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F45 Review: Over 300 Classes And Counting…

Surviving the sweat to review F45.

F45 Review: Over 300 Classes And Counting…

UPDATE: Since writing this, I’ve done over 300 F45 classes. Not because I wanted a six-pack but because it’s the key to maintaining good mental health and fitness. The best part is, it’s still 45 minutes where I don’t need to think about life, just sweat.

I’ve always thought group fitness is a cop-out. Pre-planned intensity and structure may be great for those with no motivation (or the army), but it’s not for me. Furthermore, my opinion of F45 was somewhere between ‘meh’ and ‘whatever’ but after trying F45 for seven days straight, I’ve come to realise being part of this cult community can transform – even if you consider yourself a ~motivated~ individual. Consider this my F45 review.

Having trained in Biggest Loser coach Libby Babet’s former studio AGOGA for close to five years, I’m well versed in running, jumping and burpee-ing. F45, on the other hand, always seemed a little extreme – not to mention a sure way to injure myself and ensure my chiropractor is driving a new Porsche 911 before me.

That was until I caught my friend Olivier on his daily morning pilgrimage to F45 Bondi Beach. Olivier is about my age (let’s say late 30’s) and in similar shape. After 12 months of F45, his results are nothing short of impressive, even if his underpants are questionable in the ‘after’ photos.

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With that inspiration, I decided to stop pooh-poohing F45 as the mecca of sports injuries and over-enthusiasm and experience this Bondi born – and Mark Wahlberg ‘endorsed’ – fitness franchise that’s quickly taking over the world.

This F45 trial would be taking part at their #1 studio in Bondi Beach – the same place Olivier became the underpants-wearing-god he is today. It’s also home to the F45 World Champions of 2019.

For the small cost of $55 for a 7-day trial pass (yes: I paid – this is not a sponsored piece or a PR stunt), I was allowed to take part in the early (7:30am) sessions each weekday and later sessions (9:30am) on the weekend.

I subsequently realised F45 Bondi offers a ‘locals-only’ pass for even less – something which I missed the memo on… but I digress.

In any case: I began the 7-day trial with tennis elbow and a niggling facet joint issue in my back, so I plan to work at 80%- 90% capacity and with a strict list of no go exercises from my Chiropractor to ensure I don’t make matters worse. Here’s how it went.

Day One

Class: Varsity (Cardio)
Length: 45 Minutes
Calories Burnt: 454

After a brief tour of F45’s massive blue, white and red studio I get the feeling the stars and stripes colour combo is a clever marketing appeal to an American audience. Regardless, the spacious Bondi studio is soon full with 30 something bodies of all ages, shapes and sizes. Props to Sally, who classifies herself as seventy-plus, and who gets in there every day and gives 100%.

Our instructor, Bill Cunningham, aka Wild Bill Cunningham is a man who needs no microphone. Bill’s loud, fish market loud, but has plenty of encouragement and high fives should you need one.

Wild Bill and his enthusiastic Instagram-ready assistant Nicole take the class through each of the exercises at a frightening pace. You can be sure not a single person asks a question, instead, we work it out when the bell goes. Like the workout demonstration, the warm-up is also at breakneck speed: 90 seconds, 10 quick ‘jumpy jumpy’ exercises and you’re done.

A gentle jog to the studio may have been more beneficial at this point, regardless I push on, getting luke-warmed up and begin 40 minutes of cardio.

As it’s my first session, I find watching the screens (and the 10-second breaks) confusing. It’s also irritating keeping pace with everyone else. But then, as the class pushes on I’m glad of the 10 seconds here and there. As for watching screens, I stare at them like a moron for the first round, then my short term memory kicks in.

My form has always been an issue for me – and with only two instructors on the floor for 30 plus people in a room I’m not exactly feeling the love. My gut feeling is they tend to focus on those who desperately need help. Maybe it’s my fancy Nike sneakers; maybe it’s my matching shorts; maybe even – by some miracle – my form is good; whatever the case, the trainers leave me alone, which makes the experience a little ‘loveless’ in comparison to my old studio AGOGA.

Whilst it may sound like I need a hug, it’s not (just) that, it was more about being part of something which on the outside has a reputation for lacking soul. I was determined to find out if this was true.

