Body Fit Training (better known as BFT) is a homegrown network of fitness studios across Australia, which has exploded in recent years and now includes New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Spain, the UK and the USA. The premise is simple: each day offers the same class run at different times, where members work out in groups supervised by trainers while video screens demonstrate techniques and count down the minutes. One day everyone does an upper body workout, the next day boxing, the next HIIT.

It’s fast, efficient and often quite painful. Everything is tech-savvy, with apps and heart rate monitors and expert-designed programs. You’re encouraged to attend at least five classes a week, whenever and wherever you can make it. Most stick to one studio and form a community with the trainers and trainees.

It’s one of those gyms non-believers tend to label a cult and, believe me, I was a non-believer. “Why not?” I thought, when I received an invitation to try BFT’s signature eight-week fitness challenge (8WC). There must be a reason it’s so popular.

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The week before

I sign up to BFT Fitzroy, the closest studio to my house. The first task of the 8WC is to figure out how unfit you really are. This means doing an imposing body scan called an Evolt on a contraption that looks like an industrial scale with handles.

The machine spits out a roadmap of numbers and percentiles, which links to an app on my phone. There are two other apps I must download: one to book classes, and another to log my diet and get healthy meal plans and recipes. I’m also given a snazzy heart rate monitor that is my beacon at BFT – like a torch in Survivor – which I must wear to every class.

The initial figures are worse than I thought. I’m 10 kilos over a healthy weight, and 30 kilos heavier than when I finished school. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

The night before

I join my group chat, the Lions, on Whatsapp. There are three 8WC teams competing at BFT Fitzroy: the Lions, the Tigers and the Bears. Oh my. This is the first clue that this studio is very LGBTQI+ friendly, which I am here for.

The chat pops off with about 25 members sharing recipes and goals. I’m nervous – mainly about bombing out midway through, or not even making it to the first session. There is much discussion about the prescribed diet, which is rather strict and not my kind of food. Where is the cheese? How much brown rice? No sauce?!

Week one

Day 1
I walk into the studio – a compact room on Brunswick Street stacked with fitness machines and weights – and have no idea where to stand. It feels like the first day of school, but the peppy trainers are extremely nice and the video screens explain the movements of every set. Most people are pretty fit, but not everyone is, and the overall vibe is welcoming.

Everyone’s heart rate appears on one screen like a periodic table, with corresponding colours so we can see who is in the right “zone”. My heart rate is higher than anyone else in the class. I don’t think this is the point of today’s session, which is about maintaining consistent levels. Oh well. I burn 900 calories and I stumble out of there like a newborn foal and am still sweating at my desk hours later. I check the “virtual podium”, which ranks everyone on how well they trained. I am number 41 of 41.

Day 2
I wake up several times during the night anticipating my early alarm and fall into a deep sleep seconds before it goes off. I scramble to class just in time, rubbing sleep from my eye. Today’s session is upper body strength, a series of weight reps and stretches. It seems much easier than the day before, yet I find it more confusing. The trainers are extremely supportive, like employees in a sportswear store where everything looks good on you. Could this actually be… fun?

Day 3
I do a lunchtime class and it’s mercifully empty, with about a dozen of us sweating it out. People usually come in pairs and are straight down to business. Today’s session is HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and my heart rate is still the highest in the class, hovering in the orange and purple zone (the two highest intensity bands). At home on the couch, everything hurts.

Day 4
It’s leg day, and I now understand the jokes around skipping it. It’s less intense again, with plenty of standing around looking into the distance. The place is packed with straight women and gay men in activewear ignoring each other. Later I go to the opening night of a play and drink about a bottle of white wine and eat six chicken mayo finger sandwiches.

Day 6
I am sent a form to fill out about my weekly progress. What was the biggest win of the week? Just showing up, I type.

Week two

Day 9
I’ve been out the night before, to a gig, and getting up is harder than it should be. It is better not to drink booze while doing this challenge, but I can’t change everything overnight. I arrive to the darkened studio where the 6.15am class has just finished, and relaxing pipe music plays as everyone lays on the carpet exhausted. I’m in for a tough 45 minutes ahead.

Day 11
I now recognise the same faces in class, though I’m too shy to chat to people. It’s early and I feel vulnerable. There’s etiquette around using the machines, especially when you sweat like a tap as I do. Disinfectant wipes are handed out at the beginning of each session, and they inevitably wind up in my pocket and go through the wash.

As part of the 8WC there is a scoreboard collating individual and team points stuck to the “wellness wall”. Tasks include making it to more than five classes in a week, or completing a group challenge. This week we need to organise a team photo with the Lions, but it’s like herding cats. After approximately 100 Whatsapp messages, we don’t organise it in time and miss the points.

