Swedish Fit

An exercise format that is a way of life in Sweden and France is now catching on in London, and making a mark in other countries like Canada and Switzerland too

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
An exercise format that is a way of life in Sweden and France is now catching on in London, and making a mark in other countries like Canada and Switzerland too  
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It’s a glorious Sunday morning in London. We are in Surrey Quays, where the lake is serene, moved only by the gentle laps of swimming ducks. It’s July, the height of summer, and under the sun’s rays the water sparkles. I join an exercise class called Swedish Fit, a workout with a difference not just because of its outdoorsy nature but because of how, with comparative ease, it integrates fun into an exercise routine designed by medical experts. The sessions usually last from an hour to 90 minutes, beginning with a warm-up followed by alternating cardio and muscle-building sequences and then relaxation and stretching. 

We assemble on the concrete between a shopping mall and the lake and the instructor, Mansoria Larchet, begins the session by telling us “All we need to do is take it at our own pace, go with the flow and enjoy.” Larchet is French and became involved in the Swedish Fit exercise movement while in France. She came to London with her colleagues, to popularise it here. 

The Birth of Swedish Fit 

In Sweden and France, where it has become all the rage, Swedish Fit is not merely a workout routine; it is ingrained into the local lifestyle. The format can be adapted to a range of locations – from indoor areas like schools and gyms to the outdoors like parks and by the beach (beachside classes in the South of France are a sensation). In both countries, the membership is in excess of 500,000. 

Swedish Fit’s predecessor is Friskis and Svettis. Friskis and Svettis is an exercise routine that uses the muscles in strength-based training sequences combined with sections that focus on cardio, with the aim of developing health, created in Stockholm in 1978. Founders Claude and Lena Coury took the fitness format to France and rebranded it as Swedish Fit. Besides London, Swedish Fit is also gaining popularity in Canada, Denmark and Switzerland.  

Everything Healthy 

The rebranding of Friskis and Svettis into Swedish Fit seems to have worked well. Besides the moniker making the concept clearer to an English-speaking audience, its conflation with Sweden has been advantageous. Swedish Fit is a new trend at the point of delivery to new participants, yet they have the assurance that it has been tested by the Swedes and carries evidence that it works. The evidence is unequivocally borne from in research studies and citizen surveys that have consistently classified the Swedes as being amongst the happiest people on earth. They are likewise renowned for being amongst the healthiest nations on the planet. Their average life expectancy is over 80 years and engenders the thinking that the Swedes are clearly getting health and well-being right. Therefore anything Swedish has an immediate catch-on effect.

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Keep it Fun  

The key draw of Swedish Fit has been the complete package it offers in the duration of only an hour, and that it welcomes people of all fitness competencies. Larchet explains that its routines are designed as such that our muscles are made to work in a manner wherein we don’t realise it. So the workout becomes fun and not hard. This is achieved by using the body, especially arm movements as resistance, as compared to weights in formats like BodyPump and by alternating tougher sequences with much easier ones. It offers a wider range of movements than most other forms of aerobic exercise. 

These movement sequences are performed to an equally wide range of music – English and European pop with an energising tempo, to the relaxing rhythm of jazz. Even Abba makes an appearance! Some of the movements are reminiscent of the 1980s (think Jane Fonda) while others have been taken straight from the school playground, simpler and much more accessible to beginners. The sequences are linked in ways to maximise the calories burnt without the feeling of exhaustion. 

Input from doctors, physiotherapists and osteopaths ensure all movements are joint friendly, making it a good exercise format to ease people with certain medical conditions into fitness, or those who have had to take a hiatus from physical activity. 

A Different Workout 

The class I joined began with a warm-up to music, which seemed significantly longer than most exercise routines. When the instructor said “…and that was the warm-up” another newcomer exchanged a surprised smile because we didn't realise we had been in the warm-up phase all the while! 

The warm-up was familiar in movements like the grapevine but different in the majestic hand movements that went along with the footwork, the speed of the sequences and pace of the music. The class oscillated between high-octane and slower-paced sequences, where I experienced a sense of recovery within the routine. 

The floor sequences, with the exception of the last routine to stretch and relax, were most challenging. They were predominantly centred around working the abdominals. These sequences seemed relentless but the instructor did give us ’easier’ options so we could work at our pace and to our level of fitness. The circular running and then on the spot jogging to effervescent hand movements injected a burst of energy, a point of dramatic transition prior to a lengthy cool-down. 

High-Octane Tai Chi 

My experience of the Swedish Fit workout, in places, conjured the feeling of tai chi but in a high-octane form. Tai chi has its origins in martial arts, while Swedish Fit’s precursor, Friskis and Svettis, had acrobatics and gymnastics at its epicentre. In both, the body is central yet their methods are divergent. The redolence to tai chi was in the rhythmic movements common to both forms, although its movements are coordinated to become ’meditation in motion’. Swedish Fit is more corporeal, yet achieves movement with rhythm in ways that put less strain on the body. 

A salient point of Swedish Fit’s rapid popularity is that it is among the most affordable exercise classes, especially in London. All are under a tenner and some outdoor sessions are free where passersby can join in the fun. Regular classes will stimulate the cardiovascular system, increase endurance levels, strengthen muscles, burn calories, improve posture, coordination, flexibility and balance, and as with all physical exercise, bust stress. 

We ended our class with quacking ducks by our ears and the clouds over our heads as we lay on our mats for the final stretching and relaxation sequences. Once we finished and exchanged notes, we felt the euphoria of a good workout but without exhaustion.