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The Fitspo debate

The Fitspo debate


Image Courtesy of Julia Gurevich,

Image Courtesy of Julia Gurevich,

It was recently reported on MailOnline that personal trainer Kayla Itsines had become the latest #Fitspo sensation after earning herself an astonishing 700,000 followers on Instagram by simply showing off the results of her fitness regime. Kayla is just one of many of the up and coming stars on Instagram who post selfies doing workouts and handstands as fitness inspiration – ‘fitspo’ for short. This begs the question of what exactly is Fitspo?

And more importantly, is it a good thing? Fitspo is kind of like a healthier and happier version of Thinspiration. Where thinspiration arguably focuses on glamorised photos of very thin women; Fitspiration consists of blogs and photos devoted to those who pride themselves on being fit and healthy.

Posts can vary from photos of fresh healthy food, green juices and women doing impossible yoga poses to body transformations and motivational messages. Instagram has now become crowded with these posts from yoga teachers, personal trainers, ballet dancers and weight trainers who share pictures of their six-packs and snaps of their healthy lunches. For these people, their bodies are a walking billboard; toned, muscular and unattainably perfect.

Jen Selter from New York is the forerunner of this trend with over 3 million followers lapping up her every post. Just one picture of her on a workout ball or squatting at the gym can garner as many as 80,000 likes, and thousands consider her a fitness inspiration – including Rihanna!

Once she achieved 300,000 followers, sponsorship offers piled up from companies including Nike, Lululemon and New Balance, among others. She has since quit her gym job and secured deals with water company NY20 and a nutrition supplement company, Game Plan Nutrition, for which she is a spokeswoman.

Image Courtesy of FitnessInfor Si,

Image Courtesy of FitnessInfor Si,

While the professional fitspo stars like Jen pride themselves on their beautifully lit, filtered and framed pictures, there are some who set up accounts for a different purpose: not to inspire others, but to motivate themselves and generate accountability.

These people will often state their current weight and goals and post before and after shots to encourage themselves and others to keep on target. It is clear from the popularity of fitspo that many consider it a positive influence in their lives, something which enables them to visualise health and fitness success and adopt healthier eating habits.

Although, there are some critics who believe fitspo can propagate female objectification, dehumanisation and can result in body image issues. These people argue that promoting an appearance that fails to come easily or naturally to a substantial portion of the population could result in many setting themselves impossible physical goals and turning towards dangerous practices such as over-exercising or disordered eating to reach their target.

This is all the more amplified when fitspo bloggers edit their pictures so that all imperfections are removed. Taking this into consideration I think it is important for people to realise that, like many things, Fitspo has its pros and cons.

While some may use fitspo images to motivate themselves and improve their lives, others may find the images fuel their self-hatred and body image issues. Ultimately, I believe our individual interpretations of these images will determine whether fitspo is a positive or negative trend. But what do you think?

We try…Body Sculpt

We try Body Sculpt at the gym

Following a very over-indulgent Christmas and the horror of discovering that my new dress, brought especially for New Year, no longer fitted, I decided that it was time to join a gym. So, along with everyone else, I jumped on the ‘New Year, new you’ bandwagon and joined my local fitness centre.

This wouldn’t be the first time I have joined a gym; there have been many memberships over the years, which usually begin in January and end in March when, rather than face the shame of cancelling my gym membership, I cancel my direct debit instead.

I realised that the reason for this is that when it comes to fitness I am not very self-motivated. If I am left to my own devices on the gym floor you can count on the fact that after a very leisurely walk on the running machine and a slow cycle on the exercise bike I will probably slope off to the spa via the vending machine.

So this year I decided that it would be best to leave the gym floor alone and participate in classes instead, where I can count on a gym instructor to keep me moving and push me to my physical limits.

The first class on my list was Body Sculpt which, according to the timetable, will tone, shape and condition the whole body with the use of resistance training and weights – sounded good!

I arrived at the class fresh-faced at 10am in the morning to find the studio set up with an aerobic step, barbells and yoga mats. Unfortunately for me though, the early birds had already taken the places set out with the lighter weights which left me with the same weights as the uber-fit male gym instructor – gulp!

The class consisted of non-stop toning exercises that worked parts of my body that I didn’t know existed. Squats, planks, bench presses and lunges were all part of the routine with the added element of 10kg on your back.

The instructor was brilliant at keeping the group motivated and engaged and would pull you through each exercise by shouting out how amazing each part of your body was going to look afterwards.

By the end of the class, my body ached, which according to the instructor is the sign of a good work out, and I felt energised for the rest of the day. I can definitely say that I will be incorporating this class into my weekly gym schedule from now on.

Our verdict: Body Sculpt is an enjoyable, fun, yet challenging work out that generates great results over a short period of time. A great class to get you in shape for your summer holiday!

Our Score: 8/10

We try…Swedish Fit

Swedish Fit

Every now and then I tap in to google ‘new fitness trends London’ to see what pops up, and so it was with that last week that I first heard about Swedish Fit.

