Fitness Articles

We went through hell at the world’s first exercise cafe

A free lunch... IF YOU SUFFER

Win one of five sessions at Run For Your Bun café 2

James Bird attempts the unthinkable – a strenuous workout – with the promise of a free lunch at the end

Some of us will be familiar with the bewildering economic concept of exchanging money for goods. Well, just when you got your head round that, it's evolved – now you can offer cold, hard sweat as payment.

This week's Run For Your Bun pop-up is the world's first cafe where exercise alone earns you lunch. It's proved bloody popular, booking up in advance, so this right here could be the future for gyms.

I arrive at Covent Garden's Slingsby Place, with its lovely clean windows and pared-down wood. Modern rustic, as hygge as it gets, intimidatingly virtuous. You choose your lunch – chicken burger; salmon or halloumi pitta; avocado and the gang; "giant" couscous (my pick) – and then, having fixed on a target, start suffering for it.

The payment is a total six minutes' worth of rowing, sit-ups, cycling, squats, lunges and jogging. Emerging from the changing rooms sporting a yellowing "white" tee and a dry mouth, I don't feel gladiatorial. I feel like everyone's Dad, playing squash for the first time in a decade, ready to feign injury as he hasn't won a point against the fat intern at work.

The personal trainer from David Lloyd Clubs who greets me, Tom, is a nice guy and I know this because he supports Southampton. No tyrant ever supported Southampton. "Only work as hard as you want to," he says – all the encouragement I need to half-arse my way through the process. Even then, it still hurts.

I start with squats, which I've never done before. I'm not sure whether to look down at my unhinging feet or at the people goldfish-watching through the massive windows. There are 30 second breaks between exercises, but my legs are already blancmanging as I stagger over to the rowing machine at halfway.

A thought occurs: is this just a conceptual art piece probing the lengths people will go to so they don't spend £4 – cash they'd otherwise spaff on Premium Tinder? Have I fallen for the ruse? I see the Lad Bible headline through spinning eyes: CHECK OUT THE GOON WHO BROKE HIMSELF FOR A FREE BOX OF NORTH AFRICAN CARBS.

But we should be grateful for any free food, I tell myself as I grit my teeth and focus on jogging and rowing. By the time it gets to my final minute, spinning, I am truly exhausted and there seems to be more people looking through the window. It'd disconcerting, like one of those dreams where you forget your trousers.

And then it's all over. People in the cafe say "well done, James!"; there's some applause. Maybe someone cries, who knows. But this much is true: I feel fulfilled, faint and utterly knackered. It's time to meet my couscous.

"Free food is the best!" I repeat, forcing it into my mouth with wobbling hands. It's good, you know – even though there's a metallic taste in my mouth, I can still detect apricot. But my ravaged body is telling me something. That I'm in an unjustifiable amount of pain. That given the chance to go through this again, I'd rather settle for a slow walk, £8 Pret and sad Instagram scroll.

Win the chance to try the experience for yourself tomorrow lunchtime

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