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We try…Meta-Row at Metabolic London

We try…Meta-Row at Metabolic London

As we come to the end of week two in our #30for30 campaign, new classes and fitness inspiration have been very welcome here in the Sport & Fitness team. Partly because we love trying the latest creations of course, but mainly to help break up the endless runs and spinning classes that have been churned out day-after-day to date.

So, when I heard about Metabolic London, and their innovative Meta-Row class, I was instantly intrigued (if not slightly intimidated) by the class description. It simply read: “Not for the faint-hearted. This class is brutal and will test the best”. Despite my better judgement, I signed up then and there.

Sunday morning soon came around and I was on my way to Mornington Crescent for the class. Having dropped off my bag in the changing rooms, I was good to go. Meta-Row was London’s first boutique group rowing class when it launched in summer 2017. The gym itself is unlike anything I’ve seen before – a huge open space decked out with black walls and more equipment than you could ever wish for.

Scott, the instructor for our class, gathered us together to walk everyone through what we were about to do. Asking if anyone was nursing a hangover, I must admit I was tempted to raise my hand – only to make it less embarrassing for when I inevitably passed out mid-class, but I ultimately thought better of it.

The class itself is made up of row and total body circuit intervals, with interchangeable rounds. With all of the rowing machines lined up, we kicked off with a four minute row. Straight on to the first circuit, which entailed a combination of medicine ball throws, burpees, squats and crunches. One round down and I’m already feeling it. No time to let up, however, as we are into another four minute row and then back on to the mats for the next circuit – featuring kettle bell swings and lifts, followed by a crawl into a press up.

Back on the rowing machine we went – this time for a five minute stint – to try and beat our stats from before, cheered on willingly by the ever-present Scott. A final circuit which included “explosive” burpees and I was well and truly spent. Despite the physical trauma I’d just been through, the feeling of achievement was unparalleled.

The best thing about Meta-Row is it’s suitable for all levels of fitness – you can go at your own pace. At £10 for your first class, it’s cheaper than the majority of boutique classes out there, and you’ll do well to find a better workout. We’ll be back, just as soon as our DOMS ease up.

Being the face of an Olympic Games

Image Courtesy of mattyk4,

Image Courtesy of mattyk4,

Being the face of an Olympic Games can bring about the chance to be a national hero. It can generate widespread media coverage, not to mention lucrative sponsorship opportunities. But it can also, of course, bring about unbridled pressure for the chosen individual.
So, with less than 500 days to go until the Rio Olympics, The PHA Group’s Sport & Leisure department thought it timely to look back at the mixed fortunes of the ‘chosen ones’ over the last 20 years.

1996 – Michael Johnson
The first truly global athletics superstar, Johnson shifted the goalposts for his sport both on and off the track. A double world record holder, marketability and the ability to take athletics to the mainstream, Johnson’s skill set positioned him perfectly to become the face of the Games in Atlanta 1996. He was the clear favourite for both the 200m and 400m and wasn’t just expected to claim gold in both, but he was tipped to do it with a swagger(!)
Competing in his home country, the pressure was heavily on Johnson’s shoulders. But never did that burden appear on the face of the Dallas born athlete. In typically brazen gold Nike running spikes, Johnson did not disappoint. He blitzed the field in both events, sauntering to golds and also broke the Olympic record in both disciplines, breaking new ground by doing so.


2000 – Cathy Freeman
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 is still regarded as one of the best the world has seen. And in the build-up, you could not escape the image of Cathy Freeman. She kicked off the games by lighting the torch and was the heavy favourite to claim 400m gold.
Being of aboriginal heritage, Freeman was a symbol of far more than her athletic ability. Not before or since has a single athlete been under so much pressure to deliver and Freeman’s face encapsulated this when she crossed the line first; it was the picture of sheer relief, rather than joy. Her poignant act of carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags during her lap of honour is an image which is long to be remembered in Olympic history.

2004 – Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou
Being the face of the Olympics doesn’t always have a galvanising effect, however; it can lead some to relative insanity. Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were the darlings of Greek athletics having both surprisingly claimed medals at the 2000 Olympics – Kenteris 200m gold, Thanou 100m silver.
These individuals put Greek athletics on the map and the Games in Athens were seen as their homecoming. It ended in utter controversy, though, as the pair staged a motorcycle accident in order to miss a drugs test as well as encouraging medical staff to issue false certificates on their alleged injuries from the accident. The pair were eventually found guilty of perjury in 2011. Not the kind of ‘face’ any region would like for their Olympic Games.

Image Courtesy of Qatar Olympic Committee,

Image Courtesy of Qatar Olympic Committee,

2008 – Liu Xiang
Liu Xiang also felt the pressure of a nation, ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and was ultimately a victim of his own success. He had won gold in the 110m hurdles in Athens, which was China’s first in a men’s track and field event. This led to him being an absolute cultural icon in the country and resulted in him carrying the nation’s hope on his shoulders once again, four years later.
Xiang was the favourite to win gold in the 110-metre hurdles at the Beijing Olympics, but had endured an injury-hit season. The lure of performing in front of his home fans though pushed him to the starting blocks but he withdrew in the heats with injury, all of which had not been revealed to the Chinese public and media. A real blow to all concerned.


