Join the YMCA G.I.R.L.S. Move Programme

Join the YMCA G.I.R.L.S. Move Programme

Empowering girls to be more physically and emotionally healthy

Our G.I.R.L.S. Move project is all about empowerment and physical activity, supporting young girls to become more physically active in a non-traditional way. We work with girls aged 11-19 from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities to build their self confidence and self-esteem and provide leadership training. 

What’s involved? 

By participating in this 3-week programme, girls embark on a journey to explore their identity, confidence, and self-esteem. Time is allocated to talk about body image, self-esteem, leadership, and confidence, and there’s also an opportunity to get physically active. There’s no need to worry — the physical aspects don’t need to be traditional activities. It’s all about each individual and what they feel comfortable with.   


Monday 12th September: 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Monday 19th September: 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Monday 26th September: 5:30pm – 7:30pm


Central YMCA Club  

112 Great Russell Street London, WC1B 3NQ 
1 min from Tottenham Court Road Tube station 

Want to join us?

Meet Declan: Physical Activity Hero finalist

Meet Declan: Physical Activity Hero finalist

Declan Duncan has been inspiring people to be more physically active here at Central YMCA Club for over 20 years.

After a long journey at Central YMCA, Declan is now our Community Programmes & Volunteer Manager and is responsible for a great number of programmes, which have a considerable impact in our communities. These include health and wellbeing programmes for Older Adults, people living with HIV, people recovering from Cancer, and those with mental health problems; he also runs our short lifestyle courses and volunteering programme. We are so proud of Declan for this recognition and for everything he has achieved. 

The ukActive Physical Activity Hero Award

The award highlights those who have impacted and inspired the people they engage with and showcases the transformational impact of physical activity on health, happiness, and wellbeing. Declan’s work and dedication is being highlighted along with 7 others, before the winner is announced in early June. To celebrate this achievement, we are sharing his incredible story. 

Before YMCA

Declan was born in South Africa, where he graduated from Pinelands High School in 1988. He trained in nursing at the prestigious Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town – the first hospital in the world to ever perform a successful heart transplant. After qualifying as a nurse, Declan arrived in the UK in 1996. Although he only expected to stay for one and a half years, he’s still here over twenty years later!  

Declan’s motivation to help others led him to his first job in London – working with Cancer and HIV+ patients at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. While working full-time as a nurse, Declan pursued his interest in health and fitness by also studying to become a personal trainer with Central YMCA: 

“I looked up YMCA, because I knew they had a good reputation.” 

Having joined Central YMCA in 1999, he still remembers his tutors Denise Page and Tracy Bell; “you know they were good tutors when you remember their names 20-odd years later!” It was these inspiring tutors who directed Declan to a volunteering opportunity at YMCA Club.  

Becoming part of YMCA Club 

“I remember the day that I walked through the doors at reception when I came to apply as a volunteer. I had no idea of the impact that it would have on my life. I honestly felt so welcomed when I first arrived, and so safe and listened to. That’s what I’ve always wanted to recreate, when I was lucky enough to become a manager.” 

Declan’s journey with the Club started in 2000. He first started as a volunteer on our Positive Health Programme, an exercise referral programme for those living with HIV, before becoming an employed Fitness Instructor on the programme in 2005.  

With his background in medical care for people with HIV, Declan describes how he was inspired by the Positive Health programme: 

“It is, to my knowledge, one-of-a-kind in the whole of the UK. I don’t think there is any other exercise or social prescription programme which focusses on the condition of HIV. It is unique, so I applied to volunteer.” 

By 2005, Declan had moved to the Cancer and HIV wards at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in South Kensington, balancing his part-time work at the Club with his nursing career. However, in 2007, Declan was offered a job as Community Programmes Manager for the Older Adults programme – leaving nursing behind to pursue his work at Central YMCA. He has been here full-time ever since!  

Running a team  

Declan has overseen the introduction of many innovative programmes at the Club, which have aimed to get people active again after long periods away from exercise. These include RENEW, an exercise referral programme for young people living with Cancer, Project Gym, which engages young men with haemophilia, and Mind Body Matters, a programme providing exercise support to students struggling with their mental health at Birbeck University. He is incredibly grateful to his colleagues at the Club for the roles that they have played: 

 “I feel proud of what my team and volunteers do, and humbled to be around such incredible people.”  

Declan’s impact on the community, especially the Older Adults programme, has been huge. Growing the community programme membership by 11%, with over 1000 members of the gym being over 60, many of these members attended the gym solely to partake in Declan’s exercise classes. Declan’s caring and thoughtful approach to his work is motivated by his genuine respect for each one of his programmes’ members:  

“For me, it’s always important that people feel safe when they come into the Club; that they feel that they are valued as a person, that they are included. They are not just a ‘Club member’ – every name has a story behind it.” 

