A New At-Home Exercise Program:
Curious about the Beachbody on Demand fitness program, “9 Week Control Freak,” and whether it might be a good match for your exercise goals? Buckle up for a DETAILED and honest review, because the answer is… complicated.
How Autumn Calabrese Made “9WCF”
Famed Beachbody “Super Trainer” Autumn Calabrese — known for “21 Day Fix” and “80 Day Obsession” — released “9 Week Control Freak” in late 2020 as a bonus purchase, available May of 2021 as part of the Beachbody on Demand subscription ($8-$20 a month, depending on the payment plan).
What sets this program apart from other Beachbody workouts is the addition of a piece of equipment known as the “Control Track” — an adjustable height resistance band cable set-up which attaches to a door or wall. This two-month program has an innovative combination of Tabata cardio, HIIT, weightlifting, and flexibility and balance workouts which last just 30 minutes a day — including two rest days a week.
Why Trust this Review? #1: I’m Not a Coach!
Nearly all Beachbody program reviews are written by BOD coaches who earn money if you buy the programs or equipment mentioned — but not this one! I’m NOT a Beachbody coach — I’m just a middle school English teacher who geeks out by writing ridiculously detailed workout reviews — meaning I can be totally honest.
In terms of my fitness qualifications, I actually DO the workouts I review, myself (writing pages and pages of notes along the way to ensure accuracy). Further, I was a Division I high jumper in college, have completed numerous at-home workout programs from start to finish, and currently volunteer as the head of an 800-person exercise motivation group in my Boston neighborhood. Trust me? Great! Let’s go.
Pros: What I Liked About “9WCF”
1. Variety and surprising newness!
The name of the game with “9 Week Control Freak” is: DIFFERENT. I’ve done a lot of workout programs in my life, but truly have never seen anything like this. Moves are innovative, complex, and sometimes downright weird — but all of them hit muscles that I’ve clearly neglected. Expect to use your brain as much as your body.
Workouts are wildly varied, and almost nothing is repeated. For example, “Total Body Tone” features only ONE time through each move, meaning you need to give each your all, as there won’t be more sets to attempt a do-over. One shot is all you get.
Because the three-times-a-week DCT-T workouts are divided into three distinct parts each, you never go more than 12 minutes before moving to a totally different type of exercise. Sick of the slower weightlifting portion in the middle? Tabata cardio HIIT is coming for the last 4 minutes! Didn’t love that move in the Density section? You’ll never see it again, because the only workouts repeated are “Total Body Tone” — and even those change completely after each 3 week phase!
2. Just 30 minutes a day + 2 rest days a week.
Given that I work multiple jobs and have two young kids, half an hour is an ideal amount of time for an at-home workout. Heck — we’ve all spent 30 minutes simply scrolling social media, so it’s hard to use the excuse, “I don’t have time” with “9WCF.” There’s time!
Further, the fact that there are TWO rest days a week with “9 Week Control Freak” is a major perk! Beachbody has way too many programs which are 6 or even 7 days a week, and those are simply not realistic, nor good for the body. I love Autumn’s emphasis in “9WCF” on rest, as it scientifically IS when your muscles actually do their growing.
Unlike many of Autumn’s other programs (“80 Day Obsession” and “21 Day Fix: Real Time“), there is no wasted time in each episode! Yes, there are long speeches, but they happen during the exercises, meaning you’re rarely just standing there with nothing to do. Yay, efficiency, and yay to Autumn and BOD for taking the feedback that programs are better with less idle talking.
3. Total-body workouts with results — legs and glutes, too!
A marketing problem with “9 Week Control Freak” is that the episodes are named for the arm movements, which hides the fact that EVERY DAY IS LEG AND GLUTE DAY. I love lower body work, and very nearly didn’t try “9WCF” because the titles incorrectly made it seem that all it worked is upper body!
I’ve gotten excellent results with “9WCF” from top to toe, but in particular I’ve noticed great strengthening of my back and core posture muscles (so important with all our time hunched at desks), and my glutes. The exercise step is pivotal in the latter.
May 2021 edit: Of the many at-home workout programs I’ve completed, I’d actually rank “9 Week Control Freak” as yielding the BEST full-body results in the least amount of time. It’s such an effective mix of cardio, strength, and variety that I’ve actually returned to do the later phases a second time!
