Photo by Tania Castellví
The weather's gotten warmer surprisingly fast. But you're still not ready to peel off that final layer. There's work to be done first. For Berliners, workouts are ‘in’… and, with its new cybertraining guru, even budget giant McFit is taking notice. How will you get pumped for summer?
After some time in Berlin, you may notice the following: people are so often attached to their two wheels that they seem part human, part bicycle. A building with an elevator is rare. Tempelhof’s packed with joggers, skaters and kiteboarders, even when it’s five degrees below zero. People wearing yoga pants probably actually do yoga. From this we can conclude: residents of this city like moving their bodies around. But what about the good old-fashioned workout?
Increasingly, it seems, even the shapeless chain-smokers holding court on Weserstraße are packing some serious muscle under their Flohmarkt garb. You could hire a personal trainer or blag a membership to Soho House, but for the cash-strapped among us, there’s really only one option: McFIT.
Since first opening in Würzburg in 1997, it has steadily crept up to first place on the German fitness chain market, with over 1.2 million members pumping iron in 180 gyms across Germany, Austria and Spain. The reason for its massive success is hardly a mystery. Cheap (€19.90 per month) and absolutely everywhere, it’s the McDonald’s of fitness – or, with its locations in Mallorca and tendency to charge for ‘extras’ like showers, maybe the Easyjet of gyms.
Your mind has to be the thing that grounds you, whether it’s exercise or smart food choices.
But McFIT seems to be eager to shrug off its cheapo, German mass-market image. Following a crowdsourcing campaign, the management decided last year to include the ‘luxury’ of free showering to the membership package. It’s not everywhere yet, and after you’ve scanned your card, you’re timed: five minutes only.
January saw the launch of McFIT Models, a modelling agency made up entirely of the gym’s members. Also, members can now be treated to new classes such as back pain prevention or a boxing workout. The latest? ‘Cybertraining’, now in its fourth season.
“Virtual trainers – real motivation,” goes the slogan. During your cybertraining class, you exercise under the instructions of a trainer on a giant LED screen. All the benefits of an exercise course, no employee salaries to pay – like Wii Fit on steroids. You’ll find the flagship centre for their cybertraining courses in Berlin smack dab in the middle of Kottbusser Damm. Expat central.
One of the virtual faces you’re likely to see is that of qualified lawyer-turned fitness guru David Kirsch, trainer to the stars: Heidi Klum, Kate Upton, Anne Hathaway... For the low-budget chain, scoring an association with Kirsch is a massive coup. Against the backdrop of a New York skyline, cyber- Kirsch guides you through his ”Urban Fitness Boot Camp” or, for the lower regions, his "Butt Camp", taking you through effective training methods involving muscle and strength building, fat burning, and figure shaping while telling you to become the best version of yourself and shouting out motivational phrases like “Your brain is in your butt!”
Kirsch’s reason for becoming a cybertrainer: “I’m able to deliver my message – mind and body – to hundreds, or thousands of people who I would not ordinarily have the chance to work with.” Taking exercise secrets from the hands of an elite few and redistributing them among the masses – this sounds like fitness for the people.
For those of us bookish, cake-baking types, he imparts this advice: “Get up and go to a McFIT gym and do a 25-minute cybertraining with me. Or if it’s cold outside and you don’t want to leave your house, do 25 squats, 15 push-ups and a 30-second plank. And that’s before you hit the shower in the morning.” No excuses, people.
The power of the mind
Kirsch takes a holistic approach – for 2014, it’s all about mind and body. In other words, “just looking good” isn’t enough anymore. He firmly believes in the power of the mind in transforming everything else. “The most important thing is to have the will,” he says. “When you have all of these potential distractions in the digital age, they pull you in different ways. Your mind has to be the thing that grounds you, whether it’s exercise or smart food choices.”
The man seems to live his own advice: he is speaking from New York, at 6am, fully awake and actually doing things.
After the excesses of Christmas feasts, you may fear your belly is mere inches away from entering a room before you do. While healthy weight loss is a worthy goal in itself, Kirsch knows that getting up and moving also has knock-on effects in other areas. “The discipline and focus that exercise and wellness provide will transfer over to every other part of your life. Personal life, work life, everyday being.”
Zen in style
The benefits that come from combining mental and physical training may explain the enduring popularity of other wellness trends such as yoga. “Everyone is looking for peace,” says Faye Smith from Spirit Yoga in Berlin. “That calm in the mind, and connecting with yourself and other people.”
The attractive thirtysomething specialises in Vinyasa yoga, which focuses on synchronising breath with movement, thereby creating a flow of harmony between mind and body. She sees this desire among her students and friends to adapt the Zen from yoga class to everyday life. Yet big brands have spotted this trend too – a few years ago it was much more difficult to source yoga mats and clothing here, but now, with labels such as Lululemon, people can burn €120 on sexy-skinny yoga pants.
The backlash to this commercialisation of inner serenity, at least in Berlin, has been an upswing in ‘underground’ by-donation yoga classes in parks and WGs; be on the lookout for more of these as studio prices get higher and pants fancier.
So, dear readers, what have we learned? Cybertraining is the fitness world’s new black for 2014. Healthy mind and healthy body are interdependent, which admittedly is less of a revelation. People like yoga pants. Any parting words of wisdom from our friends? David: “Move. Any sort of movement is healthy. Just do what you can do.” Faye: “Have fun! Having fun is really important.” As if we needed to tell you that.