‘Creating fitness as a lifestyle, rather than a chore’ – Boutique gym in Sheffield has strong mission at its core

A boutique gym in Sheffield that combines boxing and barre workouts is striving to change negative perceptions of fitness with results-driven classes and outstanding facilities.

Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 2:19 pm
Updated Friday, 15th October 2021, 6:02 pm

The luxury boutique gym development, named Box Barre, sits on the site of the former Napoleons Casino on Ecclesall road and boasts a stunning interior with an array of vibrant lighting and decals, in keeping with its glitzy predecessor.

However, it is not only the fitness studio that has a luxurious approach.

The changing rooms are kitted out with beautiful decor, incredible lighting and some of the best self-care products on the market, including GHD hairdryers and straighteners, as well as high-end hair care products and towels.

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Box Barre fitness studios in Sheffield. Women's changing rooms. Picture: Chris Etchells

Talented designer and businesswoman Sophie Whittham, 32, is the mastermind behind this unique fitness studio offering a combination of boxing and barre classes.

Sophie said: “I travel all over the world and spend a lot of my time in the US. Out there, there are lots of these kinds of boutique workout gyms, whether it be like a boxing one or a barre one, everything is exercise specific, whereas here, especially Sheffield, there's not really much.

“There's only kind of treadmill based boutique gym workouts; if you wanted to train like a boxer without actually being one, there's not much choice. Despite Sheffield having such a rich boxing history with Prince Naseem, Johnny Nelson, Kell Brook and all these others, there's nothing really for normal people to go and do boxing, it’s more the fitness side of it.”

Barre workouts are a blend of Ballet, Pilates, and Yoga – at Box Barre, the classes are based around traditional ballet discipline, with the aim of toning, sculpting, lengthening, and strengthening the muscles.

Box Barre fitness studio in Sheffield. Picture: Chris Etchells

Speaking about the ethos of the gym, Sophie added: “The whole idea and the mission statement of Box Barre is creating fitness as more of a lifestyle, rather than seeing the gym as a chore. It’s about wanting to finish work to go and do a workout, or you want to get up an hour earlier to start your day with an insane workout with cool music, meet your friends, you can have a lovely shower, order fresh juice.

“It's that whole investing in yourself, which people have realised is important. So many people join a gym and don't go. This is for those people, but eliminating all the reasons they do not go; usually, the faceless machinery. There's no electronically powered machinery here.

“This is more about the social element, and fitness is a by-product of that. The workouts that you are doing are very results-driven. You can kind of monitor how you are progressing because you'll quickly see, after, say, four or five weeks of doing a couple of boxing sessions a week, you're going to hear it when you hit the bag that your punches are improving your power has improved.

“Equally with the barre, you'll know when you can do a plie deeper when you can hold it for longer, there are always small things, whereas with machinery based workouts you're totally led by the machine, so you're running at the speed the treadmill tells you to so you're never in control of your own workout. “This is kind of old school training but in a new age environment.”

Box Barre fitness studios in Sheffield. Punch bags. Picture: Chris Etchells

Sophie from Sharrowvale in Sheffield is also the director of Fight Label – a fashion designing company specialising in making luxury boxing wear.

Her clientele list includes some of the biggest names in the boxing industry, including Floyd Mayweather, Anthony Joshua, Katie Taylor, Canelo Alvarez, Sheffield’s Kell Brook and many others.

Speaking about Fight Label, Sophie said: “We're very much customer-focused, which is what I want Box Barre to be. If a fighter comes to me and he wants purple snakeskin shorts with pink spots, we can probably do it, and if the material doesn't exist, we'll create it. There's no limit. Whatever your wildest design you could think of in your mind, we will be able to make it. The ethos behind Fight Label is that we make your dreams a reality; there's no limit so you can be as creative as you like.”

Gyms, indoor leisure centres were given the green light to fully reopen their facilities on April 12 under stage two of the roadmap plan out of lockdown, and Box Barre is now able to provide gym classes from May 17.