4. Inspiring cast, plus clear modifications.
Everyone in the cast of “9 Week Control Freak” is 39 years or older!!! As a 39 year old gal — the same age as Autumn — I dug this so much. Jose (@coachjjalvarez) is 44 years old, Kat (@lovesizeme) is 53, and Tania (@officialtaniabaron) is the most powerful and inspiring 46 years old imaginable — and used to be a backup dancer for Britney Spears.
Age aside, every cast member is upbeat, real, and delightful. Those three kept me going through the hard workouts! I do encourage you to follow them on social media, because each is up to incredible things in their own right. A special shout-out to Kat, who provided clear modifications for every move, meaning you can make the otherwise very jump-filled program low-impact relatively easily.
5. Deep thoughts.
Autumn is notorious for her inspirational speeches, so this may be a “Con” for some, but I truly thought she nailed important points during “9 Week Control Freak,” and there is a very welcome emphasis on health and happiness, versus obsessing about weight loss.
Almost every episode, I found myself hollering out loud, “TRUE STORY!” as she preached a different life insight. My favorite: “You say you want to stop eating junk food, but who is the person buying it and bringing it into your house?!” Hehe.
6. Brilliant mind games of motivation.
Autumn explains that she spent over a year developing “9 Week Control Freak” so that she could leverage the best motivation psychology. What’s an example? She realized that a lot of people psych themselves up for 30 minute workouts by saying, “It’s just 10 minutes, 3 times” — so Autumn planned every DCT-T workout to be divided into three distinct parts! This makes each episode fly by, because once you’re done with the 12-minute “Density” section, the workout is almost half over.
The program itself is also divided into three phases, which is genius because completing 3 weeks (21 days) is very doable as an initial goal. By the time you’re finished with Phase 1 — a far less daunting feat than a full two months — you’ve already launched the habit of fitting exercise into your life. Smaaaart.
7. The “Control Track” is actually worth it.
I was suspicious of whether the Control Track was just a gimmick to get extra money, but it’s truly awesome, and ultimately a very good value for what it offers. Autumn explains several times in the program that the track is a low-cost version of the expensive cable machines which are a feature in so many gyms. (For scent-sensitive folks like me, know that it also smells a bit like rubber cherries.)
In terms of results, the Track has been instrumental in targeting those all-important back and posture muscles which no amount of dumbbell or bodyweight moves can adequately reach. Further, the cost and complexity of the “9 Week Control Freak” equipment kind of forces you to stick with the program, because you don’t want the money and installation time to go to waste. Sneaky! Oh, and the exercise step and ball way exceeded my expectations for benefits, too.
8. Excellent camera angles and cues.
“9 Week Control Freak” has some mighty complex exercise moves, thus a special shout-out needs to go to the production and film crew, who set up cameras at about 15 different angles — including from above! — so you can clearly see correct body positioning. As someone who’s tried very awkwardly to make my own exercise videos, I’m clear the level of expertise the “9WCF” crew showed.
Autumn is also masterful at cueing for form and safety at every juncture, ex: “Make sure your chest is lifted and your knee doesn’t go past your toe.” I also appreciate that she states what weight amount she is lifting for most moves, so anyone watching can calibrate accordingly.
9. Lots of quality bonus material.
There are more bonus videos than there are regular “9 Week Control Freak” episodes — and that’s a lot! First off, there’s a “Controlled Stretch” 10-minute calming end-of-day video to go with every single workout episode… and they are truly lovely.
Next, there are “Autumn’s 10 Minute Bonus Workouts” which have some excellent core and arm finishers. There are also “Tabata Bonus,” “Recovery and Warm-Up,” and “Remote Control” (no weights) videos, not to mention and entire parallel program called “9WCF Off the Wall” for people who are unable to buy or install the track. You certainly get your money’s worth in getting “9 Week Control Freak.” The program comes with a lot!
Cons: Problems with 9WCF
A. Confusing equipment and space requirements.
It is a challenge (with a capital “C”) to find space for and juggle the required exercise step, ball, multiple weights, Control Track, mat, and workout floor. I work out in my cramped laundry room, and every day during “9 Week Control Freak,” I’ve been doing a complex dance of pulling my fitness equipment (and laundry baskets) from one formation to another to accommodate the ever-changing shape of the space needed for the program.
