I’m really not the person who thrives on jumping out of bed at dawn to go to Body Pump and desperate to try every new fitness craze. Aside from regular yoga and the odd Pilates class, I shy away from group exercise. My cardio consists of solitary runs around the park or biking at the gym with my earphones firmly plugged in. For me, exercise is my time.
An enthusiastic teacher jumping around to a class of 20 people getting the moves wrong (me especially), makes me cringe. But when I heard about Pulse, a new class at Virgin Active which takes places in a dark studio with glow sticks and 90s rave music, I couldn’t wait to try it out. Why? The blackout concept means no one can see me mess up the moves, it’s too cold to run outside now and – hello – 90s rave music? My raving days may be behind me but I can’t resist a spot of nostalgia. Neon leggings at the ready…
Pulse launched just last week so, at my local Virgin Active in Clapham at 5.30pm on a Saturday, there were just a handful of us. Turns out this is my favourite time of the week to go as it’s the perfect way to rev up before a Saturday night. The lights are off, we’re clutching glow-sticks and looking nervously at each other as the music blares straight in with Snoop Dogg and David Guetta’s ‘Sweat’ (appropriate: within minutes our heart-rates have rocketed).
We’re ‘Grapevining’ across the studio floor, lifting our knees back and forth and punching the air. The Original’s ‘I Luv U Baby’ comes on and we start a Big Fish Little Fish cardboard box motion before jumping up and squatting down. N-Trance’s ‘Set You Free’ comes on later and I feel positively euphoric as we wave our arms in circles and stretch. Its 45 minutes of pure rave nostalgia and cardio crunching. The moves are simple and easy to follow. The last time I heard some of these tracks was at 6am in Camden Palace 13 years ago, and the nostalgic element certainly makes the class more fun. By the end I’m drenched in sweat and knackered, but genuinely elated.
I opt for a 60-minute Pulse after work in Kensington. These high-energy classes require serious stamina and, after a 10-hour day in the office, I start flaking pretty quickly. However, the music and encouragement from the teacher and other students makes me want to push myself. I’m starting to see the appeal of group exercise. The class is full this time, and our instructor is dressed in a brightly-patterned crop top and neon tutu. We kick off with hamstring curls and Grapevine motions to ‘Pump Up The Jam.’
At one point we make a big circle, furiously carrying out knee-repeaters between punches our arms for the duration of Rita Ora’s ‘Hot Right Now.’ As the instructor “shakes her booty” at warp speed, the rest of us try to keep up. And fail. She runs around the class egging us on; “C’mon, go go go! Faster!” Passionate teachers are a must for this class but the dance moves are full-on and hard to master – just when I think I’ve got it we move onto the next. I find the extra 15 minutes make a big difference. I’m knackered afterwards. The next day there’s a satisfactory ache in my thighs.
I’m seeing the pattern now. So far Pulse uses roughly the same tunes and dance or aerobic moves, with some variation according to the teacher. ‘I Like to Move It’ starts this class again as we hamstring curl and step around in time to the music. We pair classic rave Big Fish Little Fish arms by making a ‘box’ with our legs, then squat, lunge and run back and forth. House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ has us stepping powerfully to the floor, then repeating the moves even faster, before twerking enough to make Miley Cyrus proud.
There’s a great mix of moves in this class and alternating between fast and slow – which I’m sure is doing wonders to our stamina and heart rate. By this stage in the week my arms, thighs and butt are feeling a little sore and I’m convinced all this cardio and sweating has made me fitter. One thing lacking though is ab work. I’d love crunches and planks at the end but, then again, this is a cardio dance class. 45 minute classes are much more enjoyable because I throw my all into it and it’s over quickly, rather than watching the clock for the last 15 minutes.
The music in this class is much more contemporary. Christina Aguilera’s ‘Feel The Moment’ starts us off comes on and we alternate between slowly gliding our arms in circles above our heads, hamstring curls and small jumps. The Black Eyed Peas ‘Pump It’ has us squatting and slowly stepping from side to side before picking up the pace, adding a jump and a shimmy. There’s more running in this class than in previous, but much of the moves and sequences are the same.
30 minutes in I’m knackered but having fun with the rest of the all-female group. I’m not feeling the same muscle burn or ache I imagine I’d feel if I’d done three Step, Body Pump or Cycle classes in one week, as Pulse is less about resistance and more about high intensity cardio. I certainly feel fitter, more energised and I’m sleeping better than I have done in months. I’ll be back.
Pulse takes places at Virgin Active gyms nationwide.