Creating a Fitter Planet

Les Mills

Since its inception in the 1970s, Les Mills has been on a mission “to create a fitter planet, one workout at a time.” With a head office based in Auckland, New Zealand, the industry giant has grown steadily to become a global powerhouse. Today it supplies leading edge fitness programs to millions of people in 15,000 clubs across 80 countries. I met with David Lewis, CEO and Matt Spandow, Sales and Marketing Director from Les Mills Asia Pacific to ask them about the company’s long term success and future direction.

“We are a market leader in group exercise globally,” reports Matt. And, with several exciting new developments in the works, the company is sure to expand its footprint and positive impact even further.

“We put tremendous focus on developing great programming that clubs want to use,” explains David. “I think that has been the success of the business.” What’s more, Les Mills provides everything a club needs to run these programs effectively, ensuring members get the most out of their workouts. “We provide a holistic solution which ensures the success of each of our programs,” Matt explains. “That is really the secret to our success; we make it turnkey. We take care of everything from the music to the training to the quarterly launching of new products. That is something our competitors can’t imitate.”

Research and Development is a key part of the business. “The programs are cutting edge,” Matt points out. “Each program has been researched and developed employing high level expertise in the field.” Naturally, the investment is significant. “Well in excess of $200 million a year go into the development of the programs,” David shares. Not only does the team develop entirely new programs, they are also continuously revamping existing ones. In fact, each program is refreshed every three months using new choreography, music, and instructor education, so that it stays challenging and engaging while delivering results.

Les Mills conducts extensive market research through AC Nielson and Colmar Brunton to ensure programs are meeting the wants and needs of the consumer. The company also works closely with Penn State University in the U.S. to develop the most effective and efficient workouts. “They are absolutely one of the best physical activity research institutions in the world,” Matt says of the school. “That brings a lot more credibility to our programs. We don’t just put something out there and say it will work. We actually prove it.”

The company’s group exercise programs are also supported by over 100,000 specially trained instructors around the globe. “It is those professionals who make a difference in the gym goer’s life every day,” Matt comments. “They are really very special. It is their combined passion and dedication that creates the global fitness shift that defines Les Mills.”

Les Mills’ education, ongoing training, licensing and program development are what make Les Mills’ programs extremely popular with the public. As a result, fitness clubs around the world credit the company’s programs for maintaining and increasing gym memberships. “Of those 15,000 health clubs around the world that use our programs, Les Mills classes are responsible for between 30 and 50 per cent of their gym visits. We bring them quite a lot of success.” This is crucial in an industry that depends on people’s willingness to break a sweat. “The biggest challenge gyms face is retaining members and growing their base,” Matt points out. “The number of people who are using Les Mills programs is identified through independent research. People who attend Les Mills classes work out twice as much as people who don’t. And, 90 per cent of the people participating in our programs say they intend to stay a member of their gym for the next 12 months. In the gym industry, that is a phenomenal success. Nobody else in our market sector is delivering those sorts of results to their clients.”

Les Mills has two innovative new programs that are sure to deliver even greater results. The first is a thirty minute, high intensity interval training program called GRIT™. “In a traditional gym setting, the average workout is an hour, but often people don’t get the results they’re after. In GRIT™, the heart rate is spiked through high intensity interval training, so for a half hour session you are actually getting nine hours of calorie burn for just a half hour of work.” The claims are backed by studies at Penn State University which demonstrate that the best way to lose fat and increase fitness and muscle tone is to switch back and forth between short bursts of high intensity exercise and recovery periods.

GRIT™ is already gaining a wide following especially amongst those who are time poor and normally work out on the gym floor. “GRIT™ engages people who wouldn’t usually do group exercise,” Matt reports. “It reaches members who want a more challenging workout and fast results, while breaking down their boundaries. GRIT™ is probably the most exciting product in the gym industry right now.”

BORN TO MOVE™, Les Mills’ latest program is designed to get kids active. “In Australia, 25 per cent of children are obese,” Matt says. “We know that if we don’t get kids into healthy habits young, this statistic will continue to rise. Australia is already spending four per cent of GDP on obesity related issues – we are talking $56 billion a year. And that is a conservative estimate.”

Health clubs traditionally only look after adults, but nowadays, Matt insists, children are also in need of fitness programs. “Kids today are leading sedentary lifestyles. They’re playing computer and video games while spending more time sitting on the couch. The Australian government guidelines say children between the ages of 5 and 16 need an hour of physical activity per day. The reality is that half the kids out there aren’t getting two hours a week. This is a growing problem.”

Les Mills’ solution is a series of programs designed specifically for young people from toddler age through to teens, which fosters and cements positive physical habits so they’re hardwired for a lifetime. The program has been in development for the past five years and the company believes it will have a huge impact on the industry. “BORN TO MOVE™ will help establish lifelong fitness habits and introduce the concept of an active lifestyle,” Matt predicts. In Australia, the team is aligning the program to the Australian school curriculum in order to provide as many children as possible access to the program. “There is a massive social concern that needs to be met,” Matt insists. “As a company we are really keen to get involved and make a difference.”

Les Mills will also be launching a line of fitness equipment, SMARTTECH in February 2014 featuring the SMARTSTEP™ and SMARTBAR™. Feedback from clubs and instructors identified existing equipment simply wasn’t offering what they needed, so Les Mills has designed its own innovative equipment which slashes transition times and reduces storage space. “You wouldn’t think there could be any innovation in a barbell,” Matt admits, “but there is quite a bit. There are simple developments that no one out there has thought of.” Les Mills’ SMARTBAR™ is a quick-change barbell and hand weight system which is specifically designed for group fitness programs. Plates on the SMARTBAR™ are easily adjustable without clips, reducing transition times. The plates are also ergonomically designed to double as hand weights which fit comfortably in your hand. The exciting new product is a winner of the Best Design Awards in New Zealand and of the Red Dot Design Awards.

This year in Australia, Les Mills Asia Pacific was recognised by the Business Review Weekly as the 28th best place to work in Australia. “We have worked hard to develop a culture and a workplace environment which inspires our employees to deliver their best and allows them to grow,” David explains. “We invest heavily in the recruitment and development of our staff in order to retain the best people in the industry.”

Indeed, Les Mills’ talented team is responsible for some of the most innovative ideas to hit the fitness industry over the last three decades. “We have continuously been a company that is ahead of the development curve,” Matt points out. “Whether it’s the music we use, or the programs which we develop, we never sit still and are constantly looking for the next big thing.”

Whatever the innovation, the underlying goal is to make a positive difference around the world, he adds. “At Les Mills we are all about creating a fitter planet. We want to help people of all ages live healthier, happier, and more inspirational lives.”

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June 22, 2018, 5:28 PM AEST