Meadville Tribune

Our Health

February 3, 2014

Let's combat obesity 'one pump at a time'

MEADVILLE — Two years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to try a group fitness class at the Meadville Family YMCA. At the time, I wasn’t a huge fan of group workouts, but I also understood that some people thrived on them.

Yet, what I attended was a bit more than just an hour of exercise with a group of people. It was an experience. It was a Les Mills BodyPump class. Although you may have heard about this class, you may not realize that it’s more than just weightlifting to music. It’s actually a fitness movement … a public health initiative.

The whole Les Mills story is unique and has moved into the public health realm to combat the obesity crisis around the globe. It all began with the vision of one New Zealand Olympic athlete — Les Mills. He competed in four Olympic games from the 1960s and into the 1970s. During that time, Les and his wife, Colleen, opened up their first gym in Auckland, New Zealand — a place to help others become fit and strong.

In 1990, Les created a group strength training regime he called “Pump,” which rapidly soared in popularity across New Zealand and Australia. The group class focused on proper weight lifting technique and was choreographed to current popular music. As people were gaining strength and fitness, the craze of Pump spread internationally. In 1997, the program was renamed “BodyPump” and remains the same today.

Les Mills International has grown to include 15,000 licensed facilities and 100,000 instructors across 80 different countries. It offers 12 group fitness programs, all focused on one thing: getting people more active and fit in order to reverse the worldwide obesity epidemic. According to the Les Mills philosophy: “We aim to help others around the globe by increasing awareness … and putting energy into important causes.”

Kudos to Les Mills for starting a movement to combat obesity! There are many ways that public health professionals look at reversing this chronic disease. While group exercise may not be for everyone, it certainly is one method that can work. Today, after two years of group fitness participation, I got addicted. I am now among those 100,000 instructors certified to teach BodyPump anywhere in the world.

Group fitness has turned out to be one of many worldwide efforts to reduce obesity through physical activity. Whether you participate or not, you might be interested in the many benefits of working out with others. Here are five benefits noted by the American College of Sports Medicine:

1. It offers the opportunity to feel young again. Children and youth spend time together, play together, chat with one another, and enjoy each other’s company. As adults, we often do not take time to just be with friends. Group exercise offers that benefit.

2. Exposure to an effective and safe workout. A personal trainer is often pricey, but in a group setting, you can still have some personal attention as your instructor will coach you to proper form and technique while you get in a great workout.

3. Social engagement. Bored in the weight room? Some people just can’t get motivated with just a set of dumbbells. Group workouts provide you with the social atmosphere that promotes camaraderie, accountability, and motivation, all because you are with your friends.

4. Workouts for all levels of fitness. Group fitness is not for a certain exercise level. Beginner exercisers to advanced fitness gurus can get a great workout because the work is already put into the routine of a group program. Follow the instructions and beginners will get a workout without feeling like quitting, and advanced people will work up the sweat they want.

5. Less gym time for you time. Most fitness classes run an hour or less. When you’re on your own, sometimes you drag your feet from station to station and end up skipping half your workout because of time constraints. Group exercise is structured. You’re in and out in the allotted timeframe, leaving far more time to do what you want for the rest of your day.

As we noted in certification training: We are working to combat obesity “one pump at a time.”

Nina Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University and works in health promotions for the Meadville Family YMCA. She is a co-author of the book “Community and Public Health,” published by Bridgepoint Education Inc. You can email her at

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