About 10 months ago, I completely fell off the health bandwagon. I'd been on an extended overseas holiday, started a new job, moved cities, and completely given up on my previous gym and clean eating program. A few months in, I decided I was settled enough to get back on track (also, I'd put on a few kilos and didn't feel so hot), but couldn't manage to find a routine that worked. I had minimal time or motivation. My old workout plan felt boring and didn't push me hard enough. Basically, I needed a firm kick up the ass (for lack of a better expression).
Enter the F45 8 Week Challenge.
Chances are you've heard of F45. It's the fitness phenomenon that's swept Australia (and the UK and US, for that matter), characterised by tough 45-minute HIIT workouts guaranteed to leave you completely spent. Basically, all F45 studios (there's hundreds across the country) run the same 45 minute class throughout the course of a day, (so you might choose to train at the 5:30 a.m. class, or 7 p.m., and so on).
The eight-week challenges run periodically through the year, where members or newbies (me) can opt in to take part in the pre-determined diet plan to accompany their training. It boasts some pretty impressive results (think kilos lost and massive improvements in cardiovascular fitness), hence why it's creating such a buzz in the fitness industry right now.
Sceptical, but motivated, I signed up, and documented my experience below. So if you're wondering if A: You can handle it, or B: It's worth the money, you'll find honest answers below.
As I mentioned, the workouts are intense, 45-minute HIIT sessions (generally a mix of cardio, strength, and resistance) that run at intervals throughout the day. I trained at the Rose Bay studio (and I can't recommend it and the trainers highly enough), where classes started as early as 5:30 a.m., and finished around 7:00 p.m. during the week. Saturday morning classes were on offer as well (I surprisingly liked going on the weekend—go figure). I didn't necessarily stick to one time slot, but would rather look at my calendar, and book myself in for the week accordingly.
On that note, the system works via an app where you book yourself in to your desired time slot, which, I believe, contributes as a huge factor to the program's success. If you decide not to show up, or cancel a class last-minute, you're charged (genius).
As for the workouts themselves, they were hard. And when I say hard, I mean sweat-dripping-off-your-nose-and-onto-the-floor kinda' hard. Think explosive bursts of exercises like burpees, followed by quick recovery breaks. For someone who's never worked out before, I would advise you take it slow—a good trainer will give you a hand if you're struggling with weight or poor form.
I will add that my studio had people of all ages, genders, and fitness levels, and not once did I feel awkward, silly, or intimidated (even though every trainer had a six pack and the agility of Usain Bolt, but they're trainers, so I guess that's the point).
After my first week, I was in AGONY. Sitting, standing, stairs, and going to the bathroom were like acts of torture (my advice is to stretch, and get a good muscle recovery balm—I shared my favourites below). But in the weeks following, I adjusted, and was okay. I generally committed to five sessions a week, and I found it really achievable (I work long hours, btw). My fitness improved dramatically; I was more toned, and I felt stronger, healthier, and clearer. The small class size at my studio meant there was a lot of time for one-on-one help, and almost every session felt like personal training.
The greatest part was that every single class pushed me to my absolute limits, and it never reached a point where it was 'easy'. Fun fact: I brought my boyfriend to a Saturday morning class, and he declared it was the hardest workout he's ever done (and he trains at the gym six days a week).
The Diet Plan
While 60 seconds of continuous jump lunges with a sledge hammer might sound as hard as the F45 8 Week Challenge could possibly get, I assure you that is not true (for me, anyway). Following the eating plan was much, much harder. And not because there is anything wrong with the eating plan, but because I live a life governed by Gelato Messina and chocolate-dipped short bread. Well, I actually eat a balanced, clean diet 80 percent of the time, but this taught me I am very much a mindless snacker. Below, I've posted some screenshots of a typical day on the plan, so you can see it's a balanced mix of protein, fats, and carbs to support all of the training.
Basically, it's three meals and two snacks, which is pretty close to what I'd eat generally. I will admit that I only followed it say, 70 percent of the time (hey, nobody's perfect), but when I did, I was satisfied—never starving. Also, I was never bloated, which is always a win.