For example, some days you need a long empty space behind the track, other days you need a step with several feet around it, and other episodes there needs to be a combination of ball, step, weights, and track with diagonal room around them. Unless you’re working out in a giant empty room (which few of us are), expect to shuffle equipment around a ton.
It also took some calculus to determine which door fit the many requirements for the Track installation. I really do think the Control Track is worth it, but not everyone has a door frame or wall which works for what you need: sturdiness and space all around. It’s also a steep learning curve to use effectively. Even in later phases I got tangled up in the Track, and grumbled when asked to adjust it up and down multiple times during one workout.
B. Slow ramp-up; many workouts feel short.
For a lot of people, it would be a “Pro” that Autumn ramps up to everything SLOWLY, over the course of weeks. This truly is an “Intermediate” workout program, as labeled. Autumn explains several times that she does this slow ramp-up so as not to scare people off, and to build everyone up to confidently executing the difficult moves in Phases 2 and 3. Personally, however, I would have preferred a speedier ramp-up.
C. “BOD Groups” are hardly used, and cast is hard to hear.
Unlike “6 Weeks of The Work,” which has audible microphones on all cast members so you can really get to know them, or “Muscle Burns Fat #mbf” which features an all-Zoom cast with fabulous interactions and personalities, the focus of “9WCF” is chiefly on the trainer.
This is a bit of a bummer because I delighted in what cast members in other programs had to say, and wanted to hear more from those in “9 Week Control Freak!” Like — who is even in that mysterious BOD Group which only flashes on the screen for half a second? Can’t we put a louder microphone on Jose to hear more of his beautiful Puerto Rican Spanish? Sigh!
E. No music, yet lots of product mentions.
The program I did before “9 Week Control Freak” was “Muscle Burns Fat Advanced #mbfa,” which is one of the few Beachbody on Demand programs featuring music playing to the beat of the exercise moves. “9WCF” has zero music, so I do recommend having your own tunes going in the background, cumbersome as that is to set up double streaming windows.
Meanwhile, in addition to her motivational speeches, Autumn does frequently mention Beachbody products or nutrition programs. This ultimately isn’t the biggest problem, because if you’re like me and prefer to get your protein and food plans elsewhere, you can just tune out those moments. However, it is worth mentioning, so you can set your expectations for embedded ads accordingly.
F. Trackers are odd.
“9WCF” comes with a set of extremely long print-out trackers, plus a laminated “Brag Board”… but unless you’re going to do the program twice, there is almost no point in tracking anything but the “Total Body Tone” weights and numbers, since nothing in the program is repeated except those once-a-week workouts!
Moreover, unlike “Muscle Burns Fat,” there’s not a realistic time during the workouts to write down the tracking numbers. Every episode ENDS with a shot of the cast writing down their stats, but most human brains forget numbers unless they’re written immediately (or have a fancy staff of interns to do counts — wouldn’t that be fun?), meaning it’s unrealistic to wait so long. Methinks the subtle message of this is that it’s way less important to chart numbers in “9WCF” than other programs. I accepted that, and ceased charting after Week 2.
Who Should Do “9 Week Control Freak?”
Though I liked it, I would NOT recommend “9WCF” as someone’s FIRST Beachbody program. Though the level of “9 Week Control Freak” is labeled “Intermediate” (which is the correct label in terms of exercise difficulty), it’s actually “Advanced” in terms of mental and logistical gymnastics of equipment juggling.
This is my sixth BOD program, and I found myself really struggling to follow for the first two weeks. I humbly suggest that you have a base of at least one other BOD program (perhaps “21 Day Fix: Real Time,” “Muscle Burns Fat #mbf,” or even “80 Day Obsession“) under your belt before attempting “9WCF.” That will build the confidence and strength needed to persevere through the track-ball-mat-step-weights madness in Autumn’s new program.
In short, I strongly do recommend “9 Week Control Freak” to anyone who HAS done at least one other Beachbody on Demand program in its entirety, and is willing to push past a steep learning curve with the newfangled equipment. I think you’ll find it exciting and refreshingly different from other BOD workouts. Most people will want to combine it with some other cardio like running or walking, however. Here’s why.
