Augmented exercise and the era of ‘entertrainers’
“Imagine yourself climbing up the hill,” urged the instructor.
Why imagine it, wondered Tom Sproats as he sat on his bike in the spin class, when you could have the hill right in front of you instead?
So Sproats travelled the world, filming 350 videos across different tracks and terrains. When he returned home, he spent 8 to 10 hours editing each clip and syncing it with its own soundtrack before practicing teaching the class in his parent’s garage.
Eighteen months later, in May 2014, Sproats opened Scenic Cycle in Sydney’s CBD where cyclists enter a darkened movie theatre of a room and spin themselves through the soundscape and landscape to another place.
“It’s not something that’s purely a physical workout, it’s also a mental escape,” says Sproats, whose next studio opens in Manly in September. “You leave your day for 45 minutes to go to the French Alps.”
What Hillsong did for religion, the fully immersive, choreographed class is doing for fitness. And a religious experience, for many, is what exercise is becoming.
While Sproats is doing it daily on a smaller scale, ‘entertrainment’ as BUF Girl’s Libby Babet calls it, is growing grander by the day with full-scale, augmented exercise shows rolling out across the country.
This Saturday morning in Sydney, Babet and her team will take 700 plus women through a free, music fuelled workout as a live DJ spins tunes.
“The music has been choreographed down to the millisecond,” says Babet, who has spent the last month rehearsing up to five hours a day for the one-off show. “The production and music are epic… it’s like nothing else that’s been in Australia.”
While Babet doesn’t think the stock standard exercise class is dead, she believes the augmented exercise experience is a natural extension of a growing industry.
“Even 10 years ago, you would never hire a PT unless you were a celebrity. People weren’t so into it,” she says. “Now the industry has progressed, it’s allowed people to do something different and why not give them a cool experience?”
Babet also attributes the rise in popularity of such events in part to the Nike Tour events and people like Kayla Itsines, the 24-year-old from Adelaide, who has 5.4 million Instagram followers and whose mass bootcamps are selling out entire football stadiums in the US.
“It’s literally like a rock concert,” Babet says of Itsines’ workout tour.
“The rise of Instagram and fitness stars, like Kayla, they’re the new rock stars,” agrees Flow Athletic’s Kate Kendall.
Kendall and Flow’s co-owner Ben Lucas, put on their first yoga class choreographed to the sounds of a live DJ two and a half years ago.
They were not the first to do it, but as their “Flow After Dark” events grew, they teamed up with Silent Sounds to put on “silent disco yoga events” where the DJ’s music plays through wireless headsets worn by participants as they move through a yoga flow led by Kendall.
“It’s just got bigger and bigger,” says Kendall, whose first event had 70 people and whose latest event, earlier this month, had 600.
“I think people are craving a different experience – it’s about a soul expanding experience, it’s about connection and it’s a bit different socially – there’s a real energy about having such a huge group of people doing the same thing at once.”
Babet agrees that the social aspect is appealing for many.
“I hate going to a nightclub, but I love music and I still want the high and the social experience. If we can combine exercise with something that’s fun and gives a social release, that’s great,” says Babet, who adds that such events are “breaking down barriers and bringing more people into the fold”.
As well as those not typically into fitness or yoga, those people often include the time-poor, says Sproats, who says they are drawn in by the package deal of exercise, entertainment and stress relief.
“People are working longer hours and working harder than ever and, I think, becoming more stressed, so workouts like this heighten the sense of stress relief and escape,” he says.
Most of us need to get up out of our pews to move more, and if an entertaining escape inspires us into action, then hallelujah to that.
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