My fiancé is Swedish and so I am on the record as liking Swedish things. I’m a fan of Kopparberg and Rekorderling as well as Absolut and Snaps. Ikea makes great furniture and no one can argue with the fact that Abba wrote some top-notch pop tunes.

And so it was that I decided to sign up for a class. Swedish Fit currently host ten classes in London at three locations, in Old Street, Marylebone and Soho. On the Swedish Fit website, it says the class has been designed to ‘ensure you spend the maximum amount of energy, whilst having fun and getting the most out of an exercise session.’ That sounded good to me, so off I went to the Soho session on a wet and windy Tuesday night, dragging a colleague along with me.

The session was to be held at a school in Archer Street. Now, the Sport and Leisure team at PHA are no strangers to Archer Street, but we aren’t normally there to exercise. 100% of our previous visits to this Soho address have been to frequent the infamous bar of the same name. So, it was a strange feeling to walk past the bar and into a red door on the other side of the road.

Upon arrival we were introduced to our instructor, Sophie, who was (of course) a very pretty little thing who was half English and half Swedish. She spoke both languages, as well as French, perfectly fluently which by all accounts make her the perfect Swedish Fit instructor. As well as being hugely popular in its homeland, Swedish Fit is apparently a big deal in France.

We learnt whilst chatting to Sophie that Swedish Fit goes by the name of ‘Friskis och Svettis’ in Sweden, which translates as ‘Healthy and Sweaty’. They say it like it is, those Swedes.

And so on to the actual class… I tweeted ahead of the session that I’d seen a video online which made it look like a cross between an aerobics class and a line dance, and actually, that wasn’t so far from the truth. The instructor stands in the middle of the room and runs through a series of moves which everyone is supposed to follow. I was giggling about two minutes in when we started doing a move which resembled the grapevine. I managed to gain my composure as the class continued but there were definite moments when I felt like a fool. And looking around at my fellow exercisers, I learnt that I probably looked like one too.

One particular drawback of the Swedish Fit class was Sophie’s taste in music. Apparently, each instructor picks their own tunes to work out to and freestyles the moves to fit with these tunes. Sophie had on the duke box such 90s classics as ‘Mysterious Girl’ by Peter Andre and ‘No Limits’ by 2 Unlimited. One of my favourite moments of the session came when we were walking around the room swinging our arms every time Andre got to the ‘wo-oh-ah-oh-oh-ah-oh’ bit of his number one hit tune…

Apart from that, the best bits of the class for me were the strength and resistance exercises. The push-ups, sit-ups and variations of those types of moves did get my abs hurting and my arms shaking… and for me, that’s always a good sign. Having said that, as someone who runs regularly, I didn’t find grapevining around the room particularly challenging on the cardio system. However, I imagine for people without too much aerobic fitness this could be a good, and novel, way to start.

So, in summary… on the plus side, the Swedish Fit class was incredibly good value. The first one is actually free, but thereafter they are £5 each on a pay as you go basis. You can’t really go wrong at that price and the Archer Street class is incredibly convenient for any Soho based office workers.

There is also no denying that the Swedish Fit class was good fun, and it did get the heart rate up, so it is a good way to let off some steam and get some exercise in after a stressful day (the class ends with a minute of lying down in a darkened room to relax which was particularly enjoyable).

Our verdict: Will I become a regular? I doubt it… but would I go again? It’s a definite maybe…
Our score: 5/10

We try……..Urban Fit and Fearless

what-would-you-doA couple of weeks ago I took myself off for a two-hour women’s self-defense workshop at Urban Fit & Fearless in East Dulwich, to join nine other women and learn how to be more prepared if, heaven forbid, we should find ourselves in a compromising position.

Having never been to a self-defence class before, I only had a very basic idea of what to expect from the workshop and was actually quite tentative about the whole thing. This wasn’t helped by my boyfriend, who struggled to resist shouting “UNAGI” at me every time I appeared in a doorway in reminiscence of Ross Geller; I promised him that if he continued to do so after my class he’d end up regretting it!

I arrived at Push Studios at 2pm, a little bit nervous but very excited. To start off the session we were all given very clear information about what the workshop was about by our instructor (and founder of Urban Fit & Fearless) Patrice Bonnafoux. The workshop had been designed to teach us how to get up from the ground if we were pinned down – a woman’s worst nightmare – so I was ready to get stuck in.

As with most physical activities, the session started off with some warm-ups….and then it was quickly into the real thing. Patrice showed us various moves, each one at a time. Each movement was relevant to its own potential situation. After he had demonstrated each move on a willing participant, we were told to pair up and put what we had just learned into practice.

Of course, I went to the class on my tod so didn’t have anyone I knew to pair up with. But luckily for me, there was a lovely girl about my age who was more than willing to let me attack her and within seconds all our inhibitions, concerns about personal space and quintessential ‘Britishness’ were lost, as we fell about on top of each other for the following two hours.

