How Les Mills Connects the World
I was experiencing a bit of writer's block these last few weeks so I messaged a group chat I have with some pals to ask for some ideas to get the wheels turning again.. now, this is a group chat with three other Les Mills instructors I'm well chuffed to call my friends. So naturally, one responded "what about bonds/ friendships made for life through a mutual passion for exercise/ Les Mills?"
(Full credit for this post goes to my friend, Lisa!)
I've been so privileged to witness friendships beginning, or being made stronger, between my peers in classes, both as a participant myself, and now as an instructor.
I previously touched upon my own experiences of this topic in 'My LES MILLS Story' chapters one and two and all the special bonds I have made over the least few years.. including my soon to be six-year relationship with G. I owe a lot of experiences and friendships to Les Mills. I've done road trips, events, parties, and even been along to one or two weddings with people I've met through going to classes. Additionally, there is a community at my fingertips through social media inside instructor and Instructor Coach groups where we're all looking out and supporting one and other.
Like many others, I'm not particularly outgoing in large groups, but socialising comes quite easy when you all feel mutually enthusiastic about something! That's why I think the Group Ex environment is a terrific environment for connecting with others. Old, young.. newbie, seasoned participant.. it doesn't matter, when you're in your class you're in your happy place, and so is everyone else :)
If you are a Les Mills instructor or participant.. take a minute.
Imagine you'd never been to a Les Mills class.. Imagine Les Mills classes didn't exist.
What would your friendships look like? What events, moments, memories would you not have had a chance to experience?
For a fitter planet
What is also quite special is that whilst the 'essence' of each Les Mills programmes varies, people still unite. Let's see.. the likes of BODYATTACK and SH'BAM are so energetic and sociable, its hard not to feel the sense of inclusivity going into a class. BODYPUMP or CXWORX might feel slightly more regimented in comparison but the feeling of power and strength gives us something to bond over. Without knowing it we are all forging our own journeys, but also feeding into the Les Mills ultimate mission 'for a fitter planet'.
I feel that as I observe the situation now, if a fire had already been sparked in this sense then we are now fully ablaze in this last year or so.. I believe the connection through social media in recent months has stoked this wider 'community' effect.
For example, people were once fairly limited to meeting with fellow-class goers at their local venue, but as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and Lockdowns across the globe, more and more of us are exercising at home and taking to social media to maintain the social aspect in the absence of a live class.
Instructors are also striving to replicate their real-life communities online through these times of gym closures by streaming classes. Supporting instructors, who are often self employed freelancers, is so important right now both from a financial and social point of view. Check out if your local instructors are offering online timetables - it might not always be Les Mills but the sessions they provide can supplement your On Demand programme perfectly! And remember, they'll be ready and waiting for you when classes resume.
Recipe for success
It is clear that Les Mills classes create a sense of community through mutual love of movement and music. There has been plenty of research on this topic, and I've even mentioned it in another blog.. but exercising to music can have amazing benefits.
Exercising to the right music can actually have physical benefits. There's a great article about performance enhancing music by Les Mills which nods to studies showing that 'synchronous music – that which matches the tempo of the exercise – is key to lifting your enjoyment of exercise, as well as driving motivation and boosting results. This type of music is shown to reduce the perception of exertion by 12 percent, improve the effects of exercise by 15 percent, boost endurance by 15 percent, and lift movement efficiency by seven percent'.
Movement to music can also have significant mental and emotional benefits. LMUK's very own Bryony Ross wrote a super article on this very topic. The feeling of kama muta - how the brain responds to music and releases hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These are the hormones that give us positive feelings and boost our mood as we exercise. It's that feeling that our brain craves more of, and keeps us going to classes. We also experience this when we're together as a group, so music really does making us more comfortable in a Group Ex environment amongst our peers.
Personally, I engage with music very easily, be it in exercise or not. I had a collection of CDs from a young age and I can remember listening to albums by U2, RHCP and Nirvana when I was around 9-10 years old. From there, curating my mp3 player and choosing phones with ample storage for music were top priorities growing up. Now, I've got Spotify playlists coming out my ears!!
Good music is absolutely vital for me when my 'exercise mode' is engaged though .. do you feel that too? I feel particularly in-tune with this during BODYCOMBAT over most other classes. I think the very nature of the class lends itself to facing those raw, instinctive feelings and release of stress (perhaps even fear) with each strike, rep, beat of music in a class. We all know the level of investment that goes into music and choreography for Les Mills programmes, so these amazing effects of 'synchronous music' are no coincidence. It works.
It's incredibly common to see beaming smiles, bopping heads, and sing-a-longs during classes but I've spoken to other people who, for example again in BODYCOMBAT, will experience that 'goosebumpy' effect as I have. Particular tracks have even made some people very emotional. From a personal point of view I remember taking part in a BODYCOMBAT class during a period of grieving, and yes, I became emotionally overwhelmed. To me, it is a combination of being physically spent - laying everything out you have to give - and drawing strength from your fellow participants. I've seen a number of lovely stories posted in the LMOD Facebook group by people who have used exercise to music as part of their own healing journeys.. how amazing is that.
Some people may have never experienced this. That's okay too. Simply getting on a good sweat and spending time with your community is all part of the fun.
Across the miles
Chances are if you're not, you'll know someone who is;
1) a Les Mills instructor
2) a Les Mills participant
3) knows someone who is 1) or 2)
The advantage of these physical and emotional effects we feel in Les Mills classes is that they are universal. With Les Mills' strong global presence, you can be almost anywhere in the world and doing the same class you'd be doing at your gym home. In fact, there's groups on Facebook dedicated as travel exchange 'noticeboards' to helping people find classes while they're on holiday or traveling for work.
I was able to shadow two amazing members of the Les Mills Japan presenter team during the Osaka leg of our Japan adventure in 2018. I was hoping to attend a class whilst visiting Japan to experience my favourite classes in another continent, but in the 48 hours before I visited Studio Trive in Osaka I was invited to team-teach with their instructors. Shell-shocked at the prospect, and terrified that my east-coast Scottish accent wouldn't quite cut the language barrier with local participants, I managed to bargain down to shadowing the sessions on their stage. During those classes my adrenaline was soaring, and the local participants were so elated that I - a foreign instructor all the way from Scotland - was executing the same choreography as their own instructor. The same music, same choreography, the world over. I was witnessing kama muta before my very eyes 5,623 miles from home.
There are a number of online communities, but the Les Mills On Demand Squad (official) group has over 138,ooo members (at the time of writing)!! Likely consisting of LMOD subscribers past and present - plus instructors and trainers - this is a huge number of people all connecting over a mutual passion!
This strengthens the universal language of Les Mills, and even though we are separated across the miles, we work out together for a fitter planet.
If you have any exciting stories about friendships you've forged through Les Mills, or want to chat more about this, you can find me on Facebook or Instagram!