Trust and camaraderie got me through wild workout

wharf article log liftingReview by Beth Allcock Feature writer at

A rough, tough trip to the woods could see you dig up your inner warrior

24 January 2013

A stint at Wild Forest Gym will help you “reveal the warrior inside”. According to the company’s website at least. But arriving at the vast fitness site in Surrey Quays, spread across Stave Hill Ecological Park and Russia Dock Woodlands, I felt more Powerpuff Girl than Xena, Warrior Princess. I suppose the neon pink hoodie, matching hat and diamante gloves didn’t help…

wharf article  To read the full article in pdf format click here.

…I’m not really an outdoor person, so rounding up suitable attire from my sprawling wardrobe was the first sticking point. I swapped the hand wear for some made of hardier stuff when I discovered I’d be carrying logs, crawling on the forest floor alongside the creepy crawlies and catching sticks.

Alongside those hefty tasks, the exploratory session with Michael Cohen, founder and head coach, promised running, balancing and throwing, all packed into an hour and- a-half long session. At first, the challenge seemed a daunting feat of endurance, tempered only slightly as Michael explained each workout is adapted to match the participant’s capabilities.

The initial warm up jog was straightforward enough and vaulting a wooden pole to gain entrance into our woodland circuit although unglamorous, was manageable. Then came running, sidestepping and charging backward around the same lap, while avoiding the twigs, rocks and mushy forest carpet. The tough part was when I came within touching distance of the creepy crawlies on the ground. Michael casually tossed away a worm from our path before we began to crawl a lap using our hands and toes, followed by a frog jumping session.

canary wharf panarama

View from Wild Forest Gym over Canary Wharf

It started to dawn on me that I might just have ventured far out of my comfort zone. But there were two factors that kept me going through the biting cold outdoor exploration, where I surprised myself with my coordination skills while catching a branch and balancing on a fallen log.

The first was the setting. Michael describes it as an “oasis in the city” and the tranquil surroundings certainly made me look at my gym routine in a different light.

Shuttling from my desk, to the office gym and back again, just doesn’t have the same appeal. But, secondly, with the Wild Forest Gym experience, fitness is only one of its attractions.

There’s a trust element in the one-to one and group sessions. You learn to work as a team  with your partner to carry a log on a circular route, made all the more challenging when you’re tasked with taking it on with your eyes closed.

That’s what got me through the session. If it had been hardcore training with a ruthless, red-faced instructor barking demands I would have fallen at the first hurdle.

But, because of Michael’s more integrated approach, I was able to find some grit and, albeit very small, a warrior within.

So thumbs-up to the course, but the lack of changing facilities is a disappointment.

Yes, it’s only a short Tube ride to office showers on the Wharf after your workout but covered in mud and exuding the damp aroma of the forest my warrior dissolved into ragamuffin in minutes and I fled for the comfort of a shower at home.

■ Classes start on Monday morning at 6.30am, Wednesday at 6.30pm. First trial session is free and those who sign up will be entered into a draw to win two months’ free membership. An unlimited pass is £59 per month, a once a week pass is £45 per month and ad-hoc classes cost £18 per session.

■ Wild Forest Gym also offers natural running training at 1pm on Mondays
in Canary Wharf and at 6.30am on Fridays at Wild Forest Gym.

Go to or call 0845 456 1336.

Our Verdict

Not for the faint-hearted but a thoroughly enjoyable experience★★★★✩


michael Cohen

I want to get Wharfers away from their offices

Michael Cohen explains why he set up a forest fitness gym


Why did you decide to set up a site in Surrey Quays?

I wanted to be able to work in London. I have got other sites outside London so I looked and looked but I couldn’t find anything. I decided to go on Google Maps one day and I zoomed in to find any green spaces. I came across Surrey Quays and I couldn’t believe it – it’s like an oasis in the middle of the city.

■ Why did you decide to create Wild Forest Gym?

The outdoors to me is like a natural calling, it’s a second home. It naturally is somewhere I like to spend time, the weather doesn’t matter, it’s just being outdoors, being part of the natural environment and doing something functional.

I am an outdoors person and I train outdoors. This is not a job for me, it’s part of me. It’s sharing something with other people.

■ Who is Wild Forest Gym targeted at?

Primarily those 18–55, both males and females. We are looking at a whole spectrum of types of lifestyles and for City people. I want to get them out of their offices, get them away from their computers. Not permanently, of course, but for around one and a half hours. It gives them a break and a little bit of escape.

■ What does it offer?

I can be a fitness instructor and get regimental but there’s more to fitness than just the physical. I intend to make people strong, agile, balanced, coordinated and to help them learn trust, faith and then work as a team.

What I offer is a functional natural movement outdoor training programme, thatuses the elements of the forest environment, to increase the five core elements of fitness.

These are endurance, strength, speed, flexibility and coordination on both physicaland mental levels. You have to remember how you are physically is how you are mentally, emotionally and psychologically.

Michael Cohen says his fitness programme can help boost body and mind.

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