You already do a lot of strength training, what motivated you to start exploring a new way to build strength?
Erin Maw (EM): There is so much momentum behind strength training right now. More and more people are beginning to understand how important it is and building strength has become the most popular way to train. When we launched LES MILLS STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT™ it was an instant hit, and we realized people loved trying different ways to get strong. Functional strength training is trending all over the globe, and it’s something both Ben and I have been incorporating into our own routines, so we started exploring how we could help more people enjoy it.
Ben Main (BM): We looked to the latest sports conditioning and performance training techniques and challenged ourselves to bring the best of heavy compound lifting and functional strength training together. We wanted to create something unique with a completely different feel to workouts like LES MILLS STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT or BODYPUMP™. I love where it’s landed. I mean, I love all the LES MILLS strength workouts, but this is probably my favorite right now. It leaves you with a completely different feeling – like you’re stronger, and more athletic, and better at everything you do.
Why is focusing on functional strength so important?
EM: In life, you don’t just move forward and backward, or up and down. You use muscles multidimensionally, and this is exactly what functional training is – using muscles in multiple directions, often with an element of power. The movement patterns in these workouts relate to our daily life movements. So this type of training keeps you fit in the way life needs you to stay fit, and strong in the way you need to stay strong.
What went into creating this new workout?
EM: The science and testing behind this workout has been exhaustive! It’s been a long time coming because we were constantly evaluating and refining to create the perfect recipe. From the outset, Ben and I worked closely with Bas Hollander, who has lots of experience in athletic animal flow and really helped us to think outside the box and explore different ways to move. We also had strength training experts and physios, Rob Lee and Bryce Hastings, helping ensure the creative movements were brought to life in the safest and most effective ways. We worked through four different versions of the formula in our lab, and then ran two blocks of live class testing at the Les Mills Auckland City gym, refining the moves and structure every step of the way. After two years of testing, trialing and development, we've done our due diligence – and we now know this is the best version it could be.
What can you expect in a typical LES MILLS FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH workout?
BM: We start with a banded warm-up, using a resistance band to warm your muscles, work through different movement ranges and focus on your mobility. Then we hit three superset blocks. Each block uses heavy compound loading exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench presses, contrasting them with explosive functional movements. These are the more creative single-sided exercises. They feel athletic and sports-inspired, and really get your heart rate going.
EM: You always know what to expect. The structure and use of intervals are always the same; you’ll always get a full body workout; and you’ll always finish with the same cool down.
What makes this structure a winning formula?
BM: It’s been scientifically shaped to give you the best of both worlds. The compound movements with heavy weights preload your muscles and get you to the point of fatigue earlier, so you reach the working phase faster. When you hit the explosive movements it’s heart rate lifting, explosive strength and control.
EM: This contrast feels so good, it’s really unique. You get to bounce between heavy muscular burn and slow compound heavy sets, to lighter resistance with fast force explosive strength and power. You’re activating type one slow twitch muscle fibers and then jumping into type two muscle fiber activation – so your muscles are getting both stronger and more powerful, all in one workout.
How does LES MILLS FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH differ from other strength workouts?
EM: There are always going similarities between strength workouts, but there can certainly be a lot of differences too. When it comes to BODYPUMP, LES MILLS STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT and LES MILLS FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH, one is not better than the others, they’re complementary.
BM: BODYPUMP focuses on strength endurance, LES MILLS STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT is all about hypertrophy (muscle growth), and this new workout is a unique blend of strength and power. I call it a hybrid strength workout; you get strength training and explosive power.
EM: We bring in more offset and stability work than we have in any other workout and linking it with heavy compound strength training is what builds power and athleticism. And makes it so challenging! It’s not something to do instead of your current strength workouts, it’s complementary. Add this workout to your routine and not only will you enjoy more variety, it will make you better at your other training.
What’s surprising about LES MILLS FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH?
EM: You’ll be amazed how high your heart rate goes and how sweaty you get! And if you think it will be like other LES MILLS workouts, you’ll definitely be surprised. It’s got a really different feel: the uniqueness and creativity of the functional moves are really outside of the box. And because the moves are so different, the 45-minute workout flies by.
BM: The feeling of contrast is also surprising. And some of the new moves… Yikes! The Copenhagen Plank is crazy, but it’s epic for building strength.
EM: Yes, some of the moves are very challenging. Even if you've got really good balance, adding explosive tempo into the mix can be a very humbling experience!
Who does this workout appeal to?
BM: It’s a really awesome workout for people who love to train, and who love to train hard. It’s also a great option if you want to get strong for life, but don’t want to do intimidating heavy lifting.
EM: This isn’t an easy workout. It’s going to take you to that uncomfortable place – where you’re raising your heart rate, sweating hard, testing your stability, and doing faster, more explosive movement patterns. We've had feedback that the single-sided training is really challenging, but that’s the whole point. Functional training is something you have to keep practicing and this workout is ideal if you get a buzz out of challenging yourself. Whatever your ability, it will take you to the next level on your strength journey.
What’s your advice for first timers?
BM: Start with light weights! Get a feel for the movement patterns and then you can increase your weights from there.
EM: Remind yourself that this isn’t an easy workout – it’s complex and challenging, but there are options for all abilities. If you stick with it, you’ll see results. And then, when you attack your other workouts (and just life in general) you’re going to feel so much more powerful, athletic and in control.
What equipment do you need?
EM: We make good use of all the Les Mills Equipment range – the SMARTSTEP bench with risers, the SMARTBAR barbell, a vast selection of weight plates (the more the better), and the SMARTBAND. If you're working out at home and don't have all the gear, you can use just dumbbells or weight plates and a rolled-up towel for the warm-up. But to be honest, using a resistance band is ideal – and they’re not too expensive.
How should people progress through the workouts?
BM: There are six workouts that all have the same structure, so you can pick and choose whichever you like to do. It’s a good idea to start with number one, as it’s packed with really helpful coaching that will help set you up for success. We also suggest you repeat each workout a couple of times to get familiar with the moves before you progress to the next workout.
What other workouts should you do alongside LES MILLS FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH?
BM: We recommend strength training 2-3 times a week and avoid doing it on consecutive days.
EM: How you mix up your strength training is entirely up to you. I reckon a good mix is: one LES MILLS FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH workout, one LES MILLS SHAPES workout and one LES MILLS STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT workout each week.
What’s been the response from Instructors to this workout?
BM: It’s easy to learn and easy to coach. It uses intervals and the structure is the same across all six workouts, there are beeps (even in the cooldown) so you don’t have to learn choreo to music.
EM: Because we’ve gone with really creative functional movement patterns that are technical and complex, we wanted the structure to be very simple and easy to learn. This means Instructors can dedicate their effort and time to the unique and creative elements (not having to monotonously learn choreo to music).
BM: If you’re an Instructor, you can feel like you’re at the forefront of functional training, leading out cool and unique moves that aren’t in other types of group fitness. There are so many scientific insights involved in this style of training – it will really help instructors to level up their coaching. You can't help but learn new things. It will make you feel like a better and more confident coach.
Contact your local Les Mills office for details on when LES MILLS FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH will be available in your country.