We live in a time of unprecedented information. The size of the digital universe is doubling every two years and yet it can sometimes feel harder than ever to access reliable facts on the internet.
This is particularly true of our industry. It can be easy to laugh off the latest questionable fitness fads, superfood sensations and tacky trends, but when it comes to exercise, bad advice for gymgoers can quickly shift from hilarious to dangerous.
In an age of self-proclaimed fitness gurus, influencers and experts – where anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter profile can shape opinion – the role of science in separating fact from fiction has never been more important.
As a result, Les Mills partners with universities around the world to conduct research which delves deeper into exercise science and tests the effects of Les Mills programs on key community health factors such as obesity and heart disease. The research is independent, peer-reviewed and industry-recognised.
Under the microscope
To date, there have been 13 articles published in peer-reviewed academic journals investigating the efficacy and impact of various approaches to fitness. These studies have ranged from the effects of high-intensity training on heart disease, hormonal and physiological responses to BODYPUMP, behaviour change, and how to get kids motivated to exercise.
As well as bringing new insight into the physiological impact of different training types, these academic partnerships help to refine the development of Les Mills programs and ensure they’re underpinned by science.
Les Mills Head of Research, Bryce Hastings, explains: “When we’re creating a workout, for example, our HIIT offering GRIT, we design it to take the heart-rate above 85 per cent as much as possible across 30-minutes – so you have very high spikes of intensity, followed by periods complete recovery. It’s those spikes that generate the types of biochemical responses that are very specific to a HIIT workout.
“Once we think we’ve got it right, we send that workout to Penn State University in the US, and they’ll rigorously test it to see if we’re delivering on that HIIT promise and providing a workout that is guaranteed to deliver results.”
Les Mills invests millions of dollars into research each year to maintain these scientific standards across its programs. These insights are harnessed by a team of experts to devise effective choreography for Les Mills programs, which are then screened through thousands of hours of in-club trialling before being released to the wider market.
"From a program creation perspective, there's an exhaustive range of measures we take to ensure workouts are safe and consistent,” adds Les Mills Chief Creative Officer Dr Jackie Mills MD, who for many years combined her role at Les Mills with a career as a medical practitioner.
“The Program Directors work in teams much more now, so there are lots of people working in unison to constantly test, iterate and revise the programs before they go to Penn State. They then have to go through the rigours of Bryce and the Creative Directors – after that, I review them. Nothing is left to chance!”
Investing in ongoing research is a vital part of Les Mills’ business. In this era of misinformation and unreliable sources, it enables health club partners and their members to be confident that their group fitness programs are effective and safe.
Research projects Les Mills has led recently include our studies on RPM and arterial health, CXWORX and running, group dynamics, and even a study about push-ups and the impact of doing them on your knees versus on your toes. This year, further research will explore in greater detail stress and training loads, as well as BODYPUMP and anti-ageing.
“We want to keep on evolving our workouts in ways that meet the expectations of our club partners and their members on all levels – from exercise technique and safety to instructor experience, workout intensity and much more,” adds Hastings.
“Rather than simply focusing on physiological research, our approach could be described as ‘all-encompassing’. For example, we know that motivational and behavioural aspects of fitness like the group effect have a significant impact on a person’s long-term commitment to exercise, so the breadth of research is important.”
And for Les Mills club partners, be sure to access Brand Central for a wealth of marketing social media resources you can share with your current and future members to keep them updated on the science behind their results.