I first heard of the VersaClimber about four years ago whilst sat in a juice bar in London's Soho with Matt Damon's personal trainer, Jason Walsh. I was working at Women's Health at the time, and he was near to opening a new fitness studio called Rise Nation in Los Angeles. He told me that in the classes, everyone works out to music whilst on static climbing machines (gulp).
It sounded bizarre, but the thing is, whoever is responsible for getting "deadly weapon" Jason Bourne fit has my attention. Fast-forward to November 2015 when I was in Los Angeles and just starting at Byrdie: I pulled on my kit and hot-footed it to the (then new) Rise Nation studio on La Cienega Boulevard. In this city, people play hard and work out even harder.
Rise Nation was the first studio to put the VersaClimber under the spotlight (literally, when the class starts, the blinds automatically lower to reveal a nightclub-esque atmosphere). It's a little like a cycling class; the room is filled with numbered VersaClimbers that you're on for the 30-minute session. I found myself positioned right in front of the trainer, a bubbly lady, who, as it turned out, shared my love for pop and R&B. Each trainer has a different vibe, and whether it's their banging disco tunes or yoga background, you can find a class to suit your mood and musical tastes.
With my feet strapped into the pedals and my fists snugly cupped around the handles, I climbed to the beat of the music. Just like with a Spin class, the moves are determined by the beat. Sometimes you're in a squat position (great for the bum), and other times your hands are gripping the handles from beneath to work out your biceps. It's a great workout for anyone sat down all day; I have a damaged coccyx, so not being sat on a bike saddle (the world's most uncomfortable seat) was a joy. It was fun, too. Sure, it was hard work, I was out of breath and sweaty the whole time, but I enjoyed it far more than any workout I had done before. When I left L.A., I hoped the VersaClimber would follow me across the pond one day.
It didn't take long before I spied VersaClimbers popping up in London gyms. Sweat by BXR even announced that it was launching a VersaClimber class called Climb to the Beat. It's a total cardio workout that's fun, too. Fitness Manager James Pisano's playlists are so energising and addictive that the 45-minute classes fly by. Just like at Rise Nation, the room is dimly lit and the disco lights flash, spurring you on.
For anyone who loves Spin or running, it's worth knowing that doing the VersaClimber burns double the number of calories than being on a static bike or treadmill. You're using your whole body and in a more functional, natural climbing motion.
I was going to Climb to the Beat fairly regularly for about a month. What I noticed from regular climbing sessions was that my cardio ability improved and that classes began to feel easier. The first session is always the hardest. I also noticed my bum looked more lifted, my arms felt more toned and I just had more energy away from my workouts.
This past May, I found myself back in L.A. and staying right around the corner from Rise Nation. It's on ClassPass, so I loaded the app and tried to find some availability. Rise Nation may have been around for a couple of years, but it's still super popular and classes get booked out well in advance. However, I managed to squeeze into an early session. (I'm a night owl, but it was it worth it.)
If your gym has a VersaClimber machine, I definitely recommend you pull up your favourite workout playlist on your iPhone, hop on and climb in time with the tunes. Otherwise, if you're London-based, head to Sweat by BXR and try a class. First-time climbers can book three climbs for £30.