Gym Owner Monthly

Hyrox: the gruelling cult workout that’s taken over London

Like CrossFit but much harder. Londoners have become addicted to Hyrox. 

Founded in Germany in 2017, Hyrox has reportedly experienced a 1,000 per cent increase in participation in the past five years. Nowhere has this spike been more obvious than in London. Its founder, Christian Toetzke, “can’t actually explain why” we’ve become the world capital of Hyrox, but it’s really no surprise. One in five Londoners is a member of a gym and we are, for want of a better word, obsessed with fitness (quite possibly because the state of our public health is, well, not great).
 
The name Hyrox, Toetzke says, is a mashup of ‘hybrid’ (it combines running and workouts) and ‘rockstar’, as no other accolade would do justice to those who take part in the gruelling race. It alternates between eight 1 km runs with eight different workouts based on natural movements: the idea being that anyone, anywhere can take part without prior experience. “You may be very slow at first,” Toetzke says, “but you’ll always be able to do it.”
 
You can run the race as a pair (doubles) – where both teammates do the 8km but alternate the workouts – or as in a relay – four teammates, each running 2km and doing the workouts that follow their chosen laps. There is some debate over how best to win. Ryan Smith, a PT and Hyrox athlete whose personal best in the race is 1 hour and 2 minutes, says it’s the running that determines everything. Others suggest it’s on the workout stations that you really make or break it. The man to beat right now is Hunter McIntyre, who finished the race in a record time of 53:22 in Stockholm last December.
 
The first workout is called SkiErg (gym-bro Latin for ski ergometer, a machine that tracks your performance and in this case is also a cross-country skiing simulator). The second is Sled Push, and of the race’s eight workouts, it has the biggest range in results – suggesting those who train hard and get it right gain a significant advantage over other competitors. It involves pushing a sled with weights across a rough carpet with a deliberately obstructive surface which slows you down and doubles up your efforts. If you think that sounds tough, try the third challenge for size: Sled Pull, which follows the same premise except you’re pulling the sled across the rough surface with a thick rope.
 
The next two exercises are straightforward: Burpee Broad Jumps and Rowing. The sixth is something called Farmers Carry: a core workout where you carry two kettlebells over a length of 200m. The weight of the kettlebells is determined by your level; one commentator likened it to carrying “two very heavy shopping bags”. The seventh challenge is Sandbag Lunges, where a sandbag is strapped to the top of your back and you lunge your way forward for 100m (again, your level determines your weights).
 
The final hurdle, people say, is the most cruel. Wall Balls involves striking a target (10 feet tall for men; 9 feet tall for women) with a ball (4-9kg depending on your level and whether you compete as a pro or an amateur). You need to squat with the ball before each strike and if you don’t, prepare to be called out by the station’s judge. Tired and sweaty though one might be towards this point, do not splash yourself with water: you don’t want the ball slipping through your fingers. Also, have a friend in the crowd who you can give your top to: trust me, you will be stripping off. Wall Balls – and the race – are over once you reach 75 strikes in women’s and women’s doubles races, and 100 strikes in men’s, men’s pro, women’s pro, men’s doubles and mixed doubles races.
 
The next Hyrox race in London place next month at Olympia. In 2023, 7,500 athletes took the floor with 6,200 spectators – the numbers have nearly doubled within a year, with 12,500 athletes and 12,500 spectators due to attend on May 4. For those who take part in the races or the annual World Championships (this year’s will be in Nice on October 12), there are many more who simply do Hyrox classes for the sheer joy of it. Though you may be forgiven, after reading the above, for wondering why on earth anyone would sign up for this. My dear friend Charles Carroll, 30, first went to a Hyrox class at his local gym this January after “the festive season had taken its toll”.
 
“I thought it was an excellent way to get into some of the harder exercises,” he says of his now weekly class. “I will eventually get into the actual competitions, but at this stage, I am happy just embracing it for the fun”.
 
There are now 14 gyms in London offering Hyrox classes – including ThirdSpace and FitnessFirst. Tickets to the Championships sell out within minutes. Like any viral workout, it has spawned its own lore. Slut drops on the SkiErg; date idea: Hyrox Doubles. To search for #hyrox on Instagram is to swipe through clusters of topless men, huddled together at the starting line like sardines trying to escape a fishing net. Forget taking part in the race: I’m happy just to watch. It’s gripping.
 
Celia Duff, aka @badass_gran1, has become its most unlikely champion, in all senses of the word. She is both its greatest advocate and a championship winner – of the 2023 race for women aged 60 to 69. She outperformed not just all in her division but a large number of athletes half her age, competing in younger categories. Duff was introduced to the race by her daughter and son-in-law who were among the early cohort of Hyrox athletes. Since she first competed in the summer of 2022, the number of participants aged 60+ has gone from seven to 274.
 
Duff has always been a sporty person: part of the first wave of women to study at Cambridge, she became a university-level rower. “That was my first introduction to a high-level team sport,” she says. “Then I went through the eighties doing step aerobics and I have run a London marathon.” Still, Duff says, she is “ordinary”, by which she means, “anyone can exercise”.
 
Duff calls Hyrox “addictive” but feels her next target (running the race at age 75) may be too ambitious. She is already thrilled to have run it as a woman over 70 (the second to ever do so) and looks forward to the long-term benefits this will bring her. “Running Hyrox now is going to get me to stand up out of my sofa and climb out of the bath, hopefully well into my eighties and nineties,” she says. “It’s all about building the strength that will allow me to be functional.” She is running a Doubles Race in three weeks’ time and another with her daughter in October. Her top tip: practice slow, heavy movements, and as a woman don’t worry that it will make you look “bulky”. It won’t.
 
“I wish we lived in a society that encouraged exercise more,” Duff continues. “Simple things like knocking on your neighbour’s door and saying, ‘Come for a walk’. Exercise shouldn’t be exclusive.”
 
The magic of Hyrox has always been its inclusivity, Toetzke says. More so than a competition against others, this one is against ourselves. The goal is to perfect the one routine through practice, patience and discipline. Forget yoga or meditation: for London, Hyrox is where it’s at.
 
 

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