Box Barre fitness studios in Sheffield. Pictured is Sophie Whittam. Picture: Chris Etchells

“We’re wildly excited for classes,” Sophie said. “We have three different types of plans for each of the boxing training, so we have got a signature, a sweat class, and a sculpt and power class. Signature classes are your overall total body full workout, sweat classes are more cardio HIIT based, so shorter rounds faster reps, lighter weights, and then the sculpt and power classes are aimed at your endurance and stamina building because the rounds kind of get longer and the exercises get harder.

"We don't target anything as beginner, intermediate, or advanced it's, what you want to get out of the workout, so if you want a full-body workout, go for a signature one; if you want to sweat, go for a sweat session, if you want to build and focus on toning a waist and improving on that side, go for a sculpting session. The exercises are delivered regardless of your skill level, so you can take it as hard or as easy as you want.

She added: “There’s something for everyone. If you were on a bag next to a professional fighter, it doesn't matter; you’d both be doing the same punches. Their work rate might be better than yours if you're learning what you are doing and you're wanting to improve your technique more. It all depends on you really and what you want out of it.”

Gyms, indoor leisure centres and indoor swimming pools were given the go-ahead to open their facilities under stage two of the roadmap plan out of lockdown.

During the national lockdown across England, there was a huge focus from gym-goers and owners about the mental health aspect of training at the gym, with many asking the government to prioritise the opening of fitness facilities to stop the nation's physical and mental health from deteriorating.

Sophie said: “My mental health suffered massively, having built this and then not being able to open and the stresses, related to that and having to continually change your offerings to suit the restrictions and follow the government guidance and all these things. Yeah, it's been a really stressful time.

Box Barre fitness studio in Sheffield. Pictured is owner Sophie Whittam. Picture: Chris Etchells

“I think, fundamental health side of things; one, people suffered from not being able to socialise so this combats that, you can come and do a workout with your friends and it's kind of safety in numbers of doing the exercise together you're not on your own. It's also like a level of personal training to an extent because our classes are limited to just 14 people per class so you're essentially getting an hour with a fully qualified, PT, that's a specialist in either boxing or barre and that's quite a rare thing. They can help you through the session because they're there to help you ultimately as well as deliver the exercises, they're there to make sure you're doing them correctly.

“The other thing is I think we're all tired of doing star jumps in our living room and garden. We want to get back to the gym but equally we don't want to just sign up to a gym membership and never go so it's that mental wellbeing, thinking I'm going to the right place to do the right thing, that's right for me.”

The 32-year-old is hoping to roll out Box Barre nationally and globally and is also interested in creating a new apparel range with a luxury approach appealing to the general public.

She said: “I've never known of any gym solely combine boxing and barre as their whole offering. People have replaced going out for a drink, for going for a workout, and people are choosing to spend their income on improving their health and fitness, and with that, buying into specialised thrilling fitness experiences, it’s the new innovation.

“People don't like the treadmill, they don't want to run, they want to do something different for fitness. This is combatting that, and I think it will be exciting to roll out more of these once this one has got off the ground.

“In terms of other plans for fight label, we've kind of completed boxing. We work with Canelo, Anthony Joshua, Golovkin, Mayweather, which is super exciting, but at the same time, where do we go from there.

“My plan is to launch an apparel range, which is more aimed at the general public, so it'll be like a luxury level tracksuits and T-shirts, more like the gym wear you'd find in Selfridges or Harvey Nichols.”

Along with gym classes, Box Barre offers a range of refreshments and clothing. They sell protein shakes, smoothie bowls, and juice drinks, as well as a range of gym wear and boxing gloves if you need some for your boxing class.

For more information or to book a fitness class, visit www.boxbarre.co.uk/

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Box Barre fitness studios in Sheffield. Men's changing rooms. Picture: Chris Etchells