When HLL got offered the chance to trial out a new workout programme that promises to increase lean muscle mass, whilst reducing percentage body fat, I thought this sounds too good to be true, but was keen to test it out. Read on to find out what happened when I signed up to the 8 week challenge at F45 in Oxford Circus…
WHAT IS F45:
“The F45 Challenge has been developed specifically to help you increase lean muscle and reduce body fat percentage over the 8 week period. You will not only be in the best shape of your life, but will feel amazing inside and out!” ~ F45 Challenge website
WHY I CHOSE TO DO THIS:
I’ll be honest, the main reason I did the Challenge was to drop a little body fat and ‘tone up’. It’s not something I’m meant to say – a healthy, relatively slim ‘blogger’, we’re not meant to discuss anything related to weight loss or anything that, god forbid, might suggest we’re actually not fully loaded onto the ‘self-love’ bandwagon.
Which is why I will point out – I do not/did not think I am/was overweight by any means (that’s ludicrous). However, having gained a stone in the last year, I wasn’t in a place where I wanted to be, or where I knew I could be. Added to that, I used to be very focused in my workouts – I followed a ‘bro’ style 3 day split on weights, in between I alternated with 3 days of cardio, and the final 7th day was rest. Yet, since absorbing myself in London’s class culture, I was exercising far too much, and not seeing results. I’d been booking into whatever classes took my fancy, resulting mainly in an excess of cardio with next to no dedicated training for strength. Meanwhile, I was living by all the wrong sort of IIFYM policy – under-eating on ‘proper’ nutritious foods, saving my macros for a slice of cheesecake or god knows how many espresso martinis over the weekends. (Needless to say, by the time I’d had one or two cocktails, the question of whether another fitted in my macros was NOT in my head!)
Ultimately, my random efforts were rewarding me with random results. Which is why the F45 8 Week Challenge appealed to me -it provides a structured training program and a structured diet that, when followed, delivers results. Ultimately, I wanted to get my nutrition back on track. I wanted to fall in love with weights again. I wanted to get my body and mind back into focus. It’s only 8 weeks after all?
The workouts at F45 are nothing revolutionary. (Sorry!) They’re effectively a combination of three of the most popular styles of training – HIIT (High-Intensity Interval), circuit and functional training. But it’s a combination that has been proven across the world. It’s a combination that works.
The sessions are formulated by the F45 Head Office and rolled out each day to every studio across the world, meaning it doesn’t matter if you are in Australia or the UK, every F45’er does the same session. I especially loved this aspect to the programme, as you become part of something bigger than just yourself. It’s one thing doing your own session in the gym, it’s another being part of a 30 people class- it’s a completely different matter altogether connecting with people on the other side of the world and discussing how brutal station 6 was, or sharing tips to ‘try start on station 2’. It’s the element of community that acts as a support network that’s so big, it crosses the world. The number of times I woke up and just couldn’t face a session, I’d watch instagram stories from fellow Australian F45’ers who’d done the same workout 9 hours earlier – seeing their energy levels would give me the motivation to get up and out the door. You just don’t get that with a regular session in the gym.
Whilst every workout is different, the classes follow a similar structure of stations, pods and a particular time in each. Time in each station can range from as little as twenty seconds to as much as a full minute; whilst rest between exercises varies from forty fives seconds, to none at all. Take Wednesday Varsity for example, a cardio based workout that will “leave you grasping for any form of oxygen you can muster”! Completely different to Thursdays Roman’s workout, a resistance based class, thirty-five seconds on, twenty-five seconds rest, meaning you can really up your weights and lift heavy. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays always have a cardio focus (think rowers, bikes, burpees, plyo’s); Tuesdays and Thursdays are resistance (deadlifts, pull ups, biceps curls and barbell squats); weekends are a combination of the two.
All classes last for 45 minutes, apart from Saturday’s Hollywood, which is an epic, sweat filled 55 minute special. A live DJ, a combination of cardio and strength, 27 stations, 40 seconds work, 15 seconds rest, 2 laps round the room – it’s a killer, but you’ll leave with such an adrenaline and endorphin rush you’ll already be booking in for the following week!
