“Run and dodge!” Sarah Hippert roared, whipping her students into a frenzied dash. Suddenly she gave the order to halt and demanded squat jumps, lunges and pushups. Then the whole routine repeated again and again.
When it seemed like the group at the YMCA Anthony Bowen (ymcadc.org) was on the verge of collapse, Hippert yelled out one more command: “Stop and recover.”
And that was just the warm-up for Les Mills Grit Cardio, a new workout from the international fitness company that’s developed many of the most popular formats in gyms today, including Bodypump, which is taught at Gold’s Gym, Sport & Health and countless other health clubs in the D.C. area.
The Les Mills Grit Series — Cardio, Strength and Plyo — is designed to introduce the masses to “high-intensity interval training.”
Often shortened to HIIT, this athletic style is behind such trends as CrossFit and P90X and can produce better results faster than typical workouts. The problem? Many instructors throw together random moves and don’t understand recovery, which can lead to bad experiences, or even injury.
What Les Mills does, says Erin Myers, the company’s East Coast marketing specialist, is develop classes that are safe and effective. In a Les Mills Grit session, “every time you take a rest, it’s strategically planned, and the range of motion is planned,” she says.
That approach appealed to Angela Meyer, the D.C. regional director of group exercise for the YMCA, which is why she arranged the program’s District debut this fall.
“This isn’t somebody just making up stuff,” says Meyer, who appreciates the structure and quality control of Les Mills offerings. At the end of each 30-minute class, she knows exactly how students will feel: “If you do it to your fullest potential, you’re worn out.”
Whether it’s Cardio (just body weight moves), Strength (with barbells) or Plyo (which gives students a step to jump over), all Les Mills Grit series workouts are designed to raise heart rates and tax muscles to the beat of a thumping soundtrack.
“The music is timed so perfectly, I can’t give them a break,” Hippert says not-so-apologetically about the constant barrage of moves she throws at students.
Instructors make up for the pain by acting like coaches who just want to see students triumph. During Hippert’s class, after an exhausting series of leaping squats, hopping pushups, sprints and lunges left people gasping for air, she got them back in the game by reminding them, “You’ve got to play in the second half to win.”
Arnold Gaither, another YMCA instructor, says his first experience with Les Mills Grit reminded him of winter conditioning from his days as a college football player. So he borrows from the techniques that worked for him back then.
“When someone’s given their max effort, I go over and ask for one more,” says Gaither, who offers a palm for students to high-five as they jump.
The motivational component makes it feel like personal training, said Camille Sabbakhan, 43, after finishing a Strength session that had her hoisting weights above her head, squatting forever and completing a ridiculous number of burpees.
“The intensity of the exercise with the minimal recovery pushes you beyond your comfort level,” Sabbakhan said.
That’s why sticking with class, she added, requires showing some grit.
Instead of holding drop-in Les Mills Grit classes for members, Arlington’s True Health and Wholeness (2444 26th Road South; 571-421-2774, true-hw.com) offers seven-week sessions ($385). Folks will be tested before and after the twice-a-week program to get a snapshot of their results. “They can look at how much higher they can jump and how much faster they can run,” says True’s Kate Finamore, who recommends the program only to people who are active and looking for a challenge. “If you’re coming to this, you’re going to smash yourself,” she says.