“It is the members that keep inspiring me over the years. I’ve been lucky enough to have an amazing team of staff and all my volunteers, who help across the Positive Health and Older Adults programmes. We wouldn’t be able to do half the work that we do without them. When times are tough, these are the people who keep me going.” 

Keeping the community together  

As the pandemic struck in 2019, Declan stepped up as the main point of contact for our community members who were shielding, isolated or at risk of loneliness and inactivity. He noticed that a lot of elderly Club members used YouTube but did not have access to any other social media sites, so he started filming Zumba and strength training exercise classes specifically for them and posting these on YouTube. This helped to keep the Older Adults moving and offered them a sense of normality and community during the difficult lockdown period. 

Declan’s dedication to the Older Adults’ wellbeing has been incredibly inspiring. He added to his YouTube videos by sending out light-hearted, fun monthly newsletters, which had links to his exercise videos for easy access, and health eating tips; even calling some of the members once a week, who did not have access to the internet.  

A lot of the Older Adults told Declan how much they valued seeing a familiar face and hearing his voice: 

“I feel it gave them something to look forward to.” 

“Some of the older adults felt completely lost without the gym. One gentleman would walk past every day hoping that we were open, even though we were in lockdown. It tugs at your heartstrings – you don’t realise the impact that coming here has on people.” 

Helping people over lockdown 

One woman told Declan how much she looked forward to his emails and videos, because she had spent lockdown alone. In fact, Declan’s YouTube exercise videos became very popular, with one of them reaching over 97,000 views. People from all over the world left reviews, telling us how much his energy and kindness had helped them. What started as a way of keeping our members active and in contact during such a difficult time became a worldwide hit.  

Arvinda Gohil, Chief Executive at Central YMCA said:

“We are extremely proud of Declan’s work, and it is fantastic to see that his work is being recognised nationally. His work at Central YMCA UK and his dedication to helping others have impacted the lives of so many people within our community and across the world.”

Here are just some of the people who Declan’s exercise routines have impacted: 

“I found your videos on YouTube and I can’t tell you how excited I am every day to do them! Thank you for all you do, and be safe during this extremely difficult time!”– Linda (New York, USA) 

“I discovered your YouTube channel a few weeks ago and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy and appreciate your classes. I’m currently being treated for leukaemia but still wanted to stay as active as possible and your easy Zumba classes are just the ticket! I dance around in my front parlour much to the amusement of my partner. I cannot always complete the entire session, but I have so much fun (even if I seem to have two left feet!) and your friendly smile keeps me going. Thank you so very much for all you do. Stay safe!” – Cynthia (Washington, USA) 

“It’s nice to see a friendly face that you know” – Kathy (UK) 

Volunteering on the COVID wards 

In addition to throwing himself into continuing to provide helpful services during COVID, Declan decided to use his remaining time and nursing skills to help during the pandemic: 

“I had to do something and help out.” 

One week after this decision, he was doing 12-hour shifts volunteering on the COVID wards of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. He recalls the hardship that he witnessed:  

“Every ward was a COVID ward… there were no visitors. We were just running, all the time. What struck me was how tired some of the nurses, doctors, porters and housekeeping staff looked. Anyone who doesn’t believe in COVID needs to go and work on one of those wards.”  

Declan recounts the Army being drafted in in January to help the exhausted medical staff, some of whom had to isolate themselves. He saw soldiers walking around the hospital performing emergency duties, which he described as “eerie”. 

“It was scary, it was very challenging and sad. There are some scenes that I hope I never see again.” 

“My YMCA was like a break”, a refuge of normality. After the stress and horrors of the COVID wards, seeing familiar Club members’ pictures appearing on his screen brought him happiness and reassurance. For Declan, keeping that balance between the hospital and YMCA was what allowed him to keep going.  

Returning to normal 

After lockdown was lifted and life began to return to normal, one of the first groups which returned to the Club were the Older Adult and Positive Health members. 

There was a queue down the street to enter the Club at 9am on opening day. To ensure that they could return to the Club safely, Declan began creating Older Adults’ accounts for them to book their exercise slots, or even booked them in under his own name. Declan recalls their enthusiasm to return to his classes, and the measures put in place to protect them: 

“They were wanting to move again, in their familiar space. It was quite nerve-racking for them, so it was important to reassure them that we were doing things safely in the building, with face-coverings, hand-sanitizer, regular cleaning and a one-way system. Everyone pulled together.” 

