High-tech hotel that gets you fit – even in your sleep: Jogging underwater, electrically charged squats and high-altitude bedrooms. Are YOU tough enough to stay?
- Anna Maxted tried out a fitness hotel in country house Grantley Hall, Yorkshire
- She tries sleeping at altitude, where the room oxygen level is set for mountains
- And takes part in in-room exercise sessions as well as jogging underwater
When I wake up at 7am in my sumptuous room in the glorious Grantley Hall country house hotel in Yorkshire, it’s tempting to remain in my kingsize bed.
My paper’s been delivered, I’m bolstered by a host of fat feather pillows (plus prop-up wedge purloined from the pillow menu), I have a sleek coffee machine and real milk and I’ve raised the blackout blind via a wall switch.
Unfortunately, however, I am not staying at this Relais & Châteaux hotel to lie around. I’ve barely flung on my luxury velour robe (very comfortable: no need to trouble Housekeeping to fetch an anti-static, hypoallergenic bamboo alternative from the bathrobe menu) when there is a brisk ‘rat-a-tat’ at the door.
Writer Anna Maxted went to stay at an exercise hotel in a Grade-II country mansion. Her luxurious stay included in-room exercising and jogging underwater
She also tried out the spinning at altitude class, where the rooms oxygen content is lowered to match that of a mountain. This is meant to raise heart rate and improve resistance
Duncan Roy, 29, a transatlantic rowing champion and director of the hotel’s cutting-edge gym and wellness facility, is standing there in sports gear next to a state-of-the-art rowing machine. He looks surprised to see me in a dressing gown. ‘Don’t worry,’ I say, ‘I’m wearing my fitness kit underneath.’
Duncan wheels in the rowing machine and places it on the velvety carpet. In-room personal training is part of the five-star service — for those guests, who don’t wish to work out in the gym — but there’s also a far more important reason he’s here: this is one of the first hotel rooms in Britain that is altitude-enabled.
This means the amount of oxygen in the air can be reduced — last night, Duncan set it at 1,800 m, ‘higher than Ben Nevis’. Before I crawled into those pristine white cotton sheets, I checked my heart rate and the amount of oxygen in my blood with the provided pulse oximeter (a little clip you stick on your finger).
When I’m tootling around at sea level, my heart rate is 58 beats per minute (bpm), and my SpO2 level (the degree of oxygen in my blood) is 99 per cent. This is within the normal range (95-100 per cent) and important because, when your oxygen level is low, the cells in your body may struggle to work properly.
But, when I woke, after a night of breathing thinner air, my heart rate was 68 bpm and my SpO2 level had dropped to 96 per cent. I felt a very mild shortness of breath, I tell Duncan, but I wasn’t gasping. And I slept well. He’s ‘really chuffed’ with my oxygen level — he didn’t set the altitude at a ‘crazy level’, so as not to fatigue me.
Despite all the exercise Anna never felt any aches and pains, however, due to the luxurious private yoga classes and massages that were also on offer
The hotel, which attracts athletes and exercise obsessed over 50s, is based at country mansion Grantley Hall, in Yorkshire
The point of all this? For athletes and amateur fitness fans alike, there are health benefits of sleeping and training at altitude, as your body metabolically adapts to less oxygen. That is, it improves to cope with the tougher conditions — meaning that when you come back down to earth, you’re a little bit superhuman.
‘Sleeping at altitude prompts the body to create rejuvenating red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles, which makes you more efficient at handling the oxygen,’ says Duncan.
Meanwhile, exercising at altitude ‘gives you a muscular adaptation to the lack of oxygen’. This boosts your fitness as your body becomes accustomed to operating on less oxygen, so, when you return to an environment packed with the stuff, both your speed and endurance improve.
‘It’s why Mo Farah, before the London Marathon, will be in Kenya on a nine-week training programme at 2,400m,’ he adds.
My own training programme is less ambitious, but, for me, challenging enough. (My rowing is the first of three sessions before breakfast.) Duncan calls it ‘a bit of a warm-up’. He checks my blood oxygen levels again, then I’m off.
