The Chat

Fighting fit: F45 takes a proactive approach to lockdown

F45 is fighting fit despite lockdown.

F45 is at the spearhead of Ireland’s fitness revolution. Despite the Covid-19 lockdown F45 Ireland’s Gavin McConnon and Brendan Spratt pivoted energetically to include video-based workouts. They talk to John Kennedy.

Before the Covid-19 crisis hit, the founders of F45 in Ireland Gavin McConnon and Brendan Spratt were busy running classes and plotting the expansion of their various fitness studios across Dublin.

The ‘F’ in F45 stands for functional training while the ‘45’ stands for the number of minutes that members endure and hopefully enjoy sweat-dripping, heart-pumping fun as they combine a mix of circuit and high-intensity interval training. In an Ireland that is embracing wellness and fitness, the F45 classes have proven extremely popular and the franchise in Ireland.

As we catch up with McConnon and Spratt over a Zoom call, the former was in the middle of working with builders on the next F45 studio while Spratt has just finished a live class via video link. Both McConnon and Spratt are in the vanguard of the F45 fitness training revolution and brought the global franchise to Ireland from Australia where they first discovered F45.

They discovered the F45 Training community while living in Australia and decided to bring it back to Ireland. Globally there are almost 1,800 F45 studios in 45 countries worldwide.

But by early March like the rest of Ireland they were thrown into the chaos caused by Covid-19, wrestling with the realities of keeping a business alive during lockdown and managing a busy household.

We went from running a number of studios with a staff of managers to working from home with two small kids and trying to pivot the business to provide fitness classes over video,” recalls McConnon. “Myself and Gavin lived in Australia for five years and we really got into fitness over there,” said Spratt. “We both absolutely loved F45 because it marries the big box gym experience into a personal training experience at a fraction of the price. So when we came back to Ireland there was a very obvious gap in the market. If we loved it, we believed others would too.”

They were right and fast forward four years they have three studios operational are about to open their fourth studio. “Our members come to F45 for the experience we give them,” said McConnon. “Our members attend on average four times a week, while for traditional gyms the average can be as low as once a month. Our members are completely invested in their fitness.”

Also prior to lockdown, McConnon and Spratt had just featured in the emotional Virgin Media show ‘You Me and Surrogacy’ about their journey into parenthood with daughter Lily (5 months) and son Theo (2).

But bills had to be paid and very quickly they pivoted to provide classes to members via video. “Through video we were able to make them feel that they were having the same experience as they would in any of our studios,” said Spratt. “That was one thing that stayed constant for them.

The online classes have been well-received by their loyal customer base. “The fact that I can log on and do a class whenever suits me is brilliant,” said Aoife O’Malley from Dublin. “I know F45 never repeats a workout but with the on demand, if there's one I really love, I can choose to do it again! The trainers are such superstars, friendly faces giving constant encouragement and support!

At first, they had to do a lot of work to ensure their courses and facilities were consistent with the global F45 experience. “But once we succeeded in opening the first one we felt we could do more. We are in the process of opening another three. We are also thinking of considering where else we could open.

McConnon said that Ireland is changing and people are realising that there is more to life than pubs and TV. “The younger generation are more into their fitness today than they would have been 10 or 20 years ago. And this is not only true in Ireland but across the world. People want to live healthier and happier lives. The pub is being replaced by the gym and coffee.”

The reason our members keep attending is the sense of community they get from F45,” added Spratt. “We have a totally different workout every day, so they never get bored. Community, we have found, is what keeps bringing people back.” Their reaction to the lockdown was to ensure that members and trainers could continue to keep fit.

When the lockdown happened, we grabbed what AV equipment we could and decided to record what we thought would be the best we could do to convey the experience in the studio,” said McConnon. “And within two days 5,000 people viewed our videos and the feedback was ‘this is brilliant, keep it up’. Ultimately what we focused on was recording classes that were as close to the in-studio experience and it has resonated with our members.

Spratt felt that for members the ability to attach themselves to something that was both familiar but also good for them was calming amidst the chaos. “They were coming back to a community, to trainers they knew and for 45 minutes they were able to feel a bit better despite everything else that was going on in their lives and all around them. Through video we were able to make them feel that they were having the same experience as they would in any of our studios. That was one thing that stayed constant for them.

Like the true entrepreneurs they are, McConnon and Spratt are already looking ahead. They believe they will once again open their studios but are mindful that a new normal will also see many people who would have been coming to their classes from offices increasingly engage from home.

I think the future will be a combination of both at-home and in-studio,” said McConnon. “For certain people at-home workouts will work best for them because of their personal or work situation but other people will want to come back into the studio. There are advantages to both. And both can co-exist. At F45 our classes are quite structured, and we’ve been looking at is how we can make our classes and equipment safe for our clients and give them the confidence to return to the studio when it is safe to do so.”

They have also been able to leverage the global F45 franchise for various learnings and approaches that will ensure safety and good hygiene as things begin to reopen.

These include reduced class sizes to ensure social distancing, dedicated training stations and technology to disinfect equipment.

There will be head trainers to help if you need any assistance, but you’ll be able to complete your workout in 45 minutes, get your sweat on, lift your weights and you’ll feel great and then you leave the studio,” said McConnon. “At no time will you have shared equipment with anyone and at no time will you have intermixed with other people. We believe the in-studio and at-home experiences will complement each other and there will be people who will want to try a mix of both.

Our on-demand product has been received very well and it just shows you what you can achieve and how innovative you can be when challenged,” concluded Spratt. “We’re going to continue working on it but also being there with an in-studio experience when the time is right. It is about looking after our community both online and in-studio and the way forward will be a marriage of both.”

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