After an indulgent summer, Alicia Meinertzhagen signs herself up for Barry’s Bootcamp Hell Week, but when she sees her fitness and body improve, she starts to think it’s not so hellish after all. Here is her day-by-day account…

After a full-on summer of too much going out and surviving on unhealthy habits, it is great to finally be taking my finger off the self-destruct button this week. For anyone who knows me I am not a natural runner, and the prospect of my impending Nike Run to the Beat half-marathon has definitely been a persistent niggle in my brain whilst I have made my way through the summer and the umpteen bottles of rosé that go with it. So with a little under two weeks to go, I am combining the weekly academy at Barry’s Bootcamp with a clean diet to give myself the best chance I can to chase a solid time. I am also definitely intrigued as to how my mind and body will change and feel with such a shift in focus to my health and well-being.

I have been going to Barry’s Bootcamp since February, soon after it opened in London after being brought over from the States. It is an addictive hour’s indoor-workout class that I would essentially term as ‘interval’ training, set to great music and taught by highly motivating and personable trainers. For the past couple of months I have utilised it mainly as a way of keeping my shape intact and to combat the effects of letting loose, but this has been somewhat of a waste as I used the class more to just maintain my fitness levels rather than better them, which is the very thing that Barry’s is brilliant at. The incredible knowledge of the staff who work there and the ability to use the classes to push your fitness to new levels is undeniable, and this is what I hope to achieve with my 8 sessions in 7 days…

Day 1:

I wake up this morning still feeling the effects of the Notting Hill Carnival on the bank holiday weekend. Having got just a little bit over-excited on the Sunday the abstinence from rum punch began yesterday, but I definitely allowed myself to over-indulge in a few last foodie treats. Residual toxins from both are definitely contributing to my sluggish and slightly blue mood. Green tea, almonds and fresh fruit are my mantra in the office today. Which I mostly manage to stick to, apart from the addition of a little too much dried fruit with its high sugar content creeping in alongside. But I’m feeling uncharacteristically springy when I leave at 5.30, with no habitual headaches from excessive biscuit-tin raiding, and am raring to go when I reach Barry’s.

I have booked in with Faisal, one of my favourite trainers, to get the ball rolling. Knowing that this is the start of my challenge, he is extra supportive towards me during the busy class – particularly with my attempts not to coast at the ‘beginners’ speeds at all during the running segments (as I still do despite my months of attendance). I manage this all apart from one horrendous incline-focused few minutes, and leave feeling pleased that I have begun on a strong note.

Day 2:

Not-so-clever Alicia. Whilst reaching at an awkward angle in my car last night I have managed to wrench my neck. Cue arnica, Ibuprofen, Deep Heat, a hot water bottle and very little sleep. I have small doubt that this is to do with my body’s reaction to finally slowing down, and a sharp wake-up call to my need to take better care of it. Whilst I am determined not to be silly in my attempts to heal the pain and get back on track for this evening, a midday emergency chiropractic session works wonders and after an afternoon of icing (apparently heat is the WORST thing, oops!) I feel ready to tackle session two.

Yesterday was ‘Butts and Legs’ day so as predicted I lever myself up onto the treadmill feeling a little heavy of leg. I have my eldest sister with me this evening to keep me going, as well as the Barry’s London maestro Sandy taking the class. All the trainers are religious about checking for injuries and never mind if you adapt the floor exercises slightly for any niggles, so I get through the session with only a few small twinges. What comes after is almost harder – a quick visit to a friend’s house to catch up on honeymoon news at a dinner table laden with cookies! Luckily she is a Hip and Healthy fan so keeps me happily distracted with lots of fresh berries and mint tea.

Day 3:

I wake up this morning feeling pretty exhausted, but am boosted by the fact that my original and favourite trainer Olly Truelove (great name) is back in town! I manage to drag my 18 year-old nephew for an introductory session, and then swiftly whip his ass on a sprint by a full point-and-a-half in speed. This makes me realise the impact that support and a little healthy competition can have on my performance.

Out for dinner I fall slightly by the wayside on the ‘clean eating’, but the quality of ingredients used is evident so I don’t beat myself up too much. Especially given my strength of will in choosing a fresh ginger based ‘mocktail’, not even tasting a few exceptional-looking french fries (my downfall in life) from the other person’s plate, and ending the evening with another mint tea.

