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My LES MILLS Story: Chapter 1

Participant to Instructor

Before we get going:

I've seen this 'quote' do the rounds on social media and I actually love it. We've all been there, trying to open ourselves to someone about something we absolutely love and they just don't get it. Worse still is when you're made to feel bad about it.

Well .. It's fine to 'not get it', you might not 'get' this post. Just bear this in mind if you get to the bottom and don't share the same conclusion because it's what you do thereafter that counts - "worst type of person".

Great, let's begin.

I share this post because I hope it gives a little insight into me and what I'm about. I also know that the Les Mills 'tribe' is a big place and many have different experiences with it. People who are close to me will have heard parts of this story before too.

I also know that many people will be at home just now as a result of Coronavirus, and maybe they have taken the decision to subscribe to the Les Mills On Demand platform. I imagine many many people doing their first Les Mills classes at home, possibly alone, and discovering it in a very unique way. If that sounds like you and you're wondering 'is it normal for me to be enjoying this so much' then yes, totally normal, and there's thousands if not millions of others like you.

It's very hard to try and look at the 'tribe' from the outside now because I don't want to write this post in a way that seems bizarre to those who are outside. I remember being told it was basically a cult when I first said I was thinking about becoming an instructor.. it's not, well, not really. I would hate for people who have little to no experience with Les Mills think that me (and people like me) are some kind of brainwashed and take pity on us for enjoying and investing in something so wholeheartedly. I believe there are different types of people in the tribe that range from the 'too cool to care' crew, all the way to 'die hard' live and breathe LM values - there is no right or wrong - it's kind of like football. Those who watch the odd match down the pub with mates, and those who have their season ticket, away kit and first born named after their favourite player. It's just passion. What are you passionate about?

There have been people in the fitness industry who poke fun at me for being an instructor or just generally enjoying the classes so much. I think it is seen by many as not 'real' exercise. I would encourage those people to do two things; head to the Research page and check out some of the work that goes into creating the programmes, and secondly go to some classes. It goes beyond sets and reps, it is the music; the fulfilment; the community. Just because it isn't your cup of tea doesn't mean it isn't someone else's champagne and caviar..

For me personally, it just makes me happy that people are exercising, and hopefully enjoying it while they do it. It's like the song .. a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down .. rather that than force feed someone steady state cardio or 1RM back squats they have no interest in doing.

So remember the first quote of the post; be kind. I think all fitness professionals should be working toward the same goal regardless of niche or speciality - helping people live healthier, more active lives.

The Les Mills values are easy to get on board with. Everyone who participates in exercise should agree with them; Be Brave, Change the World, One Tribe. It is also a business though, and their ambitions are commendable. Essentially a New-Zealand home grown family run business, on [excuse the pun] on steroids. Les Mills was a person, the one who founded the business. Now a global presence - and rightly so in my eyes.

So taking it back to Carnoustie, Scotland.. where I grew up. I had left high school, but still a student at University. Through the wonders of disposable income, legal drinking and fast food were at my fingertips. I put on a bit of weight.. not much, but enough. I was also never really a 'sporty' person at school - but in hindsight I had athletic potential that I wish I had acted upon. The benefit of hindsight eh. So I went to a few classes with my mum down at our local leisure centre. They had a few different classes, but I generally tried to attend a freestyle aerobics class, an abs class, a BODYCOMBAT class, and Metafit. Now I'm talking a couple of classes a month, I don't think I even had a membership, just PAYG.

Laughably uncoordinated according to my mum (really, she actually used to laugh), we would hide at the back two rows of the full-size sports hall. Native Carnoustians, you know the one, the one where they used to put the bouncy castle parties. Inevitably, the mic and sound quality was awful (that's my excuse anyway) but it was good. At that time I just didn't know it yet.

Fast forward a couple of years, I move away from home to begin my life as a working, independent [single] 21-year old woman. Living on my own, I didn't really 'programme' things such as; calories, meal portions, macros, RDA, daily steps into my psyche. So with the 9-5, TV, food cycle, I began to gain a bit more weight. One stone in my first month in fact. So I decided, nope.

Living on my own in a new (and small) town (where I knew no one) had naturally led to those habits, but I knew it wasn't sustainable in the long-term so I began looking into activities I could do after work. I saw the local village hall had BODYPUMP and BODYCOMBAT classes. Great - I've done that before, I thought. I can do those.