Combining “9WCF” with Walking or Running
As Autumn explains, a 30 minute workout is just TWO PERCENT of your day. Therefore, I would argue that even if you give “9 Week Control Freak” your absolute all, it’s a good idea to pair it with some other form of daily movement — and mindfulness practice too, if you can!
For me, I combined “9WCF” with daily walks outside (yes, even in the Boston winter) because fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun are key for mental and physical health. I also added a series of excellent meditation courses on the Insight Timer app, early bedtimes, and healthy food and hydration in order to get optimal results… and to feel good!
“9 Week Control Freak” Equipment
Is it Worth it to Order Gear from Beachbody?
Normally I recommend just buying cheap knock-offs of required equipment online (ex: this affiliate link for a knockoff of the #mbfa BOD Rope cordless jump rope), BUT in the case of “9 Week Control Freak,” the official equipment bundle is worth it, and shipped quickly for me. Here’s the run-down on each item. (FYI, some links below are affiliates, meaning they provide a small commission at no extra expense to you, if you choose to buy.)
1. The “Control Track.”
The Track is the central piece of equipment for “9WCF,” and consists of a woven black band which either wraps around a door, or screws into a wall, and has an adjustable-height metal attachment that holds either of the two included resistance bands. Yes, you probably could cobble together a knockoff version of this, but the official one does the work for you.
Installation was fairly easy, but choosing a door with enough space around it which closes in the correct direction was tough! For the most part, the Track has been sturdy, but the back of the metal piece does fall off occasionally for me — more of an aesthetic issue than a functional one. I’ve solved it with some trusty tape.
2. The “Core Ball.”
This squishy silver-gray ball is used almost every episode for ab and core work (plus some delicious stretches), and is between 9 inches and a foot in diameter, depending how much you inflate it. Again, you definitely COULD get away with a knockoff for this one (click to see some ball options) — just make sure you’re buying a small ball, not those giant ones — but I found it easier to just opt for the exact desired dimensions.
3. An Exercise Step.
The workout step (ideally with adjustable height) is the easiest piece of equipment to replace with an off-brand knockoff. I got mine secondhand at a yard sale, and there is a wide price range online. Click here to browse exercise steps. Like all of the equipment in “9 Week Control Freak,” this is pretty non-negotiable to have; I got great results in glutes in particular thanks to this step.
4. Dumbbells (Light, Medium, Heavy Weights).
I did almost all of “9 Week Control Freak” with my trusty vinyl-covered 10 pound weights — but you will likely need lighter (5s could be good, and 8s, possibly) and heavier (I didn’t use more than 15s). If you’re considering using adjustable weights, do read my warnings and adjustable dumbbells review first, since they’re only a so-so match for BOD programs.
5. A Squishy Mat.
For “9 Week Control Freak,” I ended up using not one, but TWO squishy exercise mats like this one for floor moves. The reason is that the only door which worked to install my track was far from the cushioned foam puzzle piece workout floor tiles on the central part of my workout area — er, laundry room — so I needed extra mats to place near the track. Again, this program, requires more space than others.
6. Optional: Fitness-Wear like Compression Socks.
While exciting leggings certainly aren’t required for “9 Week Control Freak,” they do making working out a whole lot more fun! Enjoy my sparkly purple mermaid scale outfit? It’s by Emily Hsu Designs! (This is not a sponsored placement — I’m on a mission to purchase and feature a different woman-of-color-owned athleisure-wear company every fitness article. If you missed it, my last article spotlighted ARMOR LEGGINGS.)
To protect against vein issues and to support general leg health, I highly recommend compression socks, and I like this brand. You may recall that I usually work out barefoot (no shoes) but that proved impossible for most of “9 Week Control Freak” because the exercise step is painful to jump on and off of without more padding from soles. Speaking of other workout programs, let’s move on to a comparison…
Descriptions of “9WCF” Workouts
“9 Week Control Freak” Sample Workout
The sample workout for “9WCF” is worth checking out, especially if you’re on the fence about starting the actual nine weeks. Though the sample episode uses none of the equipment which is the hallmark of the actual program, it does feature representative Tabata cardio bursts (15 seconds on and 15 off, like Week 2 workouts), core moves, and a fast pace for just 18 minutes of work.