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The Varsity session is simple and cardio-based. No running machines. Plenty of bodyweight squats and sprints spread across nine stations. We rinse and repeat three times for 20 seconds, 30 seconds and then (somehow) for one minute per exercise. I even get a little vommy on the battle ropes toward the end.

The class ends, my life doesn’t, and there are a few high fives with those poor souls I was paired up with. Like the luke-warm warm-up, there’s a non-existent warm down. Like rats fleeing a sinking ship the class dashes off to make their 9am appointments in Bondi.

Remarkably, the instructors remember most of the class’ names on their way out.

Day Two

Class: MKATZ (Resistance)
Length: 45 Minutes
Calories Burnt: 511

I wake to find my hamstrings tighter than a snare drum, nothing unusual as I’m remarkably bad at stretching my legs. A quick one-two on the foam roller and we’re out the door on the way for our 7:30am MKATZ session. MKATZ may sound like a Jewish deli which makes great pastrami sandwiches, but according to F45 it’s “the new Drop Set workout on the block… for those looking to build quality lean muscle mass.”

“Building quality muscle is not only about compound lifting. We want to challenge muscles on different angles, with different timing, and various tempos.”

Wild Bill isn’t on today, rather the friendly Lucy Francis takes the class. We’re warmed up and on our way in a flash for this resistance training session. More weights, slower tempo, much more intensity. As someone who enjoys working out in the gym – more so than cardio – this class is a turning point. I see how people still get weights workout feels mixed with that all-important cardio blast.

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Yesterday’s soreness is only felt during squats and leg work – and there’s a lot – however, it is mixed with a healthy amount of bench work, kettlebells, dumbells and TRX suspension training. It’s a really solid mix of toning and conditioning exercises that you can go heavy on.

Speaking of heavy, my back is so far holding up well, as is my tennis elbow. The trick here is not to lift beyond your limit. Overhead exercises and deadlifts are my danger zones, so moving carefully with lighter weights is a must.

I move onto the next day feeling the love and beginning to see what all the fuss is about.

Day Three

Class: Miami Nights (Hybrid)
Length: 45 Minutes
Calories Burnt: 530

I wake up on Friday morning surprisingly sore. This is due to the various exercises you do in a class. These muscles feel like they’ve not been used in my entire life. Increased core work and functional movements will have something to do with this. Regardless, I punch down a pre-workout drink (and some creatine) and push on to the morning’s class.

F45’s various workouts mean you’re never bored. There seems to be no shortage of different names and exercises in each session, so the variety is spot on. Plus: there are no treadmills or running in the classes, which will suit a lot of people. Personally, running tends to drop too much weight off me and I soon have terminal illness vibes about my physique, so I’m hoping the resistance classes combined with increased-but-lean eating will get me to a goal weight of 88kg with <10% body fat.

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Miami Night is one of their ‘hybrid’ training sessions. Lots of resistance work and body weights with enough iron-pumping to keep the beefcakes (or aspiring beefcakes like myself) happy. Miami Nights quickly becomes my favourite class so far. The perfect mix of everything. Which may be why they call it hybrid.

At this point in the week, I’m learning how hard to push myself without gassing out mid-class. I’m also beginning to see the same faces each morning and the trainers are almost remembering my name. It’s addictive. The soul that I thought was never there is actually there. I’m even high fiving strangers. Who have I become in 48 hours.

Day Four

Class: Hollywood (Circuit)
Length: 60 Minutes
Calories Burnt: 629

Saturday has arrived and it’s time to test myself for an hour at F45’s infamous Hollywood class. My body is getting more tired each day, and this is compounded by the lack of sleep thanks to a sick girlfriend. She wouldn’t sleep on the balcony as requested (rude), so we endured a night of restless coughing and mediocre sleep (my Fitbit Charge 3 can confirm).

Hollywood involves 60 minutes of flat out training over 27 stations twice over. Burpies, pull-ups, rowing, box jumps, squats, military presses. This is the F45 pizza with the lot. I’ve never seen so many people crammed into a class. Strangely enough, it works. Not once do I bump into someone. There’s a method to the madness that appears to have been well thought out by some clever sod.

