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 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 and involves 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 you can see the physical changes at the end of the plan – because as we all know, the scales are not the most reliable indicator of how successful you’ve been.
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 in February there were PLENTY of those).
Also, because the classes are so varied I haven’t felt any workout dread. Classes vary hugely, including MKatz (mainly weights based), Brooklyn, which features high-intensity cardio and a round of boxing, and Foxtrot, one of the few sessions where I genuinely thought I might throw up towards the end. 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.
Over the course of eight weeks, I never got bored of the workouts, and I genuinely think you could go for months without getting fed up. It’s also lovely that you get to know your fellow class-goers so well; by the end I felt like I was in a little 7.50am club where we would all chat in changing rooms afterwards and compare notes on which stations we found best/worst. Having this team spirit definitely makes the experience more enjoyable, and it doesn’t at all feel forced or clique-y.
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.
In week two 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 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.
The biggest tests on the eating regime came when I was eating out or on holiday. In these cases, I tried 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 first fortnight, when the plan requires 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…
I am really pleased with the results of the challenge – I feel fitter than I have in ages and also have given my eating habits, which had strayed into the dangerously carb and sugar-focused, a big reboot.
I’ll confess, I’ve meandered slightly from the food brief – some weeks I would buy the ingredients on the list and end up doing my own thing with them. But by simply eating a more balanced vegetarian diet I’ve noticed an improvement in my skin and a reduction in stomach fat.
I haven’t lost loads of weight, but then I didn’t expect to since I was already exercising five times a week. However I definitely look more toned and more importantly have noticed I can lift heavier weights and sustain tough cardio exercises for longer.
I definitely recommend the 8 week challenge. Those in my F45 branch who really committed to the eating plan have seen staggering results, so if you’re willing to put in the work and dedication you can definitely shape-up successfully with this challenge.