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Christopher Quinn and Matthew Kiff

Lift and Let Die: James Bond’s gym in the heart of Putney

A gym with a proud history is powering ahead as covid restrictions fade from memory.

Physical Culture is tucked under the railway arches near Putney High Street. 

The club was founded almost a century ago by Margaret Grey, a wealthy spinster from Kensington, to encourage people to get fit. 

She even kept it running during the Second World War, when the 1,000-strong female membership would write to male members who were away fighting.

The building is certainly inconspicuous – when I try to find it, I walk past it twice. It’s positioned in a residential area so plenty of people walk on without noticing. 

Many are familiar with Eddie Hall, the World’s Strongest Man, but I doubt that any of the passers-by realise the tradition of powerlifting here on their doorstep.

Chris Quinn, 58 has owned Physical Culture since the late 1980s. He began running it in a bid to ‘avoid work’.

Inside the gym

Quinn smiles when I ask him about the gym’s successful alumni. ‘Too many to count,’ he beams, and rattles off a list of famous names. 

James Bond actor Sean Connery trained there before and after snagging the 007 role. 

Plenty of champion weightlifters were also members, including twice bronze commonwealth medallist Michael Pearman, and Gary Taylor, who was the World’s Strongest Man of 1993. 

Even Olympians like shotput champion Graham Savory and javelin thrower Gary Powers trained there. 

When Quinn first went to Physical Culture in the 1980s he told me it was more basic than it is now. 

Back then there was moss growing on walls, water dripping from the ceiling and the cocktail of damp, rust and sweat made for a pungent damp mustard smell.  

All that has changed. While the gym retains its minimalist feel, there is no rust nor damp in sight. 

The equipment has also changed. When Quinn started, most of the equipment was still wooden and from the 1940s. 

Today, the gym stocks the Swedish Eleiko barbells – famous as the highest quality in the powerlifting world. 

Most of the equipment is geared towards powerlifting, though I spotted two cardio machines.

‘Hardly anyone uses them,’ says Quinn. 

This superb quality of apparatus, Quinn argues, is one reason why people would and should choose to come there rather than a commercial gym like PureGym. 

He describes the experience as a polar opposite.

He also mentions the camaraderie side: “You feel like you’re part of something rather than just paying to attain something.”

Best of all, you have an expert in Quinn who is happy to guide you in your training, drawing on his experience of champions, whether you’re a beginner or an old-hand.

In an age where people want to support independent businesses rather than avoiding shopping and buying coffee at chains, gyms seemed to have missed out on this wave. 

As Quinn and I walk round Putney, I notice a PureGym. He stops and points to the locations of about four gyms within eyesight.

“It’s like there’s one on every corner,” he says.

Inside Physical Culture

Post coronavirus, Quinn tells me he is concerned. 

Although the club still has about 100 members, a number have not been back since the pandemic. Looking forward he sounds unsure about the future of the club. 

A lot of these members he tells me have moved away from London during lockdown because of value for money in the capital compared to commuter towns. 

When I looked round the gym on a Saturday afternoon it was noticeably quiet. There were only three or four lifters in the whole gym. 

Pre-covid, Quinn tells me, there would have been three or four per piece of equipment.

It’s sad hearing about a gym with such a rich history and with all that it has to offer, facing difficulties. 

I powerlift at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club which, like Physical Culture, is a specialist weight gym. 

It was founded in 1926, and whenever I train I’m surrounded by walls plastered with photos stretching back to the 1930s. It’s vital these old gyms should thrive – they do so much good. 

They are staffed by friendly people ready to help even if you’ve never picked a dumbbell up before, and the members are always welcoming to new joiners. 

Strength training is fantastic for mental as well as physical health – as I can confirm.  It has made me feel more confident in my everyday life and I can’t recommend it enough. 

Given that Physical Culture has survived World War Two it would be a shame for all that history and tradition to be wiped away by coronavirus. 