The sample workout actually has more idle talking and pauses than the actual program, so don’t be fooled; the real thing is more efficient. What IS representative in the sample is the good cueing, the quality production value, and the upbeat cast. The sample also demonstrates how “9WCF” pushes you to go full out for repeated short chunks. The program is a really neat combination of fast, slow, and endurance.
Overview of the 3 Phases
The three phases of “9WCF” are three weeks long each, with 5 workouts per week. Phase One really eases you in, and may feel short or easy to some, which is why it’s nice to have the bonus workouts (or extra walking and running on your own to supplement.) Phases 2 and 3 add a whole lot more complexity for compound movements. Every week there are three DCT-T episodes, one Tabata Cardio workout (which includes core moves), and one Total Body Tone.
What is DCT-T?
The first part of DCT-T workouts is Density Training: 12 minutes (shown by a countdown clock on the screen, which I love) of doing as many rounds of 5 moves as possible, in a combination endurance and strength challenge. This is an ideal time to play your own music. The home gym setup is most difficult for this section, because you often need to fully rearrange your equipment over and over during each round. Density sections are fun, though, and I actually would be happy to do longer than 12 minutes of them!
Strength Complexes are slower — unlike the race that is Density — and follow Autumn’s pace for strength training like weightlifting. These focus on upper body building, and the episodes are (confusingly, in my view) named for this segment only, creating the illusion that the whole program is just upper body, which it ain’t! I’d say this was my least favorite segment because they get overly long by later phases, and the weight you can lift is very limited by the smallest muscle in the complex “bundle.” (Ex: Even though there are leg moves, you usually can’t go higher than 10s because of the arm components.)
Tabata Training consists of 4 minutes of short bursts of full-out cardio (ex: high knees) alternated with rest. There is no count-down timer on the screen, which is a bummer. Week 1s have 10 seconds on and 20 off for Tabata segments. Week 2s are 15 and 15, and Week 3s are “true Tabata” with 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off. (By Phase 3, they’re mostly just “true Tabata.”) Those last ones are actually the most fun, and I got annoyed with the Week 1s’ slowness. Overall I really grew to love this section, however. A good heart-pounding sweat makes you feel cleansed!
What is a “Tabata Cardio” Workout Day?
Take the description I just gave, above, of how Tabata cardio works in this program, and stretch it over 18 minutes, except with an assortment of moves instead of just one, plus core exercises interspersed. That forms the 18-minute “Tabata Cardio” workouts in “9 Week Control Freak!” These days were excellent, and include an on-screen count-down timer — yay! Because Tabata days are short, I often combined them with the bonus episodes — or even sometimes with the next workout day! (The latter is a naughty confession, because Autumn emphasizes the importance of following the program pacing as designed: Rest Days and all.)
What is “Total Body Tone?”
Every single workout in “9 Week Control Freak” is unique and doesn’t repeat, with the exception of “Total Body Tone,” which repeats 3 times in total for one day of each week in a phase. These workouts are slower and more strength-based (less cardio).
The bizarre thing for me in “Total Body Tone” days was that there is only one set through for every move during the half-hour, and you do TONS of moves — many of which are newfangled or even strange. The notes I took after the first “TBT” literally read: “Well, that was weird.” These aren’t bad days at all… they’re just different from most any other workout out there, with lots (like LOTS) of variety.
Autumn’s “Controlled Stretches”
The daily 10-minute stretches are the hidden gem of “9 Week Control Freak.” You’re meant to do them at the end of every day with a workout, but I usually bunched several together and did them before or after a workout. I also found them great to do with my 5 year old daughter!
The “Controlled Stretches” feature calming music, Autumn in her super-cute pajamas, and easy but effective stretching and breathing exercises… plus inspirational speeches! There’s a lot of value and insight in each one, and they’re well worth your time to learn self-care tools that last a lifetime.
Rest Days and Injury Prevention
This is a loving reminder to listen to your body — and even consult a doctor or fitness professional — to avoid injury during any new workout program. I did find my old right knee tendonitis flaring up during “9 Week Control Freak,” along with some upper back tightness. Both issues went away when I adhered to the rest day schedule, and made sure to head for bed early to get enough sleep for recovery.