The only issue I had was that it was expensive to follow it exactly when only cooking for one, so I often made batches of one particular recipe (I loved the vegetarian options that are also available), and ate it over the course of a few days. Alcohol was another hard one. I originally thought it would be so easy to cut out wine for eight weeks (I'm not a huge drinker), but only during that time did I realise just how much my social life revolved around drinking. Also, work! I realised I go to so many work functions where a glass of Veuve is handed to me before I've even taken my coat off.
So, while I didn't completely abstain, I did really cut back—which was no easy feat.
So, while it was never only about weight loss, I did lose 2 kilos overall (cue happy dance). You actually get a very detailed analysis of both your weight loss, and muscle gain, thanks to these incredibly detailed body composition scans you get both before and after the challenge. But, the real change was in my fitness, and my motivation. I was no longer in a rut. I was eating well, exercising consistently, and continually improving my cardiovascular fitness. By the end of the challenge, nothing could stop me from making it to a class.
I lived for the endorphin high when it was over, and I felt so, so much better for it. I was tighter and more toned, and my clothes fit that little bit better. I actually even found I was more productive at work. I actually wonder if I stuck to the diet plan 100 percent how much better my results would have been.
I will say that if you're not one for loud, high-energy workouts, it might not be for you. I however found that the yells of encouragement from the trainers and cracker playlist made the classes that much easier.
The last thing I'll touch on is price. Depending on your studio and level of membership, it can cost between $50 to $70 dollars a week to train regularly, but I honestly think it's worth it. I've long worked out at the gym, and you just can't replicate a workout like that on your own. So, if high-energy cardio mixed with resistance is your jam, definitely give it a crack. I'll add that the challenges don't cost any extra on top of your regular membership as well. What's great is that almost every studio offers a free week trial, so you can always give it a go before you commit to the cost.
If you want one more word of encouragement, I finished up my challenge two weeks ago, and I've only been to the normal gym twice since. See! It WORKS!
Keep reading for some tips from F45 Global Ambassador Paige Hathaway, as well as my workout survival kit.
Paige Hathaway is the F45 Global Ambassador and actually one of the fittest people I've had the pleasure of meeting. I was lucky enough to do a session with her, and can confidently say that while I was roadkill after our class, she had barely broken a sweat. She's insane. If you want a little educated advice (AKA, not just my opinion), here are her four best tips:
- "Stretching and foam rolling are super important for muscle soreness; I think that foam rolling is something people don’t do enough of. What I also find that helps me if I'm feeling stiff is taking a bath with some Epsom salts."
- "I think you should eat before and after a workout. You're going to need some good energy to fuel that workout, and obviously after it's great to have some protein for recovery. I like a protein shake."
- "For anyone who's training quite heavily, I recommend taking a fish oil supplement, creatine, and CLA."
- "My one rule of thumb is no carbs at night, but I like to eat oily fish like salmon so I'm satisfied."
This roll-on is a god send on calves and quads after a hard workout. It leaves you with a tingly feeling in the best possible way.
I always thought fitness trackers were a gimmick, until I tried one. I love watching the calories I've burned tick over during a class, and it's also made me more active in general. I was shocked when I saw how little steps I was doing during the day (outside of an F45 class), so this has helped me to boost the numbers a little. I'm also finding it really useful in my training for City2Surf.
This is my go-to protein in my oats of a morning (with almond milk, berries, and a little cinnamon). It's sweet without that artificial taste, and I like that it's a mix of hemp and pea protein.
Another must for sore muscles, I can't go past this one from Venustus for a sore upper and lower back. It's a spicy blend of peppermint, rosemary, ginger, clove, menthol, black pepper, lemon, and lime for instant relief.
This is a long-term favourite of mine for its gut loving benefits. It's packed with pre and probiotics, and has a really natural flavour (my pick is chocolate).
Last vegan protein I swear, but I can't get past how affordable this option is if you're not sure you want to ride the protein train long-term. I love it in a smoothie or with oats, mashed banana, and eggs for an easy protein pancake recipe on a Sunday morning.
The only issue with F45 is that there is no stretching or cooling down involved, so it's important to take the time to do it at home. Aktivaal is an amazing business that packages up all the best fitness gear, depending on your workout of choice, and the Yoga Box is ace for winding down after a massive cardio workout. The yoga mat, block and strap are super useful, and the muscle soak is bliss. Oh—the $50 Stylerunner voucher is pretty great too.