Physical Culture welcomes new members so click the link here for their website 

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37 Comments
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Matt
Matt
15 February 2022 10:27 am

I’ve been a member here for the past 2 years – hands down the best gym I’ve ever had the privilege to train at. Equipment and members are second to none.

Clive O'Riordan
Clive O'Riordan
14 February 2022 4:37 pm

This is the best gym! It’s an iconic gym in SW London. Let’s hope it’s membership grows back to pre pandemic levels.

Amber
Amber
14 February 2022 1:06 pm

Before moving to London I had the pleasure of training at this gym and then looked for a home based on being close to PC.
Brilliant gym, cannot recommend it enough – great energy. Chris is amazing.
As Katie also wrote – great place to train as a female, none of the rubbish I’ve also had to deal with in commercial gyms!

Mike Winstanley
Mike Winstanley
14 February 2022 9:49 am

Imagine training somewhere where people, without prompting or agenda, recognise you’re pushing your limits, step away from their training and focus their energy on you to encourage you to make that new personal best. That’s this place. I miss it every time I step into a different gym.

Alison
Alison
13 February 2022 11:31 pm

Such an amazing gym, great to see an article on it. Was a member for 3 years before moving away and miss it so much. No other gym has a vibe like PC!

Laura Sprenger
Laura Sprenger
13 February 2022 9:45 am

The value of such an inheritance is priceless. I’m glad to have had the chance to immerse myself in such an atmosphere

Rebecca Jones
Rebecca Jones
13 February 2022 12:41 am

Such a little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow- an amazing place

Anna Manenti
Anna Manenti
12 February 2022 11:28 pm

Best gym ever! I had the pleasure of training there for a couple of months and I loved it… One day I’ll come back 🙂

Sarah Campbell
Sarah Campbell
12 February 2022 10:23 pm

Physical Culture is by far the best gym I’ve ever been a part of. We made SWL our home in London in large part due to PC. The rich history and famous past members makes it even cooler!

HUD SYAFIQ BIN HERMAN
HUD SYAFIQ BIN HERMAN
12 February 2022 10:04 pm

Physical Culture is one of the best gyms in London – I trained there for three years and would have trained there for longer I hadn’t had to move away.

Lukas P
Lukas P
12 February 2022 9:15 pm

After reading this article I can completely agree with that point where Chris was born to avoid any work know to human’s but in other hand that help him create the very best gym in London in my opinion ( I never experience Bethnal Green and I can’t comment ).
You can go to Pure Gym or other chain crap but why you want to eat in McDonald’s if you can be seated in 3 star Michelin restaurant 🤷🏻‍♂️

Matt
Matt
12 February 2022 9:04 pm

Great gym. Unrivalled in SW London

Rhys
Rhys
12 February 2022 9:03 pm

You never know who you may be training next to here. A car salesman, a former Australian Rugby International, a lady from the Royal Ballet, a Naval Captain or some kid who likes to shout “UP!!” a lot. It is undeniably a microcosm for strength training with a focuses, dedicated and ultimately friendly clientele.

Jeff
Jeff
12 February 2022 8:30 pm

The best equipped gym I’ve trained at. We need more gyms like this

Fabrizio Calio
Fabrizio Calio
12 February 2022 8:28 pm

This the Best gym in London !!!!

Thei Sparks
Thei Sparks
12 February 2022 8:22 pm

It’s a great gym

Desdemona Tilica
Desdemona Tilica
12 February 2022 8:11 pm

I used to train at Physical Culture until about 2 years ago and it was the best gym experience! It’s not only about the place itself and the great quality equipment, it’s also about its members and the friendly and supportive culture they’ve built together. I miss this gym a lot!

Tom
Tom
12 February 2022 8:06 pm

Best Gym in south west London. Been a member for 5 years and love it.

Hannah
Hannah
12 February 2022 7:09 pm

Best gym in London for strength training. Fantastic range of equipment and friendly atmosphere.