“9WCF” Bonus Workouts
Guess what? These cardio burst workouts aren’t unique content at all! They’re just a cut and paste of the Tabata sections at the end of other episodes of “9 Week Control Freak.” That doesn’t make them bad — just know that you may find yourself saying, “I think I’ve seen this joke and outfit before…” This bonus cardio content is useful to have if you want that extra, sweaty OOMPH to put you over the endorphin edge.
Autumn’s 10 Minute Bonus Workouts:
Each of these short workouts is unique and fabulous content. I particularly recommend the three ab mini-workouts, as they all hit that sweet spot of “doable yet challenging enough to be effective.”
These five half-hour workouts are for when you’re traveling and don’t have weights, but do have the track. Useful to have, and certainly the idea of traveling again soon makes me very happy! The ABC Islands are calling my name… a beach to show the “beach body!”
“9WCF” Recovery and Warm-Up:
With two recovery and two warm-up stretching videos ranging from 10 to 20 minutes, you can prevent and treat the sore muscles “9 Week Control Freak” so loves to throw your way. My glutes are throbbing as I write this! Time for some foam rolling…
“9WCF Off the Wall” (No Track)
In January of 2021, there was a bunch of controversy as a set of people became frustrated with the requirement of purchasing the Control Track to do “9WCF.” They argued that many homes do not have doors or walls which work with this piece of equipment, so they were being unfairly excluded. They also were concerned about the price.
To address these concerns, Autumn and BOD recorded a whole new set of “9 Week Control Freak” workouts which do not require the Track, calling it “9WCF Off the Wall.” This 15-video set requires repeating videos, and each of the 3 sets of 5 videos is meant to be repeated over 3 weeks to form a full phase. I am currently in the process of doing all these OTW workouts (subscribe to know when I’m done to get the full run-down) and despite being initially skeptical, I’m actually really liking “#9WCF Off the Wall.” Here’s why:
1. “Off the Wall” is harder (in a good way) from the outset.
One of the biggest gripes about the regular version of “9 Week Control Freak” is that it starts off too slow and easy. Because OTW has repeated videos, however (unlike the Real Time nature of #9WCF), Autumn was forced to ramp up the intensity faster.
For example, for Tabata days — starting right in Week 1 — there’s the fabulous option to follow Kat for 10 seconds on, Jose for 15 seconds on, or Autumn and Tania for 20 seconds on. I adore this differentiation (a teacher word meaning offering adjustments for different levels) because I got very restless during the Reverse Tabata in the original.
2. It’s refreshing not to have to juggle all the equipment!
Though I found the Control Track truly worthwhile, I sure enjoy NOT having to chase after my ball, trip over the step, or adjust the Track 15 times in 12 minutes during OTW! Simplifying the equipment not only allows Autumn to pick up the pace a little, but it also allows you to focus more on getting into the flow of the moves, which leads us to the last perk of “Off the Wall…”
3. You still get the originality and endorphin buzz with OTW.
My favorite three things about “9 Week Control Freak” are, first, that you can get into a sustained sweaty zone during the 12 minutes of Density (without getting bored, since there are five different moves), second, the endorphin high that the Tabata sections always bring, and third, the originality and creativity of the workout moves and flow. Here’s the great news: “Off the Wall” provides those three elements just as well as the original!
In short, if you’re on the fence about whether or not to try “9 Week Control Freak,” I highly recommend starting with “Off the Wall,” since you get a great feel for the program — all without having to invest immediately in the equipment.
Is “9 Week Control Freak” for YOU?
As you can see, Beachbody’s new program, “9 Week Control Freak” is not for everyone. I’d recommend NOT picking it for your first Beachbody on Demand program, because of its complexity of equipment and moves — unless you start with “Off the Wall” and give yourself lots of compassionate time to get the hang of it. However, for someone with a solid base of at least one other full BOD program completed already, “9WCF” is an intriguing, innovative, efficient, and effective workout. It’s hands-down one of my favorite workout plans now, and I’ve relished the results!
So what about you? Have you tried “9 Week Control Freak?” If so, how was your experience? If you haven’t tried it, does it seem like a match for what you’re looking for? Are there any questions I can help answer? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!