When I decided I wanted to interview some Les Mills legends to celebrate BODYATTACK 100, I figured the focus would be BODYATTACK. The answers I received, however, proved relevant to all Instructors – regardless of which program you teach – and offer some great insights into what it’s like to be an Instructor for over 25 years, and how presenting on a big stage didn’t always come naturally!
SARAH SHORTT: How did you progress from Initial Training to becoming a world-class Trainer?
BEVAN: I actually failed the module first time I did it! Timing was a real challenge for me but I was really passionate and determined to succeed. I used positive affirmations and practised for three to four hours a day. I made it my goal to become the best BODYATTACK Instructor in the world. And I’m still really passionate about the program because I’ve always loved the hard exercises. You know, figuratively killing yourself in a workout has always appealed to me in exercise.
What’s your mentality when you get on stage to teach?
MARK: I never forget that it’s about the people in front of me. I worked out really early on that the class is not about me, but about helping the people in the room. Someone can be having the worst day ever and our job is to get them out of that. So my advice is to be yourself and not think it’s all about you. It’s about the members.
BEVAN: You know there was a period in my career when I slacked off a bit and didn’t learn my choreography properly and taught the same tracks all the time. But I’ve returned to being extremely disciplined in my preparation for class. I practise before every class now and I change my playlists every week. It’s about showing respect for your class by doing the work. I take the approach that it’s my responsibility as an Instructor to push myself to my limits in every single class.
It’s also about looking for the fun. There’s a journey within the workout and there’s times to be aggressive or challenging but there’s also those times to be silly and have fun. That’s my mentality: respect the class, respect the workout, and look for the fun.
MID: When you walk on that stage you have the opportunity to influence the people in front of you. You get a chance to make their life better and it’s about being free and present in the moment. When you teach you get the opportunity to share your love and joy in fitness. To do this, don’t allow yourself to be held back by self-doubt. My most powerful moments in class have been when I’ve spoken from my heart and truly represented who I am on stage.
Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you?
AMY: When I film on the Masterclass videos, I get really anxious! Very stressed and nervous – filming week is a real challenge for me. In the early days I remember feeling like I was about to vomit before I taught my track. But I’ve been blessed with lots of opportunities to have those big stage moments, so I’ve learned how to enjoy them and increase my confidence.
To cope with my nerves, I stay grounded by giving myself an external focus. It’s a real privilege to create a script or a coaching focus that is going to help thousands of Instructors in their classes. So when I filmed BODYATTACK 101, my anchors were to stay focused by connecting to the people and the music, and then show the love by teaching from a place of joy and excitement.
BEVAN: On BODYATTACK 65 I taught the track 4, Tubthumping, and I could just not get the choreography right. Right up until filming day, I couldn’t get it and it was really stressful. Lisa (Osborne, BODYATTACK Program Director) actually cried because I couldn’t get it right! I was really bad. And then, on filming day, I smashed it! I was so proud of myself because I managed to pull it off and if you watch the video you’d never know that I hadn’t been able to do it.
What’s your top tip for growing as an Instructor?
MARK: Sit down and actually watch the Masterclass as well as other people’s classes – without doing the workout. If you’re participating in the workout, you’re not fully able to absorb how the Instructor is creating the experience. For my whole first year in Auckland, I just went into classes and sat at the back of the room. Sometimes I turned away to listen to what they were saying. I thought, “Could I say that?” People deliver the information in different ways and I worked out what I could use in my classes or how I could put a different spin on it. I think that the best Instructors are actually the biggest thieves.
MID: The greatest teachers are committed to physically being the best and are diligent in honing their craft. Do the homework. Commit yourself to the craft of teaching – and by this I mean what you say, how you say it, and what your intention is when you say it. Then get on stage, free yourself and be 150 percent present – with the people, the workout and the music. It’s this presence that creates the moments of euphoria for you and your participants.
How do you create Connection in your classes?
MARK: Let your personality come out. Don’t be a robot – be yourself. Take the information from the Masterclass and deliver it in your own way. And remember, it’s not us telling the members what to do, it’s us asking them to do it. It’s like a conversation between the Instructor and the participants. Use language that you would like someone to use with you. And adapt to the people in front of you. If you’ve got a mid-morning class full of mothers, read the women’s magazines and come up with ideas of what you can talk about. The other day I mentioned a woman who married her 300 year old ghost! This kind of stuff makes you more relatable.
BEVAN: You know, I say to my class – we see each other more frequently than we see our families. And so it’s so much more than a workout. So I try to meet the people in my class and encourage them to talk to each other. We spend a lot of time with our members and you can really create some cool friendships. You know, your class might be the highlight of their day. Embrace the people around you, say hello and get to know them. Over time, you can develop some pretty amazing, lifelong friendships.