Sarah Kennard
Sarah Kennard
12 February 2022 6:58 pm

Best gym ever. The only thing I miss from south of the river – no meta-spin classes here, just a great owner, fabulous equipment and a take-us-as-you-find-us attitude. Left in 2016 due to moving out of the area and still friends with Chris to this day.

I’ve even considered whether I can justify the hour each way commute from my north london home to re-join.

What I loved about raves back in the 90s were the small, sweaty, shabby, effortlessly cool clubs with a great vibe and the best DJs. PC is the Helter Skelter of the gym world 🖤

Ally Carvell
Ally Carvell
12 February 2022 6:39 pm

Great gym with great equipment. It’s hard to find gyms like this. A real jewel for training enthusiasts, and a welcome relief from the copy and paste commerical gyms.

Desdemona Tilica
Desdemona Tilica
12 February 2022 6:33 pm

I used to train at Physical Culture until about 2 years ago and it was the best gym experience! It’s not only about the place itself and the great quality equipment, it’s also about its members and the friendly and supportive culture they’ve built together. I miss this gym a lot!

Sunny Tank
Sunny Tank
12 February 2022 6:32 pm

Fantastic Gym with all the equipment you could want. Great Members and brilliant atmosphere to train in. No better Gym in SouthWest London.

Samuel Lesbirel
Samuel Lesbirel
12 February 2022 6:28 pm

PC has more quality equipment in a metre squared than most gyms have in total. Best gym in England by far

Fred Versen
Fred Versen
12 February 2022 6:23 pm

Been a member here 4 years – fantastic gym! Great equipment and a brilliant community of fellow members 💪

Diane Stockwell
Diane Stockwell
12 February 2022 6:23 pm

Without doubt the best gym in London. Well equipped with Top Spec kit and bars. Anyone who is serious about their training should be training there.

Shirou
Shirou
12 February 2022 6:21 pm

Handsdown the best gym in London! I love this place so much!

Charlie
Charlie
12 February 2022 6:20 pm

Not many gyms around that have the same history as PCG!

Kieran
Kieran
12 February 2022 6:17 pm

Ideal local gym, more like a members club. Everyone welcome, friendly atmosphere, far superior to the tacky corporate gyms.

John Aitken
John Aitken
12 February 2022 6:12 pm

The best gym I have ever trained in and I’ve been in gyms around the world. If you’re serious about strength training this is THE place to go to. A great, welcoming atmosphere a real mix of age groups and abilities but everyone serious about getting stronger. The kit is second to none, Eleiko, Rogue, Ivanko.. a range of specialist bars & Chris who runs the club is always looking to improve the kit and the trading experience of the members. 5*, I can’t recommend this gym highly enough – I’ve moved away from London owing to work but still maintain a membership just so I can train there when I get the opportunity.

Sunny
Sunny
12 February 2022 5:49 pm

Fantastic gym with all the kit you could want and amazing members and atmosphere. No better gym in South West London.

Antonio
Antonio
12 February 2022 5:46 pm

Keep going guys! Amazing gym

Sere
Sere
12 February 2022 5:23 pm

I feel so privileged and proud to be a member of Physical Culture ❤️

Diane
Diane
12 February 2022 4:58 pm

Physical Culture, absolutely awesome gym. I’ve trained here for over 5 years and this gym is in a league of its own.

Alistair Murdoch
Alistair Murdoch
11 February 2022 7:30 am

This place has an aura about it! Simply the best place to train in the South West!

Darren
Darren
10 February 2022 11:05 pm

Great to see pc on the press. Been a member for 6 years, even moved to Putney to be closer to it. Fantastic club!

Katie Sandford
Katie Sandford
10 February 2022 4:52 pm

I love this gym. It’s friendly and has a great atmosphere. I’ve found the big budget gyms are less fun to lift in as a woman.

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