Image Courtesy of Sarah Peters,

Image Courtesy of Sarah Peters,

2012 – Jessica Ennis-Hill
Ennis-Hill (then Ennis) became the face of the London 2012 Olympics and with it the nation’s sweetheart thanks to the strong possibility or her claiming heptathlon gold, not to mention her looks and warm personality.
She was under severe pressure to produce the goods in the lead up to the Games. But the British athlete was largely faultless during her two days of events and she gave the British public exactly what they wanted. Ennis was one-third of ‘Super Saturday’ along with Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford but her marketability has meant she has remained in the nation’s thoughts as she bids for success in Rio. Ennis is just the kind of role model any nation would surely be thankful for, and someone we hope to see continue to be used in such a positive way, moving forward.

Sport is for life, not just for summer

Sport is for life, not just for summer - David cameron

It has been reported that participation in sport across the UK has fallen by 200,000 since October 2012.

15.3 million of us apparently play sport at least once a week but, according to Sport England, this is down from the 15.5 million who participated in sport some eight months ago. A 200,000 difference might not seem a significant enough figure for people to lose sleep over, but the main issue of concern is how the promise of a long-lasting Olympic legacy has generated no more than a small surge of interest, which has been quickly lost.

We’re quick to blame the weather for preventing us from completing menial everyday tasks: hanging the washing out, walking the dog, walking to the gym. But I’m not sure that the argument that this poor weather is one of the primary reasons for this recent drop in participation is a sound one.

Explaining away these figures by blaming the weather is not the correct attitude if we’re looking to successfully go on to address the problem. It’s also a slightly ironic argument, since the great British weather is not only out of our control but it’s a factor which has always been present. Nothing has changed. Should we be pleased with the fact that we still have relatively high participation figures despite the poor winter, or concerned by the indication that the government have missed their primary legacy target by 50%?

As the sun rose on the morning after the Olympic closing ceremony, children across the country were tying the laces of their new sports trainers and nagging their parents to take them to the local park, pool, or shooting range. Eight months later and it seems that was just a phase; a phase that lasted as long as the GB football team did at the Olympics.

But sport should be for life, not just for summer.

Between them, David Cameron and Seb Coe promised the country that the ‘Olympic Legacy’ would live on and that Britain would be defined by its value of sport at all levels. This recent drop in participation, however, leaves us wondering how exactly this proposed strategy of getting more children involved in sport has been implemented, and how it will continue to be implemented. To add to the problem, the government now faces the daunting task of trying to get participation levels back to where they were in October last year before they can even begin to increase them.

There are those who claim that sport is expensive to take part in. Take football for instance; pitches are not cheap to book and referees are expensive to hire. Many people simply do not have the disposable income to spend on playing sport. But you cannot expect the government to provide endless facilities, nor can people blame the government for their own lack of willpower to get out and exercise. Organised sport and physical activity are two very different things, and, while participation in organised sport can indeed be affected by financial factors, going for a run or having a kick about in the local park are free activities that should be part of everyone’s daily life.

I have never met anyone who has actually contributed to the surveys that provide these condemning stats, nor do I know how they are carried out, but surely the figure of a 200,000 drop must include those (not) taking part in everyday physical activity, and not just organised sport. This is where the responsibility of parents comes in to play. Every parent is accountable for the physical activity of their children up to a certain age, and they are also responsible for communicating to their children the importance of sport and maintaining a healthy lifestyle at the same time.

Having said all of this, 15.3 million people participating in sport across the UK is by no means a poor amount, and the total is up by 1.4 million since Britain won their bid to host the Olympics in 2005. Plus the gender gap has apparently been narrowed significantly, which can only be a good thing.

But it remains disappointing to see a decrease in participation since last year when apparently interest is high and facilities are thriving after a £150 million cash injection. There should be a positive correlation between interest, facilities and participation, but at the moment the latter is a problem – the cause of which is hard to put a finger on.

Wimbledon will inevitably bring a rejuvenation of tennis interest to the country over the next month, but only time will tell whether the effect of professional sport is enough to get Britain’s armchair fans outside and taking part themselves.

Coming down from the Olympic High

Considering I have never had Olympic fever before, I caught the London 2012 Olympic bug with a vengeance. For me, one of the most special aspects of this type of event is when you catch yourself absorbed in a sport you didn’t even know existed, such as dancing horses or rhythmic gymnastics. The Games has an uncanny way of turning even the most unpatriotic citizen into a proud Briton. My friend announced that this was the first time he relished referring to himself as British rather than Scottish. It’s this ability to bring the United Kingdom together that has been so awe-inspiring over the last 18 days – even Andy Murray managed to crack a smile!

