By Cleo Chalk.
The time we give to family commitments, work deadlines and dinners with friends can leave too little time for staying fit. If you’re then offered the daunting prospect of a morning jog up the hill, most can be forgiven for giving it a miss. But with Luke and Jo Gray’s unique take on a fitness centre, ‘Living’, Primrose Hill residents can find another way.
To call it a fitness centre really only gives you a hint of what Living has to offer. It’s certainly a lot more than just a gym. Each client is given the personal attention of nutritionist Jo and personal trainer Luke, and allowed time to focus on their own needs and motivation for training. “We work with everyone,” Jo tells me, “from patients in their 90s to elite fitness fanatics. Our job really involves getting to know people and understanding what makes them tick.”
For busy Londoners who are tired of the one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf approach taken by some of the chain gyms, it’s not hard to see why Jo and Luke’s Living philosophy is a breath of fresh air. And although they do have several famous faces taking advantage of their services, it’s something that any of us can join.
The philosophy underpinning their work is about the importance of finding ways to live in balance. Jo explains that this means “making a small difference to your lifestyle and a huge difference to your life”. In a session with her or Luke, you can expect to go through a fitness regimen, but they will also discuss your diet and help you find ways to continue meeting your targets when you’re back at home. “We do set homework,” Jo says, “but it’s not as scary as it sounds! I’ll help the client find ways to integrate our work into their own life, give them recipes and even show them how to cook up healthy meals.
“Sometimes we work with celebrities who want to stay fit because they’re in the public spotlight or have health needs of their own. Really, though, our clients come from all over. We have people who come in here because they have a big birthday coming up and they want to find a way to be a better self.
“A lot of people come through word of mouth – this is a close-knit area, so we get lots of friends of friends coming in. We also get people who haven’t found the right place to train: some people are put off by the atmosphere of a traditional gym and want something rather more intimate.”
Jo is also quick to dispel the myth that getting healthy needs to involve unsustainable diets or cutting out all your favourite foods. By focusing on practical, sustainable goals for their clients they make staying fit a lot more palatable. As Jo puts it: “Live your life in a healthy way, without trying to survive on a lettuce leaf and a lentil.”
This focus on building a healthier relationship with food can help people to avoid dangerous fad diets and yo-yoing weight. Jo talks about clients who have come to her in despair, presenting guidelines from their nutritionists that simply don’t seem achievable. “They’ve come to me and said: ‘How on earth am I going to manage this?’ So I work with them to come up with a new diet plan that fits their health needs but also tastes of the things that they like.”
This belief has led to them launching their Eighty Twenty programme, a twelve-week online challenge that includes a variety of resources: food prep, movement and exercise videos, and weekly wellness guides are all part of the package. The idea is simple: “80% of the time staying on track – choosing from our healthy recipes, reading our wellness magazine and exercising to our films for just 20 minutes a day; and 20% of the time allowing yourself a ‘bit of what you fancy’!”
For those who aren’t quite ready for the commitment of a personal trainer but would like a taster of what Living has to offer, Eighty Twenty is a great way into their healthy ethos. Luke and Jo pop up in the videos to talk you through your weekly exercise routine and demonstrate their healthy recipes. With each week focusing on a different aspect of wellness – sleep, stress and anxiety to begin with, but a whole week dedicated to chocolate later on – it’s a holistic approach. Luke emphasises the importance of setting short-term targets that can be achieved quite quickly, so that you are motivated to keep working towards bigger goals.
At the other end of the scale, for those who want to make the full commitment, there’s the opportunity to attend Living Retreats. This takes place in a beautiful country house in Surrey, which gets people out of the city, to concentrate on their objectives without any of the stress of everyday life. “This is a total reset,” says Luke, “taking people away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and putting them in a homely environment. They’ll get outstanding food cooked by Jo. We’ll really look after them. But there’s also hard work.”
Luke and Jo are both keen to reach out to more people in the local area. They describe their studio as a community within the community, where people come together with a shared philosophy of health and wellness. For Primrose Hill people interested in experiencing this for themselves, they’ve generously offered to provide a free initial consultation. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your fitness needs, find out what kind of regimen you’ll benefit from, and learn a little more about how Living Retreats operates. They are also offering readers a free session with every new package of 12 sessions booked. See contact details below: