Unique workouts

Stuck in a bit of a rut when it comes to fitness? The Islander explores five different exercises that will challenge and inspire – all available to try locally

Get physical with parkour

If you’ve ever watched YouTube compilations of people practising parkour, flinging themselves off buildings and running up concrete walls with wild abandon, it may seem downright terrifying and only suitable for trained stuntmen. But fitness instructor and co-founder of Parkour Generations, Dan Edwardes, insists that the discipline is simply ‘movement’.

‘It’s about learning just what your body and mind can do in terms of engaging with your surroundings, overcoming obstacles and exploring your own potential,’ he explains. ‘We utilise the foundational movement patterns of the human body – running, jumping, climbing, swinging, vaulting, rolling, crawling etc to master our terrain – whether it be urban, rural, indoors or outdoors. By giving the body this truly natural movement nutrition – literally what it has evolved to be doing – you boost your strength, agility, mobility, fitness, coordination and balance while at the same time building confidence, courage, vision and creativity.’

Edwardes was an outdoorsy child growing up in the British countryside and trained in fighting arts before discovering parkour in his mid-20s, describing it as the ‘obvious missing link’ when it came to fitness. ‘I loved it immediately,’ he says.


Parkour Generations team member Dayne Nembhard shows his incredible parkour skills and agility on the island

Parkour exploded in popularity in the early 2000s, but the exercise can trace its roots back to the First World War, when French naval officer Georges Hébert trained fellow soldiers using obstacle style workouts. Edwardes co-founded Parkour Generations (the first-ever professional parkour organisation) in 2005 with a desire to ‘teach others and help transmit the benefits of this amazing discipline’. It has since become the largest parkour organisation in the world, and has spread to countries such as South Korea, Taiwan and Brasil.

When lockdown began, Edwardes saw a sharp uptake in people joining the gym’s outdoor classes, and has since seen a slew of newcomers. The physical perks of parkour are numerous, but Edwardes cites the mental benefits – ‘self-confidence, self-reliance, risk-management, creative vision, self-awareness and a profound sense of freedom and self-mastery’ – as being ‘even more important than the physical’.


If parkour has piqued your interest, the organisation operates from the Chainstore Gym on Trinity Buoy Wharf and has just launched a new school in Canary Wharf. He describes the East London location as ‘truly unique,’ with ‘fantastic riverside views, interesting nearby docklands architecture and terrain, great for parkour, and a very nice community of people… The recent residential developments have injected even more life into the area.’


“Parkour is about learning what your body and mind can do in terms of overcoming obstacles and exploring your own potential”

Dan Edwardes, Parkour Generations

Pack a punch with boxing and MMA

Not so long ago, boxing was an underground sport; the preserve of burly men in grubby East London gyms. Now, with the likes of Versace selling boxing gloves and models Karlie Kloss and Adriana Lima extolling its virtues, boxing has swiftly become mainstream.

Hundreds of high-end gyms across the city have introduced boxing-inspired classes to their timetables, and boutique boxing gyms have exploded in popularity – with the majority of their attendees being women. Trendy New York gym Shadowbox reported that 65% of its clientele were female. Gary Logan, head of boxing at Sweat by BXR at Canary Wharf insists that the sport is ‘for everyone’, adding that, ‘making sure that women feel comfortable and empowered in our classes is central to our ethos’.

The physical benefits of boxing are plentiful. Far from being purely about brute strength, boxing is a killer cardio workout – blitzing hundreds of calories in a short space of time while also being a mental challenge.


Sweat by BXR at Canary Wharf

‘​​Boxing has many benefits, for both mind and body,’ explains professional boxer Sammy McNess, a coach at Sweat by BXR. ‘It is a full body workout that will build explosive strength and tremendous stamina. It will also challenge you mentally while you focus on different combinations and correct technique. It’s a great, enjoyable workout that releases endorphins and teaches you a new skill, while working up a real sweat.

‘The great thing about boxing as a workout is that you can do it without the use of equipment,’ she adds. ‘You can spend 30 minutes shadowboxing. All you need is a small space where you can throw punches while moving your feet. You’ll work up a sweat and get your heart racing!’

Shadowboxing and technique are the basis of a new boxing-inspired workout at The Woods Studios. This August, the music recording studio has launched a new community-inspired Creative Wellbeing programme, with fitness classes open to all ages and abilities, whether you’re a local resident or otherwise. Among the new classes is an hour-long boxing session to introduce you to the basics and burn calories.

And it’s not only boxing that’s become increasingly popular, but combat and mixed martial arts (MMA) in general. Specialist gyms including London Shootfighters East in Blackwall, Diesel Gym in Dockside and Third Space in Canary Wharf are just a handful of local venues offering a variety of martial arts classes, including Muay Thai, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling.

The idea of being grappled by a stranger may seem scary, but just as boxing has become less niche and intimidating, MMA classes are open to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. At its core, MMA is about respect and control – and it’s certainly a lot more fun than an hour on a treadmill.


Get on your dancing shoes

Yoga and HIIT workouts were popular YouTube searches during 2020 when gyms were closed, but nothing boosts the serotonin levels quite like dancing around your living room. And exercising from the comfort of home, away from the prying or judgemental eyes of gym bunnies, also gave people the confidence to look beyond Zumba and aerobics to try something completely new.

