What is Les Mills Tone?

Published January 4th, 2022

Les Mills Tone is the program you’ve probably never heard of - but is one of the most encompassing, accessible, challenging, engaging and enjoyable programs Les Mills offer.

45 minutes in length, Les Mills Tone combines cardio, strength and core in to one class, delivering a functional, challenging yet accessible workout - cross training awesomesauce. A 30 minute format is offered in some clubs.

Every 3 months, Les Mills releases a new release for instructors to learn, experience and deliver to their members in their local gym. As of writing, we are about to see Les Mills Tone 16.

What does a class look like?

From release 14, the Les Mills Tone class structure has become more defined, with each track having a clearer and more defined focus.

For the class, you’ll often need two pairs of plates: a light to medium pair, and a medium to heavy pair – but it does differ from release to release. At times a resistance tube is needed too. 

Your class structure looks like:

  1. Warm up

  2. Steady State

  3. Peak 1 Cardio

  4. Peak 2 Cardio

  5. Peak 3 Cardio

  6. Resisted Cardio

  7. Dynamic Cardio Core

  8. Resisted Balance

  9. Lower Body Strength

  10. Upper Body Strength

  11. Functional Core Strength

  12. Glutes

  13. Stretch

Your cardio block is made up of a warm up track, basic and designed to get the body moving – at times we introduce moves that will come back later too.

We then move in to Steady State training: increasing intensity and heart rate, but nothing too crazy yet. Impact is introduced, we hit some speed work, and start the workout.

Then the fun begins: 3 peak cardio tracks. What they include changes – maybe some sprint training, plyometric lunges and squats, broad jumps, burpees, tuck jumps, resistance-based cardio, power training – it varies. But these are where the program really steps up in to the HIIT territory. You get your recoveries, but also incredible challenging peaks, and remaining accessible to every single member. 

With a high heart rate, recovery is in the form of combination tracks: combining cardio, strength and core in focused tracks. Light weight plates are used for resistance, with high reps but low resistance, to keep the heart rate lifted, and even some balance work thrown in. These tracks are full body, integrated and dynamic in nature.

Weights are increased for dedicated lower body and upper body strength tracks. The speed drops, but the weight increases, changing the feel of the program to one of control and stamina. The reduction in speed is great for helping you tweak and improve your execution and range of motion.

The class finishes with core work – a track for functional core strength, including standing and floor work with weight plates, plus a dedicated glute track as the icing on the cake.

How is Les Mills Tone different from other Les Mills programs?

If you’re familiar with other Les Mills programs like GRIT, BODYATTACK and BODYPUMP, you may be wondering how Les Mills Tone is different. Sounds similar, so why do I need another cardio class, or strength class, or core class?

Firstly, efficiency.

45 minutes in length, Les Mills Tone offers variety to training - there's cardio tracks, there's strength, and there's core, all in one class. For those poor on time, this is an efficient way to train in a group fitness environment while not compromising intensity or integrity. The variety of training styles also helps keep members engaged, and they have vocalised their love of the whole-body and varying-discipline nature of the class. Sure, other programs have "a" core track or "a" strength track - but Les Mills Tone has the best balance of the three all in one class.

And secondly, accessibility.

For cardio programs like BODYATTACK, there are lower impact options that are given throughout the class, but it feels more like a “this is the exercise, and here’s an option if you need it”. I feel from a mental aspect, taking the option may make some members feel excluded from the rest of the class. They’re there to make it accessible for everyone physically, but mentally has potential to make one feel not good (fit, strong) enough to be there.

For a program like GRIT, the majority of the program is at your own pace, and at times, AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible). In other words, you’re there to challenge yourself. This means you can really push yourself through the combination of speed and weight selections – and also means if you need a recovery, you can just take it. That sort of ethos is built in to the program: it’s tough, but you push yourself to your limit. This also means it is not the best program for a beginner – movements can be compound and complex, and if you’re not already training with these sorts of exercises, may not be the best starting point.

Les Mills Tone, on the other hand, provides options, has AMRAP components, but embraces accessibility. This is partially due to Les Mills Tone’s (at times) slower BPM than a program like BODYATTACK, meaning that regardless of a low, mid or high option, everyone still works together and feels included. This feeling of inclusivity is the key to building member satisfaction and success.

