F45: The Eight Week Challenge
Our founder hangs up restaurant write-ups in favour of High Intensity Interval Training
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When I first founded I Choose Birmingham people would often scan me up and down and say "how do you stay so thin with all those food reviews?"
Six years on, they don't say that anymore. So in what might be a midlife crisis but I'm hoping is a moment of clarity, I'm taking on the F45 Eight Week Challenge.
'Slow down, fatty', I hear you say. 'What's F45?' Bit rude, but okay. The Aussie-born exercise sensation opened in the city centre (on New Street, a stone's throw from the Floozie and two minutes from New Street Station) back in January. The ‘F’ stands for Functional, the ‘45’ is the number of minutes in each class. It's all about group personal training: a mix of functional training, high-intensity interval training and circuit training — a super effective way to burn calories and build muscle. See the image at the top? Over the course of 45 minutes you and your workout-mates will rotate around the specifically designed fitness studio doing cardio and resistance work in all manner of shapes and forms. Burpees, ropes, sleds, kettlebells, the lot. No two classes will be the same. Roll VT...
WEEK ONE. DAY ONE.
I'm gathered in a room with about 50 others who are considering taking on the challenge. We're told what it entails. For eight weeks, you follow the meal plans (bye-bye booze and burgers), attend the studio at least four times a week — ideally six — and get more ripped than a Hulk Hogan vest. That's the theory. I've already decided I'm doing it (see the aforementioned midlife crisis) and before long I'm in my underwear having "before" photos taken. No, you can't see them. Not yet, anyway. I'm then stood on some scales holding on to some sort of metal pipe rigged up to state-of-the-art tech. It feels like a scientology test, but is in fact just actual science. Here's my results...
Now, if it's at all possible to be disappointed by how good the results are then I've managed it. I mean they're not great, don't get me wrong, but they are better than I was expecting. Cards on the table time, I've been doing F45 for about four months now. Going maybe three times a week and eating and drinking anything my tummy desires — I've just not been doing the challenge. When I started, I was 86kg (eighty-six kilograms for a little fella!). So to read that I'm down to 77.4kg is, obviously, positive, but I sort of wish I'd saved losing that weight for the challenge — that's how logic works in my brain. There's money to be won both globally (about £7,000) and locally (£300) and I sort of wish I'd come in on day one, the most out of shape I've ever been.
Also my metabolic age is 34. I'm 39. A guy who did the previous challenge tells me his metabolic age was 49. He's 33. "You're going to have to work hard to get good results," says head trainer, Matt. Shame. I wanted to do barely any work and get results.
WEEK ONE. DAY TWO.
On the first proper day of exercise, I do the exact opposite of exercise properly. I f*ck off to France for the best part of a week and fill myself with cheese and wine and cold beer and saucisson. Have you ever noticed how good the French are at sausages and how bad they are at burgers? Fascinating really.
Any way, this is a bad start but the trainers tell me there's no point depriving yourself on holiday and that it's probably better to go away in the early stages of the challenge than in the latter. I quietly rearrange the trip I have scheduled for six weeks time.
WEEK TWO. DAY ONE.
Dear God, what have I done? I've had one of those holidays you need a holiday to recover from, and I've completely forgotten how to F45. I'm getting dizzy between stations. Seconds of exercise at the tail-end of the session turn to heavy minutes and an old back injury is playing up. This isn't the last you'll hear from my back. I fell off a bench I was stood on while singing Chritsmas songs in the Prince of Wales. This was not my finest hour and 8 months on I'm still paying the price. The F45 trainers give me some back exercises and even lend me some equipment to take home. They're lovely. Look at them! Your mom would like them.
WEEK TWO. DAY THREE
Like Michael Gove, I'm somehow back in business. I remember when I first started F45 it took three sessions to not feel ever-so slightly queesy at the end of each workout. The same has happened as a consequence of going away. Third day back, no queesiness. And this is the day I decide to get Function Fit Food to make my meals. There's a very good F45 dietray plan, online, with recipes and whatnot but, to be honest, I don't want to buy 600 ingredients and four gazillion chia seeds that I may never use again. Also, there's the laziness. So these guys will deliver all your meals, prepped and good to go, for 5 days for £75. Pricey? Maybe. But that's three meals a day, plus snacks, all prepped to the F45 plan. And you can't put a price on laziness, as the old saying goes.