Bollywood-inspired fitness programme BollyX launched a popular On Demand service last year, with high-octane classes that incorporate the music and moves of Bollywood films, while London-based belly dancing instructor Leilah Isaac – who normally teaches classes at the famous Pineapple Dance Studios – started online belly dancing classes, which have repeatedly sold out.

Also launching a new online workout service last year was English National Ballet, who are based at London City Island. BalletActive is an online library of fitness and training videos from professional dancers at the company. These range from beginner ballet taster sessions to more advanced classes, as well as strength, pilates and yoga videos and even flamenco and kathak classes. The Woods Studios is also running ballet-inspired barre workouts for adults and Saturday morning ballet classes for kids, as well as a mid-week street dance session to get you moving and shifting the pounds.


BalletActive with English National Ballet

“It’s important when starting something new to try your best not to compare yourself to others and enjoy your own process”

Nathalie Alison, Aerial Gymnastics London


A student of Aerial Gymnastics London practicing hoop skills at London City Island

Have a go at hoop

When fitness instructor Nathalie Alison went to a Britney Spears concert aged 12, it was the opening act – Big Apple Circus – that made a lasting impression.

‘It was the first time I’d ever heard of or seen circus performers and I was instantly mesmerised!’ she recalls. After applying to London’s National Centre for Circus Arts soon after, Alison trained in all things aerial acrobatic, and in 2017 she set up Aerial Gymnastics London in Beckton to teach children aerial circus skills. Today the school runs around 22 classes a week for both adults and youngsters, offering a variety of audacious aerial-based disciplines such as aerial yoga, silks and hoop.

If you’ve ever watched Cirque du Soleil performers hurtling through the air and fancied a go, Alison promises that aerial gymnastics are ‘accessible to all’.


Aerial can seem very daunting and can be extremely challenging, but it’s OK to feel nervous,’ she says. ‘Everyone has their own starting point in anything new, regardless of fitness. It’s important when starting something new to try your best not to compare yourself to others and enjoy your own process. It might not be for you, but you’ll never know until you try!’

Alison noticed an increase in newcomers to her classes last summer after the first lockdown ended, suggesting that people were still in the mindset of learning new skills. As well as being impressive to watch, aerial acrobatics are phenomenal for toning and strength.

‘The main benefits of aerial are improving fitness and flexibility, self-confidence and increasing functional strength,’ Alison explains. ‘Most importantly, the classes offer people a safe space to have fun. As our motto says, our aim is to “create a happier mind in a healthier body”.’


“In the decades since yoga made its way from India to western shores, we’ve seen several iterations of this ancient exercise”

Tune into a new style of yoga

In the decades since yoga made its way from India to western shores, we’ve seen several iterations of this ancient exercise, from sweltering hot studios to getting your dog involved. You may think you’ve seen it all when it comes to yoga, but instructor Oriana Shepherd is bringing something entirely new to London City Island this autumn.

Shepherd is the founder of HUM Yoga, whose studios will be opening on the Island at the end of October. As the name suggests, HUM classes are based on sonic frequencies for an alternative yoga and meditative experience.

‘The space [at HUM] is injected with a combination of frequencies to enhance and deepen your practise,’ Shepherd explains. ‘We use a combination of 7.83Hz and 40Hz. Being submerged in these frequencies helps you naturally produce matching frequencies through a process of entrainment. 7.83Hz, known as the Schumann Resonance, is the frequency of the Earth and helps you “ground”, while 40Hz is specifically associated with gamma brainwave activity; integral for achieving states of peak performance.’ It all sounds rather high-tech, but the different frequencies are achieved through traditional singing bowls. According to Shepherd, the benefits of the practice include ‘enhancing creativity, relaxation, improved mood and sleep patterns’.

A trained yoga instructor, Shepherd developed HUM through her work in palliative care. While giving reflexology and aromatherapy massages to patients and carers, she would often include the use of singing bowls as a soothing sound to accompany the treatments.

‘Over time, I began to see the impact of sound on enhancing their experience,’ she says. ‘I began to explore different sound frequencies in my yoga classes and quickly saw the positive effects. This led me to discover the HUM. The sound, along with the scientifically-proven benefits, seemed the perfect fit for a new kind of practice.’

As for the new studio on the Island, Shepherd is looking forward to ‘embracing and becoming a part of’ this diverse neighbourhood, and visitors to HUM can expect to find ‘total sanctuary and an immersive experience in spa-like surroundings’.

The new studio on London City Island will launch on Sunday 24 October with a special workshop run by international movement artist, yoga teacher and local, David Kam. The afternoon of movement and wellness includes an open-level yoga session, followed by a community circle to get to know everyone and share thoughts about wellness, followed by a short meditation.

The workshop is open to everyone – even if you’ve never tried yoga before! – visit the HUM Yoga website to reserve your place.


David Kam will be leading a workshop on 24 October at HUM Yoga

Words by Gemma Billington

Hoop and parkour photography by Philip Haynes, videography by Johno Verity