It Must Be Magic
I have this sort of "uniform" that I wear whenever we teach class. It's one of those black sleeveless BodyPump shirts with a red stripe, black lightweight BodyPump pants, a pair of black & red Nike Shox shoes, and a black durag. I have two full sets so that I can rotate them when one's in the wash.

Well anyway, I've noticed something about this uniform of mine. Whenever I put it on, it has this sort of energizing effect. No matter how tired, sluggish, or whatever I feel - all I have to do is put that uniform on and my whole being just kind of shifts into "exercise mode". I know that I probably could exercise in other clothes (I have, actually, every now and again), but just doesn't feel right. It must be magic.

I had a doctor tell me once that he couldn't think about medical things unless he was sitting on one of those little rolling stools they have in doctor's offices. Now I know what he meant.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's magic.
Lunges' House of Pain!
To my way of thinking, "Set You Free" (BodyPump 42) is hands-down one of the most challenging lunge songs. Our collection goes back to release #37, and there's been nothing quite like it - before or since. First, it starts off with some slow (4/4, 3/1) reps, followed by a set of two staggers, and a final half-down, half-up rep. A short pause, and then the fun begins - a full set of singles and four (count 'em!) rounds of pulses. A set of staggers rounds it out... and then it's on to the other leg. This is one of the few times in life I actually catch myself wishing I had only one leg.
Poll: What's your favorite way to do lunges?
Bar in front (no weight)
Bar on my shoulders
Foot against the wall
Other (add a comment!)
Our Club Has Decided... stay with Les Mills. For now, at least. For (nearly) three weeks the owners have leaned heavily toward BTS. Our Group Fitness Manager was able to get permission to travel to Atlanta this past weekend in order to review the programs. Her evaluation of those classes matched pretty closely with what we posted below, except that she wasn't as impressed with the step and other programs as some of the other reviews we've read. It's our understanding that a number of factors were involved in the owners' final decision - but at the end of the day, they did what they felt was right. We feel that they made a prudent choice to wait for awhile.

We also feel fortunate that our club had a choice - many clubs in Canada, for example, are being forced to change one way or the other. While the BTS programs certainly show promise, we feel that it's best for us (instructors and participants, that is) to allow them the opportunity to establish a solid foundation of both music releases and history. As far as we know, every instructor at our club felt this way - as did the club members who were aware of the controversy.

As a side note, I've noticed some of the comments from instructors - both here and in other forums - have shifted in recent days to more anger than frustration. Club owners, please make sure you listen to your instructors and participants!
Reviews of New BTS Programs
Well now that a round or two of BTS preview programs have been run, there's some first-hand accounts of what attendees experienced. Although we were unable to attend them ourselves (apparently they're open only to club management at this time), some common themes have emerged in the reviews that have been posted so far. These are summarized below, and links are provided at the end of this post if you'd like to research them even further:

GroupPower (competes with BodyPump) - Apparently this is going over really well with attendees - it's gotten rave reviews, both for the routine and the music. Major changes include introduction of the "clean & press" into the warm-up track so that new attendees don't get overwhelmed by it later, a pretty tough chest workout, better timing for transitions, and apparently some new moves in the squats, shoulders, and lunge tracks (squats track can now include some lunges, and lunge track may now include some squats, for example). The abs track may bring in some pilates moves as well. Apparently each track is now given an intensity rating (high, normal, low) with normal being roughly equal to a traditional BP track. We haven't heard or read anything bad about this program from anyone who has attended it.

GroupStep (competes with BodyStep) - Also rave reviews, which isn't surprising given the program creator (BTS aka. "The STEP Company"). Apparently the tempo is slightly slower and the moves a bit less complex, but overall intensity is kept the same or increased due to the use of multiple risers and introduction of some new moves. Sounds like there's more of an emphasis on fun now, as well as for new participants to achieve mastery of the routine more quickly.

GroupKick (competes with BodyCombat) - Once again rave reviews, slowed down a bit and focuses more on power and control. Sound effects effects have been re-introduced. Apparently the upper- and lower-body warmups are separated (with upper-body warmup in the intro, lower-body in subsequent tracks) to achieve a more complete warmup before the intensity of the routine increases.

GroupRide (competes with RPM) - Apparently a slower cadance and - as with GroupKick and GroupStep - more focus on power than speed. Sounds like they've also focused more on timing the cadance with the beat of the music, the result being workout that should be as challenging overall as RPM.

GroupCentergy (competes with BodyFlow) - Generally most reviewers commented that this did not have quite the same level of refinement as that of the Flow class. Clearly this is a difficult and complex class to choreograph, so it may take more time to develop. Major differences include longer holds for each pose, more focus on Pilates and Yoga, and much less Tai Chi. Sounds as though it may be evolving to a more athletic class than Flow.