Anna also enjoyed some early morning jogs through the grounds of the picturesque estate
Her bedroom was altitude enabled, which meant it could lower the oxygen level. She had it set to 1,800metres, or higher than the Ben Nevis peak
I’m soon curiously out of puff. I’d obeyed Duncan’s instructions to keep the bathroom door closed all night, to maintain the mountainous, atmospheric conditions, but to open it or a window if I didn’t feel well. Yet the difference in oxygen wasn’t noticeable — until now. I feel tired, even though this is fairly light exercise. It is harder to fill my lungs.
Ten minutes in, I’m exhausted. I dream of buttered toast, a gentle float in the cloistered pool, a post-sauna chill in the ‘snow room’ (a little glass-fronted room inches deep in actual snow), perhaps a citrus essence facial in the spa. ‘I want you to concentrate,’ says Duncan. ‘Let’s go! Feel the energy! Big drive! Remember to breathe!’
The final two minutes are torturous. I have rowed only a measly 1,000 m. ‘Start feeling the benefits of this altitude air we’re breathing in,’ says Duncan. Currently, I feel none.
‘You’re working really hard — last ten seconds!’ I can’t respond. I’m panting like an angry cat. My SpO2 level has dropped to 93 per cent. ‘But, by the time you’ve recovered and got your breath back,’ says Duncan, ‘we’ll see that come back up.’
Sure enough, we leave my room, skip down the spiral staircase and I’m re-energised — fortunate, as my next appointments are EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) and a run on the underwater treadmill.
The luxurious room also contained a lounge with enough space for a rowing machine
The bathroom was a favourite place of retreat and had stunning views of the landscape
Both are excellent for rehabilitation and increasing strength if you have injuries, weaknesses or want to intensify training while minimising wear and tear, as there’s little impact on joints.
I perform squats and bicep curls while wired up to a machine that delivers electrical pulses, stimulating my muscles to contract and intensifying each movement by a factor of between nine and 18.
Training while being zapped is a relatively low-effort and strangely enjoyable way of supercharging your exercise.
Then I jog in a small tank, which fills waist-high with lukewarm water.
Frankly, none of this is what one expects in a Grade II-listed stately home, reopened as a country house hotel after an £80 million renovation project. Sure, it befits your Downton Abbey for the 21st century to boast three restaurants (one headed by Michelin-starred chef Shaun Rankin) and glorious grounds complete with helipad.
And certainly, after a wander in the fresh air — Wellingtons provided — and ‘a full Yorkshire’, boozy lunch, tea and cake in the cosy drawing room and cocktails in the bar prior to a chomp through the exquisite eight-course tasting menu at dinner, you might consider breaking a mild sweat in the gym.
The tank that she is jogging in has been filled waist-high with lukewarm water. Trainers at the hotel include a former transatlantic rowing champion and regimental sergeant major
The high-altitude spinning class, with low oxygen, aims to get participants fitter faster
But the service offered here for serious athletes, and middle-aged exercisers like me keen to fine-tune their wellness regimen, is exceptional. Olympic athletes Daley Thompson and Sebastian Coe are fans, having stayed at Grantley Hall for its grand opening this July.
The hotel is also attracting guests who hit 50 and, after years of relative sloth, become fitness-obsessed. (It seems we middle-class exercisers want to sweat in state-of-the-art luxury, log every wellness stat and personal best and be precision-coached by elite experts.)
When the UCI Road World Championships, a week-long cycling world championship, took place in Yorkshire last month, an influx of middle-aged amateur cyclists converged on the hotel.
After my underwater run, I’m hankering after a fancy afternoon tea, but instead, Duncan whisks me off to the gym.
Here, a machine analyses my body composition and biometrics. I’m 50 and, to my crowing glee, it assesses my metabolic age as 35. I’m a healthy weight, with a good amount of muscle and low visceral fat (the bad sort stored around internal organs), but my overall fat percentage, 21.8, is lower than desirable (23 to 33.9 per cent is ideal). It’s valuable information, as my hair’s been falling out at an alarming rate — and this could be why.
