Even if you’re into fitness, it’s always good to shake up your exercise regime every now and again, and after getting stuck in a workout rut over recent months, I’ve decided to take on the F45 8-week challenge.
If you haven’t heard about F45, let me explain…F45 is a group training concept that originated in Australia (hence why you’re almost guaranteed to hear a few Aussie accents in one of the London branches!)
Each studio runs a class on repeat throughout the day: one class all through Monday, a different one all through Tuesday, and so on. Part of the appeal of F45 is that these classes are regularly changed – you never get that feeling of déjà vu that can happen so often in a structured class.
The classes are HIIT and circuits based, but you could be doing anything at each station, from lifting weights, to boxing with a partner, to TRX press-ups. Each class is 45 minutes long (an hour at the weekend) and normally involve short bursts of activity with a quick rest in between each.
It’s a formula that’s been massively popular – there are now lots of F45 studios all over the world, and thousands of people have posted their body transformations on Instagram. Many of these body makeovers are down to the ‘8 week challenge’ – a program that requires participants to go to five F45 sessions a week and stick to a diet plan available via the F45 challenge app.
One of the promises of the plan is that you’ll gain muscle if you follow it – which definitely appealed to me, as despite upping my strength training recently, I’ve still got a long way to go before I feel strong and toned. As a vegetarian, I also struggle to get enough protein, so the eating plans (which include a meat-free option) are another sell.
At the start of the plan, I was weighed and had pictures taken in my underwear from the front, side and back (honestly not as horrendous as it sounds, it’s done in the female changing room where everyone is always in their pants anyway). This is so I’ll (hopefully) be able to see the physical changes to my body at the end of the plan.
So how have I got on?
Well, firstly the classes. These are brilliant. At the Paddington branch, where I’ve been training, owners Cam and Dani have an infectious energy and enthusiasm that perks up even the most cold, drizzly morning (and this week, there have been PLENTY of those).
Also, because the classes are so varied I haven’t felt any workout dread. This week I’ve done several including MKatz (mainly weights based) and Brooklyn, which featured high-intensity cardio and a round of boxing. While they’re tough, the fact you move round the circuit means you’re never stuck on an exercise you’re not keen on for long, and there’s a great camaraderie between everyone who trains there, which definitely keeps you going.
So what about the food? Well, luckily the vast majority of the recipes have been really tasty, and I’ve been introduced to a few new veggie foods such as tempeh (do not fall into my mistake and sample this raw – it tastes MUCH better cooked in the recommended spices!!). I was also pleased that it didn’t cost me a million pounds to buy all the ingredients, which has been the case on other meal plans.
As for hunger, it’s been totally fine. The first breakfast on my first day was an avocado chocolate smoothie. As the greediest person alive, I was genuinely worried that I’d be ravenous again by the time I sat down at my desk at 9am – but you need to trust the plan, because actually by upping my fats and proteins (I am normally very much a carb-fiend) I stayed full much longer than I expected.
As well as reducing my carb intake, the plan has also drastically reduced the amount of sweet treats I’m munching my way through. While normally snack time in the office would involve foraging around the freebie table looking for cakes and chocolate, now I’m following the plan and having snacks such as a protein shake made with almond milk, chickpeas and nuts. I have to say I did draw the line at the ‘celery boats’ though, since it turned out this just constituted a stick of celery with some almond butter on it. No hun, no.
I admit I have had a few slip-ups (mainly due to my sweet tooth) but these have certainly not been as bad as my normal routine; think a square or two of dark chocolate rather than hoovering up a massive Dairy Milk, or indulging in some Halo Top (it’s basically calorie-free, right?) instead of mainlining Ben & Jerry’s.
I’ve got a big test this weekend as my mum is visiting and this normally means me, her and my sister enjoying all the brunch/coffee/cake that London has to offer. Although I’m not going to forego eating out entirely, my plan is to stick as closely to the principles of the F45 eating plan as possible – choosing high protein, low carb options, not going mad for any sugary stuff and sticking to decaffeinated drinks.
That brings me on the most dramatic incident of my week. The first two weeks of the F45 eating plan require you give up caffeine, as well as dairy. I decided to prepare myself for this by kicking the caffeine a week early, as I couldn’t bear the thought of coffee and sugar cravings all at once.
Unfortunately, after a week caffeine-free (I had a splitting headache the first day but was fine after that) I completely forgot about my new regime and had a coffee with a friend at the weekend. What followed was the most delirious night’s sleep I have EVER had – I couldn’t get to sleep for ages because my heart was hammering out of my chest and I then proceeded to wake up what felt like every 45 minutes throughout the night.
It’s really made me see what a massive effect caffeine has on your body, and I’m considering giving it up for good, rather than just for the first two weeks of the plan. Cheese and milk chocolate on the other hand? I’m not so sure…
Week two and my sister was staying with me for a few days, which means she got to try out the meal plans. It made me realise that unless you have a gigantic fridge, doing this challenge alongside a housemate or partner would be tricky, as there is SO MUCH FOOD at the beginning of the week (those bags of spinach are massive beyond all reason)
However, my sis – also a veggie, much to my mum’s horror – was really impressed with the meals, which included breakfasts such as scrambled eggs and asparagus (warning – asparagus does weird stuff to your wee!), lunches including lentil and chickpeas with courgette, and dinners such as spiced rice and greens.
I did put my foot down at one recipe though: ‘Pumpkin burger lettuce wraps’. Firstly, because pumpkin is IMPOSSIBLE to get hold of at this time of year (I have substituted butternut squash in other recipes). And secondly, because although I can get on board with courgetti I refuse to subscribe to the idea that a piece of lettuce is a ‘wrap’. Sorry F45.
The exercise classes continue to be great, with a variety of weights and cardio that is really effective in pushing you to the max. One slight problem I have is that I work from home one day a week (F45 is near my office) so I have been supplementing my fifth session with a run or trip to the gym.
There’s also the question of doing ‘slower’ forms of exercise, such as yoga and pilates, which have been recommended to me because of my dodgy back (truly, I am 104 years old). Doing five sessions of exercise a week plus yoga does make me feel a bit like I’m always in gym kit, but I’m seeing this as a full-throttle couple of months which, hopefully, will lead to great results at the end.