When I moved to Virginia, though, I knew that my access to this kind of workout was practically revoked, unless I was willing to spend thousands of dollars on an at-home mega(or micro)former, or drive 20 minutes to my closest [solidcore] and re-adopt boutique fitness prices. Trust me, I was tempted—I never found an at-home workout that compared to the challenge and satisfaction that Lagree offered.
Now, a little over three years later, such a class exists—no reformer or megaformer necessary—courtesy of Les Mills.
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- Erin Maw, Les Mills trainer and lead creator of Les Mills Grit and Shapes
Les Mills: Explained
For those that don’t know, Les Mills is a leader in group fitness, with in-person and on-demand (via Les Mills+) classes. In total, the company offers 13 fitness classes, as well as four HIIT-specific workouts, and five levels of youth classes, many of which you can find in local gyms. They offer everything from cycling- and dance-based workouts to yoga and boxing-inspired sequences. And now, if you’re a Pilates and barre babe, there’s something for you, too.
Introducing Les Mills Shapes
As a company that prides itself on being receptive of the current fitness climate and trends, it was only a matter of time before Pilates and barre—two of the most popular fitness modalities of the 2020s—made its way to Les Mills.
“We’ve taken the most challenging aspects of Pilates, barre, and power yoga, synergized them and fused them together in a way that’s brought out the best of each,” says Les Mills trainer Erin Maw, who is the lead creator of Shapes. “This means there are unique Pilates movements, the principles of barre (aka lots of pulses), and innovative additions such as sliders and weight plates during power yoga.”
To create Shapes, Maw worked with multiple physiotherapists as well as Les Mills head trainer Sarah Baron, who has a professional ballet background and is a reformer Pilates and barre instructor. And although it fuses three different fitness inspirations, there’s one main goal of the workout: To tap into the "hot spot."
“The hot spot is all about finding that bite point where you start to feel the heat in your muscles when they’re being activated in a targeted way,” Maw says. “This workout has options for everyone and you can progress at your own pace. It’s really all about finding your hot spot and making it work for you.”
One other distinction from traditional Pilates or yoga? Instead of a calm, quiet studio, Shapes brings the beat and turns up the volume.
My honest thoughts about Les Mills Shapes
I got to try out Shapes ahead of its official debut when I attended Les Mills Live LA at the end of July. After taking Bodypump, Grit, and The Trip, I expected Shapes to be a more restorative, less intense workout, perfect for the Sunday morning that I had booked it for. Oh, how wrong I was.
As someone who lifts four to five times a week and who has a history of megaformer workouts (which can translate to slider- and band-based workouts), I figured it’d be a breeze, even if I was a bit sore from the past three classes. Instead, within roughly 10 minutes of the fast-paced, high-pulse workout, I realized I was in for a core-burning treat.
As a beginner, I went with a light band and light plates during the slider-based Shapes workout (there are also yoga-based options, FYI). While the leg lifts, staggered penguin crunches, lumbar rotation stretches, and squat pulses were approachable yet effective, I found that the “Squat Tread” was darn near impossible from an on-beat perspective due to my less-than-stellar coordination. But that was totally fine—I just focused on the pulse. Regardless of whether I took a modification or not, though, each of the exercises set my core and booty on fire, leading me to believe that I’ve officially found my new favorite at-home workout.
Why is Les Mills Shapes so effective?
After experiencing the hot spot burn firsthand, I had to ask Maw about her approach to the movement selection and overall sequencing.
“When you do other exercises, sometimes you can miss a specific muscle group,” she says. “But with this workout, we target the glute max, then we target the glute med, then we target the inner thigh, so we don't miss anything. We’re fatiguing one specific area, then we’re fatiguing another specific area. And we’re engaging lots of intrinsic and accessory muscles that we wouldn't work doing compound exercises like squats on a rack.”
Also notable are the high reps that are sequenced to the music. “The moves are intense, but they feel fun—and that’s what keeps you coming back,” she says.
I noticed that the workout has a notable effect on the mind, too. “There’s a mental component to the workout with a focus on authentic Pilates breathing, helping you to feel more centered and connected to the core,” Maw points out. In that way, it’s a dual-focused, full-body workout that can boost both your muscles and mood.
How to approach Les Mills Shapes
Feeling intrigued? According to Maw, this class is great for anyone looking to condition and work on strength and stability. Best of all, you can do it at home or at a participating gym near you.
But don’t be surprised if your muscles are screaming at you after completing your first Shapes class. Also, don’t feel the need to tap into the hot spot each and every day of the week.
“As a full-body strength workout, we recommend you do Les Mills Shapes two to three times a week,” Maw says. And she’s got science to back that recommendation up: A recent study with the University of the Fraser Valley School of Kinesiology found that doing Les Mills Shapes three times a week for six weeks lead to significant increases in core endurance and balance/hip stability. “This includes increasing back endurance by 26 percent, abdominal endurance by 35 percent, and balance and hip stability by 20 percent per leg,” Maw says. “These improvements can help improve athletic performance, power and movement control, while also reducing the risk of injury.”
And whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of assuming that Shapes is a recovery workout. “Each workout will fatigue your core and your glutes, so it’s important you don’t do any weight training after a Les Mills Shapes workout,” Maw says. “Expect to feel a little sore in the morning! You’re going to feel things you haven’t felt in a long time, but it’s totally worth it.”
With that in mind, Maw recommends starting out with no band or a very light one when you first begin the workout. Additionally, opt for either no weight plates or very light plates as you ease into the workout.
“Remember: You can ditch the equipment anytime you like,” she adds. “You can [also] stop and shake out whenever you want. If you want to move slower and off beat of the music go for it. There’s no pressure to stay on tempo with the instructor—you can slow down and stop as you please.”
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