The impact Central YMCA has had on Declan 

“It’s been a long journey – volunteer, part-time, full-time. What’s always kept me here are the members. It’s been so great to see how the physical and social activities impact the Older Adults. I’ve really got to know them and their stories. It’s so interesting when they talk about their pasts, because these are the old London tales that you’re hearing. They are really, really fun characters. Seeing the impact that exercise has on people and seeing them start to take ownership of their fitness is really quite inspiring.” 

“It’s made me more aware of my own health and fitness, I was never the sporty type at school! I never thought I’d work in the fitness industry. But seeing the impact of this place on staff and members over the years has also had an impact on me.” 

“I have spent most of my working adult life at YMCA. It’s been a real privilege to have worked here for so long, and to have interacted with so many interesting and diverse people across the years.”  

Free Pilates classes for BAME women

Free Pilates classes for BAME women

A 6-week programme which helps reduce

health inequalities in Camden

Here at Central YMCA we work to break down barriers and improve access to life-changing opportunities. That’s why we are delighted to be partnering with Voluntary Action Camden to help improve access and reduce health inequalities for Camden’s Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic community.

Join our free 6-week Pilates programme specifically catered to Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic (BAME) women who are looking to get active and improve their health and wellbeing. These classes offer a safe space for you to feel at ease and connect with other women in a calm and quiet studio which cannot be overlooked by the public.

When it runs:

Starting 22 August 2022, the programme ran on Mondays and Wednesdays for 6 weeks. *This programme has finished. We’ll let you know if we run another in the future!


YMCA KX in Kings Cross

120 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8BS

What the programme includes: 

Group introduction 
2 classes per week run over 6 weeks
Small group sessions
Final group celebration 

8 Steps to Improve Your Health and Wellbeing

8 Steps to Improve Your Health and Wellbeing

Our resident Nutritionist, Nick Owen gives his guidance in helping you make healthy food choices.

So, after the challenging year we’ve had due to the pandemic, what’s your verdict on your health and fitness?

Some of us will have been pleased with the progress we have made, as we swapped the barbells for a tin of baked beans! But others may be less pleased with our progress. Many studies have shown an increase in inactivity, loneliness, depression and anxiety brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic,

After a strange and difficult time, let’s review and re-boot!

Healthy Consistency

Remember, it is the regular food choices that we make hour by hour, meal by meal, week by week that determine how we look and feel every day. Our body shape, appearance, mental agility, body fat, concentration and physical ability are all a reflection of these regular choices. The same is true with activity – are we consciously active; do we make time in our schedule for exercise, for walking, taking the stairs, regularly getting up from our desk, and moving around both in the day and the evening?

Our diets should be enjoyable, tasty, and predominantly filled with foods we know to be healthy and which we consume in moderation. It is about making healthier choices most of the time – of course, there is room for cheat meals, nights out and drinks in moderation – that is part of a healthy, balanced, and social life.

Chasing this quick fix isn’t the way to go about things, which is why I share below eight steps that I think I think will enable you to adopt a ‘Healthy Consistency’ and will have a far greater successful long term impact on your mental and physical health.

So here are eight tips to help you make the most of this period.

Step 1: Avoid ‘Low-Fat’ and Processed Foods

Step 2: Eat Proper Meals

Step 3: Embrace Variety

Step 4: Don’t Leave Out Food Groups

Step 5: Fruit and Vegetables

Step 6: Plan Your Meals

Step 7: Accept yourself

Step 8: Think Consistently Healthy with a Healthy Consistency

About the author

Nick Owen is a qualified nutritional adviser and holds a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support a wide variety of client goals. These include weight management, fat loss and muscle building, general health and well-being, improved energy levels, concentration and complexion.

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One response to “8 Steps to Improve Your Health and Wellbeing”

  1. Ola Durotoye avatar
    Ola Durotoye


Still thinking of skipping leg day?

Thinking of skipping leg day?

Most of us have a friend or training partner who goes missing on leg day, or comes up with excuses such as knee problems, an old sports injury, etc… But they are missing out, as research has shown that training your legs at least once a week results in numerous benefits. Beyond building sizeable quads, you can increase your testosterone levels, enhance your fat loss, eat what you like and make sure your body’s geometry is working in your favour.

Here are four good reasons why you should train your legs at least once a week.

1. It spikes muscle-building hormones: 
Performing heavy squats has been shown to increase testosterone levels, helping to maintain muscular size as well as strength. However, to get this hormonal boost, exercises such as squats should be performed at the appropriate intensity. An effective workout would be 5 x 5 (5 sets of 5 reps) back squats at roughly 85% of your 1RM (one repetition maximum).