I attended two of those classes in the coming weeks, but as it turned out I was destined to move again quite quickly. When I moved down into the city (#Aberdream) I was desperate to join a gym - of which there are many in Aberdeen. I joined Aberdeen Sports Village because they ran all of these BODY[...] classes I knew about from before. I turned up to ASV in my gym kit, ready to sign on the line for my membership, and without wasting any time I asked where the studio was for BODYCOMBAT. She directed me to one of two studios. Great.

Excited to do BODYCOMBAT once more, but also nervous as hell because I didn't know what type of people would be there, or what the instructor would be like, or if it would be as good as I remembered ... I picked a spot in the middle of the very middle-most row and the music began to play. The instructor (hiya Emily) began to guide the class through a warm-up and there was a distinct number of "shimmys" and "cha-cha step". This was no BODYCOMBAT class. Betrayed, I consulted the subtle A1 size poster in the corridor after class. I had been sent to the wrong studio, little did I know I had just completed my first Les Mills SH'BAM class *achievement unlocked*. Well, it would be some 6 years later before I would do another SH'BAM class but it was still so humbling to see a studio full of people moving as one with the music, and some very good dancers might I add. Goals.

I won't go through every single class from there on, but another important factor in this timeline is BODYPUMP. I started going to BODYPUMP classes at ASV probably 2-3 times per week. Again, I still didn't have any friends in Aberdeen by this point, but just being out of the house after work and around other people was .. medicinal. I will also point out that I had a class-only membership, I hadn't set foot in a gym either.

I used to go to this BODYPUMP class on a Tuesday evening, 7.20pm, (hiya Chris). It was after BODYCOMBAT at 6.10pm (hiya again Emily) which I realised was a perfect combo for me.

Through attending that very class for a few weeks I met my now boyfriend of 5 years who had been attending for much longer than I. Although his fitness interests were much broader than mine, we did (and still do) share a love for group exercise. Group ex comes in many forms, not just Les Mills.

Over the next 2 years or so, I noticed big changes in my body, my mood, my outlook on life. The sheer love of attending these classes was higher than never before. The music, the moves, the subtle competitiveness between people around you in the studio. It was just so easy. Not easy as in not challenging. Easy as in, you show up, the workout is there for you to do and an hour or so later, you are done. Like I said earlier, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. I was exercising, but I didn't have to force myself to go and do it .. I just wanted to. Why wasn't everyone doing this ??

I did more.

Classes pretty much 6 days of the week, different kinds of classes .. BODYATTACK, RPM, BODYBALANCE ...... little did I know there were even more classes that ASV didn't even run! I moved from lingering in the middle rows of the studio and made my way up to the front row. I began to know the choreography, I even had favourite tracks..

I invested more.

I remember the first bits of Reebok gym clothing I bought (thanks, Amir). I streamed Les Mills playlists from YouTube and listened to them at work. In becoming a 'regular' I began to interact more with the instructors and fellow members, and I had made friends I still have to this day. I was still pretty shy and I think the instructors knew this .. but their confidence gave me confidence to speak to them and my fellow participants. I was never (and still not) a 'whooper' .. you know, someone who 'WHOOOOPS'. If I 'whoop' in your class I must really like you.. and if I 'whoop' in your class, know that a small piece of me died inside that day.

I wanted more.

This feeling I got when I exercised, I wanted other people to have it too. Why wasn't everyone doing this!? It made me so happy to do.. I thought I could give others this 'escape' too. Two things happened in 2016. I went to two things.

Thing one:

First was SFN Expo Live, Glasgow. August 2016. This is an exhibition showcasing vendors, exercise providers, athletes.. free samples, pretty much. I went for one reason .. to go to the live Les Mills sessions. A small group of instructors and other members I knew from ASV went down together for the day.

I didn't know what an LMUK Trainer/ Presenter was at that point, but I remember thinking, wow .. this is good.

After the BODYCOMBAT session, delivered by Phil and Lauren, a wee petite athletic lass came bounding over to me. She was kitted out in the best LM Reebok kit, her hair was all nice too. My friend (hiya Lisa) introduced me as Lucy-loo, her participant, and I was given a card by this wee-petite-athletic-lady-with-nice-clothes-and-hair. She bounded off again, and Lisa informed me that was Lyndsey from LMUK (hiya Lyndsey). I beamed the rest of the afternoon.

It was exactly the affirmation I needed that I wanted to become just like my now friends.. an instructor. Me? Wow. It's like all the investment I had been making in the lead up to this made sense.

I signed up that day to do my Level 2 Gym Instructor course + 2 Les Mills modules.

