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  1. Wealth
August 31, 2007

Gymmy Choose

By Spear's

Fed up with big, skanky, anonymous gyms? Then try these small-scale, super-smart and personalised options, says Penelope Bennett.

Fed up with big, skanky, anonymous gyms? Then try these small-scale, super-smart and personalised options, says Penelope Bennett.

It’s 6.20 am: I’m standing outside 16 Berkeley Street, Mayfair, waiting for a set of glass doors to open. Jogging on the spot next to me is a man in his mid- to late-forties, a telltale pink paper tucked under his arm. There is an awkward silence as he trots and I stand. When the door finally opens, he leaps in and bounds down a set of stairs, booming music drowning out the squeak of his trainers.

I enter after him, cautiously. I am here to meet Matt Roberts, personal trainer to Tom Ford, Sting, Naomi Campbell and assorted heads of FTSE 100 companies; the author of eight books sold in 26 countries; and a man comfortable telling me that, in order for goals to be met, he gets ‘very, in a nice way, controlling’.

Any client signing up for one-to-one training at Matt Roberts (note: ‘you cannot come and go’ as you would a normal club, says Matt) undergoes a thorough fitness and physio analysis before hitting the treadmill, mainly to prevent injuries. A fat test ensues. Using a pair of pincers to measure my body fat in percentage, Matt grips hold of what my mother calls bingo wings but what I, at this stage in life, prefer to call triceps in the making.

We discuss the distribution of fat in my body, my diet, my stress levels and, most importantly, my goals. I tell Matt I’ve recently had private training sessions at my local gym, and set goals then. This does not impress him. ‘Yes, but what are they?’ he asks. ‘How do you go about meeting them? Do you reassess them regularly? Do you reach them in stages? Do you set yourself time limits?’

I begin to feel like I’m being conditioned. Matt is chiselled, lean, alert; his speech succinct, his hand gestures exact. The embodiment of fit, he sits perched on the edge of his seat, clipboard in one hand, the other making a fist, willing me to believe in my potential. ‘We’re not asking people to make massive changes,’ he says. ‘But you need to be committed to making the changes in yourself.’

And so to the treadmill. I run at intervals and, despite having attended a gym for an average of three days a week for the last four years, I feel as though I’m sprinting with a fat-suit on. Matt asks me where I go skiing (I’m from Switzerland), and I say the resort with the shortest name. Gasping for breath, I go straight from the treadmill to performing tricep dips, lunges, dips, then lunges again and now squats, bicep curls and leg extensions.

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Matt says pausing to rest isn’t in my favour – only by massively overloading my body will I burn away excess fat. I look around: my fellow trainees are all being pushed as hard as I am. The FT reader from before and the woman I chatted with in the changing room earlier are both drenched in sweat, their respective trainers, in turn, zealous in their quest for said client’s perfection.

Showering off afterwards, I note that, for hygiene purposes, training shoes are not allowed in the changing rooms. Matt Roberts hates mass-market gyms, and it shows. ‘I suppose it’s a bit like going to Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant rather than going to McDonalds,’ says Matt. I applaud this, even if it means I have to lock my trainers up in a box while I have my shower.

A few days later, on a tip-off, I make my way to Bodyism, an outfit so small it does away with changing rooms altogether. Tucked away in a Kensington mews, you won’t find it unless you’re actively looking and know their address. Not long ago, a friend of mine signed up to Bodyism and lost so much weight he prompted everyone in his office – predominantly female – to mimic his diet bite for bite. ‘How did you do it?’ they all asked, hoping it was down to food alone.

‘It’s knowing what exercises to give the client,’ says James Duigan, one of Bodyism’s three founding owners. I’ve just finished working out with Dalton Wong (number two) and am handed a freshly made smoothie that helps with both weight loss and muscle gain. A blend of almond-nut butter, oat bran and the Brazilian super berry Ascai – combining protein, fat and carbohydrates – every gulp feels deceptively sinful, more like a milkshake than the unpalatable juice some health professionals swear by. ‘One of the most important things to do after your workout is to eat,’ says Dalton. Fine by me. ‘People on low-carb diets have little energy and their workouts are not as good as they could be.’

The boys at Bodyism are like gold dust in the sense that they do not detract from their objective. ‘We’re exercise people. We do advise a bit on lifestyle and a bit on nutrition, but we’re not nutritionists,’ says Dalton. The three of them (the third, Tim Pittorino, I didn’t meet, but if he is anything like James or Dalton I warm to him already) have helped numerous clients out of pain. Their practice focuses on shedding fat without injury. They have no secretary, no marketing gimmicks, a blink-and-you-miss-it exterior and, as I learn when I arrive for my session, only a bathroom to change in. They will train a maximum of three clients at any one time and first timers are promised the space to themselves.

No bigger than a large garage, Bodyism attracts housewives and executives alike. ‘We try not to be too groovy,’ says James in response to my asking how exactly it is they get the latter to relax. Many a haggard and overworked individual holds fat around their belly, a classic sign of stress. Stress will send cortisol levels upwards, and cause the body to hold on to fat.

Running, of all things, can actually make you fatter. ‘Allowing them to calm down sees a huge drop in weight,’ says James. Few type A personalities (as Dalton calls them) will take to yoga, so stretches and lunges are performed to relax the body instead. Clients don’t feel as if they’re wasting their time because they’re still putting in a significant amount of effort. ‘We don’t have them chanting,’ says Dalton, ‘even if that would be the best thing for them.’

Groovy would come in the form of KX gym, a deluxe East-meets-West exercise hub where one can train with the current world muai thai champion, practice yoga with protégé master-teachers of Patabi Joyce, and train with ex-Olympic heptathletes. The club works as a cohesive, luxury-health support network, where trainers, nutritionists, therapists, a gourmet-if-healthy café and a range of spa treatments ‘bring a complete answer to all your health and fitness goals’.

Arguably the Nobu of gyms, KX (pronounced ‘kicks’) provides PT to 45 per cent of its members (regular gyms achieve only 13 per cent in comparison). The gym has bought the site next door (good riddance to Flavio’s Billionaire) to create a restaurant and plans to build PT studios across the road next year. Gideon Remfry, black-belt kick boxer and former judo champion, will train the mighty and weak alike. Crucially, he is not intimidating. He will put you through your paces and you will walk like John Wayne the next day but, as Euripides said, do not consider painful what is good for you.

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