2. It enhances fat loss: 
The squat in its many variations is a great movement. Being a compound lift, it hits almost every muscle in the body, particularly your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and abs. This movement allows you to retain lean body mass and promote fat loss as it requires greater energy expenditure, elevating post exercise metabolic rates for a prolonged period. It may also enhance post exercise lipid oxidation (the fat burning process).

3. Eat big after a heavy leg session: 
After a heavy weight training session such as squats, you can enjoy yourself and eat a big filling meal. Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine discovered that heavy weight training increases the efficiency of a protein called GLUT4, which improves insulin sensitivity and the rate at which we absorb and use glucose. This means the food you eat will be more effectively used to repair and build muscles used in the session.

4. People notice bad geometry: 
If you want to look more attractive, don’t skip leg day. Leonardo Da Vinci, inspired by the architect Marcus Vitruvius, created his famous Vitruvian Man to illustrate the “golden ratio” – the mathematical determination of what is objectively attractive. If you don’t work those leg muscles, you might not measure up. Still thinking of missing leg day? Then you better be best friends with the squat rack.

A few tips to remember while doing squats:

Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, and point your toes slightly outwards
Squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor
Try not to extend your knees past your toes
Don’t arch your back
Keep your chest lifted and look forward
Drive into the heel and squeeze your glutes as you stand


Nassim Hamadache is our Pool Fitness Manager and started working here at the Club as a lifeguard four years ago while completing a degree in Business Management.  He began swimming at the age of seven at school where he developed a passion for swimming. Since graduating, Nassim has developed his career in the fitness industry and holds the ASA Swimfit Activator as well as being qualified as a Gym Instructor.  As well as managing the pool, he teaches classes on a timetable including TRX (Suspension Training) and Indoor Cycling.

7 Reasons women should lift weights

7 Reasons women should lift weights

Some women fear that lifting heavy weights will make them bulky, but this is unlikely because women have 10 to 30 less of the hormones that cause hypertophy. Lifting heavy weights can help women feel healthier, stronger and more confident in everything they do. Resistance training can benefit women in all aspects of their lives, from feeling comfortable in their clothes, to being able to move something heavy, through to dealing with anything stressful. Here are some of the benefits of weight lifting…

In March 2022, we surveyed women who graduated from our fitness courses in the last 5 years to understand the barriers that they have faced within the fitness industry. The survey highlighted that:

1. It’s key to losing fat 
Weight lifting increases your body’s ability to burn fat during and after exercise – your body uses more oxygen, requires more caloric expenditure and it increases your metabolic rate. As you increase strength and lean muscle mass, your body uses calories more efficiently. 

2. Reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes
Lifting weights makes it less likely that you will have heart disease risk factors such as a large waist circumference and high triglycerides (blood fats). It will also improve your cardiovascular health which will help to lower your blood pressure. Using weight training as part of your routine will also improve the way your body processes sugar, which may reduce the risk of diabetes.

3. Strengthens your bones
Osteoporosis is the decrease in bone density that weakens the bone structure. The risk of osteoporosis increases with age and women are four times more likely than men to develop it because bone loss speeds up after the menopause as ovaries stop producing oestrogen. One way to increase bone density is to repeatedly use greater loads on the bones which can be achieved through resistance training. New formation of bone develops on the bone’s outer surface, creating stronger bones that are less likely to fracture. Because of bone and muscle loss, postmenopausal women should continue regular progressive resistance training as long as their health allows.

4. Decreases your risk of injury
Lifting weights not only builds stronger muscles but also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability.  This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury.

5. Improves sleep
Weight lifting improves your ability to fall asleep faster and sleep deeper. You will also be less restless as you sleep and it can also release some of your worries.

6. It’s anti-ageing 
After women reach the age of 30, muscle density starts to decrease and the trend continues as they get older. Lean body mass can decrease 15 percent between the ages of 30 and 80. This loss is accompanied by a decrease in overall strength. Follow a well-planned resistance training program that increases the size of muscle fibres and this will help combat the age-related loss of muscle that normally occurs in women.

7. Boosts stamina and energy levels
When you are stronger you have more energy for day to day tasks and you don’t get anywhere near as tired.

Above all, weight lifting: 

Improves your mood and confidence
Gives a sense of achievement
Creates a constant challenge
Improves body control and awareness
Helps you feel strong and toned

How to get started?
Where you start with weight training depends on your current experience and fitness level. If you have trouble with basic movements and balance, seek guidance from a Personal Trainer who can ensure you are using proper form to prevent injuries and to get the most out of your workout. 
You can also learn a lot by joining one of our weightlifting exercise classes such as Kettlebells or Sculpt. You can also book a Gym Health Assessment to get one-to-one advice with one of our Health and Fitness Advisors, just talk to reception to book.