Les Mills enters a new era

There was a lot of panic circulating around my Les Mills tribe members on Tuesday with the announcement of the new Les Mills Virtual.

How exactly is this going to work? According to lesmills.com, Les Mills Virtual will allow clubs from around the world to give their members access to workouts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. An instructor wouldn’t even have to be on the stage. A screen and sound system would be utilized.

Confused? You’re not the only one.

For example: Say your instructor can’t teach on a certain day due to a family emergency, illness, whatever. If your club can’t find a sub for the class, this would be an alternative to cancelling the class. And we hate cancelling our classes. The participants would be participating in BodyPump or any other Les Mills program via a presenter providing the workout on the aforementioned screen.

Still confused? Check out this video. http://w3.lesmills.com/global/en/classes/les-mills-virtual/

I will have to admit, when I first heard about this, I was extremely skeptical, along with many other instructors. I have mixed feelings about it. Would the so-called “big screen” replace the instructors in the room in the long-term? How would our participants feel about it? How can the instructor on the big-screen, filming a class in a location ranging from Auckland to Los Angeles or New York, correct participants on the floor if they’re doing something wrong?

There are pros and cons to this. We’ll weigh the cons first.

First and foremost, our classes are all about one thing: Our members. We work hard to foster strong relationships in and outside of the studio with them. Given that strong relationship, would they want to take a class with an instructor they’ve come to know and trust, or would they rather take a class via a big screen? Most Les Mills diehards wouldn’t mind either way, but nothing beats a motivational instructor on the stage.

Another thing is, what happens to the instructors ourselves? While this certainly won’t drive us out of business, it’s merely another case of the digital era starting to take over. Being a journalist, I know first-hand what the “digital era” is all about. Ten years ago, we weren’t promoting our programs via Facebook and Twitter. Now, those are the first places we hear about AIM’s, initial trainings and quarterlies.

The bottom line is, us instructors work our tails off to bring our members the best classes possible. Sometimes we teach hurt (I know all about that). Occasionally we teach sick. We spend so much time away from our families. Some of us have to learn multiple programs for launches. And learning those programs costs money, especially if you teach in the upwards of four or five programs. I can certainly understand the fear in the minds of instructors and participants with this new virtual workout.

In reading multiple posts on Les Mills’ Facebook page Tuesday, the enthusiasm among instructors and participants across the world wasn’t exactly at a high point. One participant even stated they will “never take a Les Mills class again” if Les Mills Virtual takes off, citing the fact that a video screen cannot replace a live instructor. I can certainly understand that. There’s no way in hell I would let a screen showcasing an instructor who doesn’t even know my members’ names replace me on the USA stage.

In the same context, there are plenty of pros to Les Mills Virtual as well. Check out this YouTube video of Les Mills CEO Phillip Mills speaking about the new venture, and that might ease your tensions a little bit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGHPXdoYhxQ

One thing is we’ll be able to maximize the use of our group fitness studios, particularly at off-peak times. Clubs can save themselves a lot of money by offering the virtual classes while giving members unlimited access to top-notch programs. Yes, it’s not the same as having an instructor on stage, but a gym member who has never tried a Les Mills program just might become hooked, and you may find your class numbers growing, and the aforementioned member becoming one of your regulars. Club owners will also be able to expand their timetable as well, and offer the virtual classes at times where the room is typically empty.

Another thing is finding a sub for a class wouldn’t be an arduous task. Sometimes, clubs are so short-handed when an instructor needs a sub for whatever reason, whether it be injury, illness, job or family emergencies, and the class winds up being cancelled for the day. Members don’t like that. To members, that can come off as an indication that the club is not meeting the members’ needs. This virtual venture can fix that in context where if a club is in a bind for a sub, they can utilize the virtual workouts to give the participants the workout they desire. Again, it’s not the same as having the instructor they are used to on stage, but our members who are passionate about our programs will come regardless.

Who knows what this Les Mills Virtual venture is going to bring. Some will like it, and some won’t. That’s OK. We all like different things. Some like old-school lunge tracks and some like plyometric tracks. My advice to any participant who has any concerns about the new venture would be to reach out to your Les Mills agency, whether it be Les Mills East Coast, Les Mills West Coast, Les Mills Midwest or Get Les Mills (South-Central U.S.). The long-term goal here is to keep participants fit and keep them coming to our classes. Whether its a virtual class or a live class, they’re going to get the benefits of the workout. And as instructors, that’s what we strive for.

Ryan McLaughlin

About Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective with BDN readers about what's happening on the Boston professional sports scene.