In the first two weeks, there's a lot of chicken, because red meat is off the table. Unless you're me, in which case you vanished to France and filled yourself with pork for the first week. Either way, these taste good.
WEEK THREE. DAY TWO.
Do not, and I really can't emphasise this enough, be late for a class.
I'm late for a class.
And I'm sprinting.
I haven't sprinted since school and I feel every single one of those twenty one years. I'm tearing up New Street (waddling up New Street), weaving past chuggers, balloon sellers and that amazingly loud pork scratchings guy. I want to stop for pork scratching but there's no time and, perhaps more to the point, pork scratching couldn't feature less on the dietary plan.
F45 is becoming a bit of an addiction and this is the last session of the day — I can't miss it. However, running flat-out for 15 minutes might not be the best pre-prep for a 45 minute, flat-out workout. We're about to find out, as I make it in the nick of time, sweatier than a Broad Street bouncer in a World Cup year. I swallow a Moseley Road Baths volume of water and pretend to look fine.
Hold the phone. I am fine. I'm three quarters of the way through the session (I'm not literally typing this mid-workout, you understand?) and by jingo I feel... I feel... what is this I feel? I think I feel fit. Surely not?
WEEK THREE. DAY THREE.
Just a quick one. In good news, I no longer go quite so horribly beetroot after each session. Just, you know, six out of ten on the old Beetrootometer. In less good news I think I've broken a toe by accidentally barefoot booting my daughter's dolls house across the living room. So swingy roundabouts.
WEEK THREE. DAY SIX.
It's not been a great few days, gang. First I'm inundated with emails (two) telling me to clip my toe nails. Haven't you people got jobs to do? Anyway, they've been clipped so you can all stop wretching into your cereal.
Secondly I've fallen off the wagon. At the risk of sounding like a full-blown alcoholic, the 'no booze' bit of the challenge is a bit of a personal battle. I'm finding the food restrictions significantly easier, but that said I've cut down my alky-intake by about 80%. That was until I spectacularly sunk seven negronis in one night. You can read about it in eye-watering detail over on our Twitter.
Thirdly, remember that back injury I told you about? In the words of Sir Elty, The Bitch Is Back. Caught at home unable to get to F45, I went for a jog and have jiggled by coccyx into a great degree of discomfort.
I've confessed all of this to the F45 guys and they've been great. Turns out there's nothing they can do about my ugly feet (try harder, then), but they've suggested that almost everyone falls from the wagon once during the challenge. And that I should cut myself some slack. And as for my back, they're providing me with exercise adjustments at every station, to minimise the weight on my lower spine.
Might celebrate with a negroni.
ICB editor Katy Drohan chips in to explain the LionHeart element of F45. Because I don't use but will be trilaing using her device while she's off on holiday...
I’m nine weeks post-challenge and still voluntarily HIITing up F45 near-daily. I completed Challenge 22 gaining lean muscle, losing body fat and feeling all plucky and good about myself. So hate me, really do, but you could say it went rather well.
Following a little slump in energy as I watched the next intake of intrepid Challengers — like Tom — start the 23rd edition, I decided to get myself a LionHeart monitor — the F45 equivalent of a loud, motivational voice inside your head. You strap the little device (£30) around your chest and your heart rate appears on screens around the studio, along with other monitor users. LionHeart awards points based on your heart rate throughout your workout, proportionate to your height, weight and fitness. You want to be working with a heart rate of at least 175 to start clocking up a decent score.
You can use the points as a competition against yourself — you receive a report after each workout telling you how many calories you’ve burned as compared to other workouts. You can simply use the heart rate part of the data to make sure you’re working as hard as you think you are in real time. Or you can compete against anyone and everyone using LionHeart at each workout. And because points are calculated based on your heart rate and your height and weight, the fitter you get, the harder you have to work to get those points. So the competition is an even playing field every single time.
I would never have described myself as competitive before I got into F45 but it turns out I do like to beat myself. For me, LionHeart is all about making sure I’m working at a level that challenges me — it’s spurred me to big finishes at the end of workouts and prompted me to up my game when I’ve noticed my heart rate hasn’t got all that high mid-way through a sweat sesh. LionHeart hooks up to a clever little app so you can see your performance over time. It’s also wireless and water-resistant — you’ll realise the importance of this second point shortly after starting F45.
Would recommend, did recommend.
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