The question most people ask; “Does following the challenge mean you have to work out every day?!” Absolutely not! The F45 team advise you aim for 5/6 sessions a week but, as with all these things, it really depends on where you’re coming from. If you’ve never been to the gym in your life, to suddenly start working out 6 days a week would likely be unachievable, unrealistic and actually quite unhealthy for your body. Equally if, like me, you work out on a regular basis, you will naturally want to visit more often.
That said, doing much more than 6 sessions a week is FAR from encouraged – as I discovered when slipping into old habits a couple of times. As Haydn, co-owner at F45 Oxford Circus told me – we encourage you to go all out in one session, you shouldn’t need two. Instead, spend the rest of the day giving your body the rest and recovery it needs to smash out the next session even stronger. That’s the thing I love about F45 OC – the trainers aren’t about getting you through the door as often as possible – they actually care about you and your results.
For me, the exercise is the relatively easy part – mainly because I genuinely love working out – however the nutrition is where I struggle! The past few years, my meals have consisted predominantly of Deliveroo takeaways and eating out in restaurants. In fact, on day 1 of the challenge I had to ask my neighbour to borrow a tin opener (because clearly I didn’t have any need to own one). His response – “did Deliveroo send you something in a tin?!”
Whilst I have enjoyed living this way – it is a far cry away from my teenage years where, as many of you know, I had a difficult relationship with food, that resulted in me becoming quite underweight and very controlling of what I ate. So yes, of course there was a slight concern that going onto such a rigid eating program may trigger the issues I had suffered previously. But I also know just how far I’ve come from then. It was an horrendous experience that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, but it also taught me so much about my tenacity, my determination, and how I much I can achieve if I apply myself to the right things.
So I did. The Challenge meal plan is very prescriptive – at the beginning of the week, you are given a shopping list for everything you’ll need across the next 7 days. Compiled by a group of nutrition experts, each day the plan will tell you your 3 meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and 2 snacks – mid morning and mid afternoon – and give you recipes for all. Breakfasts range from scrambled egg and avocado, to protein pancakes or turmeric porridge. Lunches might be salads or naked burgers, dinners; roasted salmon, steak buddha bowl or, my favourite, pork, mushroom and ricotta (rice-less) risotto.
Needless to say, the plan is aimed at fat loss, therefore you will be on a calorie deficit. For women, calories are set between 1200 and 1300 a day, males 1800-1900. With the cardio style sessions often burning 700+ cals, you can see why it works.
The first week, I admit, I was starving. But it didn’t take me long at all to adjust to my new way of eating, and I actually began to really enjoy the food. With two snacks a day, there was never long until your next opportunity to eat, and I also loved the variety within the menus – it became a stupidly exciting weekly occasion when your meal plan for the next week became available on the app!
The 8 weeks are split into three different components;
- Spring Training– a two week ‘detox’ to alkalise and cleanse the body. In order to do this, the menu plan removed all red meat, processed sugar, refined carbs and dairy, focusing on lean poultry, greens and small servings of legumes (mostly in the form of chickpeas). In this phase, it is also recommended that you remove all caffeine from your diet – I admit, this is the part I did not stick to! Everyone is different but I personally don’t think a couple of coffees would have any effect on my results – if anything, when I was craving something sweet and sugary, to be able to replace it with a black Americano and a spoon of Splenda was a godsend!
- Regular Season– the longest phase of the Challenge, this four week block was focused on a high protein diet to support muscle hypertrophy, assist in muscle recovery and repair, create healthy fat loss results and build a strong immune function. Fat went up to approx 60g per day – higher than I’d ever gone before. Previously, I would have reverted back to my ‘fat-free’ ways, however having learnt to stick to plan and trust in the process, I fully enjoyed all the peanut butter, halloumi and full fat greek yoghurt the menu had to offer!
- World Series– the final and, in my opinion, hardest two weeks of the plan, World Series focused on high fat, low carb, stripping fat and maximising muscle definition. Whilst carbs had been low throughout the previous six weeks (average 60g a day), here it dropped to 30g a day, coming mainly from veg, and I was surprised at just how much of a difference those 30g made. By the second week of World Series, I was tired, lethargic, lacking in energy – and had gone ‘off plan’ on more than a few occasions to give me the energy lift I was craving.