Our take: BTS seeks to improve upon the Les Mills programs, and some feel that they've achieved this in a variety of areas. That's definitely a great start. Many clubs and instructors, however, have chosen to remain loyal to the Les Mills programs. So regardless of whether or not the BTS programs are better than Les Mills, they'll have to prove that they have staying power before we'll see any major market shifts. And don't count Les Mills out just yet - they've been at this a very long time. It's a virtual certainty that Les Mills will keep a close eye on the BTS programs, so don't be surprised to see some similar refinements in their offerings as well. We believe that there's room in the marketplace for both programs, and that both will ultimately improve as a result of the competition.

For More Information:
First-hand accounts and further discussion are available on BTS Talk, The BTS Forum, and The Les Mills & Radical Fitness™ Forum Zone.
Maybe June 1st isn't the deadline after all...
BTS has offered up a letter that describes in detail how clubs can allow themselves more time to decide (or transition) between BTS and Les Mills programming. A little extra time might be nice after all, ya think?
Music Licensing (and other various issues)
A May 15th letter from BTS CEO Richard P. Boggs states that "at least 28 Exercise Program releases developed by Les Mills Music or Les Mills International prior to May 1, 2005, contain unlicensed music." Les Mills has responded to these charges in a recent post to its website that also addresses other issues raised by a prior BTS website post.

Why is BTS bringing this up, anyway? If there's any merit to the charge then it's between Les Mills and the owners of those music licenses. It has nothing to do with the clubs - or anyone else, for that matter. C'mon guys!
The Good Life?
Well, as the saying goes: No matter how bad you think you've got it, there's always someone worse off. I don't know if that's true in this case or not, but it seems some of our friends up in Canada might be feeling that way right about now. Apparently Les Mills has awarded exclusive distribution rights for its programs in Canada to GoodLife Fitness Clubs. In other words, if you teach or attend BodyPump, Step, Combat, Flow, etc. at a Canadian club that isn't a GoodLife club, well - you're going to be seeing some changes really soon.

At least we here in the States have a choice (actually, the club owners do). For what it's worth, we like the attitude of one Canadian instructor who added this comment to one of our posts: "But when it comes down to it--we will deliver BTS as we did Les Mills, and our clients won't even know the difference."

Way to go.
A Compromise Solution?
First I'd like to thank everyone for the fabulous comments - it means a lot to Tami and I. (Click here for background information if you're not yet up-to-speed on the Les Mills / BTS controversy) Also, an update: Our club's Group Fitness Manager will be in Atlanta this weekend to experience the BTS programs. She's also an instructor so we trust her judgment as to whether the BTS releases are as good as claimed. Unfortunately these sessions are not open to non-GFM instructors, as Tami mentions below, so we won't be able to attend (our car was packed and ready to go when that news was broke to us!)

Well, we believe that our GFM will probably find that the routines and music will be good - the question at hand, though, is whether or not they're better than Les Mills. Because if they're not, then it seems unlikely that a cost/benefit analysis would show it worthwhile to make the switch right away. As JJ rightfully points out in comments to Tami's post (below), this decision needs to be less about emotion and more about the long-term gain for class participants. We believe it would be prudent for club owners to hold off on making immediate decisions to switch away from Les Mills until BTS has a chance to get more releases developed.

So here is a compromise solution that I heard someone mention earlier today: It seems plausible that a club would consider trying out the new BTS material for a month or so - in other words, run a GroupPower class a few days a week inside of the current BodyPump schedule - to see how it plays. It may be more expensive in the short term to license the same type of program from both companies ($200/month, from what we understand) and get a couple of instructors going on the new release, but that pales in comparison to the huge long-term risk of making the wrong decision in a hurry.

I don't have access to the club licensing agreements, so it's not possible for me to know first-hand whether or not this solution is possible. It certainly seems like something a club might look into, though. Comments?
My two cents
I'm still numb from the whirlwind of commotion created by LMI and BTS. I really like it when things run smoothly - no chaos. At 46 - I've had my share and I just want this mess to go away. Alas - I know it won't. All I want is to teach my class members a great BP & BF class. I love these programs and they have changed my life, and my husbands for the better.

And now we are faced with making a choice - or rather our club does. As much as I like some of the things BTS is doing - I DO NOT like the 'canned', studio band music. It sounds cheesy. I do not like the new names, especially "Group Centergy". Yuck. Our class loves the sound of body pump music - it's real. I know some of the lyrics are pretty bad, so I just choose not to play them. I just don't think BTS will play any where close to LMI stuff.

Another thing - if BTS has such a great program - why we can't 'try before we buy'? As far as I know, only club owners and fitness directors are allowed to go to Atlanta for the 'showing'. They don't teach the classes!!! At least most do not. We instructors do! If we could just see what they had to offer first - but they are pressuring our club to sign on the dotted line as soon as possible - without seeing anything!

Why does corporate greed have to get in the way of physical fitness? LMI has developed an incredible fitness system. Yes - it could use some revamping on the difficult stuff. But the music is awesome, people love coming to class, they are enthused about working out and they ARE seeing results. Sometimes it great to challenge our bodies - as long as it is done safely.

Anyway - I'm pretty miffed about the whole thing. Did I mention all the music and clothes I have bought for the LMI programs which could no longer be used for BTS???? (I have steam coming out of my ears!!!)

