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Welcome to the Yard: Meet the Ex Offenders Trading Cells for Circuits

When it comes to working out, we could all use a little encouragement from time to time – especially if you’ve fallen off the bike, so to speak. Maybe you over-indulged at the office birthday party yesterday, or got a little excited at Happy Hour last weekend – either way, exercise is no longer at the top of your to-do list. It’s currently sitting somewhere between doing laundry and cleaning the kitchen. Well, it’s time to change that - the exercise part, anyway. Your kitchen can wait.
Welcome to The Hard Yard - a fitness community making a name for itself across the UK capital. With a varied schedule that offers power, shock and strength workouts, there’s quite literally a class for everyone, regardless of ability. The main reason The Hard Yard is making headlines across London? The trainers. Ex inmates who have served their time in prison, the trainers are determined, hard-working individuals looking to make a change. After an intense 45-minute workout, I caught up with Frankie Bennett, CEO and founder of The Hard Yard to find out more about the start-up, and what inspired her to make her idea a reality.
There are many talented people leaving prison who aren't getting the opportunities they need to develop the next stage of their lives and careers,” Frankie explained. People who have served time are undoubtedly discriminated against as soon as it becomes apparent they committed an offence, and potential employers are quick to discard their CVs in favour of one with a three-year sentence in university, not prison. I asked Frankie about the message behind The Hard Yard. “The Hard Yard stands for opportunity, inclusivity and continuous self improvement,” Frankie began. “We're founded on the principle of withholding judgment, and we carry this into our workouts too. Whether you're an athlete or a total newcomer, everyone should feel at home with The Hard Yard - and empowered to make change in their lives.”
I scribbled down some notes while reaching for my almost-empty bottle of water – it was my first time back having been away with work for a few weeks, and I was feeling the effects of the jump squats already. Anyway, back to the questions. I’d tried my hand at a fair share of classes before trying The Hard Yard, and even though I felt I already knew the answer to this one, I asked her anyway. How is The Hard Yard different to other fitness classes? “Our trainers will tell you it's not about how you look, what you wear or capturing the perfect gym selfie - it's bigger than that. It's about using fitness as a tool to better yourself, to manage stress and to challenge your assumptions about what you're capable of,” she concluded.
I’ll be honest. I enjoy working out – I hit the gym at least four times a week and have been known to try more unusual forms of exercise (aerial hoop was one of my favourites). However, I do find myself feeling intimidated when walking out of the changing rooms and into the weights area. What’s that Instagram post I’ve screenshot on more than one occasion? “Works out but also likes doughnuts.” That pretty much sums me up – but back to my point. The gym can be nerve-wracking, so I decided to quiz Frankie about this. “The gym can be scary if you feel you don’t belong,” she said, nodding in agreement. “At The Hard Yard, there's a friendly atmosphere that our clients often describe as being like a family,” she added. That means it’s ideal for people who are new to the fitness scene, right?
“Absolutely,” she answered. “As someone who was never picked for the sports team at school, I didn't want to build something that only people who were already 'into fitness' could enjoy. You'll never hear a trainer tell you ‘5 of this.' It's always ‘You've got 30 seconds - give it your all, whatever that is for you.’ That way, people of all abilities can train together and motivate each other,” she explained.
After my chat with Frankie, I stole five minutes of the trainers’ time to get their thoughts on The Hard Yard. First up – Shab. A friendly face with a personality to match, it’s impossible not to like him. I started by probing him about The Hard Yard atmosphere, and what it is that clients most enjoy about the exercises – aside from the obvious health benefits. “The environment,” he states. “There's no pressure, there's no judgment - it's laid back but good, hard workouts,” he concluded. Going back to what I discussed with Frankie in regards to gym culture, I asked him what people might notice about The Hard Yard. “It's different,” he began. “The gym is often about image. When you come to The Hard Yard, you leave all of that at the door and it's just you and the workout,” he explained.
Lou is the team’s latest addition and only female trainer - I was fortunate enough to sit down with her for a few moments before she kicked off her 45-minute drill. I got started by asking her about how The Hard Yard has affected her personally since she joined the team, or clan as they prefer to call it. “The Hard Yard has been a massive help for me both physically and mentally,” she revealed. “It has had a positive impact on my life, and as well as giving me hope, it has given me something to work for and look forward to each week,” she said with a grin. I asked her about her workouts in particular, and what she hopes her clients take away from them. “I want clients to leave each session feeling empowered,” she responded, with almost no hesitation. “I want them to be able to go home or into a fitness environment feeling confident and knowledgeable,” she added.
We’re on board. Are you?
Written by Yasmin Harake
Sofia Bonsor

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