The Supermums Of Barry’s
Juggling work, motherhood, and getting back into shape is never easy. We talk to three of Barry’s top trainers about their balancing act and advice on how to keep it real
By Samantha Lewis
Photography by Ossi Piispanen
They don’t call her the “queen of the treadmill” for nothing. Anya Lahiri is a model and actress turned Barry’s master trainer who is responsible for bringing the fitness phenomenon to the UK. She helped set up the first studio in London in 2013 and has been at the helm ever since. For those unfamiliar with Barry’s, the workout combines running intervals on the treadmill with weight training on the floor. It’s fast, furious and incredibly addictive. Anya got hooked when she moved to Los Angeles – where Barry’s originated – to pursue her dreams of becoming an actor. “I was an out-of-work actor with zero money and all my funds went on Barry’s. I would drive from the Hollywood Hills to West Hollywood and go to class in between my castings,” she recalls.
Anya’s obsession was soon passed on to partner James, who was working as a tennis coach back in the UK. He tried Barry’s when he came to visit her and was also captivated by the concept. Anya convinced James, alongside his brother Sandy, to buy the franchise rights – and so Barry’s UK was born. Since opening the first studio in Euston, Barry’s has had a huge impact on London’s gym scene. It’s now a fitness empire with eight studios spread across the capital and one in Manchester. As well as being one of the most popular instructors on the Barry’s timetable, Anya is also in charge of recruiting and training new talent. She handpicks individuals who are experts in their field and puts them through a rigorous training programme.
If that wasn’t enough, she also has her hands full looking after her two sons, Finn, 5, and Kai, seven months. She recently returned to work after growing her brood, so how is she finding juggling the demands of work and parenting? Well, the mum guilt is always there. “This week is a really crucial week as it’s when babies have this separation thing and start to realise you’re leaving, but what can I do? I’m an integral part of the company and I could give it (the training) to someone else, but it’s so important to me to make sure our instructor team is as good as they can be.” She also reveals there are some not-so-glamorous realities: “I’m training all these cool, young things at the West studio and the only place I can pump is this tiny machine room with all the stereo systems. The door doesn’t even shut, so I’m sitting there with a breast pump on and saying ‘Don’t come in, it will be more traumatising for you!’”
Breast pumping problems aside, Barry’s is Anya’s happy place and she says it helps her to be a better mum.“Being a mum is wonderful but it’s quite relentless with the same routine of feeding and changing nappies. I don’t get to go to the pub as I have such limited time but what I choose to do is go to the studio, whether it’s teaching a class or doing a class, and have a whole load of fun. It’s everything I need in an hour – it’s people, it’s conversation, it’s music – it’s like a party for me,” she says.
Anya also wants to dispel the misconception that Barry’s is only for the superfit. She explains why she thinks losing ‘bootcamp’ from its official name in 2019 was a good move for the brand: “It was the right decision because I always felt that it is as far removed from a bootcamp as it could be. As soon as you hear the word bootcamp you think army, and you think you have to be fit to do it. Barry’s has that connotation and it’s completely wrong. You don’t have to be fit to go to Barry’s, you get fit at Barry’s.”
Anya goes on to highlight the importance of promoting a supportive and non-judgemental environment. “There are lots of people who are really in shape and nailing it at 12.5mph [on the treadmill], but there are also pregnant women and people coming back from injuries. Barry’s is about being part of a community that motivates each other and grows together,” she insists.
In terms of her postpartum exercise regime, she’s been taking it slow, as after her first baby she went “all guns blazing” and ended up setting herself back. She admits she’s naturally impatient and has felt the pressure to snap back to her pre-pregnancy shape. “I wish I could be more level-headed about it,” she says. “I’ve been in industries that are horrific about weight, like modelling, and I’ve had a whole life-time of pressure in terms of how I should look. I’m comparing myself to these mums on Instagram and thinking ‘How is she back in her jeans and looking amazing?’”
But she knows she must listen to her body: “My first class back, my arms were like jelly and my legs did nothing. It was weird because through my pregnancy I was teaching every day at home during lockdown and could do burpees and tricep push-ups on my knees. But no one really talks about the hormonal effect having a baby and breastfeeding has on your body, which means it will take longer for you to get back in shape.”
There has been somewhat of a baby boom in the last year at Barry’s and Anya isn’t the only new mum. Fellow Barry’s trainer Sam Stone gave birth to her first child, Poppy, seven months ago. She agrees with Anya that you must ease yourself back into fitness: “I’ve coached and trained a lot of pre and postnatal women and one of the biggest things I tell them is that you have to go back slowly and there is no rush. It was important for me to practice what I preach and not put any pressure on myself.”
Sam may have taken her training slowly but her return to work was much quicker. Amazingly she was back teaching part-time at Barry’s within a month, which she says was fast but she felt ready. She’s cherishing every moment of being a mum and loving her new routine. “I have a lot of energy and am able to go a bit nuts when I teach,” she laughs. “I can then come home and be a different me and relax and go for short walks with Poppy. It makes me calm for her and I like the contrast.”
Sarah Robinson (aka Robbo)* is another Barry’s trainer who has recently had her first baby. She was also eager to get back to work and has found a schedule that fits around taking care of her 11-month-old son, Parker. Sarah, a former dancer, says going back to work was important as it helped regain her “sense of identity”. She also thinks Barry’s has benefited from having new mums on staff as it has increased the number of pre and postnatal clients: “I never used to see pregnant women coming into Barry’s, but since I was pregnant and trained through my pregnancy I think it has given a lot of women confidence that they can train, and that we are knowledgeable beacons to guide them through.”
And she’s doing a great job at being a positive role model. “I feel really empowered to wear crop tops in class and get those parts of me out that I’m uncomfortable with. I want to show my clients you don’t have to have a baby and get back into shape really quickly,” she says proudly. “I have learned to love my body in a whole different way since having Parker. I would actually say I’m more confident with my body now because I’m just like ‘I grew a tiny human!’”
ANYA’S TIPS FOR PRE/POSTNATAL EXERCISE
1. There is no reason to stop exercising as soon as you get pregnant. It is important to keep yourself fit and healthy and there are so many benefits for both you and your baby.
2. It is not the time to decide to run a marathon but if you were fit before it is important to maintain an exercise routine and strong foundations that will help you with labour and recovery.
3. Always listen to your body. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it!
4. If you have any contraindications or issues seek professional advice from your midwife or GP before embarking on exercise.
5. Make sure your coach is pre and postnatal qualified and that you inform your instructor before any group exercise class so they can provide modifications and look after you.
6. Every pregnancy and every mother-to-be is different. Do not compare yourself to other people. You know your own limitations better than anyone else and every journey is different.
7. Get a health check with a women’s health physio postpartum before returning to fitness. They can check for any abdominal separation and make sure your pelvic floor can cope with running and more intense exercise.
Take your time returning to exercise. Rushing can set you back and, like pregnancy, the recovery is different for everyone.
Special thanks to Ella and the team at Barry’s for making this happen and to the instructors Anya, Sam and Robbo.
Art Direction, Production & Editorial Design Root, Photography Ossi Piispanen, Photographer’s Assistant Claudia Agati, DIT Jack Attridge, Hair & Makeup Carla Wall
*Since the time of writing, Sarah (Robbo) is expecting her second child, a girl – congratulations!