For my latest fitness review, I've looked into my crystal ball to discover how the people of West Hampstead will be exercising in the future. We'll be consuming our Eggs Benedict and soya latte in pill form, naturally, but how are we keeping our bodies toned?
Movers and Shapers, on West End Lane, offers a suitably cutting-edge answer to this question. Positioning itself as the "smart alternative to a gym" (the staff never use the G-word), it's a small-but-growing chain of boutique fitness studios in and around London that use only Power Plate machines.
|A power plate lurks among the sofas in reception|
Power Plates have been around for a while – I've sometimes seen these large vibrating platforms at gyms I've visited, but always been too intimidated (and confused) to investigate. So I was happy to discover that all Movers and Shapers' workouts are guided by expert instructors in classes of up to five. They kindly offered me a free trial so I went along to find out first hand if I, too, could get the toned physique of celeb fans such as Claudia Schiffer, Kylie and, er, local favourite Jonathan Ross.
My initial consultation session, with friendly trainer Dimitri, consisted of a body analysis and introduction to the machines. Using a specialised set of scales and a good old-fashioned tape measure, Dimitri built up a comprehensive – and quite hi-tech – list of personalised data including muscle mass, bone density and body fat percentage. I quite liked being presented with a printout of results. As regular one-to-one progress reviews are included in the membership cost, I can imagine the quest to improve my stats could become geekily addictive.
For the uninitiated, Power Plate machines are often billed as "the microwave of fitness"; the manufacturers claim that the effect of any exercise you do is magnified by up to 70% by the intense vibrations of the plate, meaning that even a short workout can deliver impressive results. The vibrations stimulate and contract your muscles, making a gradual warm-up obsolete, and with regular use you can improve tone, core strength, fitness and stamina.
It sounded too good to be true, so I was disappointed to find out that some effort was required on my part too – as with any exercise, the harder you work, the better the results, apparently. Not quite the technological advancement I'd dreamed of.
So, it was down to work. The vibration is a bit unsettling at first. However, when I got used to the sensation of hearing my teeth rattle in my skull, and after just the briefest of 30-second warm-ups, I was amazed to be able to touch my toes (pathetically impossible in my creaky pre warm-up state). After another ten minutes of press-ups and stepping on and off the plate, I was rewardingly knackered. Maybe there was something in it after all.
For my first timetabled class, on a Friday evening, I was slightly taken aback to realise I was the only person taking part. It was great to have the instructor, Nicola, all to myself, but there would definitely be nowhere to hide. She took me through a series of different moves, including some gruelling abdominal work. However, the session was over before I knew it – Movers and Shapers' 30-minute class format is designed to fit in around their customers' busy lives.
Nicola was also leading the next class I went to. This was a busy Tuesday evening and all five Power Plate stations were occupied. It felt a little cramped at times, particularly when the tall guy next to me couldn't swing the weight bag above his head under the low basement ceiling. I was impressed that Nicola knew everybody by name – the small class size makes for a friendly personalised experience.
My third session, on Saturday morning, was led by Dimitri. It was interesting to experience a different teacher's technique. It's possible to do so many exercises on a Power Plate that the workout can vary quite a bit depending on each individual instructor's approach.
So, did I feel suitably moved (and shaped) by my four visits? I definitely felt healthy and energised after attending each class, as well as feeling more toned and taut. I think it would be good for busy people who want a quick fitness fix or have a specific event or holiday they want to tone up for. The friendly, personal service would also be a bonus for those who don’t enjoy going to conventional gyms.
However, the personalised boutique feel and sophisticated gadgetry comes at a higher cost than a standard fitness centre. A month’s membership with unlimited classes will set you back £125, or a pay-as-you-go block of 10 classes is £199. I suspect anyone serious about fitness would also want to combine this with some other form of exercise, particularly cardio. The other drawback for me is the lack of showers; the advantage of the "just pop in" approach is slightly lost when you aren't able to go straight out for dinner after your workout.
If you want to find out more about the place, there's an open day on the 27th April with complimentary classes. Mail the branch or call them to find out more (020 7342 4222).