Reviews,  Training

I Tried F45 Training

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, were 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.

The Workouts

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 others.

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 and training intensity, workouts have short rest periods between exercises; in other words, it’s circuit training. 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.  The below quote from the article “Rest Periods Between Sets” by the International Sports Sciences Association summarizes this point.

“Due to the short rest interval between sets, strength gains are less than optimal with circuit training (30 to 50% less) when compared to traditional strength training.” – International Sports Sciences Association

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. During my trial, 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.

Pros

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.

Cons

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, signing up for the “2x A Week” training plan.

Cost

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.

Jack of all Trades, Master of None

Remember P90X? — The intense training program that enticed a lot of people about a decade ago? In 2007, while working as a trainer, I tried P90X to give my clients an opinion of the program and challenge myself. P90X, F45, and other exercise programs that focus on high volume to achieve caloric burn are not programs for those hoping to advance in exercise technique. This is because performance is degraded by the rapid pace. When performance is deteriorated, technique inevitably drops, and the focus shifts to survival — lasting the full set duration. With F45’s current training schemes, your best-performing set will always be the first set of every exercise; after that, it’s all downhill due to lactic acid build-up and limited ATP replenishment time. Further, because all F45 routines are full-body, recovery days from strength training outside of F45 training can be interrupted – and were for me. F45 reminds me of P90X and other training programs people are drawn to for how intense they look rather than for their long-term practicality. My conclusion of F45 Training is the same as for P90X – I’ll get to that in a moment.

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. Further, the program is designed for caloric burn, not skills or technique development. For example, stretching, an integral skill that is part of true fitness, was absent from the majority of the workouts I tried.

My Verdict

F45’s training style (due to abbreviated rest periods) is not a smart choice for long-term training; the training intensity is impractical for everyday exercise, and it would be folly to hope to gain new skills through the program.

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, cardiovascular capacity, and, according to the International Sports Sciences Association, elevate growth hormone levels.

“High volume, short rest period training has also been found to increase human growth hormone levels when compared to training with longer rest periods.” – International Sports Sciences Association

I won’t lie, learning where my cardio capacity stood was beneficial and the workouts were energizing. But I could not follow the “2x A Week” plan without interfering with my skill- and strength-based workouts, which I value more than and worked too hard for to lose on account of keeping up with a group of strangers. So while I would not recommend F45 Training for lifelong fitness, muscle growth and maintenance, or skill development, 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 so, 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.

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