Functional. A major buzzword in fitness right now. Some may question its true definition – after all, isn’t any movement ‘functional’ in one way or another? Even so, there’s no disputing the growing popularity of training methods designed to help us move more efficiently, CrossFit being a prime example.
The message of functional training is that moving well in our daily lives ought to be a primary concern, especially amongst the desk-bound, lest we end up crooked and depressingly dependent in our old age. This means challenging ourselves to try new activities that force your body to adapt to whatever’s thrown at it. Some would call it ‘going back to our cave-man survival instincts’. Others would just call it fun. However you look at it, there’s a unique satisfaction that comes from acquiring new skills in adulthood, even if you’re not ready to start climbing trees or hunting your own food just yet.
New Aussie kid on the block F45 Training (F for ‘Functional’, geddit) claims to be ‘the most innovative, challenging and systemised team training workout in the world’. Based on high-intensity interval training (HIIT), each session promises to be ‘fun and effective, burning up to 800 calories’. It boasts a cult following around Australia and counts X-Men’s Wolverine, aka Hugh Jackman, amongst its celebrity fans. The Daily Mail describes the workout as ‘terrifying’. We were definitely up for testing this one out.
At the crack of dawn on a brutally cold February morning, F45’s compact London Bridge studio was a hive of activity. Be warned – just finding the place is a challenge in itself, situated as it is down a narrow fire escape in a car park basement. Once you’ve navigated this hurdle, you’re in for a rewarding 45 minutes of endeavour. Arriving just in the nick of time, we were ushered into the organised chaos of ‘Athletica’, the signature body-blasting class.
Jostling through the tide of red-faced people departing the previous class, we realised how much we’ve been spoiled by the likes of GymBox/Another Space/1Rebel, with their slick, spacious studios. F45’s raw, no-frills approach is refreshing but somewhat jarring to the pampered London gym-goer. Everything here takes place in one compact room, which certainly contributes to the team atmosphere. It also means there’s nowhere to hide. Revolving around a series of stations, you’re placed in small groups and assigned a starting station. As we scurried to dump our stuff in the ladies’ changing cupboards rooms, we almost collided with the statuesque Zanna van Dijk, fitness instructor and Queen of Bloggers, limbs flailing in an energetic demo of resistance band sprints – just one of the full-body exercises on the menu for today.
Surveying the torturous display of ropes, TRX straps, dumbbells and kettlebells dotted around the room, we hoped it would at least be a mercifully fast-moving class. Thankfully, it does move fast. Your body is constantly challenged as you flit between strength work and cardio, giving it everything you’ve got for 45-second intervals, with a brief rest of 15 seconds before you go at it again. Some stations are inevitably easier than others, but on each one you can dial the intensity up or down to get the workout you desire. And at every station there’s a nice man on a big screen demonstrating the correct technique for each exercise, so there’s no excuse for standing still.
The workout went by in an intense blur of cycling, sprinting, punching, swinging, lunging, jumping and mountain climbing, all to a cleverly curated soundtrack that built to a dizzying crescendo that kept us moving as we progressed through the stations. Surprisingly, the exercise we found the most challenging wasn’t a stamina-based one, but a coordination one: a two-legged jump onto a BOSU ball whilst holding on to TRX straps. You jump forwards onto the ball, then land with your feet either side of it, then back onto the ball, then forwards, then do it all in reverse and keep repeating as quickly as you can until the end of the round (or until your brain stops keeping up). With all the changes of direction and switching between stable and unstable surfaces, this is the kind of functional training that’s worth its weight in gold when it comes to being more ninja.
Despite being drenched in sweat and gasping for air, as the session drew to a close it really didn’t feel like we’d been working out for 45 minutes. In fact we felt vaguely euphoric and ready to face the day (just as soon as we could overcome the sweat). We even nabbed a high-five from Zanna herself, which of course made it all worth it: the woman is positively brimming with feel-good vibes.
Don’t go here expecting state-of-the-art changing rooms or disco lighting, but if you’re after a fun, full-body, fat-burning workout, F45 is a pretty safe bet. Make it down here the recommended four times a week, and you’ll be on your way to a body like Zanna’s in record time.
A single drop-in class for F45 will set you back £25, with a five class bundle costing £120, There are a selection of other payment options available also. To find out more and to take advantage of their 7-day pass for £20, nip over to the website.
Picture Credits: F45