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    Taking weight training to the masses

    Kate Cracknell

    The idea of weight training is intimidating for many members, in spite of the huge benefits it has for all member profiles – not only those looking to gain muscle or train for a sport, but also those looking to burn fat and shape up. So how can operators change members’ perceptions, getting weights out of the shadows and into people’s hands?

    How much of a challenge do we face in changing perceptions of weight training?

    Historically, the perception has been that weights are only for those who want to bulk up. However, over recent years, lean muscle development has become more accepted as a means of assisting with long-term weight (body mass) control, meaning that even weight loss-focused members have become interested in resistance training.

    What’s driving this change?

    First of all, I think people are more informed in their training than they use to be: they’re more aware of the fact that weight training is good for bone mass, long-term weight management and joint support, and this is helping to broaden the appeal of this form of training.

    There’s also been a change in consumer attitude. Women now want to be strong and athletic rather than skinny; strength training is now seen as a means of getting fit, not big and strong.

    The trends within gyms have also played a huge role. There’s been a movement away from pin-loaded equipment and towards free weights and functional training spaces. These spaces allow people to use dynamic free weight exercises to increase strength, drive metabolism and increase fitness all at the same time. People are using weights – kettlebells, for example – to drive heart rate. It’s a highly efficient way of training, and one that resonates with a broader profile of members than fixed resistance machines.

    In line with this, we’re seeing an evolution in programming to incorporate more weight training across lots of different user groups, not just men – the huge growth of HIIT, for example.

    HIIT is quite hard-core though. Does this not make weight training still quite intimidating?

    HIIT programs like LES MILS GRIT™ might appeal primarily to those who already have a reasonable level of fitness, but even among this group, many people have traditionally steered away from weight training.

    But I think people now see that they can get fitter and stronger with a program like LES MILLS GRIT Strength. In one of our studies, active adults increased their aerobic fitness by 6.4 per cent and increased their leg strength by 15.7 per cent in just six weeks of doing LES MILLS GRIT twice a week.

    And then there’s LES MILLS BODYPUMP™, which is suited to all fitness levels. How important has this been in getting more people to train with weights?

    In my view, the greatest success of LES MILLS BODYPUMP has been in bringing weight training to the female population.

    By using lighter weights for more reps, we’ve removed the intimidation factor – the idea that you have to lift big weights to get results. This is backed by recent science, which suggests that it’s fatigue and not load that brings about changes in muscle.

    Our research also shows that lifting light weights for faster tempos burns more calories than lifting heavier weights more slowly – and that’s great for members with a weight-loss goal.

    The LES MILLS BODYPUMP program has therefore evolved to make full use of this high-rep training approach (we call it the ‘rep effect’). This lies at the heart of its broad appeal.

    You launched the Les Mills SMARTBAR a few years ago – why?

    The SMARTBAR ensures people get even better results, plus it’s more user-friendly.

    One of the early limitations was not being able to hold the plates for dumbbell-type exercises in LES MILLS BODYPUMP. People in class didn’t fatigue their target muscles: it was their grip muscles that gave out.

    The design of the SMARTBAR plates allows people to hold them without forearm fatigue, which is particularly important for females with smaller hands and weaker grip strength. It means they can work to fatigue the target muscles without the grip giving up first.

    In addition, providing quicker transitions on/off the bar means people are more comfortable adjusting their weights partway through a track, which gives them the confidence to at least start off a little heavier.

    Meanwhile, for operators, the design of the new plates also makes the SMARTBAR a space-efficient piece of kit on the gym floor, doubling as both a barbell and dumbbells.

    Overall, what message should gyms use to encourage more members to try weight training?

    Weight training provides shape and tone – a cosmetic benefit. It also helps people get more out of their other training. For example, cardio and power training is more effective with better strength.

    Messages such as these will help to broaden the perceived relevance of weight training.

    Any other considerations for gym operators wanting to encourage weight training?

    Operators need to provide attractive spaces for functional training and provide the instruction – and the second part in particular can be a challenge. LES MILLS BODYPUMP and LES MILLS GRIT take this burden off clubs, providing expert-designed programs that are proven to safely deliver results.

    Bryce Hastings is a leading New Zealand physiotherapist and fitness expert. As Les Mills Head of Research he leads research into the most effective approaches to exercise and plays a pivotal role in structuring all LES MILLS workouts. Bryce’s passion for effective exercise is born from spending 30 years in physiotherapy, where he saw “people getting their lives wrong” every day and felt like he was acting as an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. By working in fitness he gets to be the fence at the top.

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