What was filming BA 100 like?
BEVAN: I’ve been pretty fortunate to have the opportunities I’ve had in my career, but BODYATTACK 100 filming was truly mind-blowing. I got up on stage and there were maybe 2000 people in the crowd. It was a bit overwhelming to be honest.
Being on stage was really special but because we had such a big team, I wasn’t always on stage. And you know the best part of the class for me was being on the floor with the people, smiling, having fun, it was just the best of the BODYATTACK experience.
What do you love about BODYATTACK?
MID: I always say to my husband that if he didn’t marry me, I’d marry BODYATTACK. I love the energy, the people and the feeling of training hard together like there’s no tomorrow. I fell in love with the sense of community: you’re aligned with all these other people – everyone is fighting for fitness together.
AMY: I love the two elements where you have a great time but you also train really hard. You push your limits and get really fit, but you also have fun. And I also love the inclusivity – no matter where you are on your fitness journey, BODYATTACK brings the whole family in.
Can you tell me about what the athletic origins of the program mean to you?
AMY: I love the sports dimensions. I was always on sports teams growing up so I love the moves that come from the sports field into the studio.
BEVAN: I was playing rugby league and was doing circuit training to improve my fitness, and another player on the team told me to try BODYATTACK. So I came along to class and instantly fell in love with it!
MARK: It helps bring more blokes into the classes. When I first went to BODYATTACK I couldn’t work out some of the moves, and it wasn’t until I went back to my sporting background that I realized they moves are just like rugby, or basketball. So that helps me break some of the moves down for them so they understand that a 3-Step Run is this move from rugby – they can get it.
There’s also the community feel of the classes. There’s a real feel of camaraderie and fun in BODYATTACK which is like a sports team. It’s an athletic program but it’s a fun athletic program.
Do you have a favorite BODYATTACK move?
BEVAN: I love the end of Track 9 where you are doing a High Knee Run Sprint. I love how you can go somewhere else for a second and pull the class along with you. I think we Instructors have a responsibility to push ourselves to the limits. If I’m going to ask you to work to your max, I’m going to go there too. It’s stepping into a completely different zone.
AMY: The biggest gauge I have on my fitness is the Burpee into a Tuck Jump. Coming back from having (my son) River, that’s been the biggest challenge for me.
How do you view the way the program has evolved?
AMY: I love it! The evolution is the reason that I’ve stayed with the program for so long. It stays fresh and current.
BEVAN: I think it’s amazing and I really do mean that. If we’re not evolving, we’re going to get left behind. And it’s funny how things date so quickly – even looking at videos from a few years ago, you can see that we need to move on to stay on trend and relevant to the market.
What has teaching done for you?
AMY: I was really shy when I first started in the industry. But I had an epiphany when I was working on the gym floor that if I didn’t make myself talk to every single person in the room, I was never going to make it. So I forced myself to have conversations with lots of different people, then I fell in love with group fitness and that was really the start of my developing into a confident young woman.
It also instilled a sense of family in me. I was fiercely independent but Les Mills has really taught me the value of family, trust, love and being united to a really important cause. It’s played a massive part in my life.
BEVAN: Before I found teaching, I was a real dropkick. I was into drugs and had kind of given up on life. But when I found BODYATTACK, this was the first thing in life I just worked really hard at and got really good at and was able to achieve things with.
MID: I found teaching at fifteen and I was really a very broken girl who’d come from a tough background that was terribly abusive. However, I believe that gratitude is a powerful space to live your life from and I am indebted to Les Mills for giving me the vehicle to create a life of fitness. It doesn’t matter which program you teach – what matters is that you have the vehicle to help create healthy, passionate lives. And it doesn’t get any better than that.
AMY STYLES is from Christchurch, NZ, and was Training Manager for Les Mills New Zealand for five years. She now lives in Illinois, USA, and has been an Instructor for 18 years, and a Les Mills Trainer/Presenter for 15 years.
MARK SINCLAIR is originally from Dunedin, NZ, and now lives in Auckland. He’s worked for Les Mills for nearly 28 years, and was an International Presenter for BODYATTACK, BODYCOMBAT and BODYPUMP. Mark is currently working as a GFI and PT at Les Mills’ legendary Victoria Street gym in Auckland.
MID THOMAS is club manager for Les Mills Hutt City, NZ. During her 27 years with Les Mills she has been Training Manager for Les Mills New Zealand, and an International Master Trainer. She’s also found time to complete an MBA!
BEVAN JAMES EYLES is from Christchurch, NZ, where he still lives. He began teaching in 1999, and has raced in eight Ironman competitions as well as marathons. Bevan is also a writer, and contributes to his hometown newspaper, the Christchurch Press.