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Training Blog: ETC at Equinox

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Tom Wheatley of ShortList blogs about his progress so far

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Tom WheatleyIn January, after a month of relative inactivity, drinking and eating After Eights long before the recommended time, I decided to puts some fitness plans in motion for the year. I booked myself into a couple of marathons and obstacle races, started going back to the gym more and set myself the goal that I would become a good triathlete.

To the outsider my fitness regime probably seems fairly impressive. I weight train most days and run at least twice a week, however in reality over the past three years I've pretty much just done the same thing week-in week-out. I plateaued at the gym a long time ago and my running fluctuates an enormous amount with me rarely achieving any PBs anymore. It was clear that if I was going to actually improve and do well in my triathlon goal I'd need to start doing things differently.

I ran through a list of options to try out including new weight training programs, running workshops, sporting clubs and martial arts, then someone mentioned the idea of a bootcamp. I've always been a bit of a loner when it comes to fitness, I love running with headphones on or pottering around in the gym lost in my own thoughts, it's the main reason I've never got into group sports. I've seen the studios in the gym with people jumping around at the direction of a trainer and always walked past without a second thought.

However, now was a time to try something new and after trawling the internet it seemed pretty clear that people seem to think group training works, the majority of which claim enormous benefits from it including increased metabolism, VO2 Max, weight loss and significantly improved cardiovascular functions. So with that in mind I signed up to take part in the inaugural Equinox Training Camp, a three times a week, early morning bootcamp that runs for six weeks at Equinox gym in Kensington.

My main fear, based largely on the fact that I struggle to wake up before 8am on a good day, was that the classes start at 6.45am. This meant that I would have to get up at 5.20am three times a week, something I'd only ever dream of doing if I was either going on holiday or if I was seven years old and it was December 25th.

ETC already exists as a course at Equinox's other gyms in Canada and the US, however this is the first time it has been brought to its London venue. The programme claims to motivate attendees through a series of progressive, high-intensity workouts "that will ultimately transform their bodies and change their lives". A bold claim which, to my cynical, marketing-savvy mind sounded too good to be true. At the very least it would be a good exercise in getting out of bed.

All attendees turned up for a pre-course measurement and initiation session. This was a chance for us to meet the the rest of the group as well our three trainers, and learn a bit more about what we'd let ourselves in for. The main rule of the course was that you could only miss three of the 18 planned lessons, any more and you couldn't continue. After running through our measurements and body fat percentages, we performed a series of fitness tests to note down our current level. This was the first time I'd done burpees since school - suddenly the early mornings weren't my only fear.

The following Monday it began. The fact that I was there on time and ready to go was a personal achievement in itself, albeit it one tinged with hazy vision and a overpowering depression that this would be my life until mid-April. For the next hour we ran through a series of high-intensity drills ranging from lunges and press-ups to exercises where you basically throw a bag of sand angrily at the floor repeatedly. I now know they're called sand-bells, I also no longer hate them quite so much.

The session was hard. I realised within about five minutes of squat exercises that my current training regime had in no way prepared me for high-intensity work. I'd wrongly assumed that because I was okay at running and weights I wouldn't have any trouble. I knew differently as I gulped down water and frantically wiped the sweat off my face with a towel. By the end of the hour I felt an enormous relief that the exercises were over. My whole body felt tired, moreso than I normally do after exercise. As I made my way to work I knew that I'd have to make some changes to my life over the next few weeks, the first of which would be to make sure I got to bed earlier.

Over the next few sessions we were introduced to a selection of new and more intense exercises as the classes progressed, minimising our rest time and ensuring variety in the drills. I was still struggling with the early mornings and tiredness had a tendency to creep up on me as the remaining day went on. However after the first two weeks something strange happened, I actually started to get used to it. The mornings started to become easier, I found that my recovery doing the exercises increased and, more importantly, I started to really enjoy working out as part of the group.

By the final week the exercises had developed far beyond week one with us performing drills I wouldn't even have attempted earlier on in the year (I won't mention them here, it would spoil the surprise). At this point I decided to use my heart rate monitor to find out how much work I was actually doing. After one class I clocked up over 700 calories in the hour, something I normally take a lot longer to do when running.

Aside from any aesthetic developments however my main aim for the course was to improve my primary training methods, specifically my running, and to put me in a good position to progress in my triathlon training. Over the six weeks I continued my marathon training, monitoring my progress in relation to my previous times. Although sometimes difficult to do both in tandem, with my legs often being tired from the sessions, I noticed improvements in my training times. On my longer weekend runs my ability to run up hills and do sprints had become easier. Where I would often breathe heavily during the more difficult parts of a run I now found that my lungs felt fine.

One of the more demanding exercises

At the end of the 18 sessions it was finally time to see the effect of the course. Like the initial session we ran through a series of exercise tests including press-ups, planks and more burpees, followed by another measurement session. My performance in each of the exercises had improved, quite dramatically in some cases. However the main positives were seen in my body composition. Although I’d lost just over two kilograms over the six weeks my body fat percentage had dropped from around 16% to just under 10%.

As well as the carefully planned and steadily progressing workout format the course pushes the benefits of group training in success. Social media is a key part of the six weeks with each member joining a Facebook group and taking part in daily discussions on the program, often asking for advice from the trainers and discussing fears with each other. I found myself checking the group constantly to see what was going on and to look through the many pictures and videos posted from the sessions.

Now, with my new found enjoyment of group work and the fitness benefits I've gained, I feel in a much better position for the events coming up. I'll now be incorporating a selection of HIIT group sessions into my weekly training. I may also start getting up early to do them.

To take part in ETC you must be a member of Equinox gym.

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