Standing inside a -85°c chamber for several minutes, getting blasted with cold air until ice forms on your eyelashes, may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing spa treatment.
But cryotherapy is in high demand at London’s most elite gyms and wellness centres.
For £75, clients can enjoy three minutes of exposure to sub-zero temperatures at Repose, a boutique studio on Kensington High Street.
At first, I was cynical. But after trying it, I now know what I would spend my money on if I won the lottery.
Cryotherapy gives you the same endorphin rush of jumping into a plunge pool – without the unpleasantness of throwing yourself into ice-cold water.
Nikita Manduca, studio director at Repose, says the company’s cryotherapy technology is state-of-the-art. Among the health benefits touted are improved sleep, reduced inflammation and faster muscle recovery.
Repose, which also offers infrared saunas, red light therapy and aerial yoga, is one of many boutique studios attracting a growing number of people – often women – who want to go the extra mile to keep fit and healthy.
A price worth paying
Lindsay Edwards, a professional stylist, paid around £1,000 at the start of this year for her annual membership at Champneys, a luxury gym and spa offering hydro-pools, saunas and personal training sessions.
“I love it there, it’s become a second home,” she says. “I do the spin classes, aqua aerobics, hatha yoga and HIIT workouts.
“I did the maths and could see that if I significantly cut down on fast food, alcohol and takeaways, I could afford the membership.”
Despite the cost-of-living crisis, many are reluctant to forfeit their gym memberships.
Health, fitness and wellbeing is “no longer considered a discretionary spend by the UK consumer”, according to a recent report by real estate agency Savills, which said the number of gyms in the country has risen by 700 since 2019.
Predictably, many of the brands growing their footprint have been low-budget gyms.
However, those at the higher end are expanding too. The opulent London gym Third Space, which has a monthly membership fee of between £200 and £265, recently won £88.5m in funding to open new clubs across the capital.
Some of the main advantages of paying hundreds or even thousands of pounds a year on a gym membership are access to personal training and group fitness classes.
Carlo Yanez is a trainer at Core Pilates Studios in Kensington, where he specialises in so-called STOTT pilates, a modern approach to the original exercise method pioneered by Joseph Pilates, with elements of sports science incorporated.
Most of his sessions are one-to-one. The price for personal training sessions ranges from between £55 for an introductory class to almost £1,000 for a package of ten.
One of his clients, a mother, tells me that his sessions are “the one luxury” she affords herself.
Yanez says pilates has become increasingly popular in recent years. “It’s easier on your joints compared to many workouts. It makes you work a lot of muscles in your body.”
He adds that studios are popping up everywhere. “Boutique fitness is exploding. There are many women, in particular, who are not enamoured with the gym and are coming to pilates classes instead, where they can get that one-on-one attention and focus on building their strength and flexibility.”
Months-long waiting lists
Pilates in the Clouds, a boutique fitness studio in Notting Hill, is so exclusive that there is no booking system on its website.
Instead, prospective clients must message the studio asking for an appointment. However, they should be prepared for a long wait. Founder Lauren Masaoka says they are often fully booked for months.
The studio became wildly popular after she set up an Instagram account showing elegant women in activewear suspending themselves horizontally from the top of the reformer – the piece of equipment used in reformer pilates – overlooking rooftop views of Kensington.
“We get flooded with influencers messaging saying ‘can I come in and do that pose?’” she says. “It’s actually easier than it looks. It’s like monkey bars.”
At £175 for a solo class, Pilates in the Clouds is not cheap. Masaoka, originally from Los Angeles, says they get a lot of “high profile clients” who want both one-on-one attention and also “a certain level of privacy”.
She says: “It’s an intimate experience. You can bring a friend but often it’s only you in the studio. The studio’s also unmarked – you have to buzz in.”
She continues: “So many people from all over the world follow our Instagram and message saying ‘I’m in town’. We’ll try and fit those people in if we can, since they’re only in London for a short time.”
Aerial yoga and bungee fitness
For some, exclusivity draws them to boutique gyms. For others, it is access to more unusual classes.
Sophie Collett is a regular at Hype Fitness in Sutton, where she attends everything from bungee to aerial yoga, aerial hoop and pole fitness classes. It costs £150 a month for unlimited access to all the classes on offer.
She says that in her experience, women especially can find the gym a boring and intimidating place to work out. “At Hype, I feel like I can really unleash my inner child.”
Nuno Campos, head of the fitness team at Repose, says the same about AntiGravity Fitness. From the safety and comfort of a hammock clients are guided through backflips and various yoga positions.
I have never done a handstand in my life but with Campos’ help I managed one in my second move.
Campos says aerial yoga can sometimes be intimidating for newcomers. “People come into the studio, they see all these silks hanging down and, yes, sometimes, they get nervous,” he says.
However, once they have relaxed into it and learnt to trust the hammock, clients can unlock the real benefits of the class.
“It helps to decompress your spine – it also helps if you have a lot of tightness in your body. You’re not going to get the biggest muscles in the world but you’re going to build strength,” he adds.
Repose prides itself on offering a range of AntiGravity classes, including not just aerial yoga but also suspension fitness and “airbarre”, as well as “biohacking” treatments.
Manduca says these treatments detoxify the body and speed up regeneration “on a cellular level”, with the ultimate aim of improving longevity.
“I’m a nutritionist, so I naturally focus on eating healthy. But when I added biohacking to my routine, I noticed a huge improvement in my sleep and the healthiness of my skin,” she says.
One such treatment is the infrared sauna, of which Gwyneth Paltrow is reportedly an advocate.
Unlike a normal sauna, which uses dry heat from a stove or hot rocks to warm the air, or a steam room, which involves moist heat, an infrared sauna uses light to create warmth. The theory is that heat penetrates deeper into the skin, improving blood circulation and speeding up muscle recovery.
Biohacking, however, is not something many can afford to do as part of their regular gym routine.
At Repose, you can get 12 group fitness classes a month – plus 15pc off treatments – for £250 a month. For 24 classes a month and unlimited biohacking, you pay a monthly price of £700.
Many boutique gyms will offer class packages and intro offers to attract young professionals who otherwise might struggle to afford an annual subscription.
Apps like Classpass – where customers buy credits they can use to access a range of fitness studios – have also granted many access to unusual workouts they otherwise may not have tried.