Katie Scott takes a sneak peek behind membership doors

img_0631I still remember when this gym was being built. Granted, it was when I was a studious university pupil, trekking to the train station to commute into London about five or six years ago, however brick by brick, David Lloyd slowly began compiling their masterpiece on an open patch of greenery on Squirrels Heath Lane, a mere stone’s throw from my parents’ house in Ardleigh Green.

With a fancy barrier gate and sweeping curved driveway, it just seemed to scream ‘exclusive’ and ‘expensive’, so I never thought I would get the opportunity to have a nosey around the nearby venue, sticking instead to my cheap and cheerful Everyone Active back in Hornchurch. However, when my ex-ladies pairs partner asked whether I would like a go of her guest pass one Tuesday night, I was game to explore.

img_0626My first impression of David Lloyd Gidea Park is that they are seriously ramping up what it means to be a gym. Gone are the days when mere cardio and strength equipment was all you needed when you headed to your local fitness centre, as David Lloyd demonstrates with its fancy spa-come-hotel-come-gym-come-sports club-come restaurant-come-café… in fact, I’m not sure what they have forgotten as they even have a kids soft play area complete with ball pond, and let’s face it, who doesn’t love a ball pond.

The underground parking is a nice safe touch, and even on a busy weekday evening, we managed to find a space quite easily, nimbly jogging up a small flight of stairs to reach the main marble-clad reception, all spot lights and shiny surfaces. After being buzzed through with my guest pass, this is where we hit hotel and spa territory. Plush striped carpeting in trendy shades of purple and sage green match circular table and soft chair arrangements, a horseshoe shaped bar img_0628curving to the left of the room. A small café section housing muffins and healthy snacks hits the eye first, although if you carry on walking around the bar, you’ll soon spot the beer pumps and slightly naughtier options. With a full food menu, we watched licking our lips as tasty plates of stacked club toasted club sandwiches and burgers wafted past to their respective tables, making it all too easy to grab a bite to eat after your workout; ideal I imagine if you put in a late session and want to grab an easy dinner.

On the right hand side of this casual dining and eating area are great views of the orange carpeted tennis courts, where you can people watch to your heart’s content. My comrade explained to me that this is where the badminton is played also, the badminton court outlines etched over the tennis ones, so you can fit a badminton court either side of the tennis net on a traditional court.

img_0634We also checked out the outdoor area, including a lovely patio with picnic benches and umbrellas and easy access to the bar, which was also situated next to handy private workstations if you fancied answering emails after your session. There were also outdoor tennis courts for use in the nicer weather as well as an outdoor pool, which was nice and roomy, surrounded by loungers for that holiday feel.

After popping our stuff in a locker in the maze of beige tiles and wooden doors that comprise the changing areas, we nipped up a single flight of stairs to check out the gym, which also led to the group exercise studios – there were two larger studios and a spin studio. The gym itself was large and systematically organised. Functional training equipment leapt out at me, such as the Synergy frame, complete with accessories such as the TRX. I’ve only spotted these in London gyms and didn’t know that local gyms had joined the functional bandwagon. There were also some new cardio pieces that I enjoyed tinkering on, such as a treadmill that uses your own speed and momentum to move, so it doesn’t use electricity. Although it both looks and feels like img_0632you are tackling a hamster wheel, it has a more natural feel that a sturdy treadmill and was certainly good fun, even if I didn’t have the confidence to go full speed! We also had a go on lateral cross trainers, which gave the feeling of skiing to work those adductors a bit more than usual, and I had a whistle-stop tour of New Zealand thanks to Life Fitness’ standard cross trainer. There was plenty of space for mat work and strength training too, although I didn’t look in those areas as thoroughly.

I must say I was impressed with the gym timetable as well, seeing sessions such as Metafit and Insanity, which I have seen only sparingly in local, not-London climes, and usually based in community centres so you had to pay on top of whatever gym membership you have. With the standard Les Mills and even Fight Klub included, the variety of classes available was fantastic and certainly made me a little green with envy, especially as I currently pay £6 extra to attend a Fight Klub at a local community centre as it doesn’t feature at my sports centre.

img_0635What I thought was really good however was that access to the badminton club is included in your membership also, so you don’t have to pay additional fees. Kay explained that the tennis costs extra, but for the badminton, beginners played between 7pm and 8pm and then regular players took over from 8pm to 10pm, with quirky Norman dishing out plastic shuttles and picking games.

Arriving for a few games, I was very warmly welcomed by the other players and we were soon all chatting away. It did take me a while to adjust to the environment and I don’t think I played my best, but I did have fun! The carpet wasn’t as tricky to run on as I first expected, although I did nearly fall over my own feet a couple of times as my court shoes gripped the carpet a little too well! I also found it a bit difficult to spot the white plastic shuttle against the white corrugated metal roof, which arched in a semi-circular shape over us. Usually playing with feathers, I think my timing was a bit off on a lot of my shots as I img_0629adjusted back to using plastics, but hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too much!

The standard of the club I would say is above average and just under league, so you can definitely get some good games in as well as have a laugh. I played both doubles and a singles game so nice variety there, and in the doubles I paired with both men and women, so there is a mix to the games played. I came away feeling pooped after a very fun evening!

Asking Kay how much membership was, she reckoned it was around £70 a month for an individual. Wowsers. A little above my price range, but to be honest, I wish it wasn’t! The facilities were really lovely and David Lloyd have made it very easy to multi-task and cram as much into every second of every day as you possibly can; ideal for our busy modern lifestyles when there is never enough time in the day. The standard of the facilities is high, so much is included and all in all, I was very impressed. Think I might be utilising that guest pass a few more times yet!

Thanks to Kay, Mick, Nicola and David for sharing your gym with me for the evening, I had a great time!