Why 30 is the new 45 (minutes, that is)

A 30 minute workout may be the sweet spot for getting fit in the shortest possible time. Tony Sarno reports.

Functional group training, in which small teams follow an exercise program in a fitness studio space, has exploded in popularity over the last few years. The reason is simple: the supportive group environment is highly motivating, and you also get instructions on what to do in each session.

This kind of training has been spectacularly successful at Fitness First — where it’s known as Freestyle Group Training (FGT), emerging three years ago when some gyms were cleared of old equipment to create studio-like training spaces. FGT classes, which are free for members, now get 1 million visits a year.

Functional group training is also behind the rise of F45 franchises, which run 45-minute classes in single studio spaces throughout the country.

However, in light of the exploding popularity of High Intensity Interval Training, which has been shown to be as effective in 30 minutes or less as longer, medium intensity 40-60 minute workouts, it was inevitable that a shorter, super-effective form of functional group training would come along.

It’s the new Fitness First FGT spring classes, covering Athletic, HIIT, XT Circuit, Suspension Fusion and Strength. All are intensive 30 minute workouts which use functional movement to get you fit in the shortest, most efficient way possible.

Apart from their functional, circuit-based nature and shorter length, FGT classes differ from Group Exercise classes (which get around 4 million visits a year) by hosting fewer people — most classes average 12 participants, although they can climb much higher depending on their popularity.

What’s really powerful about the 30 minute limit of FGT classes is that they address one of the biggest reasons people quit training: lack of time. The team nature of the class deals with the other reason: a lack of motivation when exercising alone.

“The program is built around being efficient in 30 minutes, and is always delivered by one of our personal trainers,” says Fitness First’s National Fitness Manager, Michael Cunico. “You’re doing it in a group so you get to meet like-minded members. We know that people generally get more out of training when they do it with others.”

The FGT classes squeeze as much as possible into their half hour, he says.

“There’s a one or two-minute intro explaining what’s going to happen in the session, followed by a short warm up to get the body prepared, and then there’s the block of training, which is generally about 22-24 minutes. Then you’ve got a two-minute cooldown, recovery and question time.

“Most classes are based around work-rest intervals, which vary according to what the training goal is. For example, if strength is the goal of the workout, then we’ll generally have slightly longer work intervals, shorter rest intervals and we’ll probably superset exercises (combine exercises for opposing muscle groups without a break). That way there’s very little downtime, you’re not standing around waiting for two minutes for your next set but working opposing muscle groups to get the most out of the class and your time.”

The Zone re-zoned

One of the showcase studio spaces for FGT at Fitness First is The Zone in Sydney’s CBD. Fitness First will revamp The Zone over the next few months, consolidating its current six training areas into four, representing the key areas of fitness: Conditional, Functional, Progressive and High Performance training, and run up to 75 30 minute classes per day. The idea is to make The Zone the premium functional training facility in the country and then, in time, apply aspects of the model to other Fitness First clubs.

Fitness First’s marketing manager, Samantha Bragg, says the name “The Zone” will also be simplified to “Zone”, referring to the idea that in the four training areas you get into the zone so you can unleash the ultimate you.

Fitness First goes 24/7 

In one of the biggest developments at Fitness First in years, the health club chain is also introducing 24/7 opening hours to 16 clubs before next June, with more to switch over after that.

Bragg says: “24/7 is all about showing how Fitness First helps you go further, when it suits you.”

Members will be issued with 24/7 passes and will be able to let themselves into unattended, but highly secure, gyms anytime they want to train.

If being in a gym at night by yourself is daunting or unnerving, it shouldn’t be. This is not 24/7 as you know it in other gym chains. Fitness First has put safety first, says Bragg.

“There’s a panic room, for example, where members can go and lock themselves in and call someone to come and help them. There’s panic buttons around the club if they’re not feeling well. We really want to make sure that we’re providing a safe experience for our members who want to utilise the 24/7 facilities when the clubs are unstaffed.”

But as with most 24/7 gyms, don’t expect the clubs to be packed at 3am. The reality of 24/7 is that it will appeal mostly to those members who want to train just outside of normal opening and closing times.

Like the revamp of The Zone, 24/7 is about Fitness First telling its members that it wants to help them go further, their way, and at a time of their choosing.

The first clubs to switch to 24/7 are Shelley Street, Cronulla, Richmond, Erina Fair, QV Platinum, Brighton, Hornsby, North Strathfield and Victoria Gardens.