A bathroom within the hotel. Anna said that, ‘It seems we middle-class exercisers want to sweat in state-of-the-art luxury, log every wellness stat and personal best and be precision-coached by elite experts’
Another luxurious bathroom at the sumptuous hotel in Yorkshire, near
Prior to my visit, Duncan also arranged a FaceTime consultation with nutritionist Sian Baker. I’d grumbled about my hair. Sian suspects my habit of not eating until 11am, a form of intermittent fasting, is stressing my body.
She’s recommended menu choices at Grantley, suited to my ‘goals and aspirations’ (one of which is not to go bald).
For lunch, I choose poached salmon, high in protein, followed by spiced ginger cake, lots of carbs. Sian reckons that, with all the exercise, I’ll need the energy. As if to prove the point, I’m packed off to a spinning at altitude class, in the altitude-enabled studio. My SpO2 level is noted, then master trainer Anoushka Moore adjusts the high-tech bike so I’m comfortable (all things being relative).
Today’s training is colour- coded — the mini-screen above my handlebars changes from white to blue, green, yellow and red, according to effort, speed, resistance and energy expended.
I’m assigned to a team and all my stats are visible on the wall. Oh, hooray.
So, apart from stimulating red blood cell production, remind me why I’m masochistically spinning at altitude? (It’s set at 1,800 m, ‘a good entry level’ declares Duncan.) Essentially, says Anoushka, it will boost my high-intensity work rate, my performance at endurance sport, and resistance training. ‘It offers a potent stimulus for adaptation. In short, it gets us fitter faster.’ The class is exhilarating — though, despite the distractions of music, scenery and the challenges of remaining green or ascending to yellow, there are moments I fear my heart might go ‘splat’.
Though I cycle 24.32 km, my numbers (faithfully recorded, as with every endeavour here) reveal I spend 18.58 minutes languishing in the ‘white zone’ — and a piffling two minutes in the red. I blame the thin air. Anoushka insists I ‘smashed it’.
Truth is, I might have quit, but Duncan had prepared me for battle. He’d set up a pre-visit session with Lee Evans, of Mind Power Solutions, a specialist in mental resilience training.
Lee, a former regimental sergeant major in the Army’s 24 Commando Engineer Regiment, told me: ‘So many people chuck themselves into work and everything else falls apart. I work with people to sustain high performance in their lives, while keeping their relationships strong, and maintaining their health.’
After an intense hour with Lee, I resolved to use ‘self-talk’ to increase self-awareness and intent, rather than doubt and take responsibility for my feelings.
And if that situation is difficult? ‘Have the courage to honour the struggle. Realise: “I’m going to learn from it, because I’m developing.” Don’t be a moaner or complainer. That’s not honouring the struggle. That’s sucking the life out of everyone!’
Before lunch the next day, I have a PT session, tailored to my lower back issues. After checking for muscular imbalances, Scott coaches me in single and double leg hip thrusts — great for the glutes, apparently — and squats, which improve core stability.
Rehabilitation expert Paul Martin joins us to advise. I feel like a rusty vintage car being restored by skilled mechanics.
Even my three-minute session in the cryotherapy chamber, which drops as low as minus 85c, is bearable, as Duncan amuses me by playing Ice Ice Baby.
This treatment stops any post-exercise inflammation and burns up to 800 calories, he says. Readings show my skin temperature drops more than 10c, enhancing the benefits. It gives new meaning to ‘freezing your butt off’!
Happily, the pampering is as spectacular as the fitness. From a private yoga session on the helipad, to deep tissue massages, the attention to recovery means I don’t feel an ache or a twinge.
I leave Grantley Hall on a high — and not just because of the altitude training.
- A night at Grantley Hall for two from £345 b&b (extra £90 for altitude-enabled room). Visit grantleyhall.co.uk
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