When it comes to fitness, I’ll try anything once. And lately, that has meant everything from boxing under black light to meditating beneath a live plant wall. It seems as if barrage of trendy new studios has been opening on the daily, but one of the hottest had been right under my nose until I ran into a friend who had recently shed more than a few pounds (ahem, 25) earlier this year. ‘How?!?!,’ I exclaimed.
It was all thanks to the F45 Challenge, an 8-week intensive run by F45, a chain of gyms from Australia spreading like wildfire across Canada with its pared-back (yet hardcore) approach to 45-minute long strength and resistance-based workouts. During the Challenge, members are encouraged to attend as many classes as possible and follow an accompanying meal plan.
It was February, a month otherwise known for ‘Netflix and Cheetos,’ and I became obsessed with the idea of pushing through the remainder of winter with a worthwhile goal in mind. As someone who oscillates between amazing and terrible eating habits and fluctuates 10 to 15 pounds, I was looking to shave off my holiday weight (which, if I’m being honest, had been piling on since late August) and get myself back into a routine of practicing good habits. Since going freelance a few years back, my diet had really slipped, with a lack of regular schedule to keep me on track. And though I love working out and tend to do so 3-5 times per week, I’d never quite seen any particular result from my mix of cardio favourites. It was time to focus my efforts, and so I quickly signed up at Toronto’s Liberty Village F45 location.
Right off the bat, accountability was established when I stepped on the gym’s body composition analyzer. Not only did I see how much I weighed, but also my body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass, my BMI, my body water and how much each of my limbs weighed (okay, most of that wasn’t super important, but it was cool). I also got photos snapped, and with that I was in.
Week One and Two:
The F45 Challenge is broken into three phases, the first of which being ‘Spring Training’ a.k.a. detoxing the body, removing water retention and preparing for fat loss. Diet-wise, there’s no caffeine, dairy, red meat or sugar (save for berries), and instead, plenty of chicken, fish, eggs and greens. Alcohol is also not permitted for the duration of the Challenge, which I managed to stick to (!!!) save for one night later in the challenge.
The diet is laid out on a free app which includes the meal plan recipes in mainstream, vegetetarian or vegan streams. Each day consists of three meals and two snacks, and even though the calories are on the lower end, I was never hungry. Admittedly, there’s a lot of food prep involved, but I’d committed, so it became a bit of adventure for me. My new Gym Tan Laundry was F45 Loblaws Bulk Barn (FLBB?). For the most part, the recipes were delicious, which helped me keep on track. My favourite recipe the first week was a smoothie bowl topped with almond butter and shaved coconut – it felt decadent. There was also a salmon with a broccoli mash that tasted like mashed potatoes in my mind, which was great. (Here’s how to determine how many calories you need.)
My first few classes at F45 Liberty Village were fun and fast paced, but took a bit of time to get used to. Each class, the trainers walk you through the course they’ve set out for the day, and while the class is in action, you follow along with screen demos as they walk around correcting form and cheering you on. I eased into the routine with four classes per week, which allowed for rest time in between.
The hardest part of the first week was the caffeine withdrawal. My first few days were a blur of migraines and exhaustion, but luckily, it subsided mid-week. By the end of the first week, I’d dropped 10 pounds, which completely blew me away.
Week Three to Six
The second phase of the Challenge is called “Regular Season,” and centres around building muscle mass through a high protein diet and healthy fat loss (so often, crash diets skip this part, which is why weight is put back on so quickly afterwards). Caffeine, dairy and red meat was back in, as were healthy carbs like sweet potato, beans and low-carb bread.
The workouts were much easier to follow, but still pretty killer. Shawn Jones, Liberty Village’s top trainer and papa bear was there to cheer me on and force me to push myself, even when I didn’t want to. With his encouragement, I was able to get up to five classes per week (I even doubled one day, which was nutty).
Diet-wise, I was still pretty much on point, but a surprise food delivery midway through this period did threaten me a bit. A fine food store sent me a bunch of amazing vegan snacks that, while healthy, weren’t Challenge compliant. I managed to store most of them in the freezer or the back of my pantry, but I did have a piece of vegan chocolate, which sent me on a day-long spiral of snacking. I chalked it up to PMS, and was back on track within a few days. Still, the mini-binge did slow me down a bit, and I only lost two pounds during this period. Despite that, I was lifting heavier weights and gaining upper body strength. My push-ups, which had always been pretty pathetic, were starting to look legit!
Week Seven and Eight
The final phase, “World Series,” is high fat, low carb and meant to strip the body of remaining body fat. This is where friends who’d done the Challenge promised the magic would happen. I was thankful for a swap in recipes that included plenty of things like peanut butter and cheese, so much so, that I set out for a cottage weekend celebration for my friend’s birthday with a cooler full of pre-made meals and snacks. The first night, while everyone knocked back beers and chips, I drank copious cans of La Croix and grew more and more irritated by the hour. I was over it! The next day, I finally gave into wanting to have fun, and had a few vodkas with those La Croixs. I had the best night of Challenge and honestly didn’t regret it one bit.
Back in Toronto after the weekend, I doubled down on the last few weeks of the challenge. My knees were starting to give way (my glutes are extremely tight, resulting in a lack of hip and knee mobility), so I cut down on the cardio classes and upped my resistance days on Shawn’s recommendation. The first time my push-up brought me all the way down to the ground, I almost leapt for joy!
Diet-wise, I kept it pretty much to the letter, but admittedly, my measurements were getting a little generous. 10 nuts turned into 13 nuts… and so on. Overall though, pretty solid.
By the final day of the Challenge, I was down another four pounds, bringing it to a grand total of:
Total pounds lost: 16
Body fat lost: 2.5%
Inches lost (waist): 3”
Inches lost (hips): 2”
The Final F45 Challenge Review
I loved the accountability of the Challenge. I shared a lot about my progress on Instagram and got countless questions and comments about it, which all inspired me to keep going. I also loved the February-March timing of the Challenge I participated in. Doing it while my social calendar was pretty relaxed was essential for me.
My weight loss was cool, but I’m even more proud of my transformation shots. I actually look defined, which is something I can directly correlate to the resistance workouts and the efforts I put in to push my body. Now that I’m on the other side of the eight-week journey, my goal is to achieve balance, especially as spring and summer bring parties, vacations and holidays my way. My goal is 80/20 in my diet, and to keep up the level of fitness the F45 afforded me. Wish me luck!