// Brace yourself for the revolution

Until now, the leader in the world of pre-choreographed group exercise has never produced a core-specific program. By applying the tried-and-proven Les Mills group fitness formula to a workout focusing on the muscles of the abdominals, glutes, obliques, back and 'slings', that's all about to change, reveals Grant Chapman.

Les Mills CXWORX™ core training program probably showed its true colours in public for the first time when the debut releases were filmed at Les Mills Auckland late one Sunday evening last December.

The new program had already been several months in development within the organisation's private studios, and quietly tested and refined in live classes at local Les Mills clubs. Research had confirmed a growing demand for core training around the globe; up to a quarter of surveyed gym's timetables catered for this need with predominantly freestyle formats, and sales of 'ab' training machines in the US were growing at a rate of four per cent every year. Core training has also been identified by the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine as one of the leading worldwide fitness trends.

Unsurprisingly, when word leaked out that the world's leading exponent of pre-choreographed group exercise was taking a shot at the core market, the fitness industry was abuzz.

But this filming session was the first real indication of just how different CXWORX™ would be from its rivals and even from Les Mills' nine other programs. 'We wanted to set a unique tone for this program' says Les Mills chief executive Phillip Mills; 'A lot of science went into creating it and we wanted the filming to feel cutting edge. But there was a real personal-trainer influence as well, so it needed to be a very intimate experience for everyone – instructors and class members.'

Program co-directors Susan Trainor and Dan Cohen, along with experienced Les Mills instructor Corey Baird, coached, coaxed and challenged their audience through an hour of action that would form the basis of in-club trials around the globe. When filming ended and the last of the celebratory pizza had been devoured, the small but select crowd departed into the night feeling like it had just witnessed an epiphany – something really fresh and exciting.

Core values

The name CXWORX™ captures what the workout is all about. The 'C' stands for 'Core', naturally, while 'X' illustrates the targeted 'sling' muscles that cross diagonally from shoulder to hip. Each class is just 30 minutes long; short and sharp enough to be conveniently scheduled on club timetables.

Essentially, CXWORX™ focuses on muscles of the abdominals, glutes, obliques, back and slings that support and move the spine, the centre of all the body's movements. It has been designed to help participants run faster, play harder and stand stronger.

There are three main reasons for exercising the core:

  • Injury prevention – studies show eight in 10 people will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives. In 2007, 12 per cent of American adults reported back pain and treatment cost $30 billion. A strong core would support this area and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Functional strength – core muscles help transfer power from the legs to the upper body (and vice versa) in everyday movements like walking, running and lifting.
  • Cosmetic – tightening and toning to look good.

A proven formula, a new focus

While Les Mills incorporates ab tracks into several of its other programs, until now it has never turned its attention to producing a specific core workout. CXWORX™ applies the same tried-and-proven Les Mills group fitness formula – highly-trained, passionate instructors presenting cutting-edge choreography and chart-topping music which is refreshed every three months. This immediately differentiates it, but several other distinguishing characteristics separate CXWORX™ from other core workout programs.

For a start, it makes a point of featuring the often overlooked sling muscles that provide maximum strength to the spine. It also uses resistance tubing to recreate the dynamic tension of functional movement.

By combining the best features of group fitness and personal training, Les Mills hopes to attract traditional weight trainers, especially men, into the studio for the first time. But perhaps the most notable point of difference is the research that showed how to fit the most effective workout into just half an hour; 'The program really challenges traditional thinking about how muscles are affected by exercise' says Phillip Mills; 'CXWORX™ is a unique series of moves that target specific areas at high intensity, so you don't need to work out as long to get results.'

Dr Jinger Gotschall of The Pennsylvania State University used a process called Electromyography (EMG) to measure how core muscles react to different moves. Ten men and 10 women were put through a range of 17 exercises that isolated one specific muscle group (like crunches for upper abs) or integrated several muscles at the same time (like a hover for slings, abs and back).

Dr Gotschall expected activity to be reduced across all muscles in integrated exercises, but was surprised to find these movements were just as effective as those that focused on each muscle specifically. 'We wanted to see if we could achieve activation across the core when we add the shoulders and hips into a movement, and we definitely did with CXWORX™' she says; 'In fact, the integrated activity was much higher than we expected. I initially believed the shoulders and hips would reduce some of the benefit to the core, but we actually found that core activity was just as high as with isolation exercises.'

Thirty minutes was considered long enough to train this very specific area of the body for both strength and endurance before fatigue set in, and Dr Gotschall's study showed integrated moves were the most efficient and effective use of that time. Her findings were presented to the American College of Sports Medicine conference in Denver, Colorado, in May.

CXWORX™ was officially unveiled at the IHRSA Convention in San Francisco in March and to the Australian market at FILEX in April, and the early response has been overwhelmingly positive. Pilot clubs around the world experienced packed classes and, impressed by the program's high energy and ability to activate core muscles in 30 minutes, Gold's Gym, one of the biggest names in the US fitness industry, immediately signed on to launch in April.

Other clubs across the planet are following suit, and group exercise instructors are adding another string to their bows with the addition of CXWORX™ to their teaching repertoire. 'It's become increasingly clear that people are really starting to focus on the importance of a strong core to their health and fitness, and that clubs are under pressure to answer that demand' says Phillip Mills; 'We've tried to bring a truly unique flavour to this space and we think it will be a real game changer in our industry.'

Grant Chapman
Grant is communications advisor for Les Mills International, based in Auckland. For more information about becoming a CXWORX™ instructor or adding the program to your club timetable, contact ask@lesmills.com.au.