17 Dec 2015
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Fitness industry gets breath of life thanks to Kiwi developers

By Catherine Knowles

Les Mills, the New Zealand based chain of gyms, has developed new digital technology to ‘gamify’ fitness and reshape the industry for millions on a global scale.

Immersive Fitness technology merges cinema quality graphics and sound with high intensity exercise in a purpose built studio.

Fitness routines are synced to the surrounding screen and music with instructors controlling the choreography of each session.

The concept is the brainchild of Les Mills Jnr, grandson of Olympian and founder of the world’s largest provider of choreographed exercise-to-music group fitness classes, Les Mills International.

The new programme was created in response to a Future of Fitness paper, which along with themes of connection, personalisation and convergence, explored the blending of technology into fitness and activity as a game.

Mills says this new concept ‘exergaming’ highlighted the blurring lines between the real and the virtual. He says himself and friend Adam Lazarus saw an opportunity to create a fitness experience that would appeal to the dynamic needs of the millennial generation.

“Younger people, or millennials, now represent almost 50% of the global fitness market. We know they thrive on technology rich experiences and we wanted to create something that met this need by combining exercise with social connections and entertainment,” he says.

Mills says 68% of American households play computer or video games and that gamers are no longer a minority group.

“This common interest and the direction ‘gaming’ is heading highlights a significant opportunity for the fitness industry and one we were keen to grow.

“We wanted to reinvent everything people expect from exercise and create a place without time, one that’s removed from the day-to-day, where people can feel inspired,” he says.

Lazarus and Mills drew inspiration for the concept from immersive tents at music festivals and the video innovations brought to life at concerts like those of Beyonce and Kayne West.

Internationally, boutique gyms are growing rapidly with 42% of the 54 million members of fitness facilities in the US attending boutiques.

Created by a team of Kiwi audio and visual creatives and a local animation team, the first classes to feature the new technology are being offered under the brand name The Trip. Here cyclists can ride through futuristic cities, new galaxies and virtual worlds.

Mills says as we seek to have an even more authentic experience, it is likely that future generations of the product will come equipped with smell, floor movement and even rain.

“We all know technology is shifting by the minute and ideas that seemed ridiculous two years ago are now totally feasible and we want to be at the forefront of these developments,” he says.

According to Mills, the company aims to have 20 million people enjoying a live Les Mills experience every week by the year 2020.

The world’s first Immersive Fitness studios have opened internationally and The Trip is a permanent fixture in Los Angeles, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Stockholm.

New Zealanders will be able to experience the technology from December 2015 when it launches at Les Mills Newmarket, Auckland.

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