In 1968, four-time Olympian Les Mills opened up his first gym in New Zealand. More than half a century later, the Les Mills brand has grown to be a leader in group fitness and creator of 20 programs available in facilities around the world. Their world-famous BODYCOMBAT™ workout combines fitness and mixed martial arts. And today, it enters a new era with the launch of LES MILLS BODYCOMBAT on the Quest Platform.
Developed by Odders Labof OhShape fame, LES MILLS BODYCOMBAT is launching with 30 workouts that span boxing, speed, core exercises, lower body, and more. Every workout is led by BODYCOMBAT Program Directors Rachael Newsham and Dan Cohen. It’s not just about jabs, hooks, and uppercuts. You’ll squat and slip to dodge walls, throw sky punches and hammer punches to break targets, and grab targets to slam with your knee. Local and global leaderboards will help to keep you motivated.
We sat down with Rachael and Dan to learn more.
Tell us about your background. How did you first get into fitness? What was your path to professional coaching like?
Dan Cohen: As a young boy growing up with uncles who often shared their memories of boxing which fascinated me, I became heavily involved in martial arts and by the mid ’90s had collected a wide range of trophies across multiple disciplines. Soon after in 1998, I had been selected as a National trainer (UK) in bringing to the nation Les Mills BODYCOMBAT. From this point onwards, my international fitness career really took off. Traveling the world has really opened my heart and mind to the importance that fitness plays in someone’s life. Seeing it first-hand is truly inspirational.
Rachael Newsham: Growing up in a northern English town, I spent a lot of time with my friends on my street, on my bike, running, playing games like football or listening to music. That was in my free time. The rest was plenty of extracurricular activities thanks to my parents giving me incredible opportunities like dance school, music lessons, swimming lessons and galas, athletics meetings, and netball matches. Fitness was the most natural progression for me where I got to include my artistic side and my athletic side. I started as a gym instructor but quickly the senior teachers realized I liked to talk a lot, so they put me in the group ex room where I got a captive audience and a microphone hahaha. I enjoy seeing people’s eyes light up when they realize that exercise can be something that we look forward to When people feel better, we behave better.
What motivated you to bring LES MILLS BODYCOMBAT into VR?
DC: Now more than ever is the right time to expose the brilliance and passion that Les Mills BODYCOMBAT brings whilst using the technology of today. It’s a new way of thinking and moving.
RN: The fact that many games on the market are influenced by martial arts, and our workout is based on and influenced by martial arts, means it’s a delightful and natural coupling. It’s also a way to introduce fitness to people who have not yet found a way that excites them to get their activity levels up and a great way to entertain yourself and the family.
For those who are unfamiliar, tell us a little more about BODYCOMBAT.
DC: Les Mills BODYCOMBAT is a mixed martial arts-inspired fitness workout that utilizes the movement patterns from boxing, kung fu, karate, kickboxing, taekwondo, capoeira, and muay thai. These disciplines work the entire body, especially focusing on the back, shoulders, core, and legs. Bringing the innovative knee strike along with our other moves to VR shows the exciting variety that BODYCOMBAT brings to the gaming/fitness world
RN: BODYCOMBAT is a total body workout—part cardio, part body weight conditioning, part core training, and not to forget the improved levels of self-esteem and de-stressing that comes from smashing targets and achieving activity goals whilst being totally lost in the excitement of the moment. The VR version of the workout is best described as a sneaky bite-sized workout, whereby the day after you are pleasantly surprised by the back, core, and arm workout you didn’t realize you were having.
What was it like to design workouts for VR as opposed to an in-person or on-demand video class?
DC: This was a really fun and tricky challenge for Rach and I, finding the line where fitness stops and gaming starts or vice versa. It needed a new way of thinking, mastering a skill whilst learning it. Creating a musical and choreographic journey whilst striking / dodging /ducking and power-breaking targets required a visual and audio sensory stimulation like never before. As a team, we have designed what we believe is the most authentic and motivating fitness app in the VR market.
RN: It was really refreshing because we experienced a huge learning curve on both sides of the camp. The fitness squad brought what we know works for world-class fitness experiences and the VR tech squad brought what they know about world-class gaming, and we blended our learnings and danced along the line where fitness and gaming meet in the middle.
What’s your favorite track and/or environment in the app and why?
DC: Honestly, all of them—the very high-level premium look, feel, and sound really come alive when you’re inside each environment. The realness of Tokyo or being surrounded by a futuristic Mars blows my mind. Combining these things with the world-class coaching to technically move better enhances the workout in every aspect.
RN: I really love the floating islands and the massive warrior and the tracks where the wall becomes more of a long tunnel and your legs start to shake after all the squats hahaha.
What advice would you give to someone who’s new to VR and/or new to working out?
DC: We have 30 different workout offerings. The tutorial is an important place to start to help familiarize yourself with how to interact and move within the workout. Choose from either beginner, intermediate, or advanced and away you go. Starting with workouts in shorter duration helps with the orientation of the game and sets you up to move towards the more challenging, longer 25-minute workouts.
RN: I’d suggest doing five to 10 minutes initially and take a slow and steady approach. Too much at once isn’t smart. That will help you build a good foundation of fitness and won’t mean you need massive recovery before you go again. Consistency at an achievable level in the early days is the way to go. Once you have established that, you develop your fitness and endurance and can manage more workouts or more time.
How do you think VR might continue to positively impact people’s fitness journeys in the future?
DC: Using VR allows you to completely control your level of intensity, speed, and duration. Having such autonomy whilst being motivated through the unique coaching is a really powerful thing. VR technology is fast moving, so the possibilities are unlimited.
RN: It’s my belief that real-life fitness is the premium experience and always will be, but there is a place for VR that will help open the door to fitness to people who had otherwise shut it out and considered themselves not really into it. It’s hard to deny that much of society is still intimidated by gyms and gym people or the thought of doing a workout, but the thought of playing a game for 10 minutes doesn’t sound so bad because the focus is fun and not results. It’s not going to cannibalize the real-life workout world—it’s going to help us stay active when we can’t go outside but want to do something other than sit or stand and escape the job and to-do list and just play and have some fun.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
DC: I’m very excited and proud to bring Les Mills BODYCOMBAT into the VR world, having the whole family exercise, and—if they like to compete—seeing who has the highest score or the longest running combo is really fun. Can you top the leaderboard and become one of BODYCOMBAT’s VR top warriors?
RN: This is just the beginning of the VR BODYCOMBAT experience. I’m excited at how this can and will develop over the coming months, bringing new and fresh activity, entertainment, and exercise to people’s worlds. The connectivity and community that can grow out of this will be such a rich addition to our lives. For anyone that is worried about it taking over, I understand the concern, and to that point I will say that a hug IRL, a workout IRL, and a concert IRL now have such gratitude and appreciation around them due to society being told to stay home and isolate, that I believe we as a community will find the delicate balance and our lives will be enhanced by embracing both.
Grab your Quest and check out LES MILLS BODYCOMBAT, now available for $29.99 USD.