Dion Dublin helps to launch 'innovative' workout at Hornchurch centre

group Harrow Lodge Leisure Centre

Reporter Sally Patterson (front left) took part in the Fortis Speedflex workout at Harrow Lodge Leisure Centre - Credit: Paul King Photography

Walking into the dimly-lit room full of futuristic machinery, I’ll admit I was terrified. 

No, I wasn’t being launched into space or breaking the enigma code (though both might have been less daunting) - I was joining a new exercise class at Harrow Lodge Leisure Centre

I’d tentatively accepted the invitation to try out the ‘HIIT Without the Hurt’ Fortis class, which promised to be an "affordable, accessible and inclusive workout, where everyone from experienced athletes to those new to exercise can work out to their maximum, in the same class". 

This turned out to literally be the case - it quickly transpired the other members of the class were personal trainers (PTs), gym influencers and even footballers from Hornchurch FC

We were also expecting the guest of honour, ex-footballer and TV personality Dion Dublin, but he was stuck on a motorway somewhere in the midlands.

For someone whose idea of exercise is the occasional pilates class and odd 5km jog, I felt wildly out of my depth. 

Harry Gibbs

Hornchurch FC player Harry Gibbs (l) took part in the workout - Credit: Paul King Photography

To ease me in, area contract manager for Harrow Lodge Leisure Centre, Tom Fletcher, toured me around the facilities, brimming with excitement about the launch of regular Fortis classes. 

He said: “After the year we’ve had, it’s so exciting to bring this to the Essex and east London area. 

“We’ve got a fantastic facility here, with a new gym, swimming pool and exercise studios but this is something really unique and different.” 

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Tom explained the Speedflex workout allowed for a high-intensity interval training workout without the usual pain afterwards. 

“It’s really new, fresh and innovative," he explained.

As a friendly PT hooked me up to the Myzone device, which monitored my heart rate and effort level, I saw my live readings pop up on a giant screen at the front of the room.

My heart rate, understandably, shot through the roof. 

MYZONE software

Myzone software monitored participants' heart rate and effort levels - Credit: Paul King Photography

After a welcome speech from Speedflex chief executive Paul Ferris, those not taking part dutifully shuffled to the side of the room, scrambling for a prime position to watch us guinea pigs do the class. 

The lights dimmed even further, the music volume soared and the class began. 

With Hornchurch FC captain Lewwis Spence and teammate Ollie Muldoon watching from the sidelines, the pressure was on. 

Trainers Ed Hall and Tommy Wanless began leading us through the warm up, and we took it in turns to do squats and bicep curls, using the Speedflex machines’ "personalised resistance", which automatically adjusted their settings to the strength of the participant. 

The 30-minute class warped into a blur of blaring music, intense reps and watching my personal stats fluctuate on the screen at the front of the room. 

Luckily, the trainers talked me through each exercise, reassuring the sweaty, panting journalist who had ended up in their class that I could take breaks whenever I needed them. 

TV legend Dion eventually arrived, sweeping into the room with his entourage and getting stuck in, shouting words of encouragement as he put us all to shame, pounding on his Speedflex machine.  

Dion Dublin

Dion Dublin got stuck into the HIIT workout - Credit: Paul King Photography

When the session was up and we’d handed in our monitors and taken a sweaty group photo, Dion told me he’s a mega-fan of the innovative workout. 

“Since retiring from football, I’ve tried most things to keep in shape, but nothing has half the impact of Speedflex," he explained.  

“I’ve suffered from knee problems and this is the only workout that allows me to get back the same fitness levels I had as a footballer - well, as close to.

“Whether you’re 52 like me or you’re 21, it’s great for all ages, abilities and fitness levels."

Dion Dublin, Cllr Viddy Persuad and Cllr Roger Ramsey

Dion Dublin cut the ribbon with Havering councillors Viddy Persuad and Roger Ramsey - Credit: Paul King Photography

Everyone Active general manager, Garry Firth, added: “We’re confident that our members will love it and we look forward to welcoming lots of new and familiar faces to our launch.  

“To have Dion Dublin join us will certainly add some extra star quality to our studio.” 

Walking out of the glossy new leisure centre, I felt exhausted but triumphant. 

My scores might not have topped the footballers’, and my squat technique was definitely sub-par, but the experience was positive. 

Everyone I spoke to, from the PTs to the managers, were friendly, welcoming and contagiously enthusiastic about HIIT workouts. 

And, as Tom reminded me, lots of people are nervous about coming back to the gym after lockdown. 

He added: “We’ve all put on a few pounds, but everyone is in the same boat. 

“We’ve got something to offer for everyone, and we can find you something that works for you. 

“We’re a community-based centre that will help you on your exercise journey.”