Indoor cycling classes can be intimidating for novice gym members, perceived as hardcore workouts led by gung-ho instructors, where a room full of regulars crank it up in a ‘who can work the hardest’ battle.
It isn’t the best way to get new members engaged with group exercise, and that’s a lost opportunity given that, as Les Mills’ head of fitness Ish Cheyne explains: “Encouraging new members to try group exercise is a great way to get them engaged with the gym. It should be a key part of onboarding a member, because it’s an environment where people can handle the early days of exercise – and that’s because it’s more fun.”
As long as it is fun – and that’s the problem with group cycling. Particularly among newer members, it just isn’t seen that way.
That’s where Les Mills’ THE TRIP comes in – a fully immersive cycling experience that engages the mind as much as the body, taking riders on a journey through digitally-created worlds in a workout that’s as much about entertainment as it is about results. Yes, you work hard, but it doesn’t feel like it because it’s so much fun, and in the darkened room everyone’s so focused on the screen that the intimidation factor vanishes.
What do you mean by ‘immersive’?
THE TRIP takes place in a specially created cinematic studio, with a wrap-around video wall onto which content is streamed throughout the class, immersing members in a virtual world as they cycle.
Millions of dollars have been invested in developing the content, which – when projected onto the floor-to-ceiling, 270-degree screen – draw you in and make you feel like you’re actually inside the animated world. “It’s like being inside a computer game – a complete virtual reality that changes with each song,” says Les Mills CEO Phillip Mills.
It’s within this immersive audiovisual experience that a carefully calibrated, instructor-led cycle programme takes place, structured to deliver all the results you’d expect from a Les Mills workout.
If it’s all about entertainment, does the workout not suffer as a result?
Absolutely not. The workout itself delivers everything you’d expect from a Les Mills cycling class. The programming has been designed for consistency and results, moving participants through the heart rate zones to ensure they’re working hard – even if they’re having so much fun they don’t even realise it!
Only 19 per cent of the class is spent in either a light- or very light-intensity heart rate zone.
But where normally, particularly among novice exercisers, working out at these higher intensities can be uncomfortable and unpleasant – potentially leading to low compliance – the immersive nature of the TRIP experience acts as a distraction. Participants simply don’t realise how hard they’re working – which means they’re willing to come back for more.
This is summed up perfectly in this comment from a participant at West Wood Club in Ireland: “It was absolutely amazing – I was blown away. I don’t really do Spinning, but I’d definitely come again for that class.”
I just don’t believe you can work that hard and not even notice…
It may be hard to believe, but a recent study – carried out by associate professor Jinger Gottschall of Penn State University, and published in the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2017 – provides hard evidence.
The study compared THE TRIP’s immersive class with an audio-only class, both among experienced and novice indoor cyclists. Heart rate data (percentage of time spent in the 80–100 per cent maximum heart rate zone) was tracked during the class to establish exercise intensity, while a survey conducted immediately after each class looked at rate of perceived exertion, satisfaction and enjoyment.
“The results showed the novice group’s rate of perceived evaluation (RPE) – or how hard they thought they had worked out – was a lot less when doing an immersive class in comparison with the audio-only class, when in fact the intensity was exactly the same,” says Dr Gottschall.
“They experienced a reduced perception of fatigue from the audiovisual experience of THE TRIP, and reported higher satisfaction and enjoyment of the immersive class than the audio-only workout.”
Anecdotal feedback reinforces these findings. One study participant, Daniel, explained: “I got so lost in the visuals that I had no idea how hard I was working until I saw the pool of sweat below my bike when the lights were turn on – super cool!”
And what about more experienced cyclists?
The differences among this group weren’t as dramatic – after all, they’re already used to pushing themselves in their cycling classes and will work hard even without the immersive experience. This group didn’t actually work any harder during THE TRIP compared to a normal cycling class. However, their enjoyment factor went through the roof.
So what does all this mean?
“These results mean THE TRIP is an ideal group fitness format for inactive adults starting an exercise programme,” says Dr Gottschall. “It enhanced their fitness experience, and this has a very positive bearing on maintaining a regular exercise programme.”
And even for more experienced cyclists, THE TRIP is a fun addition to their exercise routine that will keep them coming back for more. “I’ve been Spinning for a long time, but I’ve never done anything like that – really good and I’ll definitely be back,” said one West Wood cycling class regular after they tried THE TRIP for the first time.
To further investigate the programme’s longer term effects on fitness and adherence, Dr Gottschall will be conducting a follow-up study on THE TRIP later this year.
Is there any data on improved adherence at this stage?
TMPL in New York City has been running THE TRIP sessions since it opened in April 2016. Bryan Jarrett, the club’s group fitness manager, says: “We decided, if we were going to do group cycling, we’d do it better than anyone else in New York City. We didn’t hesitate to install THE TRIP.
“We knew it would be a hit, but we didn’t realise quite how big a hit – it’s far and away the most popular cycling class we have. If I have a time slot that’s struggling, I put THE TRIP in it and it immediately fills up, whatever the time of day.
“We currently run 25 TRIP classes a week and even debated making all our cycling classes THE TRIP – but you do need to offer variety, especially for more performance-based members. The success of THE TRIP has meant we’ve had to work extra hard to make our other classes as exciting and intense though – so starting in September, all our non-TRIP classes will be heart rate monitored.
“People who’ve never cycled before, or who previously hated it, are now hooked. THE TRIP changes everything for them. We’ve seen members lose a lot of weight, because they’re doing THE TRIP consistently and getting results. We’ve even turned some of them into TRIP instructors, they’ve become that passionate about the class!”
Jarrett continues: “We often talk about a class being for all levels, but THE TRIP really is. If I’m more performance-focused, I can really push myself to keep up. But others can just set their own pace and enjoy the theatrical nature of the class. Novices also enjoy the fact that the instructor is facing the screen rather than looking at them, so they feel less scrutinised.”
And what about return on investment?
When members are having motivating workout experiences, they’re going to come back to you for more. If you can increase average weekly attendances up to three on average, you’re increasing the likelihood of members staying with you for much longer.
Jarrett explains that, for TMPL: “Members don’t pay extra to attend THE TRIP – they get it as part of their membership – but the price tag to install THE TRIP has unquestionably been justified by the membership growth we’ve seen.
“When members bring guests to the club, it’s always THE TRIP they show them first. It’s also the first thing we show on club tours. It’s such a unique thing to be able to offer and a hugely powerful selling tool for the club.”
But THE TRIP doesn’t only drive member acquisition. As TMPL has experienced first-hand, it also boosts retention by driving more frequent attendance and getting members addicted to the workout experience.
So THE TRIP isn’t about investing in member experience simply as a ‘nice to have’. It’s about investing in technology that will directly and positively impact on NPS (Net Promoter Score) and the club’s bottom line by getting more people involved in group exercise, attending more often, having fun and getting results.