What is it? A 60-minute class mixing weights and cardiovascular training, featuring short, powerful bursts on activities for a set number of repetitions or a set time, with rest times between. It's done under the eye of a trainer clutching a stopwatch, who will vary the number of tasks performed according to the level of those in the class - beginner, intermediate or advanced.
What's needed? Light workout gear, gym shoes, water bottle. The gym has the equipment.
The experience: When singer Duffy belts out those memorable lyrics "begging you for mercy" it's spine-tingling and she looks gorgeous.
Now visualise the opposite: a small gaggle of gals, me included, in sweat-soaked gym gear, breathlessly pleading the trainer "for mercy" while working our butts off pushing, pulling, pounding our bodies in intense spurts, going as fast as we can, or doing as many repetitions as possible, with "rest periods" between each attack on the body.
Our trainer, Dave, a softly spoken Irishman, reminds us "it's good pain", and "just feel free to swear if you need to". So I do.
I won't tell you the swear word that escaped from my lips, but it does rhyme with pluck. I hadn't sworn in years and it was terribly unladylike, especially considering I was surrounded by ladies.
Thankfully, Dave is merciful. When we are all about to collapse, he adjusts the reps. That's the bonus of being in a small class. Dave is pushing us, but eases off when he sees us fade. The downside to this intimate session is there is literally nowhere to hide; the back of the class is still under Dave's nose.
The circuit class I'm doing is at the re:ab on Selbourne, a boutique health and wellness centre in the old Grey Lynn Theatre. It's a character building and so not a typical "factory-type" gym. I'm surrounded by bodies that are familiar with working out, and not too many of them. It's a boutique outfit where people get to know your name.
Dave kicked off the class with us on bikes, getting us to pedal as fast as we could for 20 seconds, with 10-second breaks between. My legs started strong then became sluggish. That was tough.
But what ensued was tougher. Repeats of sit-ups, squats, "thrusters", which are weights on the shoulders while you bend up and down, triceps pull-downs and push-ups and playing like "dead bugs" (imagine being on your back with your arms and legs in the air, while crunching in on your abs and "stabilising the core"). It's the stuff that makes you sweat and swear.
Each exercise was demonstrated first by Dave, who then kept watch on our technique. He gave us the odd laugh, but mostly lots of motivation and reasons each exercise is "good".
The final part of the circuit performance is stretching on a spongy mat, then the class departs, all girls smiling.
Dave raves about circuit, saying, "It hits everything." It combines so much, from a good cardio workout to good resistance training and concentrates, too, on strength, power and endurance training, with a good core workout to boot. Anyone of any ability can do it, the reps and weights are just scaled back for beginners.
I enjoyed the challenge and doing it in an intimate group in beautiful surroundings was a bonus. I should have said "merci" to Dave, thank you, in polite French.
How much? Casual circuit classes at re:ab on Selbourne boutique are $25 or a 10-concession car is $225. A full membership is $200 monthly and entitles you to attend all the classes on the timetable - pilates, boot camp, cardio, spin, circuit and boxing. All members also get a free, annual 30-minute facial on site, plus a free breathing assessment with Breathing Works, also on site.
Worth it? This is a classy gym that's not too busy and where you get great personalised training.
Try it: re:ab is at 2 Selbourne St, Grey Lynn, ph 09 360 2929.
Rating: 8/10 - you could get real results here.