Day 13
I skip Friday (a low-intensity class, snooze) and go on Saturday. There are fewer classes programmed today and they are all crammed, so I squeeze into the 10.45am final class of the week, ominously called Shred. I’ve left my heart rate monitor at home, which is annoying – if it’s not recorded in my app, then it didn’t happen. There are a galaxy of badges and bonuses and games and levels to unlock, and I can see how people could become obsessed with this, like playing the pokies.

Week three

Day 15
I wake up at 4.55am and am on the mat ready for the 5.15am class. About 10 committed folk show up and we do the week’s mini challenge: pulling as hard as you possibly can on the ergometer rowing machine. I have a secret advantage because I spent most of my teens sliding up and down on an ergo and it comes back to me in an instant. I get home in the dark and smash two bowls of Sultana Bran in a row, feeling like a vision of health.

Day 18
Chris the trainer tells me I topped the class on the ergo challenge and am going into an inter-studio draw to win a Puma voucher. I am unreasonably chuffed.

Day 19
Over the weekend I get on the scale and I’ve barely lost a gram. I try not to feel miserable and give up on the spot. It’s true I’ve not been following the diet, as it’s so grim. Meal prepping lunches and dinners across the week is my idea of hell, so I’ve just been trying to eat healthier. That night I go to a French restaurant and eat steak frites with pepper sauce and glasses of chablis and then go to a bar called Nasty’s and drink four pints of beer. I feel like shit in the morning.

Day 20
Hungover at class. I vow not to do this again.

Week four

Day 22
Packed session. A max of 48 punters and two trainers fit in the studio at once, and it’s organised chaos. There are usually several dogs waiting patiently inside the door. I forgot my spectacles so I’m squinting at the screens trying not to get in anyone’s way. It’s a weights class, my least favourite, but it’s over in a blink.

Day 24
I am out the night before at the National gig and cancel my class at 5am. There’s just no way it’s happening today. Members get fined $10 to cancel, but only if the class is full and someone misses out. I go at lunchtime instead. I spot a guy I went on a disastrous date with about 10 years ago. We avert gazes. Somehow we’re paired together and I end up having to simulate punching him in the face. Awkward!

Week five

Day 30
Twiggy the trainer leaves me a Whatsapp voice note telling me how good my halfway scans were (she’s lying just a little bit). The message: keep going. I slept in this morning so drag myself to the 5.15pm class dehydrated and dreading it. It’s a cardio summit class – i.e. a brutal one. I hate every minute of it, but soon enough it’s over and I feel smug and proud.

Day 32
My shoulder hurts after a deadlift session. You need to be so careful with weights. I head in for a HIIT class and the studio is dark when I arrive, relaxing whale music blaring. The smell is very distinct, like sawdust and sweat and machine oil and ambition. I rub my shoulder gingerly.

Week six

Day 35
I’ve been off the boil – a long weekend and a dicky shoulder has put my rhythm out and life is getting in the way. I only trained three times last week and just missed my PXI score, which is the number of points you should get in a week to meet the training goals. The app knows everything.

Week seven

Day 41
My nutrition has been out the window for weeks so I don’t think I’ve lost any more grams. But I do feel better and look less squishy in my clothes. It’s a Cardio U class today – my fave. A 900-calorie torcher that flies by with focused solo exercises. I finish with skipping and the rope whips by smoothly, and I remember how I used to get hopelessly tangled just a few weeks ago. The difference between day one and day 41 is amazing.

Week eight

Day 50
I’ve given up completing the mini challenges, like: Find out a fact about your teammate! Do a planking hold and time yourself! Do 60,000 steps this week! At this end of the challenge, it’s enough to get to the classes. I have a feeling I’m not alone – the group chat is down to a trickle.

Day 56
I’ve ended with a whimper, not a bang, but I’m feeling so much better than I was eight weeks ago. I do my final scan and I’ve lost five kilos and gained lean muscle mass. Pretty good! But my “bio age” has remained at 42, which is probably a good thing, as it’s my actual age. The Lions, perhaps unsurprisingly, lose to the Tigers and the Bears.

There is no such thing as a quick fix, but structured group training really is a lot more fun and motivating. The regulars in the group are regularly photographed holding signs saying Member Milestone: 100 Classes! 200 Classes! 600 Classes! I have done 34.

Looking back to the beginning of the challenge, the thought of two months felt insurmountable. Now I realise eight weeks is just the beginning.

The writer was a guest of BFT. For more information on the 8WC, visit