In the strength and core components, there are similarities to GRIT, BODYPUMP, Les Mills Core and even at times a bit of yoga from BODYBALANCE. But they are also designed with accessibility and inclusivity in mind. Strength is a variable term, and what one person finds heavy, another may find light. In Les Mills Tone, members need simple equipment – sets of weight plates of varying sizes. Compare this to BODYPUMP, where you need a bench, bar and stack of varying weight plates. In Les Mills Tone, if someone finds the smallest too light, they can switch to the next size up – and vice versa if too heavy. Given the simpler equipment setup (i.e. no bar like in BODYPUMP), changing weights mid-track is as simple as picking up a different set of plates. While this may sound obvious, the simpler weight selection and the ease of changing weights (compared to having to change weights on a bar) makes members feel connected and remaining in the workout without missing a larger number of reps.

While this has really looked at how accessible it is to regressions, there’s plenty of progressions for moves too. In recent releases, we now have heavy plates for selected tracks to find greater challenge. Most of the progressions (and regressions) exist in the cardio tracks – there are high end choices including plyometric lunges and tuck jumps, but also lower impact choices including stepping lunges and straight jumps or squats.

The movements in Les Mills Tone are often simple, but are as challenging as you make it: fancy doing a 3 minute track full of burpees? Les Mills Tone has this for you – and with flavour: stepping and slower if you need it, at tempo, with mountain climbers while on the floor, with a jump on standing, and even not-as-scary-as-they-seem options like a Typewriter Burpee, plus everyone’s favourite, AMRAP. So what type of burpee will challenge you? No matter which you choose, you’ll find this simple yet effective exercise will challenge your limits – and that’s what Les Mills Tone is all about. You do you.

Why do I love Les Mills Tone?

Les Mills Tone is such an incredible program because of:

  1. challenge

  2. variety, and

  3. accessibility 

This combination is the triple threat for group fitness: it offers challenge for everyone, whether you’re starting your fitness journey or looking to push yourself, variety of different training methods and ideas, and remains accessible with a swag of options and, most importantly, permission to train the way you need.

While challenge and accessibility appear at opposite ends of the spectrum, the program, even with its increase in impact and intensity, provides choices for everyone: maybe its lowering impact, reducing speed, or even regressing the range or direction of movement.

There are times in the program where we all move together – and half-speed members still feel they’re working together as it fits to the music – and then at other times where you go at your own pace. Maybe it is slow, maybe it is fast, maybe it is jumping: but the important thing is it is all about you – it’s your workout, and Les Mills Tone provides acceptance and permission for you to train your way – but still have a cracker workout while you’re at it.

The creative team are also aware that it is still taught to a range of audiences, and for selected cardio tracks, offer alternate versions. In Release 15 for example, Peak 1 Cardio is full of burpees, but we also have a standing plyometric version we can use instead if we have members who don’t like burpees. Not that anyone actually likes burpees, but you get what I mean.

The biggest one though: it’s fun. Exercise needs to be fun – and you need an engaging coach to help motivate, challenge and inspire you – and if you can smile and laugh at the same time, then even better. Training can be hard, pushing your limits can be hard, but it also should be fun and rewarding. I love that Les Mills Tone, while a serious training program at the same time doesn’t take itself too seriously and has room for fun and personality. And this is where the magic happens – and what keeps members coming back.

Les Mills has a series of programs under the GRIT banner: these are dedicated 30 minute HIIT workouts, and are intense. They challenge every member to work at their pace, to their limit, whatever that may be, but can be intimidating for some and are not ideal for newcomers starting their fitness journey – it feels “elite”. A program like Les Mills Tone fits in nicely: it gives newcomers the chance to find their feet, learn about technique without being intimidated or pushed beyond their limit, but holistically help them build their cardio fitness, strength and core awareness. When they get fitter and stronger, Les Mills Tone is still here for them – and still adding challenge that can take it up toward that GRIT type intensity when they feel up for it – but with reassuring permission that it is OK if they need lower level choices to help them achieve success. It’s the approach to the programs – both have such incredible strength and validity.

When Les Mills Tone was being workshopped, Les Mills reached out to instructors online, and I had this to say:

Marty: "Continue with strong, athletic moves that can continue to be effortlessly layered up and down to keep challenge. Like a lite CX and Lite Grit had a love child baby, maybe with a splash of BodyAttack on the side, so intertwined they're not really sure who the baby daddy is."  Diana: "This is the greatest comment I've ever read"

That comment reply is from Diana Mills (Creative Director at Les Mills, program director for a number of programs including Les Mills Tone, and yes is the granddaughter of New Zealand Olympian Les Mills Senior). The Les Mills team do listen, and have now delivered just this.

A little history

Before we go further, a quick little history lesson for some context. Les Mills used to have a program called BODYVIVE, and when that launched, was aimed at an older audience. It was low impact, low intensity, and used resistance tubes and an air-filled handheld exercise ball. But this was also a hard sell: the ball was a barrier for clubs taking on the program (more equipment to buy and maintain), and throughout classes you’d see balls rolling around the room as grips were lost.

