Trialled & Tested: F45
30 days ago I cautiously set foot into a F45 studio for the very first time. Cautiously, because unlike most fitness studios I bound into overly excited, here I was tentative about the likelihood of becoming brainwashed and submitting myself to the ranks of functional fitness fiends and #DanConn (update: who has actually moved on from the franchise to become the face of Orange Theory) fandom.
If you’re not in the know, or haven’t been on Instagram recently, F45 is a functional fitness method with sessions that last (surprise, surprise) 45 minutes. Some days it’s all out cardio, some its slow and focused resistance training and others its a torturous mix of the two, looking at you "Hollywood".
The F45 Cult
The mania sweeping across the world that surrounds the franchise start up is now officially cult status. You can’t scroll the 'gram without seeing that logo, the friends-group chat is all about teeing up sessions together, there's hi-5’s, chummy competition and you can't escape the ‘define’ transformation images of sub-10% body fat physiques and chiselled abs in your Facebook feed.
I’ve watched friends, colleagues and strangers on social media alike get addicted to the F45 drug and always managed to escape its grasp. “I can't do HIIT at the moment” was always my very valid excuse (I’ve been recovering from Adrenal Fatigue). But I also sat back, scoffed a little at the concept and tried to figure out why on earth people were so obsessed with a workout that was set by some blokes in Australia and then pumped out in 480 gyms down under and 840 worldwide, in exactly the same format.
Looking for workouts you can do anywhere? Try one of these Ready, Set, Sweat sessions.
The more I resisted, the more my intrigue grew – like an itch you can’t scratch, I wanted to know what makes this brand of fitness so successful. With founder Rob Deutsch telling the Sydney Morning Herald the franchise is growing faster than McDonald’s and is now the fourth fastest growing franchise in the world, clearly there is some sort of magic formula here.
In the end it was FOMO that sliced my resolve. Though I knew I was getting sucked into mass marketing and peer pressure, when my partner decided to trial the gym, I wasn’t going to miss out.
30 days of training
So, full of more than a healthy dose of preconceived judgement and a little anxious about how my recovering body would cope, I joined the F45 Amoy Street, Singapore team, for a month, sweating it out 3-4x a week and to my surprise - or shall I say fulfilling that F45 destiny - I’m really enjoying it.
I’ve made F45 friends. I stalk other gyms Instagram stories to get a preview of what the workout will be that day. I have mates messaging me saying they can’t believe I’ve joined the cult. And now, I’ve signed up for a long-term membership. Shit...
So, what's the magic formula?
The F45 offering is base level simplicity. The studios, in comparison to the beautifully kitted out boutique gyms emerging in London and New York, are basic yet functional, in design and in equipment supply, but packed out with plasma screens and F45 branding. However, it is in this simplicity that the appeal of the product is grasped upon by the masses. Strip out the power lifting of CrossFit (their biggest competitor), offer a progressive overload of workouts mixing cardio and strength – so you CAN train 6 days a week – offer short sessions that anyone can fit into a busy schedule, make it dead easy to follow and build a team environment where everyone is sweating together. That's it. Sold.
Cost-per-use incentivised Membership
Then they get you with a membership offering that incentivises you to get your ass to class. Generally, members pay a weekly fee to rock up for sessions. The gym we go to charges $89 SGD a week for unlimited sessions on a flexible scheme. Now this is more expensive than a regular gym, but way cheaper than PT sessions. Sitting in the middle of these two, suddenly you think okay, unlimited, so the more times I visit, the cheaper this becomes for me. If you end up going 3 times a week that's $29 SGD per session, go to all 6x in a week, per session you’re only forking out $14 SGD and you’ll be getting some serious fitness time in as well.
Though, I really endorse this not being the only exercise you do - it's important to incorporate other movement and practices, such as Pilates, where possible to counteract the immense stress it puts on your body.
What sucks you in
The set up and format of the sessions are ridiculously clear. A duo-team of trainers will talk you through the workout before the session begins, but if you miss that, there are screens plastered all around the gym telling you exactly what to do and when.
No time wasters
With time being our most precious commodity these days, F45 strips away any time wastage by doing all the hard work of programming and equipment set up for you. When you step foot in that gym, everything is ready to go – there is no more wasted time and faffing about trying to figure out what you are going to do or standing in line waiting for some gym bro to move off the squat rack. Simply show up, get sweating and then leave.
The company excels in simple, yet effective programming. The workouts ( pumped out from a head office in Australia), are not ground breaking, but they are cleverly composed according to fitness principles of focus, time under pressure and loading, which often leaves you wondering how the hell they got you to do that. By alternating the focus daily from cardio or resistance based, which is essential for the desired physical results, they make the devoted want to attend as many sessions as possible in a week to get your fix of each. Clever F45. Very clever.
