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Inside the inclusive evolution happening at Les Mills

Even after 50 years of successful business, Les Mills has shown confidence in its ability to innovate in order to remain an industry leader. Now, the fitness experts have debuted s a new state-of-the-art workout studio that mixes innovative design with operation endurance. We have a chat with Les Mills New Zealand managing director Dione Forbes-Ryrie about how its new form is a way of increasing Les Mills’ outlook on an inclusive evolution that’s happening in the fitness world.

Located across the road from its Auckland City flagship location, Les Mills has opened three new studios in an industrial building across the road from its premise. The rough looking exterior shows no indication to the dedication of design that is located within. Even after 11 days of opening, Les Mills New Zealand managing director Dione Forbes-Ryrie says they have had positive response from members eager to try the new experiences.

“The new design is resonating with a lot of different people. and being in business for over 50 years we have a very wide range of members. It’s an inclusive evolution term that we talk about a bit. We want to evolve, and we want to take our people with us.”

The studios are cohesive in their design. Lead by Monk Mackenzie and interior designers, Rufus Knight Associates, both firms worked in partnership with design studio Alt Group, who designed the branding for the main palette of black, white, grey, bronze and silver. Tailor, the groups pre-existing property partner, was also credited to pulling everything together.

Monk Mackenzie partner and architect Dean Mackenzie says the image they were trying to create with their design was “an inclusive space. We were not trying to be masculine. Materiality played into that so that it wasn’t a sweaty, grunty place. We wanted to make the space in kind of theatrical. Even the lighting is calibrated to be moody.”

The building exterior and interiors are black, which creates a dramatic theatrical backdrop for The Trip, the new 45-minute immersive cycle experience with almost 100 spin cycles, featuring a tiered theatre design and cinema quality audio visual system, involving five purpose projectors and large screen. The videos are produced by Auckland company, Darkroom, and other technical components have been provided by Berlin based Crossworks Projects.

“By combining brilliant special design, with equally well-crafted and effective training styles, we’re pushing to create an amazing experience that we believe takes our brand and our industry forward,” says Les Mills CMO Clive Ormerod.

The new studios were a result of both a changing industry and the need to continue offering an all-inclusive experience, says Forbes-Ryrie.

“There is more and more of a demand for that functional training. We’ve been seeing that as a growing trend with a real appetite for that… This was a vision and a leap of faith, a little bit of both really. Designs always been a part of our DNA, we’ve been designing programs for many years… It’s critical to us that the environment really reflects the program evolution as well. What we’ve tried to do here is build spaces that connect super well with the essence of the activity.”

Forbes-Ryrie would agree that this new immersive experience is the first of its kind. Yet the implementation of the new studio was a learning curve for both the productive innovation team and the operations team who handled the process.

“This has been a really interesting process for us,” she said. “We’ve had the international innovation team and the New Zealand operations team come together to form one initiative… With this we we’re able to take the programme ethos, which was developing as the same time as the space design and bring those spaces together. So, it was fascinating, but challenging in the sense of a design and innovation perspective.”

Theatrics had to merge with endurance, as workout studios needed to be both aesthetically pleasing as well as able to handle the stress that can come from constant battering.

“There were some beautiful ideas that came through from our innovation team, but then we’d have the operations guy going ‘cool, that’s going to get smashed in the first week’, so things like the golden metal box in the middle of the cycle studio, we spent weeks and weeks looking at all these different materials. And it was how could we the look and feel that we want, while also having it stand up to one hell of a thrashing.

“That was really interesting having that innovation and operational team nutting out those things, and it really did force the design team to work harder than they would need to if it was say, going to be in a hotel or retail environment, where people would be much kinder and not sweat all over it.”

Rufus Knight says his role was more ‘tactile’, and he played a strong role in the choice of materials used. He says the architects were ‘incredibly proud’ of the immersive studio. “We thought we had made a pretty strong statement with a mirrored cube, and so we didn’t need to add layers on top of that… It is very satisfying contributing to something people really enjoy, we definitely enjoy working in that wellness area.”

The new programmes, Ceremony, a 45-minute functional training workout, Conquer, a complete boxing conditional workout, and The Trip, the immersive cycle experience, will be further rolled out into the Les Mills offering, with plans next to renovate existing locations. 

“We’ve called this stage one,” says Forbes-Ryrie. “Which is completed in our Auckland City flagship location. Stage two is going to be giving our legacy buildings some love. So, we’re just gearing up to get clear on the scope for the step… Very much the design ethos we’re going to start rolling it out, such as in our Taranaki street location in Wellington is starting the refurbishment stage now, so we were able to carry some of that over.”

Forbes-Ryrie, an avid Les Mills member herself, says that even though the design and innovation created by the team makes the space something evolutionary, the best part that has come from the new spaces is the inclusivity for its members.

“I think there are a number of design elements that I love but stepping up from that is I really enjoy seeing is the people. People who you might look at and think ‘they’re not the same’, absolutely getting an amazing workout in these spaces and just coming out buzzing. The fact that we’ve been able to take these people that are different ages and backgrounds to a space like that and give them all an experience that just grounds them, just shows me that we’re nailing that inclusive evolution.”

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