Esther Fairfax, teacher of the Lotte Berk Technique
YOU ate enough over Christmas to see you through to the Spring, the weight loss adverts are on the telly, and gym membership offers are dropping through your door. New year, new you, is your resolution, but that hasn’t motivated you beyond February in the past, so why should it in 2011?
The answer might be to try something a bit different - be it challenging, fun, fulfilling or a little bit crazy, there are plenty of activities out there which are a world away from pounding the pavements, providing a social side and working wonders for the soul as much as the body.
There’s plenty out there to chose from - and West Berkshire certainly has its fair share of hidden gems. With this little lot to try your hand at, you need never go near a treadmill again...
Buggyfit - New mums often want to get back into shape, but it’s hard to squeeze in a fitness plan when you have a baby. Buggyfit gives you no such excuse, as it’s an outdoor exercise class which fuses your cherub’s pushchair into the workout.
These classes are designed to allow post natal mums to exercise safely, but having attempted this one myself, I can confirm that the Buggyfit workout is no walk in the park; it’s a combination of powerwalking and toning exercises that burn fat, raise the heartrate and strengthen neglected muscle groups.
“It’s about friendship and a support network as well as the exercise,” says local Buggyfit instructor Elizabeth Masters. “It’s sad when a mum has to stop because she’s gone back to work, but some are able to keep coming as long as they’ve got a buggy. Some of the ladies are really hardcore - they always turn up, whatever the weather.”
The classes utilise the terrain with park benches providing convenient staging posts. Buggyfit classes can be attended as soon as mums have been given the medical all-clear for exercise; however, they really need to be pushing a three-wheeler; a travel system might make the workout a little bit too challenging.
Ceroc - Featuring a dance style fusing jive and salsa, ceroc classes are as much a social scene as a form of exercise. Indeed, Newbury instructor Val Rokov believes that most people start attending for the social element of the evenings rather than viewing the classes as a potential new fitness regime.
“However, it does have massive benefits in terms of weight and fitness,” she says. “I started dancing 13 years ago, and haven’t returned to the gym since.”
Ceroc dancers are certainly put through their paces; pedometers have shown that dancers can take 12,000 in an evening. But Val says that ceroc is easy to learn, and beginners are made to feel very welcome - “no one is ever a wallflower. Three hours just fly by, and everyone ends on such a high.”
Forces Fit - Military-style classes led by current or former members of the Armed Forces may sound like a bit of a scary concept, but instructor Kevin Gormley says that Forces Fit is not just aimed at those already at the peak of physical fitness. “Classes are divided into ability groups, so beginners are very welcome, even those who may not have exercised regularly for a long time. It really is for everyone,” he says.
“It’s enjoyable, supportive, friendly and effective. Going to the gym can be like being on an underground train - no one talks to each other. We describe this as ‘training with a breath of fresh air’.”
Classes are held twice a week all year round in Goldwell Park, Newbury - the one with the gruelling hill. And the Forces Fit team don’t let a little thing like darkness get in the way of their workout, with two evening classes a week being held all year round.
Hatha yoga - “The brilliant thing about yoga,” says Lucy Malkin, “is that there are so many styles. Some are strenuous and give you a really tough workout, while others focus more on meditation. It means that yoga can suit everybody, from athletes to people in their 80s. A decent yoga teacher is one who knows how to modify a style to suit the individual.”
Lucy focuses on Hatha yoga, which covers “all physical styles of yoga”, meaning her classes can be modified to cater for old injuries, address specific physical issues, or enhance the body’s metabolic rate.
“Central to the ethos of yoga is better learning to inhabit the body we’ve been given rather than striving for the body beautiful,” says Lucy. “It’s about feeling more relaxed and comfortable in your skin, and being able to deal with stress.
“It clearly has physical health benefits - it can make people lean, strong and supple - but this is just a happy side affect for a lot of people. Some people find their inner peace through working out hard, but others find it through being very quite and gentle. Yoga is non-judgemental.”
Kettlebell - Like a cannonball with handles, kettlebells are used by the Russian military to build up muscular strength. They are becoming popular for use at home - although you do need the room to swing the proverbial cat. However, group kettlebell training sessions are also catching on, such as those run by The Workout Team.
