A 100th birthday is a rare and special occasion. New Zealand fitness giant Les Mills recently celebrated 100 BodyPump releases, which translates to 20 years of weights, sweat and, in the early days at least, Lycra. In an era where fitness crazes come and go, it’s quite an achievement.
Pump, as it’s more commonly known, is one of the first group fitness classes I tried. It was my first time using weights and I instantly liked how strong I felt. Combined with moves like squats, lunges and push ups, it was the start of my fitness transformation. Nearly a decade on, I’m leaner, lifting more and still loving it. Depending on my schedule, I try do two to three Pump classes a week.
Weight training (also called resistance or strength training) is great for strengthening and toning muscles. It helps protect your joints from injury and aids weight management, as when you gain more muscle your body burns more calories when resting. Weight training improves bone density, increases stamina and I find it boosts my self esteem too. If you’re worried Pump will turn you into The Hulk – don’t be. The focus is on lots of repetitions with light weights, rather than short sets of heavy weights, to build lean muscle mass.
BodyPump runs for 60 minutes, although there are 45 and 30 minute express versions too. You’ll do a warm up, then eight tracks of about five minutes each focussing on a specific muscle group before a cool down. The music is a mix of cover songs, usually pop, dance, some R&B and rock.
The tracks (in order) are squats, chest, back (clean and press), triceps, biceps, lunges, shoulders and abs. Most of the work happens in the first half where you’ll work bigger muscle groups but at the three quarter mark, the lunges track is never easy!
Les Mills is built on pre-choreographed workouts and they’re taught worldwide. This means you can go to any gym offering BodyPump while the music and moves will differ slightly, the workout is essentially the same. You make it harder by increasing your weights and improving your technique, such as going lower in squats, engaging your core in crunches and so on. It’s great for anyone with injuries, as it’s low impact and you can modify the weights to suit your ability.
1. Before you leave home
This could well be a rule for every workout, but do NOT moisturise your hands! You’ll be lifting your arms a lot too, so have a peek at your underarms. There’s no need for any special food or hydration before a class unless that’s part of your routine. Pump is one of the few workouts I can actually eat up to 30 minutes beforehand and be okay (some fruit or crackers, not a burger!).
2. What to wear
The dress code is pretty relaxed. Pants are good if you’re self-conscious, as you’ll probably do wide-legged squats and crunches. My Pump shorts debut was unintentional on a laundry day years ago, and seeing my pale, unshaved thighs in the mirror for the entire five minute squat track was confronting. But I’m fine with shorts now! Wear sneakers but know that you won’t be jumping or running. Some people wear gloves for Pump, but it’s not necessary for your first class.
3. On arrival
BodyPump is offered at thousands of gyms. If you already belong to a club, great! If you’re joining a friend or visiting the gym on a casual pass, allow 10 minutes for paperwork and putting your bag in a locker if you need.
Pump involves a bit of set up, so give yourself five minutes for this too. Start by introducing yourself to the instructor, who should give you some tips and point you to a bar, weights and step. If you’re running late or the instructor isn’t there, grab what people in the front rows have (because they’re the hardcore Pumpers). If you’ve never done weights, you can do an entire class with just the smallest plates. If you’re familiar with weight training, I’d suggest keeping it light as well because you’ll be doing a LOT of reps.
Where should you set up? While it’s tempting to hide in the back row, you’ll struggle to see the instructor on stage and more importantly, it’s harder for them to see you. Again, stand behind those fit looking people in the front rows.
As mentioned, there’s a bit of gear in Pump. You’ll need:
- A bar: with clips, to keep the weight plates on. The bars aren’t heavy, but you can use them without weights if needed too.
- Step/risers: you’ll lay on this for the chest track, possibly triceps and abs.
- Weights: get a few different sized pairs, as you’ll likely used loose plates in your hands during triceps, shoulders and possible abs.
- Mat: put this on top of your step to lay on during the chest track, otherwise it’s handy for push ups on your knees or crunches.
A new workout, a new language right? Here are some common phrases you’ll hear during a class. Remember to watch your instructor to get visual cues as well.
- New release: this refers to a fresh quarterly mix from Les Mills. It’s a great time to start Pump as everyone else will be learning it too.
- “Mixing”: the instructor is using old and new tracks after teaching the new release for a month.
- There’s a whole dialect around timing, which is eight counts. Specifically:
- Slow: lower the weight for four counts, then up for four counts.
- 2 and 2: two counts down, two counts up.
- Singles: one count each direction.
- Bottom-half: Single time as above, but reduced range. Think of doing a squat, only coming half way up and then doing another squat. Yes. ouch.
- Pulse/”double time”: Fast, intense, micro moves. Common in push-ups, biceps curls and triceps.
There’s lots of lingo around moves too, such as planks, hovers, kickbacks, flies, dips and power presses. Don’t worry about it for now. Watch the instructor and you’ll be fluent in no time!
6. The day after Pump & beyond
You WILL be sore. It might be your butt, maybe it’ll be your triceps. You might ache everywhere. The most common “OMG PUMP!” moment is when you sit down to go to the bathroom in the morning. Even if I’m away from Pump for a month because I’ve been travelling, I still feel that first class back! Go for a walk, stretch and you’ll survive.
If you enjoyed Pump, go back that same week. It’ll be much easier as you’ll know what to expect and you can focus on technique, before gradually increasing your weights. You want to reach the end of each track feeling like one more rep would be impossible. Fatiguing those muscles makes them grow baby!
Les Mills recommends doing no more than two to three Pump classes a week, which I think is a realistic target. Any more than that and the music and workouts could become repetitive. I love following Pump with yoga afterwards – the strength and stretch combination is heavenly! Once you’ve been doing Pump a few times each week for a month or so, give yourself a high five. You’re a Pumper! Increase those weights, buy those gloves if you want and go claim your place in the front row.
QUESTION: Do you prefer freestyle workouts or pre-choreographed ones?