“You’re flying, you’re flying!”
It’s just gone 6AM on a Thursday in east London, and with a Rihanna megamix thumping in my ears, I seem to have defied the laws of gravity. I have transcended the constraints of my species. Well, I’ll believe anything Robbo, my Barry’s Bootcamp instructor, tells me at this very moment anyway. She says I am flying, and so I am.
In actual fact, I’m on a treadmill sprinting 12 MPH and looking right into my own red-tinged, sweaty fringe-plastered reflection, with 20 painful seconds still to go in today’s second interval round. I am also, almost, halfway through Barry’s notorious Hell Week. This is the fitness studio’s package of seven classes taken in seven days. No rest. Actually, this is Hell Week+, where 10 classes are taken in 14 days. Killer.
What is Barry's Hell Week?
Barry’s Bootcamp is a global fitness scene mainstay. It’s known for its notorious Red Room, where the hybrid class mixes HIIT style treadmill intervals with floor work consisting of resistance training, weights and bodyweight movements across 50 minutes. Every day of the week focuses on a different body part: Tuesdays are 'Lower Focus', Wednesdays are 'Chest, Back, & Abs', Thursdays are 'Abs & Ass', etc. An instructor leads and sets the tone and vibe, from the interval lengths to the music – which bangs. The music is a propulsive mix of house, pop, hip hop, and R&B (one day was Kylie and pop divas-heavy, the next was big on Stormzy). Your heart rate stays high the entire workout, if it doesn’t burst out of your chest, that is.
I’d taken a few Barry’s workout classes before sporadically. I’d consider myself pretty active, and I enjoy weight training, HIIT and the occasional 80s aerobics class and run for my cardio. I aspire to longer runs or a marathon some day, but my stamina needs improving. If I’m not following a class structure, I can do some serious Instagram scrolling on the gym floor. My biggest issue right now remains that stamina in a prolonged workout, like running, and the willpower to push myself. This was a challenge to my will, discipline and a recent feeling of plateau.
I started Hell Week+ off on a Monday at 6AM. So a 5AM wake up call, in the pitch black before British Summer Time kicked in. Not great. If I’m honest, what propelled me out of my warm bed was the promise of a free Barry’s protein shake for all 6AM class participants. Truly, if you haven’t tried that CBPB, I implore you too when you’re next dragging yourself out of the Red Room. And I left every class feeling both energised and ravenous.
Monday’s class was Arms & Abs, with three swaps from the treadmill to the floor. That meant one short warm up run, one longer endurance run, and a final medium length run. Some classes later in the week made use of the treadmill’s dynamic function (where you push against the handles and run without resistance, like ploughing a sled) – and reader, I despised that the most, it’s truly humbling.
Thursday’s Abs & Ass class incorporated resistance bands and longer movements, which meant you could go heavy on the peach if you’re so inclined. I was, and spent the morning in my office with a numb bum. The class schedule throughout the week meant you weren’t pushing body parts beyond recovery and into injury, although I did experience a severe case of jelly legs during Friday’s Total Body session. Each class went a lot quicker than I expected because of the swaps from treads to floor.
I found across the week that I performed best when I started on the treadmill and had more in the tank to push myself with each change over. This was a particularly lifesaving realisation during the upper focus class – when the workout was split into four 12-minute intervals. This was my sweatiest, by far. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed training my upper body and the more specific focus on back and chest, which I’d never normally do on my own. Giving my legs a rest during the floorwork on these days felt more of a relief too and downtime to my brain (a trick!), and I definitely improved my upper body strength and stamina in a really short space of time.
As I cruised to the halfway mark of Hell Week, I became a lot more confident in pushing the speed and grabbing the extra burpees instead of a strained breather. Sometimes that meant a super, super small 0.2 MPH speed up from the last interval. Instead of running out of steam, I noticed the acceleration of improvements. The consistency of the workouts made this really pronounced and easy to track.
While you might imagine something akin to a drill sergeant and their recruits, what I really like about Barry’s is that everything is on your terms. It’s your workout, and as my regular instructor Robbo put pretty well in the middle of a final sprint: “your only competition is yourself”.
The instructors give you weight options, running tempos, and inclines that range from beginner to advanced, and I found that the instructors I stepped into the Red Room with were all seriously smart about knowing when exactly to push you. They knew just when to nudge the speed up a little in the last 10 seconds, or encourage you to move for that extra explosive final squat jump. The energy in the room and knowing you’re surrounded by fellow Hell Week survivors also really pushes you through the other side. I’ll admit, past the halfway point there were classes I didn’t give my full 100% to – because I’m not Superwoman! – but that was okay. And I still feared for my life in some of those high incline/high speed treadmill moments.
I foam rolled throughout too, and made sure to do extra stretches in the evening. Overall, I took three rest days over the two-week period – two hungover Sundays and a weekday where I did some Yoga with Adrienne at home instead, when my calves and shoulders felt achy and I needed some extended Child’s Pose.
I completed Hell Week+ and I survived! My final class, marking my tenth, was the last possible date for Hell Week+, barely dragging myself to the finish line with the rest of my teammates through one final, stinging set of bicycle crunches. Abs on fire, hamstrings pulsing, and seriously spluttering.
This kind of intense training can improve muscle, cardiovascular fitness, and even mental productivity. Because really, more than anything, Barry’s Hell Week+ is a mental challenge. You reach your mental barrier before your physical one.
While two weeks and 10 intense workouts can feel like a mountain, the pace and weekly structure mean it’s mostly a battle of will and just showing up when your mind might say otherwise. It’s definitely important not to overtrain for risk of injury, and never push yourself beyond your limits – but despite the intimidating Red Room aesthetic and what images ‘Hell Week’ might first conjure in your mind, I always felt in charge. I finished up feeling motivated, fitter, powerful, and more confident in my body showing me abilities I hadn’t yet realised.
Barry’s UK has studios in London, Manchester, and Liverpool – Hell Week runs multiple times throughout the year, with the London package costing £103
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