Over the years, the program had to evolve, and started to try to reach to a younger audience (i.e. not 60, but not a 20-something either). The intensity started to increase, the impact started to increase, but still remained an accessible program to everyone.

In the mid-20s of BODYVIVE, the ball was phased out of the program, with it shown as an option for those that did love it. Even with the ball’s departure, BODYVIVE still failed to find traction, and a rebrand to BODYVIVE 3.1 really stepped up the impact and intensity to aim more at that 30-something audience. Music choices were more modern, more cross training was implemented, and it started to find its groove, but still wasn’t gaining new attention. 

But, the tube work kept evolving for the remainder of BODYVIVE’s life, and in fact, BODYVIVE tracks made foundational appearances in CX30, Les Mills’ core strength program (later renamed to CXWORX and now Les Mills Core). I feel this is part of the reason too: clubs could use the same equipment for both BODYVIVE and CX30/CXWORX. The resistance tube still makes an appearance in Les Mills Tone, but is now used in a different way: most commonly to tie your legs up for added resistance. It’s not as torturous as it sounds: except if you have leg hair.

By BODYVIVE 3.1 40-ish, the program was athletic and strong – burpees had been introduced, jumping was in place, and it was a challenging program.

But it had a major issue: the stigma of “BODYVIVE is for old people” that, even through the BODYVIVE 3.1 rebrand, could not be shaken.

People would hear “BODYVIVE” and tune out, not considering it worthy of their attention. I think this was the biggest issue: how do you so dramatically change a program and drop that stigma at the same time. Creative direction at Les Mills saw a change of program director, and BODYVIVE retired with BODYVIVE 3.1 45 being the last release.

However, Les Mills released a new program, Les Mills Tone. Based on the evolved 3.1 roots of BODYVIVE 3.1, it gave Les Mills a new platform to change direction and focus, with new music, different presenters, and room to explore different training methods. It also gave instructors flexibility to teach to who is in front of them with a fluid structure. We picked some cardio tracks, some strength tracks, and some core tracks. For example, if your members were older and didn’t like impact or floor work, you’d pick tracks that were better suited to them.

This created a new issue though: how do you market a program that could be so differently delivered in different clubs by different instructors. Is your Les Mills Tone class going to be impact-full and athletic, or lower impact and no floor work? This is part of the magic of Les Mills group fitness classes: you can walk in to a BODYPUMP class anywhere around the world and know the structure, intensity and flavour of workout you're going to get.

For the initial Les Mills Tone releases, where instructors could pick their tracks, how do you control the program's brand, image and reputation?

Some BODYVIVE instructors were so passionately holding on to the BODYVIVE days, where as others were embracing the new direction. But this cross-over created a bit of an identity crisis for the program. Like everything, evolution happens. Les Mills Tone remains accessible to everyone – with a welcoming embrace to training your way – but has now stepped up, and is now a program that can so proudly sit alongside the other Les Mills flagship programs in one that offers results, fun and engagement. At least that’s my opinion.

When Les Mills Tone launched, we were given a stack of cardio tracks, a stack of strength tracks, and a stack of core tracks, and a template of X minutes of cardio, Y minutes of strength and Z minutes of core. While this is great at structuring a class that is best catered to your members, it also gave instructors a lot of freedom and led to different experiences in class.

With Les Mills Tone now maturing as a program, release 14 onwards has a clearly defined class structure, offering greater purpose and clarity to the class, and helping manage expectations of what a member can expect in class. Now when we switch a track, it’s like for like, just like the other Les Mills programs. Even when going back to older releases, I try to match (as much as possible) the new structure, and even means some tracks just no longer fit in the evolved program's direction.

How long have I been teaching Les Mills Tone?

I’ve been teaching Les Mills Tone since release 1 – and before that, BODYVIVE since release 28 (that was in 2013).

As of January 2022, we are about to get Les Mills Tone 16. I’m so excited for where this program is heading.

Where can I do Les Mills Tone?

You might be lucky enough to have Les Mills Tone in a club near you: there are a stack of clubs in Melbourne offering the program, with Goodlife Point Cook (where I teach) offering it 4 times a week.

If Les Mills Tone isn’t available at your club, have a chat with your club management to see if they are considering the program.

Les Mills On Demand subscribers have limited access to Les Mills Tone classes online (due to music licensing).

Find out more about Les Mills Tone at www.lesmills.com/les-mills-tone. Want to come to one of my classes? See my regular class schedule on this site.

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