“Kettlebells provide a fundamental workout, using the body in the way it was designed,” explains The Workout Team’s Ria Ingleby. “They improve overall strength and endurance, work on core muscles and are good for posture. The kettlebell swing is a fundamental exercise; it really does work the whole body.”
Ria suggests that even those intending to a kettlebell at home should attend a short course in order to learn how to use them safely.
Lotte Berk Technique - West Berkshire’s best kept fitness secret has surely got to be the intimate and friendly classes run by Esther Fairfax, daughter of fitness pioneer Lotte Berk. The lithe and effervescent septuagenerian Esther and her long-term pupils are a wonderful advertisement for the benefits of the technique, which is based on dancers’ warm-up exercises - “without the dancing,” laughs Esther.
“These exercises are very small, very intense and very deep,” she explains. “Everything is based around the ‘tilt’, which my mother brought into the fitness industry, and for which I don’t think she gets enough credit. They create a smooth, firm line, not bulges.”
Many of Esther’s pupils demonstrate that a lifetime of exercise really does pay off, with her oldest student being aged 86 - “although we do have some students under 40”. The secret, she says, is that the technique keeps muscles strong so that joints remain well supported.
The women attending the class I observed at Esther’s carpeted dance studio in Hungerford had been following the method for between 25 and 40 years, with fabulous results. However, Esther says that newcomers are welcome. “Although you will never feel as bad as you do the day after your first class,” she says. “It puts muscles you didn’t know you had into shock.”
Newbury Fencing Club - It may not provide the gruelling cardio-vascular workout of some other activities, but fencing gives you the opportunity to test out your mastery of tactics and timing. “Fencing has become a lot more accessible as a spectator sport,” says Imad Rahman of Newbury Fencing Club. “It’s certainly something you can take up as an adult - we run beginners’ courses three times a year to introduce people to the basics.”
But what about the risk of injury? Those points look sharp... “The weapons are designed to break very easily,” says Imad. “The most common injuries in fencing are actually muscle pulls, when people haven’t warmed up properly.”
Pole fitness - Put images of high heels and skimpy costumes out of your head; pole fitness has more in common with gymnastics, with the pole being used as a vertical bar.
“People have preconceived ideas, but it’s about fitness, not dancing,” says teacher Kate Tolhurst. “Gymnasts and dancers tend to pick it up really quickly, although you don’t need the strength to begin with to get up to a similar standard.
“Pole fitness makes you really aware of the body’s posture; it’s really good for you physiologically, as well as providing a great cardio workout. It’s also very empowering. Your confidence grows as you learn the moves and begin to perform routines. It’s also really sociable. There’s a massive ‘pole’ community out there.”
Zumba - One of the liveliest workouts around, zumba is a fitness programme based on international music and dance styles that aims to turn every class into a party. “The moves are quite wiggly,” says Newbury instructor Emma Stanley, who runs classes at Greenacre Leisure Club and Nu Yuu. “It’s great if you’re trying to whittle down your waist.
“There are a lot of ‘secret squats’ hidden behind the dance moves as well, which are great for your legs and thighs. I’ve seen the difference it’s made to my own body - it’s the one class I’ve done which really helps you lose the weight.”
Moves can be modified to factor in knee or hip problems, and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it: “Just follow the instructor, and if you go wrong it doesn’t matter,” says Emma. “Most people love it, because it doesn’t feel like a fitness class. It really does have a party atmosphere.”
Buggyfit - www.buggyfit.co.uk, phone 07920 826966
Ceroc - www.cerocnewbury.co.uk, phone 07958 587256
Forces Fit- www.forcesfit.co.uk. phone 07711 856393
Hatha yoga (Stable Yoga) - http://www.stableyoga.co.uk, phone 01635 250832
Kettlebell (The Workout Team) - www.theworkoutteam.co.uk, phone 07775 862076
Lotte Berk Technique - www.lotte-berk.com, phone 01488 683 609
Newbury Fencing Club - www.newburyfencingclub.com, phone 01235 559481
Pole Fitness (Kate Tolhurst) - http://www.polefitnessassociation.com/KateTolhurst.html, phone 07748 628 882
Zumba (Emma Stanley) - http://78833.zumba.com/, phone 07905 369 351
- First published in Out & About (Newbury Weekly News), February 2010