Flashback to freezing early last year, and you can imagine how unenthusiastic I was to embark on an eight-week fitness challenge that promised to upend my entire routine. The Deliveroos and Sunday night sofa sessions with three varieties of Lindt that I was using to self-medicate throughout winter were about to be replaced with daily HIIT classes, alcohol abstinence, limited caffeine and virtuous home-cooked meals. But it was too late to back out — a few weeks prior I’d innocently signed up for the F45 Challenge.
For the uninitiated, F45 is a worldwide Australian-born exercise phenomenon that’s spreading like wildfire throughout the UK and Ireland, with studios as far afield as Glasgow, Bath, Bristol, Oxford, all corners of London, and elsewhere, with more set to open this year. (Mark Wahlberg, whose own hardcore workout schedule starts at 2.30am daily, just bought a minority stake in the franchise, so you know it’s serious.) Its USP is its 45-minute circuit classes that combine interval, cardiovascular and strength training to build muscle and fitness. It holds four eight-week challenges a year, which involve training as many times a week as you can manage, while following a meal plan and monitoring your body composition (muscle, fat and more) at the beginning and end. Yeah, it’s a lot.
So why did I sign up? A fitness challenge was high on my goal list for 2019 — I’d never done anything like it and wanted to see how I’d feel, mentally and physically, from sticking to a structured exercise regime. My goal wasn’t to lose weight — if anything, I was keen to put on muscle and spice up my exercise regime while challenging myself. I was stuck in an exercise rut and bored of my unfocused routine — which amounted to a Pilates or kettlebells class here, a 10km run there, a few times a week — and didn’t think it would be much of a sacrifice at a time of year when my social life wouldn’t ordinarily be popping off anyway (I was wrong, but more on that later).
Flash forward to now, just a week after finishing the challenge at F45 Farringdon, the endorphins are settling down and the novelty of being able to guiltlessly sip my favourite gin cocktails is starting to wear off, and I’m in a good position to reflect on what I learned. Whether you’re considering doing the next F45 Challenge or another challenge (like Barry’s Bootcamp’s Face Yourself or Hellweek, the CrossFit Games, or marathon training), or merely looking to hop back on the fitness train for spring, you may find this useful too.
You really do get out what you put in
In a world where everyone’s Instagramming their workouts, and gyms flog their classes with the help of their Herculean superstar trainers’ vast online followings, it’s easy to expect immediate results from the latest fitness trend. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. But the F45 Challenge hammered home the obvious, unglamorous truth: the more sustained effort you expel, the more likely you are to see the outcome you want. The days when I chest-pressed 10kg rather than my safer 8kg were the days I’d leave the studio feeling proudest and most satisfied. “People become braver and push themselves more with weights from week to week,” says Honey Fine, a fitness coach at F45 Farringdon. “They learn that being part of a community allows you to feel comfortable in a safe environment to train, discuss the challenge and their concerns.”
Equally, there’s no getting around the importance of dusting yourself off and trying again when you hit stumbling blocks. “Getting back into the swing of it after a holiday can be tough for people,” Jake Hazell, F45 Farringdon’s studio manager, tells me, and yep, he’s right. In week three, just as I was hitting my stride, I went on a long weekend to Marrakech and everything went out the window (because YOLO and there’s no way I wanted to be That Girl who ruins their boyfriend’s holiday by eschewing the bread basket and leaving him to drink alone). I ditched the meal plan and broke the plan’s no-alcohol rule, and I drank a few other times later on in the challenge and ended up going more overboard than usual because of the novelty of it. While I don’t regret the fun I had (and wouldn’t have done anything differently on holiday), it was tough getting back into the #fitness mindset and annoying knowing I’d undone my progress. The key, though, is picking up where you left off and letting it go. The challenge is hard enough as it is, without the added mental anguish of regretting some fun experiences that can’t be undone.
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