Wondering what all of this “Les Mills” business is? Simply put: Les Mills make the best group fitness classes, and I’ve been a Les Mills group fitness instructor since 2007.
What is Les Mills?
This is like a disambiguation page on Wikipedia… “did you mean…”. So Les Mills is a what, and also a who.
In the group fitness sense, Les Mills International – the ‘what’ – is a New Zealand company founded by Philip Mills, the son of New Zealand Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games athlete.
Which means Leslie Mills is that athlete – the ‘who’ – and he opened his first gym in 1968 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Les Mills is still a gym in New Zealand, with locations around the country, and Les Mills International produce group fitness classes for distribution around the world.
For this article, it’s all about the group fitness.
Group fitness to music
Les Mills group fitness classes are fitness driven by music. Simple as that. The creative teams across all programs meticulously plan, draft, practice, edit and revise quarterly releases for each program, matching the movements to the music.
As an instructor, each quarterly release gives us a masterclass video, the music, choreography notes and accompanying education. We use these tools to learn and deliver the release to members in a licensed facility – your local gym!
When some hear “choreography”, a common thought is that it’s a dance thing. The choreography that we get maps out how the movements match the music. In a program like BODYATTACK, the music sets the pace and your footsteps match the beat. In a program like BODYPUMP, that beat drives the rhythm to your execution, and can help elevate, motivate and push you further.
As an instructor, we learn the choreography so that we can deliver it to our classes. When a track starts today, the choreography means it will be the same tomorrow. The timing, sequence and reps remain consistent each time we deliver the track, and can use the education to help superbly coach our members to safely perform a move, improve their execution, and motivate them to do more than they could do just on their own.
It sounds so simple – exercise to music – but there’s some magic to it that you don’t full appreciate until you’ve experienced it. As instructors, we have quarterly workshops, and pre-pandemic, had nation-wide events with hundreds of instructors sweating together, led by the best instructors from around the world. It is what gave me my passion for fitness and exercise – had me hooked and has not let go.
A program for everyone
Les Mills make programs for everyone – from cardio to strength to cycle to core to yoga – and even dance and kids programs – the variety of programs ensures that you can try and explore different exercise types to find something that works for you.
BODYATTACK: high energy cardio
BODYBALANCE: new generation yoga
BODYCOMBAT: martial arts-inspired non-contact cardio
BODYJAM: the ultimate modern and current dance class
BODYPUMP: the original barbell class
BODYSTEP: step-based cardio
Born To Move: a series of programs aimed at different age ranges for young, older and teen kids
Les Mills Barre: modern ballet-inspired strength and dance
Les Mills CORE: core and functional strength
Les Mills GRIT: three breeds - Strength, Athletic and Cardio – of 30 minute HIIT classes
Les Mills Tone: cross training mix of cardio, strength and core
RPM: indoor cycling class to music
SH’BAM: fun dance, suitable for beginners
SPRINT: high intensity interval training on a stationary bike
The Trip: immersive cycle class
Not all programs are available in all clubs – but there’s definitely something for everyone to find a love of fitness.
Backed by science
Les Mills invest in their product, including independent peer reviewed research to help back the science behind their programs. They study how to get the most out of a specific move, which helps create specific track focuses, and innovate each program as research evolves.
With decades of experience in developing their programs, every release goes through a thorough and careful safety review to ensure the movements can be safely performed – whether in a group fitness studio, or at home via their on-demand platform. The education distributed to instructors includes additional safety and coaching advice to ensure every instructor keeps their classes safe and engaged.
This on-going research and safety review is another component of what makes me love Les Mills programs. Yes, it means learning choreography, but it also means that the programs I teach have a solid backing and foundation from an exercise science point of view. It’s not just a HIIT-based track to knock the wind out of you, the sequences are designed to get the most out of you, keep true to the program it belongs to, and create an optimal training result.
“But group fitness isn’t real training”
Some still don’t see group fitness as real exercise – they feel the only results are found on the gym floor.
I’m not saying group fitness is the be-all to everyone – the gym floor is a necessity too – but for someone new, unsure of how to start, or struggling to find motivation, what will create a better result? A group fitness class, led by a trained and qualified professional, with awesome music and science-backed choreography to help with motivation, drive, education and safety; or a new member wandering around trying out different machines on the gym floor with no real aim, purpose or confidence?
The structure, choreography and education behind a Les Mills group fitness class helps members improve their fitness, find results, and create a connection beyond just themselves – there’s familiar faces in the class each week, their instructor should smile and be engaging and welcoming.
It is unfortunate to also hear some PTs completely dismiss group fitness classes too. One group fitness regular came up to me one day and said their PT told them not to do anything except the solo PT program they were given. She did her 30 minute program her PT gave her, and was itching to do more, but said her PT told her not to do classes. Oh and just to note, she had a PT for general fitness: there was no specific goal, medical issue or other purpose. The PT in question had never actually gone to a class – they didn’t even know what the class entailed. How can you prescribe (or discourage) something you have no real knowledge of and have not experienced yourself?
PTs out there: find the very best instructors at your club, and go and participate in their classes – experience what a Les Mills group fitness class can feel like – physically, mentally and emotionally (yep, the music brings that out of you too). When crafting programs for your clients, consider how the smorgasbord of group fitness classes on your club’s timetable can actually compliment your client’s program.
Group fitness instructors are not here to take away PT clients: we’re all playing on the same team and working to the same goals here – to help members become fitter, stronger and find their own passion for their health and fitness.
How to become an instructor
Becoming an instructor is a little different depending on your region. Les Mills International make the programs, but there are agencies around the world for your country. In Australia, we have Les Mills Asia Pacific who facilitate our trainings, workshops and quarterly release purchases.
If you’re unsure who to contact, start with your favourite instructors: they may be able to provide you with region-specific advice, as well as point you in the direction of management: either the club manager or group fitness manager who should be able to help you further.
Each program has its own training module to complete, plus certification components, before you are a Les Mills group fitness instructor. You may also need additional qualifications to legally be able to teach (such as the GEL or Cert III/IV in Australia).
But even someone totally new to the fitness industry can become an awesome group fitness instructor. I completed my GEL and BODYATTACK initial module training with no prior experience in the industry. Now 15 years later, trained in 5 different Les Mills programs, include Elite status in one, I like to think the experience I give my members – from clear instruction through to informative and inspired coaching – is a reason they come back week after week. Everyone starts somewhere, and it is such an incredible and evolving industry to help challenge and change not only yourself, but your members too.