Thing two:

Again, with my pal Lisa, I journeyed down to Manchester for Les Mills Live in October 2016.

Again, still no real idea what this was about, I just knew I was getting to go and do back-to-back Les Mills classes all day. *yasssssss*

If you're not familiar with what the Live events were, it's basically your gym timetable but in a festival. Hundreds of people occupying various halls and rooms of the Manchester convention centre, all doing Les Mills classes. The presenting team up on the big stage. Lights, sound. The buzz. Hundreds of people all celebrating their love of group exercise, just like me.

Seeing all the LMUK presenting team was incredible. It was exactly the affirmation I needed that I wanted to become just like them.

For some reason I waited 4 months to do my Gym Instructor* course .. like I was giving myself a chance to back out? I booked onto my chosen module training (IMT) in a months' time following that course.

*If you are reading this because you are thinking out being an instructor, depending on where in the world you are, the Level 2 Gym Instructor certification may or may not be a prerequisite requirement for teaching group exercise classes. Some facilities in the UK will ask for you to have this to teach Les Mills there. Personally, I think they are correct. There are lots of things you learn in that course that get you in the mindspace for being an instructor. For me (working full-time in a completely different profession) I do not have a fitness professional background, so I believe that Les Mills classes should remain affiliated with a prerequisite qualification - or of course Level 2 Exercise to Music.

Group exercise is fitness. Fitness is a profession. Like any profession you want to be as qualified and competitive as you can be in order to land jobs. Overkill maybe, classes can be quite accessible depending on where you are ..

But that's just me.

The IMT itself was great. I chose BODYCOMBAT first, of course. The lead-up to the weekend of training was nerve-wracking. When I got my digital kit with my choreography and my allocated tracks, it was like permanent sweat-palms for a week thereafter. I got the tracks I wanted - my two favourite of that release. I had good feelings about it, but the sheer unknown-ness was scary. I had an excellent support network around me, existing instructors who, completely unprompted, rallied round and made sure I had the insight, practice, tips and tricks I needed to succeed. It probably would have went very differently had I not had those people behind me...

Not wanting to give any spoilers, but the weekend of IMT you will learn lots of different things. You'll learn more about your chosen programme, you'll learn how to coach your members, you'll tighten up you technique ... and you'll present your tracks - 3 times? Maybe it's changed.

If you are here because you are thinking about taking on that challenge I would say these things:

  • Yes, anyone can be an instructor

  • No, you won't likely make bags of cash in the process from teaching classes alone

  • Yes, I still enjoy teaching classes. It is rewarding beyond comprehension.

  • No, you don't have to be a certain level of fitness to be an instructor, and you're not tested on that

  • Yes, you will want to more programmes once you've started teaching your first

  • No, you don't have to wear Reebok

  • Yes, you get the instructor discount

  • No, there is no process of 'failure', you are supported until you meet the assessment criteria to 'pass'

  • Yes, people are nice, people want to help

  • No, you're not made to do anything you can't or don't want to (jumping-evasive-side-kick, anyone?)

  • Yes, there is ongoing development and training opportunities after you pass IMT to keep you learning and developing as an instructor

  • No, you won't be left to fend for yourself after training. Your local network, or Tribe Coaches (more about that next time) will be there to help.

  • Yes, you are good enough.

From BODYCOMBAT, my second module training I had pre-paid for was to be BODYPUMP or Les Mills GRIT. I decided to do BODYPUMP second, simply because there were more classes locally. I am glad I did BP second (you'll find out why next time), but I knew GRIT was inevitable. GRIT's .. just .. my thing.

So, to summarise, a brief timeline to put this back into perspective:

2012/13 - casually attending local classes with Mum

2014 - left home, started gymming

2015 - lots more classes, BODYPUMP entered my life & I met my now partner

2016 - 'two things' happened


If you had said to me in that sports hall of Carnoustie Leisure Centre that a few years later I would be that person up front, with the mic on, with a room full of people absorbed into, I would have laughed. A lot. Such a cliche thing to say but .. it's real truth.

There's no right or wrong way. Just your way. I'm glad things panned out the way they did for me. I would say I wish I'd done it sooner, but no .. I think I'm right where I need to be..

The one piece of advice I would give to anyone thinking about doing their instructor training is that if your passion is brimming inside and you feel that this is what you want to do then you are in 'the place'. Do it for the right reasons. Go for it.

Thanks to everyone I encountered along the way.

And 2018 onward? Find out next time.

If you want to talk about being a Les Mills instructor, or ask me questions about anything you read, you can pop me a message on Instagram.

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