Whichever our club chooses, I will gracefully abide. We have great instructors, employees and owners who are concerned. I have been at this club for almost 4 years and I love it.

OK. I'm done.

Tami W.
Quick, Choose One: Les Mills or BTS! (What??)
Well, if you haven't yet heard, you most certainly will very soon. Les Mills International (developer and owner of the various "Body" programs, including BodyPump, BodyFlow, BodyStep, etc) and Body Training Systems (aka "BTS" - the distributor of those programs here in North America) have parted ways on what appears to be very unfriendly terms. Until Sunday May 1st neither the clubs nor the instructors here in North America had any idea that this was going on. But apparently the row started late last summer, and the official split became public to all of us this past Sunday. (See and for their respective versions of the story)

Those here in North America who enjoy those programs either as participants, instructors, or club owners are now presented with a choice - you may stay with Les Mills, or with BTS. Les Mills will now deliver its programming directly to North American clubs and instructors (as it does throughout the rest of the world) while BTS has developed a whole new lineup that they say is "new and improved". You cannot have both, however, and if you're an instructor you cannot teach both types of classes - even for different clubs. The choice must be made by May 31st and, if your choice is BTS, you're finished as a BodyPump, BodyFlow, BodyStep, etc. instructor/club - now it's something called GroupPower, GroupCentergy, GroupStep... you get the picture.

At first glance the choice is clear - just stay with Les Mills and go on with life. BTS, for its part, would like to make that choice a little less easy. It's our understanding that they're offering instructors and club owners incentives to go with their new programming - last we heard it was $200 worth of clothing to every instructor who signs with them. Further, the business and personal relationships that have been built up over the years between clubs, instructors, and the folks at BTS (yes if you are an instructor you already know that your trainer was a BTS person) aren't something you just walk away from. In fact, it appears that many of the people we know and care about at BTS have been working hard to put together this new programming for several months now.

And here's something else. The genesis of the original disagreement appears to stem from BTS' concern that Les Mills' programming had a "one size fits all" approach (due to worldwide distribution) that obviously cannot cater to the cultural needs and sensitivities of any one country. In the case of North American culture - which is pretty diverse, we might add - it appears that BTS felt the programming would benefit by reducing some of the speed and complexity, adding more diverse marketing images (assumption on our part: racial diversity), eliminating offensive music, and working to target deconditioned and older adult attendees.

BTS isn't entirely not wrong here - the BodyPump workout has gotten increasingly more intense over the last couple of years, which isn't a bad thing, but it can certainly be overwhelming to someone who's trying to break free of a sedentary lifestyle and get into shape. Are these not the folks we most want to reach? And if so, then maybe there should be some lower-impact programming. We also agree that the music choices can definitely be offensive - case in point "Push Up", "Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy" and "Yeah" from BodyPump 53 have some pretty crude lyrics (it should be noted that two of those come from US artists). And, thinking back over the imagery from the various programs, you really don't see much in the way of racial diversity there. These issues aren't unique to the North American market of course, but they can't be ignored either.

Apparently BTS' new offerings will address these issues, and if they do then that will certainly be helpful. The problem is that they're new - so new, in fact, that we can't yet get our hands on anything to even evaluate what it looks like. It's our understanding that we'll (soon) get quarterly music releases, plus an extra "bonus" release to get us all started. Great - you have one, maybe two, songs for each exercise to play over and over again all summer. That pales in comparison with the "software" currently available to us from Les Mills - at last count, Tami had well over 150 tracks in her arsenal, and I have nearly 100. We change our music every week and hardly ever repeat a song in three months. Nobody can just walk away from that - At 10 songs a quarter it'll take us four years (summer, 2009!) to get back to this point with the new BTS music. That's not so good.

So clubs and instructors have 31 days to sign on with one or the other. If you're an instructor that lives in a small town (as we do) then you probably don't have much of a choice - whatever your club does, so too will you. If they sign on with BTS then you will no longer teach Les Mills programming as of May 31st - you trash your music library, all your videos, all your notes, your clothing, and all the stuff you've memorized since you got your certification. If they sign on with Les Mills then you keep those things - but if you share BTS' concerns then you need to accept that content, focus audience, and marketing of Les Mills programming will probably be as it has been all along. And maybe you feel disconnected from the instructors and BTS trainers who choose to take on this new challenge.

Both companies' promo material make it sound like this is the best thing since sliced bread. Neither company, however, has engendered much goodwill by forcing instructors and club owners to make such an important decision (let alone act on it) in such a short period of time. Without a doubt there's much more to the story than will ever be told publicly - both companies claim that they're the good guys - and no amount of promo material will ever hide the emotional and financial strain that this brings to the instructor community and club owners across North America. Group fitness is a lot less enjoyable at the moment for a whole lot of people, so Les Mills and BTS - if you're reading this - you would do well to seek out ways to make this pill easier to swallow. Because even though this may ultimately be good for your respective organizations - the rest of us (instructors and club owners) have gotten caught up in the middle of something we neither expected nor wanted in the first place.

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