joy I knew nothing about while I was sitting at home snacking in front of my laptop and gaining weight’ (iStock)
‘It’s a little pocket of joy I knew nothing about while I was sitting at home snacking in front of my laptop and gaining weight’ (iStock)

Then there’s roller-skating at model Liberty Ross’ glamorous Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace in West London or New York – the original LA Flipper’s in the 1970s was run by Ross’s dad Ian Flipper-Ross, and was so associated with glam fitness that it was dubbed “Studio 54 on wheels”. A one-to-one beginner’s class at the new skate school costs £50, or £35 in a group lesson of up to 12 skaters. Or you can just book in for a general skate with your kids – which kills two birds with one stone as they have fun while you burn calories. A two-hour skate session for adults starts from £15.50 and from £11.50 for children.

All of this sounds great – but if I went for a workout schedule of my choice, I can’t see it totalling less than £30,000 a year. Bearing in mind that exercise is addictive and makes you feel good, it might be far more in the long run, too. It’s also a tad out of my price range – I don’t plan on dropping into Equinox on Kensington Roof Gardens or the Bulgari Hotel gym any time soon. Instead, I can see myself signing up for four workout sessions rigged up to an electrical current. Because why not?

If money wasn’t an obstacle, I would install a gym and a pilates studio in my own house, with a cryotherapy chamber and a personal trainer on tap. But until then, I plan to start running with the dog, my two kids behind me on their scooters. It’s far cheaper and – unlike the late-night Taylor Swift class – won’t require a babysitter.