Community based competition
With gyms are popping up in neighbourhood areas branded as “Team Training - Life Changing”, the premise lays in building a community environment. As newcomers to a new city, or those tentative about beginning a workout regime, finding a space where you have a community is super helpful and helps strengthen adherence – a key element of life-long results. Plus, if you’re slightly competitive not only do you not want to miss a workout, you want to be matching your peers, so you’ll go harder and get more bang for your buck.
For those who are more inexperienced in the gym, are overwhelmed at the thought of creating programmes or have never lifted weights before, F45 is perfect. It shows you functional movement patterns, gets you trying out different exercises and sets you up with a formula that evidently gets results. Just check the #definechallenge for proof.
"I don't like that"...
Mass produced product
There’s always going to be a few downsides to a mass-produced concept, and that is the real sticking point for me of F45. From a PT’s point of view- when I enter as a client I know the in-house trainers haven’t devised the programme themselves - which doesn't mean they aren't qualified or have the expertise to offer great advice, but it does slightly edge me and sometimes you do feel as though the trainers are really just vessels for the product, not utilising their full potential and capabilities.
The role of the trainers
We are lucky in our current gym (Amoy Street, Singapore), to have experienced trainers who take the time to get you know you and will push you harder ( especially when they know you are just being lazy). But I have had many other friends or collaeagues complain about trainers who are disengaged, disinterested and once the initial explanation is done, offer little in the way of technique and motivation. I see this as just a byproduct of the concept in itself, when you take away a trainers’ own control of the workouts they are delivering, whilst it does cuts out a lot of their own hours of programming, it can also limit the sense of ownership leading to coaching feeling tedious and boring.
Form, technique and execution
The classes are fast paced and with up to 30 people in a class, there are a lot of people throwing around weights who may, or may not, have ever trained in the fundamentals of lifting prior to attending F45. Whilst there are two trainers in each session, the scope to be able to teach, instruct, correct and attend to each client whilst motivating the whole group, is often out of reach. The result? A tendency for a load of bad form going down around the place. As someone who specialises in rehabilitation and postural analysis, oftentimes I have to block out the surroundings for fear of wanting to correct them. But to be clear, that happens to me in pretty much all classes I attend and is not isolated to the F45 experience.
The missing element
You’re out of breath, sweating hard, pushing as the timer counts down the last 10 seconds and as it buzzes off, there’s Hi-5’s, sighs of relief and that's it, done. In terms of basic workout programming, this is a major lack. There is no active recovery, cool-down or mobilisation built into the workout. Luckily at our current gym, there is generally a period of 5-10 minutes before the next class comes in, so IF you are self-motivated you can stretch out yourself, however at other gyms I’ve been in, the next class is charging through the door as you finish and you’re booted out into the cold - which is not only un-healthy, but for a concept that is meant to be about lifelong education it is seriously backwards and generally an unpleasant situation.
How I manage the effects on my body
Whilst exercise is one of the best gifts you can give yourself, it is also interepreted by the nervous system as a stress – and the body reacts to it in the same way as it does an emotional trauma. Personally, I have found with something so intense, I have to make sure I really counteract the effects of this stress on the body afterwards or else I feel amped up and then completely drained. Not only is that stretching out and cooling down post-class, but including meditation and breathing exercises in the period following.
Read on for how to heal adrenal fatigue
I tend to select to do 4 sessions a week, with 2 being resistance based, 1 being cardio and 1 the longer, mixed sessions. This works as the right balance for my body right now, ensuring I don't overload my nervous system with excess levels of HIIT training. For me, it is ALL about the need to continually check in and keep my ego in check so that I don’t always push to the max and I take the genuine care of my body. However, this isn't something the trainers, concept or workout will necessarily do for you. The job of this workout is to push you to your edge and extract change from your body- so if you are dealing with any excess stress, strain or any health conditions, I would fully advise seeking professional advice before commencing a F45 workout.
For someone already relatively fit but who has definitely shifted to the holistic/wellness pace, not only have I found my fitness picked back up very quickly, but I’m feel much more agile and relishing in the feeling of being a badass lifting weights again. Yes, there's a little more definition going on in my body, but I’m most impressed by the fact that without straining, I was able to reach back to my pre-fatigue levels of fitness with ease through F45 training – no long hours of cardio, or dreary gym sessions here. The format of the workouts is also helping me manage my tendency to overtrain – I’m a real sucker for trying to get in as many things as possible in one day.
But the biggest thing that's changed for me, is adherence, and seeing my partner really enjoy fitness again as he actually sticks to a routine. And that is the F45 difference, as you get drawn into a community of people who want to train often and hard, you slowly find you are wanting to get to the workouts and limiting your excuses to skip sessions - because really, they have done all the groundwork for you, just get there and get sweating!
Update: Click here to read “Why I Quit F45”
I would love to hear your experiences with F45 or your thoughts about the expansion of franchise fitness across the world! Leave a comment below or hit me up on social.