Executive Q&A: Les Mills US CEO Sean Turner

Les Mills

After two years of on-again, off-again gym closures and a workout-from-home boom, we asked industry executives for their thoughts on the future of fitness.

In this Q&A, we spoke with Les Mills US CEO Sean Turner about the revival of IRL exercise, the importance of a cohesive omnichannel offering, and launching Les Mills into the metaverse.

Shuttered during the pandemic, gyms/studios are rebounding. How do they succeed going forward?

Sean Turner: While the industry has weathered challenges over the last two years, our 2021 Global Fitness Report found that brick-and-mortar gyms are making a strong recovery, demonstrating that the appetite for live fitness experiences is high and members want to get back to their facilities after years of disruption.

It’s vital for gyms to prioritize a member’s journey and help them create social connections that will keep them coming back and feel encouraged by a positive community.

And with the rise of digital fitness, gyms must adapt to ever-increasing member expectations of what a fitness experience entails.

Omnichannel or hybrid fitness is gaining traction. How does it play out?

ST: Omnichannel fitness—a blend of in-gym and digital home workouts—will continue to gain traction as we emerge from the pandemic, with the majority of exercisers (59%) now favoring a 60:40 split.

Gyms are playing a vital role in driving this “live revival,” serving as hubs for the social connection and extra motivation that exercisers wouldn’t get at home. Many people have missed the thrill of a busy class, working out with others, and being led by a rockstar instructor.

However, digital is here to stay and is undoubtedly a key component of the new fitness landscape. Gyms and studios must adapt and bridge the gap between live and digital experiences to stay relevant in the future and offer members an integrated fitness experience.

80% of members plan to continue using digital workouts post-pandemic, so livestream and on-demand have become vital additions to a gym’s long-term digital offerings.

From VR to web3, immersive exercise is trending. How will it impact fitness?

ST: We’re constantly innovating and working on ways to enhance our programming and raise the bar. In general, fitness brands are embracing a convergence of fitness and entertainment, which opens many opportunities for collaboration and innovation.

Most recently, Les Mills launched BODYCOMBAT® as a virtual reality (VR) gaming app, bringing the world’s most popular martial arts workout into an out-of-this-world VR experience. We pride ourselves on 50+ years of fitness history and knowledge, and it’s awesome to be able to couple that with groundbreaking technology.

The VR experience combines visual motivation together with audio motivation (i.e. coaching), which often leads to the user working harder without realizing it. The beauty of the BODYCOMBAT VR app is that we can tailor workouts for all fitness levels and take people through the workouts in a safe and progressive way.

What trends will shape the future of fitness?

ST: In a world of endless quantity, it’s never been more vital to focus on quality, particularly from a digital perspective.

A common stumbling block we see comes when gyms create digital solutions that are completely disparate from their live, in-club offerings. It’s no good enticing members and prospects online with a bunch of off-the-shelf on-demand and livestream classes that they can’t do in your club.

Providing high-class digital offerings with the exhilarating in-club experience will be key to maintaining a real-world edge over digital-only fitness providers.

Wrapping up: Anything else we should keep in mind?

ST: One of the most enduring challenges we see in the fitness industry is member retention, with about 50% of members leaving their club each year.

Gym-goers have identified instructors as their single most important factor in choosing a live class — a key component that’s driving the live revival.

Retaining top talent has never been more important, and that’s especially true when it comes to instructors. Great people are the only competitive advantage that your rivals can’t copy, so smart recruitment is an essential part of building a healthy business.