Sometime between reps at the kettlebell clean and press to swing station, sweat started dripping down my face. But I wasn’t tired yet. I began to feed off the energy from the other people in the room and the pair of ebullient instructors marshaling the group to keep up my effort.
I was at an F45 Training gym in Brooklyn, trying out a new workout concept from one of the biggest names in personal training, but the atmosphere was intimate and familiar. This felt much different than my typical solo strength training, and it definitely didn’t fit the mold of what I initially expected from a group workout from a massive fitness franchise.
After all, F45 is one of the fastest growing group fitness concepts in the country in no small part due to a healthy dose of star power. Mark Wahlberg is an investor, and often posts photos and videos from group sweat sessions with famous friends like Mario Lopez. David Beckham, another investor, just opened a location in the UK. Unless one of these fledgling fitness moguls randomly drops into your Wednesday morning workout, that celebrity association doesn’t mean a whole lot for the experience of the average F45 devotee. Most people go for the intense “functional team” training, which marries 45 minutes of HIIT intervals with peppy collaborative spirit.
But when the brand named well-known celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson its Chief of Athletics, it opened up a Hollywood pipeline directly to neighborhood F45 locations across the country. When I was offered an opportunity to check out Peterson’s new workout, which was designed to mimic the protocols he uses with his famous clients and debuted at the chain’s locations earlier this month, I wanted to try it out in the real world. That’s how I wound up sweating through my shirt before 9 am on a Friday at F45 Park Slope, just a short bike ride away from my apartment.
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I had never been to an F45 workout before, but trainers Lloyd and Anwar immediately brought me up to speed. They told me that Peterson’s class is a whole new concept for the chain with a rep-based structure; F45 typically offers routines based on timed intervals (there was still a running clock, but the coaches emphasized that finishing the reps should be the focus). The format was simple: there were eight stations, and I was tasked with completing a round of supersets (two exercises back-to-back) at each. The rep scheme was an inverted pyramid, meaning that I was tasked with performing rounds of 12, 10, eight, and six reps of each exercise before the four minute clock hit zero and I moved to the next station. Each station had a range of weights ready and waiting to be used—I was told the idea was to progress to heavier loads as the reps decreased.
Easy, I thought, readying myself for the workout. I’ve interviewed Peterson about his training philosophy before, so I felt like I was in good hands. But he wasn’t in the studio—at least not in person. When the time came for the workout, Lloyd and Anwar directed the class to the flat screen TVs that ringed the room, and a clip of Peterson and another F45 trainer explained the workout. Afterwards, Lloyd and Anwar moved from station to station, demonstrating each exercise and offering helpful tips and regressions. Unlike other group fitness workouts I’ve done in the past where trainers largely preened and seemed more fixed on how they looked for an audience, I was confident that I knew what I was meant to do at every step of the workout. If I ever had a question, the TV screens played all the exercises on a loop, so it was as easy as looking up to double check the form. I was paired up with a quiet, determined woman who seemed ready to get to work, the radio kicked in, and the session began.
The first few rounds were simple, and I pushed to work through the reps as quickly as possible (with great form, of course). Each movement was paired with a complementary exercise; There were some push-pull pairs, some that worked opposing muscle groups, and others that focused on a single body part, like the core. After a few rounds, there was a quick hydration break.
During the working sets, the trainers ranged around the room, yelling encouragement to all and offering advice once anyone’s form began to flag, myself included. Anwar caught me cheating on an EZ bar biceps curl and checked me on it, discouraging me to move only at the elbows. This was a smart adjustment that showed he had his eyes on everything happening and could adjust his coaching for different ability levels.
As the reps piled up, I felt the strain—which brings us back to the kettlebell station. I was breathing heavy and sweating, and as I swung the bell, I thought to myself what a great change of pace this was from my day-to-day. I kept that mood and effort through the final few stations, some of which were so challenging that I didn’t finish all the reps. But I didn’t burn out. The focus wasn’t on all-out effort for effort’s sake, another complaint I have of the typical group fitness experience. Instead, I was encouraged to finish strong.
After the final clock wound down, the trainers addressed the room and dapped everyone up. There was a collective satisfaction—we just crushed that. I gave my partner a high five, and caught up quickly with the trainers. They were glad to teach the class, especially since it gave them a new format within the F45 Training library. Peterson’s class has a Hollywood pedigree, but it’s a good reminder that celebrity training isn’t totally inaccessible if you’re not in LA. You can take on the same workout at the gym on the corner, just as long as you’re ready to put in A-list effort.
F45 Training will offer Gunnar Peterson’s Workout on Fridays throughout the month of April. Check here for a location near you.
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