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Forget meeting for lunch, the latest craze is networking at the gym
Forget meeting for lunch, the latest craze is networking at the gym

Working out

Sweatworking beats out networking Add to ...

The room is dark and hot and the music goes thump, thump. On the floor below me, a little puddle of sweat is forming. By my side is a man and under him is an even bigger puddle of sweat. His name is Bond: Andy Bond, the ex-head of Asda.

With us in this basement dungeon is a second man who is shouting: Push! Nice! Keep it! A little harder! Push! Push! Push! Good! What I am doing here is trying out the latest craze – sweatworking. Cool business people have found that the hottest place for getting to know each other is the gym: it is efficient and healthy and makes people bond tightly. Lunch is no longer for wimps. It’s for blimps.

On reading about this, I could see three potential problems. It is hard to talk and work out at the same time. The aesthetics are all wrong: when you meet someone for work the general idea is to look good, not to look simply awful. And it discriminates against people like me who hate gyms and don’t even own a pair of trainers.

Still, I decided to squash such doubts and give it a go. I settled on a spin class, as I like cycling, and persuaded Mr. Bond, who now chairs Wiggle, a cycling retailer, to join me. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing we found a time that suited him – crack of dawn – and a venue, Fitness First at London Bridge.

On the appointed day, I am full of misgivings as I cycle through the drizzle on this early morning blind date. My mood darkens further on finding that Mr. Bond looks younger than 46 and even fitter than I’d feared. With him is Regan, our spin teacher, all youth and muscle and easy antipodean charm. I say that I’ve never done this before, and they both say: don’t worry – you’ll be great.

But in the women’s changing rooms I don’t feel great as I put on my son’s skateboarding shoes and my daughter’s sweatpants. I can’t work out how to use the lockers. I don’t know if I’m meant to take my towel with me but end up not doing so. A mistake.

Regan gets us on to our bikes and we start pedalling – and as if by magic the networking begins. The only snag is that I don’t seem to be part of it. The two men are discussing their respective Lycra outfits. The only bit I understand is when Mr. Bond says he owns 12 bikes.

Regan cranks up the music and starts to shout: “This is the warm up track. Push down! Pull up! Good! Drop down. A little race. Nice!”

I pedal as fast as I can, and try not to look at the middle-aged woman looking wildly out of place in the mirror in front of me.

“You feel the sweat starting to come! Good! We warm up! One more. Really nice!” Regan yells. “Now we’re starting the hard work! Bring the feet up on the beat. Just like Saturday night!”

Mr. Bond and I pedal away in soggy silence.

“This is sweatworking!,” Regan bellows. “Good. We’re going straight uphill. How ya doing? Warm! We’ve done 15 minutes, time flies!!”

I don’t reply partly because I have no breath left, but also because the clock has never moved so slowly. Mr. Bond is in top gear and pedalling so fast his legs are a blur. I am in first gear and pedalling rather more slowly. My gorge has risen and I think I might be sick.

“Your heart rate should be going trough the roof!” Regan shouts exultantly.

I start to wonder if I might actually die doing this. Never mind journalists risking their lives in warzones, lives can also be risked at Fitness First, London Bridge.

I slow right down and long to stop. But I know I must go on.

After what feels like many days of pedalling it’s finally over. In the shower room I’m giddy with relief and triumph at having stayed the course – until I see my face, which is a dark burgundy. I slaver some foundation on top, but to no avail. Outside, Mr. Bond buys me a cold drink and we sit and drink it in the drizzle.

As I look at his face, which I’m delighted to see is also quite red and damp, it suddenly occurs to me that sweatworking works. By some strange alchemy, I really have bonded with this stranger. I haven’t ex­changed more than a couple of sentences with him, but I find I like him, and – this is even more mysterious – totally trust him.

“There’s a real bond,” he agrees. “We wouldn’t get it if we’d just had a meal. We’ve been on a journey together.”

I point out that we haven’t been anywhere, which in my view is one of the shortcomings of the exercise bike. Instead, we’ve bonded through suffering. He agrees again: “You’re pushing yourself to the limits. You’re doing something tough. It fast-forwards your relationship.” To Mr. Bond this isn’t a surprise. He has been sweatworking for long before it became smart. When he was starting out, he’d go running with his boss. Then at Asda he played five-a-side football with Archie Norman. And more recently, when Walmart bought Asda, he engaged in sweatworking with his U.S. colleagues.

A group of them did regular spin classes at 5:30 a.m., and he says they worked better and liked each other more as a result. The only trouble with this arrangement is that it is unfair on non-spinners.

“It’s mildly divisive,” he concedes. “If you’re working in a group and two of you have been spinning together and the rest haven’t.”

I want to know two other things. First, whether it is awkward to exercise with your boss if you are fitter than he is. Mr. Bond claims that it’s not. “No – it’s good for your image as a boss if the most junior person can beat you.”

I also want to know if I missed the best bit of the bonding – which happens in men’s locker rooms. Not a bit of it, he says. “As the sweatiest man in the world, I’m never comfortable in the locker room.”

It’s time for Mr. Bond to go. We bid each other a fond farewell, and I climb on to my bike to cycle to work, the pain a distant memory.

In the interests of full disclosure I should report on a couple of un­wanted side-effects to this extraordinarily successful experiment. My face remained maroon for two hours, making me disinclined to speak to anyone all morning. I also developed a headache, which was sorted out by a couple of Nurofen Max. More of a problem was a general feeling of mild euphoria that proved quite incompatible with getting any work done.

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