This has been Britain’s most successful Olympics ever, winning 18 more medals than we did in Beijing. On top of this, London is now the first city to have played host to the Games three times. I am already buzzing about 2016 when the Olympics are in Rio, and our incredible athletes can fight once again to achieve National glory.

London 2012 had the privilege of hosting many ‘first times’ which portrayed how the world is progressing. It was the first year that women’s boxing has ever been included in the Games and it was Nicola Adams who filled the UK with pride as she won her first Olympic gold medal. It was also the first time that Britain had entrants into every single sport. But probably the most important premier was that two women were allowed to represent Saudi Arabia in track and judo events. Even though neither of them came close to winning, they became heroes in London.

The tagline for 2012 has been to “inspire a generation” – and it has. According to the London School of Economics, there has been an 11% rise in cycling around Britain, which means 13 million Britons have been spurred on by the victory of the Velodrome. I am certain it will not end here.


The Government have promised us that the Olympics will not be forgotten and prosperity will follow; we will use the success of London 2012 to boost the depleted economy. This is already happening; £7 billion worth of contracts have been drawn up and signed creating jobs for tens of thousands of people who would have otherwise remained out of work. Sports will once again become a staple of our society, opening doors for our talented youth.

It really has been a memorable occasion. Even though there still exist sceptics who insist that it was all a waste of time and money, they are simply wrong. Britain proved its worth and put us back on the map: A small island once again ready to compete with the big dogs.

Of course, it doesn’t all end here. Now the baton has been handed over to the Paralympics, which will show us the resilience of the human body and what can be achieved in the face of adversity.



Sun, sand…..and seriously good sport

Summer Olympic Games

Since its introduction into the Summer Olympic Games in 1992, beach volleyball has undergone an astounding transformation, moving from what was once a niche, rarely touched upon sport, greeted with disinterest from even the most passionate of sports fans, into what has become one of the most talked about competitions of London 2012.

With mainstream crowd-pleasers, fronted by post girls and sweethearts of the nation, dominating the headlines and enjoying prime time viewing slots, the fact that beach volleyball (a sport completely out of place in a country lucky to enjoy a week’s sunshine out of 52) is able to claim any form of focused media attention, is both surprising and refreshing.

Refreshing that is, perhaps, until we look to the imagery that sits alongside coverage of the sport and the accompanying headlines bursting with innuendo and journalistic testosterone. Shots of Greece’s Maria Tsiartsiani’s backside and Zara Dampney’s washboard abs carpeted that UK’s daily newspapers during week one of the Games and leapt off the pages to provoke reactions of envy from female readers and jaw-dropping lust from male fans.

If there is one thing that the British sports media excels at, it is in understanding the unique selling point of a sport and using whatever it is that we, as readers, find all so compelling to captivate us further. In the case of beach volleyball, this appeal comes in the form of “semi-naked women….glistening like wet otters”, as Boris Johnson already so famously put it.

As The Telegraph’s Jonathan Liew reminded us, it was Dr Ruben Acosta, the man responsible for catapulting beach volleyball into the limelight when he took the reins at the FIVB in 1984, who had the political nous to identify the link between marketing potential and sex appeal.

“Beach volleyball has got a glamorous image, but that’s not something really to fight about. If it means that more people will come and watch the sport and go home with a different attitude to beach volleyball, then I think we’re kind of happy with it.” Dampney has hit the nail on the head. This is a sport which openly and unashamedly feeds off the British public’s interest in anything pleasing to the eye, but there is a method to this madness.

We would be naïve in thinking that the story of beach volleyball begins and ends with attractive bikini-clad females. The crowds of 15,000 that continued to flock to Horse Guards Parade last week demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that today there exists an appetite for this sport, which extends far beyond the perception that was built some 20 years ago.

Today beach volleyball is a sport which enjoys a unique position as a female-focused, female-dominated discipline, a sport which has earned the respect of fans and the buy-in of media. We may have started out with a vested interest in the glamour that the sport promised but somewhere along the way we acknowledged the physicality and athleticism of the players, we got genuinely swept up in the drama of play and found ourselves absorbed in a theatre environment where big screens flicker, music blares and match time entertainment has us up on our feet doing the conga.

Every sport has a unique selling point, something which makes us as consumers buy into it and feel affected on a personal level at the outcome of a team’s performance or an athlete’s success. This compelling quality could be the presence of an iconic figurehead, as Sir Steve Redgrave continues to be for British rowing, or it could come in the form of memories of a standout moment in time, like Dame Kelly Holmes’ unforgettable success in 2004 in Athens, which bolstered interest in middle distance track events.

The greatest sports are those which locate that ‘special something’, use it to build the support of the public and, in doing so, create a more promising future for their discipline. For beach volleyball, audience buy-in may well derive from the promise of glamour but its appeal is solidified by the sheer physicality of its athletes and by each and every additional entertaining element that organisers have worked hard to introduce.

“Use sex to get the crowds in, use skill to keep them.” (Jonathan Liew, Daily Telegraph)……and what a smart move that was.