Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
If you’re a lover of spicy food and weird and wonderful exercise classes, Gymbox’s new Ring of Fire workout may seem like a match made in heaven.
Yup, although eating chillies whilst working out probably isn’t something you’ve come across while flicking through the pages of Women’s Health, this wonderfully bizarre workout claims to burn up to 1000 calories in a single session, thanks to the intensity of the exercises combined with the heat from sauces, provided by The Lazy Scientist.
The concept sounds simple enough: participants eat increasingly spicy portions of the condiment – which range from 100-2.2 million units on the Scoville chart, a scale to measure the pungency of a chilli – as they complete a 45-minute, HIIT-style lower body workout.
The reality? Well, we sent writer Sophie to find out…
Arriving at the Gymbox Ring of Fire class
Heading across London to meet my fiery fate at the Victoria branch of Gymbox, I was filled with a slight sense of dread.
Up until this point, I hadn’t really given much thought as to what was about to come, but when a paramedic friend messaged, saying: “Voicenote me immediately afterwards… if you can still speak”, reality began to set in.
Upon arrival, I met Caroline, who was to be our instructor for the ordeal (sorry, I mean class), and after signing a pretty ominous waiver in which I declared I didn’t have any heart or digestive issues, we were asked to partner up with another member of the group, who we would stick with throughout the course of the workout.
I paired with Agatha, a regular Gymboxer who had already completed the class the week before and (bafflingly) was now back for round two.
After a quick warm up and zesty ginger drink, which woke up both my body and my tastebuds, it was time for the hard work to begin.
The Gymbox Ring of Fire class commences
Up first were reverse barbell lunges, paired with a jalapeño level of spice. The idea was that while one partner was doing their reps, the other would continuously eat the sauce by using a lollipop stick as a utensil, so you were in control at all times of how much you consumed.
Taking a cautious mouthful, I found that the sauce was actually… quite nice? It had a little bit of a kick, but nothing that would blow my head off.
“This is going to be easy,” I thought, smugly. “I could do this all day.”
However, by the last set of lunges, I was eating my words. I could definitely feel myself getting hotter, and not just because of the exercise.
Things would only get worse for me, because the next round was weighted goblet cyclist squats, with a lovely side of serrano chilli. The burn in my legs was increasing, which wasn’t helped by the serrano that was slowly scorching the back of my throat.
For heat three, Agatha and I took it in turns to complete a heart-raising 30 seconds of lateral box step overs. I hated this exercise, but not necessarily because of the scotch bonnet sauce – it requires a fair bit of coordination, which I am severely lacking, and I’m also a clumsy oaf who is liable to break an ankle in every semi-hazardous situation.
Despite my cautious approach, my pulse was sufficiently raised, and when I clocked my red-faced reflection in the mirror, I knew the chilli was working its magic, too.
Now nearing the end of the workout, we braved the weighted sled push. I know I have a fair bit of power in my legs (and was thankfully back on solid ground), so thought this would be marginally easier than the step overs. What I didn’t account for was the chocolate habanero chilli sauce…
You’d think chocolate chilli sauce would be quite pleasant, but no… not in this situation. Thanks to being bent forward in a table top position while pushing the sled up and down the track, the heat from this sauce immediately flooded to my chest, which made the exercise ten times more difficult.
At this point I was finding it hard to talk between rounds – a few garbled words I can make out from the voicenotes I was recording include ‘bloody hot’ and ‘dying’, so make of that what you will.
It’s worth noting that despite my evident struggle at this point, the heat in my mouth made me concentrate on my breathing more than I usually would when exercising. Because it was more difficult to catch my breath, I found myself exhaling for longer and deeper as a way to battle through the pain.
Could I have unlocked a new benefit to eating chilli whilst working out?
The final push was a 700m sprint on the echo bike. “Oh good,” I thought naively. “A chance to give my legs a rest, have a bit of a sit down.”
But first, of course, I had to get through the last, and spiciest, sauce – the Carolina Reaper, which measures at a whopping 2.2 million units on the Scoville chart.
“Don’t feel like you have to eat the whole of this pot,” warned Caroline. “Just have as much as you can handle.”
Bravely (or stupidly), I thought: “In for a penny, I may as well live the whole experience”, so I downed the whole portion and jumped on the bike before my mouth knew what had hit it.
About ten seconds into the sprint, the whole of my upper body was burning. In fact, if you zoom into the picture which Caroline so kindly took of me, you can see the pain (and tears) in my eyes as I gave myself a serious talking to about my life decisions.
Feast your eyes on that, below:
I will say this, though… at this point the thought of finishing the class was certainly enough motivation to speed through and stagger, gasping, to take a shot of milk and soothe my poor, burning throat.
On the whole, although I found the class incredibly tough, I also weirdly enjoyed it. I felt a real sense of accomplishment the moment the workout finished, which was probably down to being pushed to my limits both physically and mentally.
Similar to running a marathon, I can see why other participants, such as my partner Agatha, had found themselves hooked to the class. Once it’s done with, you want to experience that endorphin-high all over again.
Of course, if you’re going to chug some of the spiciest chillies you can whilst enduring a pretty hard workout, it’s worth knowing whether the science behind the class actually stands up.
So, with my tongue still burning as much as my muscles, I decided to do some digging…
According to Stephen Rushton, Bio-Chemistry Scientist & founder of Lazy Scientist Sauces, chillies help you burn calories because of a compound found inside the fiery fruit.
“Capsaicin is the active component found in chillies. While it is well known to produce that infamous burn when ingested, it also acts on the body’s biological pathways to improve both ATP production, vascular function and fatigue resistance,” he explains.
“This is important as it increases your metabolism and energy expenditure, thereby allowing you to burn more calories and improve your performance during exercise, especially HIIT sessions.”
However, registered nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert – who is founder of the Rhitrition clinic – warns that we should be wary when discussing any merits that the inclusion of chilli may have to a workout because of a lack of official research.
She says: “Whilst chillies can be enjoyed as part of a balanced and varied diet to help add flavour and pack a punch to dishes, there is very limited evidence to support any health benefits that are often spoken about.
“Much more scientific research and human studies looking at the effects of chilli on our bodies and health are needed to be able to understand if there are any health benefits.”
Even if the science is up for debate, I would argue there are still benefits of doing this class. For one, it’s a hilarious story to tell your mates (even if they might mock your mercilessly afterwards).
Plus, calorie burning aside, Chilli eating champion Shahina Waseem – aka UK Chilli Queen – says that she can vouch for the psychological benefits of her spicy habit, too.
“Those who push through the chilli-eating pain barrier will experience a unique euphoria,” she says. “Over the years, eating some of the world’s hottest chillies one after another, I’ve found that the heat builds up to the point it gives you an endorphin rush – almost like you’re high.”
I definitely felt the sense of euphoria Shahina describes. On my 50-minute tube journey home, I felt slightly giddy, like I’d had a few drinks, and couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of what I’d just done.
Would I try the class again? In truth, once was probably enough for me – but just look at my workout mate Agatha… she was toying with attending for a third time the following week. There’s no denying that for some, it has genuine appeal.
Whilst more chilli workouts may not be in my future, I did manage to leave with some of the hot sauces, and I’m looking forward to enjoying them in a more sensible setting in a couple of weeks.
If you want to try Gymbox‘s Ring of Fire classes for yourself, they’re running until 20th October at their Ealing, Farringdon and Victoria locations. Go on, I dare you.