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I leave Hollywood a dripping mess. My class endurance continues to improve so the 60 minutes isn’t as bad as you think. Muscle soreness quickly fades once you get moving and that glistening six-pack is just a workout away. Maybe two… Twenty-seven stations breeze by as quickly as the time. Calories burnt? A respectable 629.

I quickly learn a singlet and shorts are definitely the recommended attire for F45 in Summer. T-shirts are pointless. Give the people two tickets to the gun show because you’re going to schvitz your schvantz off.

Day Five

Class: Wingman (Hybrid)
Duration: 45 Minutes
Calories Burnt: 501

Three nights on the fold-out Ikea sofa bed are beginning to take their toll on me. My back muscles continue to ache and my shoulders are sore in places I didn’t know I had. If there was ever a time to stay in bed it is this morning.

Alas, I get up.

The numbers in the class swell again. Still amazed the system works. Wild Bill is back on the floor with lots of encouragement even for the fittest (starting to feel the love, now).

Wingman’s workout description that you ‘buddy up’, which sends additional human contact chills down my spine. Rather, you’re broken up into groups of three. Quick introductions and handshakes and you’re off. ‘Hybrid’ combines resistance and strength training, all body, lots of push-ups and squats. Mixing functional movement and ab work.

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I finish the class with some rehab on my tennis elbow, which one of the trainers has recently experienced. The solution is the flex resistance bar, which you twist and turn to strengthen the muscles around the forearm.

Even more people this morning than the day before. The machine continues to run smoothly, and I’m starting to see why: if you’re looking for a fit date, F45 could be the perfect wingman…

Day Six

Class: Athletica (Cardio)
Duration: 45 Minutes
Calories Burnt: 464

With this intense training every day your body needs good sleep and better food. I’ve been eating My Muscle Chef meals all week, so my carbohydrate and protein intake is easy to track (and spot-on according to My Fitness Pal). Sleep, on the other hand, continues to be an issue. Five hours seems to be running total. According to most studies, eight hours is optimal for building muscle. For now, five will have to do.

The weather’s warm so I use the opportunity to warm up with a brisk 2km walk on the way to the studio. It’s enough to get better range in the legs before training. Athletica is nothing new. More cardio, 45 mins of ‘go go go,’ followed by a token one minute warm down and we’re out the door.

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By now I’m doing the classes in autopilot. I’m still enjoying them, still looking forward to the session the night before and still making the effort to take care of my injuries through stretching each night or as I wake up. With a specific goal in mind, doing this every day is a definite possibility – but let’s see how day seven goes first.

Day Seven

Class: None (Rest… there’s a good reason)
Duration: All-day

Or doesn’t go…

The combination of the annual car service and good waves at Bondi mean day seven of my experiment is put on ice. Why? I workout often and with enough intensity that there was no revelation to be had by doing it (and: did I mention? There were decent waves. At Bondi).

The point of the trial was to get over the initial hump of hating on F45 for no good reason, my worries about injuries have almost been alleviated and I’ll no doubt be there again at 7:30am tomorrow.

Ricky the local F45 trainer also agrees “some people just go too hard and don’t listen to their body. Taking a break is a good idea, otherwise, you’ll get injured.”

The big take out here is rest, moderation and variety. Some mornings a surf will be more important than training, other mornings, I will surf for an hour followed by an F45 session.

Training six days out of seven is no big deal, F45 does allow you to move at your own pace without fear of being bullied to lift heavier or faster. You’re there to do the work, it’s up to you how many calories you can burn and level of intensity with which you move.

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That said, the feeling of being cattle, getting shoved in and pushed out of classes never went away. F45 is a money-machine and every minute counts. It’s up to you to make warming up or down a priority as you arrive and leave the classes. Perhaps that’s why F45 does have the unfounded injury stigma. It’s not rocket science, look after your body in these classes so you can train harder, more often and ultimately look better… maybe even look like old mate Olivier one day.

With F45 Training you get out of it what you put in. Do one class a week and you’ll see one class a week results. Give 50% in the classes then you’re only going to burn half the calories and that body fat percentage will not drop. Other HIIT studios may help you burn more calories, but that often involves running, which is not for everyone. Personally I tend to drop too much weight running so this could be the best solution for me. Lastly, with whatever F45 lacks it more than makes up for in variety and getting the job done.

Next stop is the F45 eight-week challenge, starting February 3rd.