Barry’s Bootcamp claims to be “the best workout in the world.”
If we take 'best' to mean 'tough but effective', it’s hard to disagree.
The Barry’s formula combines 30 minutes of treadmill-based cardio with 30 minutes of weight work on the floor (switching constantly between both), to create one of the most gruelling - and effective - 60 minute workouts of your life.
By maintaining an elevated heart rate for the full hour-long workout, a Barry’s class raises your metabolic rate up to 15 per cent, meaning you can burn up to 1000 calories per session.
Yep, 1000. This is seriously sweaty business.
The concept was first launched in LA in 1998, where it is quickly garnered a following among steely-cored celebs and supers— Katie Holmes, Jessica Biel and Sandra Bullock are fans. Since opening its first studio in London in 2013, the brand has expanded rapidly, and now has seven outposts in Euston (Central), Victoria (SW1), Queensway (West), Canary Wharf, Shoreditch (East), St Paul’s and Barry’s Soho which opened most recently in September 2020.
What is Hell Week?
Seven Barry’s classes in seven consecutive days across any of the seven London studios.
Hell Week only happens when there’s five Mondays in the month, so the next one will take place in the week commencing January 30th 2023.
Why did I sign up?
I first tried Barry’s because, frankly, any promise that I might burn 1000 calories in an hour in nightclub-like environment and my interest is piqued. I signed up to Hell Week because I had a holiday coming up and I wanted to see results fast (which I did).
The Red Room (named for its dim red lighting) is so low lit gives it a certain anonymity that I like – particularly when grimacing my way through a dead lift or snarling my way through a long sprint. The instructors are so motivational they will push you past limits you never imagined you could and the playlists are so good – and loud – they really do distract you from the pain.
Each day of the week, the classes focus on a different body part (it’s Full Body on Tuesdays and Ass & Abs on Thursdays), which is perfect when you’re doing Hell Week as it means no matter which class you book that day, you’re sure to focus on a different area than the day before and after.
For those that can’t run or have treadmill phobia, you can also opt to do ‘Double Floor’ where you skip the treadmill part and just do full on body weight and dumbbell exercises for the hour. Run if you can though, it breaks it up!
Barry’s Soho also offers a class called LIFT, a strength-based class within a separate studio that uses dumbbells, resistance bands, and bodyweight – no treadmill required. If you need a break from the treadmill mid-Hell Week, opt for a LIFT class instead.
Here are my top tips for anyone attempting the seven day test of physical and mental endurance:
Classes go live at midday exactly a week in advance, and during a Hell Week the good spots get booked up fast. I’d recommend putting a reminder on your phone or in your calendar to ensure you get yourself into the times and locations that suit.
If you want to book a double floor slot, you can do so on the app once booking goes live.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
I cannot overemphasise how intense this is for your body, and towards the end of the week when your muscles (and brain!) are getting tired, you have to really look out for yourself. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to give 100 per cent every day, so just listen to your body and pace yourself.
I found day four a huge mental challenge, as I have never done hard-core exercise more than three days in a row before. The physical test came on days five and six, when my muscles, particularly my hamstrings and biceps, were screaming at me to stop. By my sixth day in the red room though I found my head was firmly in the game and I was excited to finish, which gave me the mental strength to counter the aches and pains
FIND THE INSTRUCTOR FOR YOU
Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that the ‘Bootcamp’ name is misleading. Barry’s instructors are not barking and swearing ex-Marines as I first imagined they would be, but rather toned and smiley PTs who look more like models than militia.
That said, they vary from slightly more Soulcycle-esque motivational ‘look inside yourself and do this for you’ teaching styles to the firmer ‘give me 110 per cent and do NOT stop. You will only let yourself down’ school.
It's nuanced, but when you’re on your eighth 40 second uphill sprint pre-7am, having the right sort of encouragement can really make all the difference.
DITCH THE SHORTS
When it comes to what to wear, stick to form-fitting Lycra. Not only will you swelter in cotton and other fabrics but the floor work involves lots of leg lifting and squats, often in close proximity to your 40 or so equally sweaty neighbours. Let’s face it, no one likes a flasher.
HAVE A GOOD STOCK OF KIT
Now this one is going to sound silly but exercising every day for seven days in clean kit becomes a bit of a logistical nightmare if you have minimal kit and a week packed with work and evening commitments. I was very glad that I have a freakishly large stash of workout gear which took a chunk of Lycra laundry logistics off my plate.
DON’T PACK OUT YOUR DIARY
I made the mistake of having an evening commitment every night of my Hell Week, which was a huge error as it meant I struggled to get 8 hours sleep before the alarm went off at 5.45 for my 6.30 class. Sleep is key not only for physically rebuilding you, but to give you the mental alertness to lift heavy weights and hit high speeds on a treadmill in the semi-darkness safely.
THE FOAM ROLLER IS YOUR FRIEND
I say this as someone who does not own a foam roller, and thus totally failed to use one throughout the course of the week. By the fifth day my hamstrings were so tight I was forced to sort of launch myself at the chair at my desk, as the process of bending to sit down was so excruciating.
I spoke to the instructor at the end of class that day and he advised that anyone attempting Hell Week should be spending at least 20 minutes foam rollering each day, to avoid the catastrophic muscle tightness I experienced. Learn from my self-inflicted agony and do not ignore this advice. You’ll end up walking weirdly, as I did.
Epsom salt baths are another instructor-recommended (and less eye-wateringly painful) method for easing muscular tension.
ALCOHOL IS NOT YOUR FRIEND
Mostly I managed to skip the booze that week, however one night I had to attend a big awards ceremony with work where drinking was (practically) compulsory. Getting on a treadmill and sprinting at 12 miles an hour in the semi-darkness after more glasses of champagne (7) than hours of sleep (5.5) was not only painful but felt mildly dangerous.
While a week of sobriety is advisable, a post-class protein smoothie can do wonders as a treat to mentally get you through the class. The Hermosa shakes on offer at every studio’s ‘Fuel Bar’ are a great way get a protein boost after class which studies suggest can aid muscle recovery and potentially even reduce muscle soreness. The ‘Simply PB’ and ‘PB & J’ flavours are firm favourites, and all can be made vegan.
What really surprised me about the Barry's Hell Week was how much I enjoyed it. The crowd is sexy, the playlists are banging and the vibe is very much of the alcohol-free nightclub variety. Even just a few days in you’ll start seeing results. I was 100 per cent definitely visibly more toned by the end of the week – in fact I’d go so far as to say I got my first ab.
While you may find the borderline cultish vibe a little much on day one, the good money says come day seven, you’ll be so physically and emotionally invested in the whole thing, you’ll be a total Barry’s convert.
I sure as hell was.
Barry’s Hell Week costs £103 and includes 7 classes to be taken in 7 days across any of the seven London studios.The next Hell Week is taking place across all Barry’s London studios January 30th 2023. Booking goes live a week in advance.