Working (out) like a banker
I was skeptical l when I was informed of a new “bankers’ gym” in London. I was even more skeptical about the claims made by its proponents – that a single, 20-minute session can replace four hours of weekly exercise using… electricity. However, given that junior bankers are stereotypically time poor and cash rich-ish, the appeal is clear.
The gym in question is in the heart of the City, near Bank station and Deutsche Bank's London office. It’s small. It smells good. It's discreet.
A woman is finishing her session when I arrive. She doesn't appear to be either in banking or at Deutsche Bank. I take the seat and wait for my trainer. A healthy American appears from the locker room. He thanks the staff profusely. I avert my eyes.
The trainer arrives, shadowed by two new starters, who are the gym's equivalent of summer analysts ("gym-terns"). I am the client and they fuss about me, asking about my current routine. I say, “5/3/1.” They are impressed by my commitment to self-maintenance and elevate me to their tier one list.
You can't work out like a banker, without looking the part. One of gym-terns informs me of a need to disrobe and wear a special item of clothing. Something black; something made from skintight polyester. I submit because the best clients are submissive. I look like a cyclist, or maybe an MD on Strava. I remind myself that people are paying £200 ($250) for this experience.
Back in the studio, I am rigged up to the machine. It’s a standing handlebar with a screen that looks like someone decapitated a treadmill. Another item of clothing is introduced: an abnormally tight vest, which I clasp like a Patagonia gilet. My arms and thighs are wired to the vest and the vest is wired to the machine and water is sprayed across my torso. The gym-tern is somewhere in vicinity of my butt with a wire. “This is for your glutes.” Close your eyes and think of England.
It’s hard to describe the workout itself. You're supposed to perform exercises – squats, rows, and kickbacks – but without any resistance or weights. You will, however, be mildly electrocuted. This also applies to your butt.
It sounds like a joke; it isn’t. It’s called Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS), and it’s very serious. If you’ve dabbled in bodybuilding, think of it as a new version of mind-muscle connection (you must focus on contracting the muscle exercised while you're zapped).
The electricity comes like a wave – a few seconds on, a few seconds off. That takes some getting used to. The trainer suggests assuming a full body pose, and breathing out to survive. Like giving birth, minus cervix and child.
The trainer knows what he's talking about. If you don’t tense your body during the shock, you're paralyzed for that wave – you won’t fall, but you will feel like you're swimming through solidifying cement.
All in all, the workout takes 20 minutes. It feels more like cardio than lifting weights, which is fine, but cardio is *boring*. If not for the novelty of being tasered in black Lycra, this could have been boring too.
I am done. The showers are small, but the flow of water is not. I peel off the outfit like the skin of a shiny black banana.
I feel like a cooked pheasant. When I put on my normal clothes and sit on the bench in the locker room, my glutes are on fire. My posture’s probably never been better. I don't feel like going back to work, though; I feel like having a nap. Maybe the junior bankers have more stamina.
Surge Gym has a number of locations in London, including Bank, Fleet Street, Hammersmith, and Notting Hill.
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