When I started the challenge, I didn’t put a weight related goal in place. For all I knew – stopping more endurance training like running and, working from the meal plan significantly upping my fat intake – I was half expecting I might GAIN weight! Needless to say, that didn’t happen. At the midway point, I was extremely surprised to learn I’d lost 4kg in weight. Which is when I set myself a target to lose another 3kg before the challenge came to an end. And it’s at that stage that my weight loss stopped….
Let me explain. After taking a week out for a trip to Australia, when I came back I wanted to supercharge my final weeks. Which is when I slipped into some old bad habits – i.e. taking multiple classes in one day, overdoing the workouts therefore resorting to sweet and sugary foods in an attempt to up my energy levels.
In all honestly, I finished the challenge a little annoyed with myself. I stuck to the plan religiously before Australia – the rest days, the meal prep, everything – then after taking a week out, I disrupted my flow, and reverted back to old ways.
Not completely, I still followed the plan about 75% for the final few weeks, but I learned that I’m very much an all or nothing person. I don’t regret for one minute not living out of a Tupperware whilst in Australia, but I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t return to full Challenge mode when I got home. I had no reason not to.
Which is why when I received my final body scan and got my results – 4kg weight loss and 4% reduction in body fat, I was pleased but, honestly, felt I could have done more. After all, I was at a 4kg loss midway through – I’d effectively achieved NOTHING in the final 4 weeks? But that’s when the scales don’t tell the true picture. Because actually, it was the final 4 weeks where the vast majority of my body fat reduction occurred – meaning, I had lost fat and gained muscle. Finally, when I saw the pre and post challenge pics – THAT’S when I really saw just how much I achieved. No filters, no pose, no ‘good lighting’ – just real, honest, results.
If you ask me would I recommend the F45 8 Week Challenge – I cannot recommend it highly enough. I will highlight, if you want results, you have to be prepared to commit. You have to be prepared to spend your Sunday night doing meal prep, to order a soft drink when you go to the bar, to push yourself in each and every workout – but I can promise you, stick to the plan, and the results you get will be so worth it.
Setting my alarm clock for 5am on a Monday morning to squeeze in a class before work was no easy task, but the moment I would step in the studio to be welcomed by the F45 Oxford Circus team with a big cheesy grin and a massive “HI HAN-SKI!!!” (my new nickname…. apparently). all moments of ‘what the hell am I doing here’ went out the window.
Which brings me to the F45 Oxford Circus team. Even when in Australia for a week, taking classes in the mother-land of F45 itself, the standard, the energy, the vibes just didn’t even come close to the humongous amounts of fun we have at F45 Oxford Circus.
No matter what the session, I could count on Haydn (co-owner) to always push me that extra mile. The moment he walks in the room you can literally feel the energy just lift. You could be damn right that Tristan (other co-owner) would greet you with a big grin before sorting out any non-training related query you might have (membership, adding classes on to the fully booked timetable, replenishing fire hazard hairdryers in the changing rooms, even recommending domestic services for your flat 😛 ). Then there’s the dream-team of trainers – Sana looking absolutely incredible even at 6am on a Monday morning, always able to spot when I could up my weights (even when I didn’t think so myself), pushing me to the next level (….whilst also striking up a conversation in the worst possible moments. Mid box-jump-burpess, “What are your plans for the rest of the day girl?”. Sana, I love you babe, but I’M A LITTLE BUSY RIGHT NOW!). Finally, Hannah, Rachel and Arby, never failing to make me laugh out loud (even whilst turning up the resistance on my bike), correcting my technique and stopping that arching back, pushing me for that extra rep every single time.
These guys truly are the F45 dream team, and I without a doubt could not have done it without their never-ending energy, enthusiasm, support…. and promises of an EPIC end of Challenge Party!!!!!!
The next 8 Week Challenge starts 8th October – 2nd December, perfect for the Pre Christmas party season. F45 Oxford Circus are currently offering two week trials, click here to register and enter the code 10SQUIDOFF for, well, 10 squid off…..