The boutique fitness industry has boomed in the last five years or so, with sweaty, high-intensity circuit classes taking the charge. This, combined with the pandemic and rise in home workout platforms has meant that the more commercial gyms offering traditional weights rooms have taken a bit of a beating, despite once dominating the market.
With this in mind, one of the UK’s leading commercial gyms, Fitness First (opens in new tab) has launched what it’s calling its “most demanding and competitive” HIIT class yet, no doubt in a bid to draw in those who like to have access to conventional resistance training but want to be challenged in their cardio, too.
There's another reason for this launch. The company just recently commissioned a report that found many of its members aren’t ready to switch solely to virtual workouts and are looking for more hybrid fitness routines now that restrictions are lifted.
It uncovered that, much like the return to the office, many fitness fanatics are keen to switch up their schedules with a mixture of home and in-studio exercise, seeing gym sessions and studio classes augmented by home workouts. This, it said, was especially prevalent among younger members, the report found, stating that more than half (51%) of gym-goers under 35s wanted a mix-and-match fitness routine.
One part of the report states: “With the nation growing tired of spare bedroom HIIT classes and cupboard callisthenics, and restrictions now at an end, Fitness First has wasted no time in launching its industry-leading, lockdown-busting workout, TraX.”
And so, with 45 clubs across the country, Fitness First is hoping this new, challenging workout will cement its position as an all-in-one fitness emporium, where members can enjoy all pillars of health, from weight lifting and personal training to that more boutique HIIT class experience.
But what is TraX really like - is it really as demanding as they say it is? I went to try it out for myself.
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Fitness First Trax makes you move in mysterious ways
Fitness First says that Trax has been designed to “harness the power of team spirit” through some very high-intensity, sweat-inducing exercise. It’s a station-based class that can hold 24 participants and can be attended in either 30- or 45-minute sessions.
What Fitness First says is unique about TraX is that, unlike your usual HIIT class, its exercises include all the different possible planes of motion: sagittal (forwards and backwards movements), frontal (side-to-side) and transverse (twisting). This is to better test the endurance of the idiots like me who dare to take it on.
Because of this, you’re faced with an abundance of divergent activities within one class. Fitness First says TraX will improve your strength and aerobic capacity, helping you live your life better. The team work aspect is a big deal here; TraX has been designed to help members harness those uplifting, group camaraderie vibes – something many of us have missed out on during lockdown. Personally, I didn't miss them too much, but I know a lot of people did.
So, what is TraX like to do?
As one of the first to preview TraX, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The name doesn’t give much away, and being part of a commercial space, I suspected it would just be some equipment laid out in the corner of a dusty old gym. Thankfully this wasn’t the case. As you can see from the photos, Fitness First has given the class enough space to have a pleasingly boutique feel. It’s new, shiny and eye-catching enough to stand out on the gym floor.
Just looking at the gym floor set up as you saunter over to start the class is exhausting. You’ve got six stations, each including a mixture of freestyle exercises like kettlebells, free weights, and slam balls, as well as TG Bench workouts, Assault Bikes, rowing machines and even the dreaded Ski Erg. It's enough to keep most people out of their comfort zones and sounds a clear warning that every muscle in your body will be screaming at you the following day.
The good news is, you can start wherever you fancy. After a five-minute floor warm-up with a dedicated instructor, the timer is activated. You’re then required to work as fast and as hard as you can during intervals of one minute, before 30 seconds of rest, then on to the next station. There are two rounds in the 30-minute class and three rounds in the 45-minute extended remix. You only get 20 seconds rest between intervals in the second and third round, which is pretty killer.
There are three cardio-based stations, comprising Ski Ergs, rowers and Assault Bikes, and three resistance-based ones, featuring kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls, and resistance bands. This is so that you get a well balanced workout. The resistance stations are also a chance to get your breath back after nearly killing yourself on the Erg – definitely the most terrifying thing there, if you ask me.
Whereas your standard HIIT classes have you working in one plane of motion, which can sometimes allow you to languish in your comfort zone, the constant change over from cardio to resistance in TraX means you’re forever kept on your toes, but without overly fatiguing from any one exercise.
What’s good about TraX is that there isn’t anyone screaming in your ear or demanding you do complex moves you don’t know at 100mph like some studios’ instructors do – cough Barry’s, cough. To hold you to account, they do, however, take a note of the amount of calories you’ve burned at each cardio station from the machines’ displays and tally them up at the end. This is a good motivator, although it does make things a little too competitive for my liking.
At the end of the class, just when you think you’ve survived, there’s a 'team finisher' which requires working together with other people in your station to try and rack up as many combined calories as possible from one of the cardio machines and win the class.
Here's my verdict on Fitness First TraX
What I truly loved about this workout, though, was that each station is focused only on low-impact exercises. There is no jumping or running, meaning, while I was still hardly chilled by the end, it didn’t leave me feeling like I’d had a sledgehammer to my knees, like some heavy HIIT classes do.
This puts me at ease a lot, especially since some recent studies have found that doing too many high-impact circuits or cross-training workouts per week can disrupt athletic performance and actually do harm, including affecting your metabolism and destabilising your blood sugar. Gulp.
Overall, was TraX as demanding as it claims? Absolutely. I do these kinds of classes regularly, and while I only did the shorter, 30-minute version, it almost killed me. The majority of the workout was bearable, but the team finisher on the Ski Erg at the end, which required racing to a 100kcal total burn between three people before we could leave finished me off. I am not sure I'd have been able to successfully complete the longer version of the class.
Despite or because of that, I did really enjoy TraX. Despite it being very challenging, I didn’t feel rushed or anxious. It’s very tough, but it’s set in a nice, friendly and supportive environment, meaning I could put all of my energy into the workout, without worrying about what was happening around me. It’s also short enough that it can work for a swift lunchtime workout.
Whether you are trying to lose those extra few pandemic pounds, build muscle mass or maintain your current weight, TraX is challenging enough to ensure you’re kept in shape without focusing too much on one thing. It's a great all-round class.
Fitness First Trax: where can you do it and what's the price?
TraX can be experienced at Fitness First’s Tier 1 Tottenham Court Road, Tier 2 Liverpool Street or Tier 6 Bangor gyms. There are 20 sessions per week in all. We’re told there are plans to extend TraX to further locations in the future, but we’re guessing this depends on how many people survive trying it at its current locations.
Prices for membership at Fitness First start at £36 for the entry-level standard Tier 7 gyms going up to £95 per month at the more luxurious Tier 1.