After 18 years of being my own personal trainer, I needed to change things up, challenge myself, and possibly learn new skills, so I tried F45 Training’s 3-day trial. I once relegated group exercise to the realm of those who crave external motivation or peer accountability to show up and workout. My old feelings toward group exercise are perfectly summed up in the introduction of “The Cold Hard Truth About F45 Training” from Dmarge.com, in which the author writes, “I’ve always thought group fitness is a cop-out. Pre-planned intensity and structure may be great for those with no motivation (or the army), but it’s not for me.” Likewise, I viewed some high-intensity group exercise training, such as CrossFit, as more focused on rep count and competition than proper form, injury prevention, and the primary stated goal of this site: lifelong fitness. Before trying F45, Dmarge’s writer viewed the gym as a “mecca of sports injuries and over-enthusiasm.” Although I agreed with his statements about group exercise and I see some group fitness training techniques and cultures as injury-inducing, I didn’t perceive F45 as a threat to my physical safety. I could see by the pacing of the trainees and structure of the classrooms in F45 videos that the competition-centric, sustained-high-intensity-at-any-cost training seen in many CrossFit videos, for example, was absent from F45 videos. That’s what encouraged me to look deeper.
What is F45?
F45 is an Australian-formed gym that stands for functional training in 45 minutes, or “Functional 45.” Functional exercise is about teaching your body how to maximize movement through space in everyday scenarios or in ways to enhance athletic movement for a specific sport. Free movement, free weights, and a body unbounded by machines is functional training, and functional exercise fortifies the body against injuries by promoting muscle synergy, mobility, flexibility, and stability. For the past five years, functional training has been the core of my lifelong fitness strategy.
I elected to try F45 versus other functional exercise gyms in my area and other popular supposed functional gyms like CrossFit, because in watching F45 class videos, the training appeared to be focused on proper execution, not competition or rep count. After trying several classes, I found that to be the case. Instructors demonstrate correct form prior to every session, offer modifications, and navigate the floor to correct the form of trainees during classes. They also have a policy of training at your own pace.
F45 offers different strength and cardio splits, each have a specific name, such as The Piston, Varsity, and Athletica. Based on my trial period at the gym, I gathered that the foundation of F45’s routines is variety, intensity, and duration.
Variety is for never doing the same workout twice, at least, not the exact same full-length workout. While you might do a burpee on more than one training day, you shouldn’t expect to do a burpee as part of the same order of exercises from a previous routine.
Intensity is for challenging yourself. F45 offers heart-rate monitors to help trainees track whether they are hitting their target heart rate. Those numbers are posted on a screen for visual feedback, and some trainees might gain motivation from comparing their heart rate to other’s.
Duration is for the length of set and rest periods. This is a core portion of any training program, as it can increase or decrease the intensity of any workout. At F45, to maximize caloric burn, cardio workouts have short rest periods. For the cardio sessions I attended, intra-set rest periods were as short as – get this, 5 seconds – yes, 5 seconds. Talk about not flushing out lactic acid build up or allowing ATP replenishment for proper muscle contraction.
F45 workouts are pre-made; I’m guessing from the headquarters of the F45 franchise. There are a variety of exercises per class, up to 13 in my experience at the gym, performed at three to four sets for 45 seconds each exercise. The rest between sets varied from 5 seconds to 30 seconds, depending on whether the workout was strength or cardio. Exercises ranged from basic movements, like push-ups, to somewhat advanced movements, such as bosu ball goblet squats.
F45’s trainers are in shape, knowledgeable, and energetic; the gym phone app is informative and makes reserving a spot in a class easy; the facility is to-the-point: nothing but what is needed per training session. Lastly, they offer nutrition plans and ready-made meals.
The set/rest durations run contrary to my training, which focuses on balancing recovery and intensity so I can output as close to 100% each set, thus promoting proper form and maximum muscle recruitment. This well-known and academically recommended training scheme built my body from skinny and shapeless to muscular and strong. However, over time, my focus on muscle-protecting set/rep schemes has caused me to lose focus on conditioning, and knowing the human body greatly benefits from cross-training via exposure to different stimuli, in a moment of madness (partly spurred by COVID cabin fever), I extended my F45 trial to a few weeks of paid classes, doing the “2x A Week” training plan.
Signing up for the gym was a moment of madness not only because I was aware that the training recovery time might be incompatible with my solo training days, but also because the gym is pretty expensive: $27 per week — yup, that’s per week — for the “2x A Week” package. All current rates for my state, Texas, are below.
F45 Training Rates – Aug 2020 – TX, USA
|Unlimited||$40 per week|
|2x A Week||$27 per week|
|Class Passes||$170 for 10 classes valid for 3 months
$300 for 20 classes valid for 6 months
$400 for 30 classes valid for 6 months
|Month-to-Month||$45 per week|
I would not recommend those rates to anyone practicing lifelong fitness on a budget or affordable fitness. However, the rates are comparable to other niche gyms, like Crossfit.
Remember P90X? Wow, that was an intense training program that enticed a lot of people. In 2007, while working as a trainer, I tried P90X to give my clients an opinion of it and challenge myself. F45 reminds me of P90X, and my conclusion of the program is the same – I’ll get to that in a moment.
After deciding to extend my trial at F45, my initial plan was to try the gym for 1-6 months. But regardless of substituting some of the gym’s planned exercises for my goal-specific movements and pacing myself every set, the set/rest periods are just impractical for someone desiring to build or maintain muscle. Further, because all F45 routines are full-body, recovery days from strength training outside of F45 training can be interrupted – and were.
To become a certified personal trainer, I learned about how inadequate rest between sets can stifle training output and thus hamper gains. Like P90X, F45’s set/rest lengths simply don’t permit maximal effort for every set or adequate per-set recovery. Given that, here’s my verdict: F45’s training style (due to abbreviated rest periods) is not sustainable for lifelong fitness; at the very least, the training intensity is impractical for everyday exercise.
But, wait, that verdict does not mean I’m completely against P90X or F45 training styles. High-intensity-based workouts are excellent for fat loss and stress testing the body to gauge conditioning, agility, and cardiovascular capacity. So while I would not recommend F45 Training for lifelong fitness or muscle growth and maintenance or strength, I recommend finding ways to test your overall physical capacity by periodically (a few weeks out of the year) increasing the intensity of your training. One shortcut to achieving this could be putting your body through the F45 test, as I have.
Have you tried F45 Training or CrossFit? If you have, please leave a comment about your experience below.
As an athlete for over 18 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created this site to aid not only broke single parents to a life of fitness, but anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site.