Day 4: 

Today’s session was with Anya, who is fantastic but has a penchant for my nemesis – inclines. This certainly wasn’t a strong class for me but I managed not to fall below the prescribed speeds, and loved the fact that she mixed it up by getting us to do some pair work as a challenge during the last floor section. Although I felt slightly sorry for the poor woman who got me as I was wearing my new Zaggora leggings which were absolutely drenched by this point (those who have tried them/read about the concept behind them will understand…).

The evening brought what I knew would probably send my week’s intentions slightly off-kilter – a very close friend’s hen do. Luckily the food her sister had made could have been taken from any ‘clean eating plan’, with delicious rare roast beef, roasted vegetables and a variety of salads. My plan to drink ‘vodka’ and grapefruit juice (i.e. just juice) was quickly spotted, but by sticking just to vodka without any nasty fizzy mixers, and dancing up a storm for two hours I got home to bed late but feeling surprisingly good for what could have been a disastrous evening.

Day 5: 

Waking up this morning I can feel the effect of even just a bit of alcohol – dehydration and a general feeling of ‘claggyness’, and I don’t like it. A lot of water, fresh juice and a brisk early morning supermarket shop involving heavy-bag-lugging before heading to the 10.00am Barry’s class with Olly works wonders. And whilst it doesn’t make sense, I had my best class of the week. It is always one of my favourites for some reason when I can make it, even if normally it’s just because I feel smug that I’ve started my weekend on such a positive note. I hit a personal best of 12mph for a sprint, and notice the sudden shift in my body that has occurred by this morning in terms of the feeling of strength and tone after five classes. My only guess is that psychologically knowing I want to get the alcohol toxins out of my body makes me work harder to get back to my normal balance. Whatever it was, I have a fantastically productive day in sunny London and am feeling confident that all this training is going to have an impact on next weekend’s run.

Day 6: 

So much for thinking I’d cracked the formula! It takes me quite a while to pull myself out of bed this morning – the build-up of so many days in a row is catching up. Still, I know the best thing for my energy levels is to get moving – I have exercised regularly since my late teens because I know that those weeks that I let it slide I actually end up feeling more lethargic. So it’s on with the Zaggora’s for a second attempt with a morning Anya. Again, not my best class but I get through it, and am sweating so much that the man next to me can’t stop staring in disgust/wonder! This is probably to do with the leggings, but I’m secretly hoping that I’m getting fitter and thus sweating more…The end is in sight, and with this focus I resist the delights of my habitual Sunday curry and head home to a fridge full of fresh vegetables instead.

Day 7:

Having left my double-day until the last minute, I determinedly get on the tube for 7.10am class pre-work. Luckily it is with Olly, who I find is my most motivational trainer if for no other reason than I have done so many classes with him and automatically feel comfortable and able to achieve what is set. It’s ‘Arms and Abs’ day, which I enjoy, and leave feeling that I’ll be able to get my body and brain in gear for the evening session. I end up taking the latest class – the 9.00pm – with Taylor. Having not had time before going in to explain that I was doing the week’s academy, and just saying that I’m doing a double-day, he calls me on it and seems determined to make me work to my hardest. It’s only half-way through that I realise he is using reverse-psychology by shouting encouragement and praise to everyone else in the small sized class but me! I am thus automatically pushing myself without even realising it, and finish the week on a high.

I’m not sure I’m in a rush to sign up to a weekly academy again… but I feel proud of myself for getting through it and have definitely added muscle and tone which can only be a positive for my half-marathon. I felt almost sad during the last sections of my last class that I wouldn’t be back for at least a week, so clearly I haven’t lost my Barry’s love! The clean eating side was definitely weaker and not perfect, but I got more vegetables in me than I have in a long time and was far more conscious of what I was putting into my body. Fingers crossed for the coming race!

The weekly academy costs £90, and classes range from £14-20 depending on the package you buy. Classes are one hour and run from early morning until the evening every day, apart from on weekends when there are less scheduled. www.barrysbootcamp.com.


Alicia (centre) with friends after completing London’s Run To The Beat