Although I started out somewhat sceptical about how I could get a potentially strong and large man off of me, Patrice explained and demonstrated very clearly and adeptly that these moves were more about leverage than strength… I always knew physics would come in useful at some point!

Having mastered a variety of kicks, rolls, hooks, face smashes and moves that would win us space to manoeuvre, we were ready for the final test. In the last 10 minutes of the workshop, it was time for us to put our training into practice. Each of us were going to spend five minutes being relentlessly attacked and pinned down by our partners and it was our job, as the ‘victim’, to get back on our feet and run. Of course, before this, Patrice ordered us to spend one minute lying on our backs punching and being punched by boxing pads to tire us out. This worked a charm.  As I started to be attacked I managed to get up ok the first time, but after a few stints, you realise how exhausting it is and, more importantly, how exhausted you would be in real life if this were to actually happen.

When Patrice came to attack me it really tested what I had learned and what I was able to remember when under pressure. I was able to fight him off by implementing the leverage concepts and by ramming my palm (not at full force, mind) into his face. It was only when he told me to stand up and run that I ended up tumbling like a Jenga tower to the floor, only to be attacked again.

It was at that moment I suddenly felt remorse for having heckled a Hollywood movie when the woman conveniently falls over when trying to get away. I found myself sympathising with said thespian as my arms had turned to jelly and my adrenaline had transformed me into a bit of a sweaty mess.

I came away from the session feeling much more confident and prepared. Patrice explained that we wouldn’t ever remember the moves exactly if this ever happened to us, but after the workshop, we would have the basic knowledge of how to get free, whether it is by merging three moves together or using one and then improvising, at least something would come back to us.

That night, much to my dismay, my boyfriend chose not to shout UNAGI at me as I walked through the door.


Our Verdict: A fantastic introduction to self defence, comprehensive teaching and great fun… even if it does leave every muscle in your body aching for a couple of days afterwards.

Our Score: 8/10


Words by Freya Leete

Running, rolling, jumping and vaulting….all in a day’s work


The word ‘Parkour’ will, to most of us, conjure up images of stuntmen jumping from roofs, running up walls and flying spectacularly through the air. Having been featured in films including Casino Royale, Skyfall and District 13, it’s understandable that Parkour (or ‘free-running’) is a movement discipline recognised largely for the role it has played on the big screen.

But what was once a movement technique used to impress cinema-goers and action film fanatics, has gradually been impressively transformed into a technique practiced by people all over the world.

Parkour is now a fitness phenomenon and one which is firmly making its mark on the UK.

The objective? To use and explore the environment and to develop the fundamental attributes required for movement – from balance and dynamism, to strength, endurance and creative vision.

Today people of all ages and abilities are learning Parkour and are utilising the technique to build strength and increase fitness levels.

Parkour is all about functional fitness. It does not require expensive equipment, training gear or even a gym membership – all you need is your body, the determination to succeed and a willingness to explore the environment around you.

Take a look at some of the professionals in action below…… and if you like the sound of Parkour, why not try out a class near to you


Dan Edwardes

Dan Edwardes, Parkour Generations



Shirley Darlington, Parkour Generations




Fizz Hood, Parkour Generations



Words by Sarah Taylor

No proven link between high intensity training and strokes


Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels 

Professor Jamie Timmons reacts to Andrew Marr’s comments about the cause of his stroke.

In an interview on Sunday, Marr blamed a bout of high-intensity exercise training for bringing on the attack.

Professor Timmons is an expert in genomics, exercise and metabolism. He also worked for eight years on cardiovascular disease prevention strategies including thrombosis and stroke in the pharmaceutical sector.

“The fact that Mr Marr had a stroke is extremely unfortunate but I see no evidence that it can be explained by the fact that he underwent short bouts of high-intensity exercise (HIT). While the two events may have broadly coincided, there is no evidence that they were causally linked. Dr Thomas Lee, from Harvard, is quoted in the Telegraph as saying that “intense exercise can be bad for you” and yet all epidemiology leads to the opposite conclusion.

“Mr Marr described how he had already had two minor strokes earlier in the year, was overworking in a stressful environment and was a previous smoker. This combination of factors could all be said to put him in the at-risk category.

“What we know as fact is that there is no clinical trial data that suggests exercise-training, intense or otherwise, either reverses these risks or creates further risk, even in people already at greater risk of a stroke. Thus his stroke could have happened at any time and is unrelated to exercise. As a matter of fact, the strongest predictor of his major stroke would be the presence of the two minor stroke episodes that he states he experienced earlier the year before. At that time presumably he was doing his long-slow jogging and yet he does not blame that for the earlier events.

“Diabetes is a serious illness and high-intensity training is a very powerful way to modulate diabetes’ risk factors in a time efficient manner, where other strategies are failing. If you are at risk of stroke, then a proper medical strategy is required to reduce the chance of thrombosis.”