It’s 7:30am on a bright Monday morning. I’m walking through Weinbergspark in Berlin’s Mitte District and, even though it’s May, it feels like it’s below freezing. I’m on my way to take part in my first BEAT81 outdoor HIIT class and to be very honest I wish I was still in bed.
It’s not difficult to spot the BEAT81 crew. A trainer wearing a BEAT81 T-shirt is standing next to a massive trailer with the logo written on the side. Drake’s Passionfruit is pumping out over a speaker and a handful of bleary-eyed athletes are stretching out ahead of the workout. Dozens of dumbbells and kettlebells lie in size order next to a stack of ab mats and medicine balls. Also on the scene: a pile of brightly coloured elastic resistance bands which look harmless but from experience I know are the most formidable of all the gym equipment.
As I near the group my trainer for the day bounces over, full of energy. “Hi! I’m Peta.” she says in a distinct Aussie accent. She’s blonde, petite and so friendly that I immediately feel at ease, even if I am extremely tired.
“I need you to tell me your height and your weight so we can track your heart rate,” she says. Peta types the information into an iPad and hands me a heart rate monitor to strap around my waist.
The class gathers around Peta as she explains: “Today’s workout is a combination of strength and cardio. Our circuit will be 23 seconds of cardio, 5 seconds of rest. Then 23 seconds of strength, 5 seconds of rest.”
Peta demonstrates all of the exercises. “We’ll begin with high-knees and zombie squats,” she says, showing us how to use the resistance band and squat at the same time. “Next we have box jumps and press ups. Then overhead kettlebell lunges and toe taps.” Everything looks very strenuous. “And lastly we have tricep dips and medicine ball burpees. We’ll be doing three rounds of this circuit.”
Peta guides us through a warm-up of high knees, star jumps and jump squats. There’s no denying that the location is beautiful. Our session is at the top of a hill which overlooks a rose garden and Berlin’s TV Tower. The city stretches out below us, dusty in the early morning light. Birdsong mingles with Peta’s playlist which adds an outdoorsy, wholesome element to her Kanye, Beyonce and Drake soundtrack.
We begin our circuit of high-knees and zombie squats next to the heart rate monitor screen. Here each of us can see how high our heart rate is – and as we work it climbs higher and higher. “Let’s get those heart rates above 80!” Peta says.
Peta’s fitness journey began in Sydney where she fell in love with group fitness while working full-time. “I liked being able to turn up and workout without thinking too much about it. I loved having trainers who pushed me and I loved the group atmosphere.” Peta enjoyed being part of a fitness community so much that she began teaching classes herself and, after her recent move to Berlin, started working as a trainer for BEAT81.
Tim Dettman and Moritz Vossenberg founded BEAT81 after they discovered a gap in the market for friendly group fitness. “It’s always been about community,” Peta tells me. “It actually started as a meet-up group for people who wanted to play soccer together. That triggered a range of other meet-up groups and one of these was group fitness. It was really popular and that’s how it all started.”
Community and inclusivity is at the heart of BEAT81. “No one works out alone,” Peta says. “In these classes you either pair up or go in a three.” She smiles as she recalls “A couple of days ago I taught a class and two girls who had both turned up for the first time ended up swapping Facebook details. And that’s so nice in a city like Berlin where people come for work or for a change and they don’t know a lot of people.”
As we pump our way through our second circuit, the bells of Zionskirche chiming in the background, I can see why it’s easy to build connections at BEAT81 classes. Many of the exercises require you work together and it’s easy to bond over how horribly painful these zombie squats are. It may be utterly exhausting but we’re in it together.
A second distinguishing feature of BEAT81 is their heart rate tracker. “The technology and gamification makes the workout really unique,” Peta says. “The heart rate monitors track your workout in real time which is really motivating. So you might think you’re working hard but you can see that if you push a bit harder you’ll reach optimum BPM.” If you’re a competitive person you can also see how hard your teammates are pushing themselves – which adds in a little more motivation. Peta continues “You can see your workout results afterwards so you can track your progress each week. Your results are saved to your profile and you get an email after every workout.”
BEAT81 was originally known as Gritspot but they recently changed their name due to copyright issues (Les Mills has a HIIT class called Grit.) As they plan to expand across Europe and beyond, their new name now fully represents their brand: 81 beats per minute is the optimum heart rate to burn calories and body fat.
By the end of the final circuit my heart rate has violently spiked to around 91 BPM. My heart rate monitor has turned dark red and I feel like I’m a box jump away from a full-on heart attack. But Peta is delighted. “Great work Alice! Keep it up!”
Just when I think it’s all over Peta has one last surprise for us. “I’m going to play the song Flower by Moby,” she says. “Every time he says ‘down’ we squat. And every time he says ‘up’ we come back up.” As the birds chirp and the TV tower looms in the distance, we squat up and down to this never-ending song. My legs are killing me but Peta’s enthusiasm is contagious and I feel encouraged that the other people in my class are howling with pain just as loudly as I am.
Finally the song ends. “Okay let’s stretch it out,” Peta says to my relief. “And I’ll see you all next week!”
And, as I wave goodbye to the lovely group of people I’ve met and walk back through the park, I think about how glad I am that I got out of bed.
If you’d like to try BEAT81 they have several indoor and outdoor fitness classes across Germany. Take a look at their site to see what’s on near you.
And Urban Sports Club has tons of HIIT workout partners across Europe. Take a look at www.urbansportsclub.com to see what’s happening in your area.