James Jackson loves an after-work workout. “There’s nothing better than enjoying an evening yoga or conditioning class while watching the sun set over the city,” he says. Handy, then, that Jackson’s choice of workout spot is also his work.
Jackson is the head of health and fitness at Paramount Recreation Club in Surry Hills – touted as a gym for people who don’t like gyms. Opening in the Paramount Pictures Building in 2018, its sleek design – lashings of blond timber and exposed concrete, and a Palm Springs palette of crisp white and blue, with accents of green courtesy of a generous array of indoor plants – made it the most Instagram-worthy place to work out in the city.
“Evenings are one of the most beautiful times of the day up on the roof,” Jackson says of the spot. “They’re also one of the most important. Our clientele often work long and stressful days, so we see ourselves as this third space between the office and home. Somewhere they can let off steam, decompress from the day and reset.”
An evening gym session here comes with extra benefits, says Jackson. “Studies suggest working out in the evening can do wonders for our sleep patterns, digestion and stress levels.” The trainer personally likes to use the twilight hours to swim laps or run to the Opera House and back, when he’s not practising his downward dog.
At the Paramount Recreation Club, health is treated as a holistic concept. “Rather than just focusing on improving the physical body, we create a program around mental and social health, too,” says Jackson. “We think of the club as a place for members to work out, hang out and feel like they’re part of a like-minded and supportive community. We want to make sure anyone who experiences the rec club leaves feeling better than when they arrived.”
A weekly program of more than 100 small group classes is based on the club’s three pillars of strength, conditioning and movement. Each pillar includes a number of different classes, from yoga, Pilates and meditation to strength training, boxing and cardio. The club’s signature class, the Paramount Workout, is a mix of all three pillars and “provides a perfectly balanced 55-minute routine,” says Jackson.
But group classes form just one component of a club-wide offering that includes personal training, massage and an evolving public program of workshops, talks, dance, masterclasses, films and more. “It’s important for us to engage our members and wider community in a diverse and interesting way,” says Jackson. “[It helps us] make sure we’re providing them with as many opportunities as possible to connect.”
Like the residents of its surrounding Surry Hills neighbourhood, the club’s clientele is a diverse mix. “Because our classes are generally no more than eight people, we’re able to provide individual attention to each participant and cater to a wide range of experience and fitness levels,” says Jackson. “Our general vibe is always fun, safe, challenging and not too serious. Although don’t think you’ll walk away without breaking a sweat.”
A major drawcard for the club is the Kiosk, a cafe open to the public for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. The menu, developed with the help of Longrain alumni Griff Pamment and Sam Christie, draws on international cuisines with a SoCal take on health and freshness. Breakfast options include half a grapefruit, a chia cup, or protein pancakes topped with cashew cream, almond butter, maple walnuts and fresh berries. For lunch, there’s the Californian tofu burrito and the Gado, Hollywood and Kerala curry bowls.
“Including a food offering in the club was something we thought a lot about when we first opened,” says Jackson. “So many gyms and health clubs operate on a ‘swipe in, swipe out’ basis, without giving their members a reason to really engage with the space. For us, including places to eat, work, relax and spend time is a way to encourage our community to feel more at home here.”
The club is located in a precinct surrounding Commonwealth Street that boasts some of the most innovative operators in inner Sydney. “Golden Age Cinema & Bar, our sister business, is somewhere I like to spend time after work. They’ve got an amazing film and live music program, a killer Negroni, and the best toastie in town,” says Jackson.
Among his top local dining picks are the organic wines and premium bites of Poly, South-East Asian star Chin Chin and Dan Peperell’s Italian diner Alberto’s. “Shwarmama is a new fancy kebab shop that’s just opened for lunch and dinner and is great to grab takeout from and head to the park.” In vibrant Surry Hills, he says, “there’s always a sense that something exciting is about to open up just around the corner, and there’s always somewhere new to eat.”