17 Jul 2019 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2018 issue 6

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Leisure Management - Sebastian Lagree


Sebastian Lagree

It’s the workout Meghan Markle quoted as one of her favourites when she lived in LA and it’s arrived in the UK. Kate Cracknell speaks to the man behind the Lagree Fitness Method

Kate Cracknell, Health Club Management
Sebastien Lagree
Lagree believes workouts must be multi-faceted
The Lagree Megaformer is based on a pilates reformer, with additional features to minimise transition time between exercises
The Lagree Megaformer is based on a pilates reformer, with additional features to minimise transition time between exercises
Studio Lagree has opened at the new Nobu hotel in London’s Shoreditch – part-owned by Robert De Niro. The hotel launched last month

How did you get into the industry?
My background is bodybuilding. I started to lift weights when I was 13, living in France, and I became passionate about it.

When I moved to the United States I started to do more, and then when I moved to LA I became a personal trainer.

It was through personal training that I heard about pilates – I became an instructor because it was such a buzzword at the time. This was back in 1998 and everyone wanted to do it.

However, I found that many of my clients wanted results that pilates couldn’t give them, so in reality I never really taught it. I taught my bodybuilding regimen on the reformer, which I realised I could use to do core work, squats, lunges and so on – even though it wasn’t really designed for that.

My workout was a kind of cardio-bootcamp-pilates fusion and people loved it. They’d never seen that kind of fitness before – never seen pilates equipment being used that way – and I was booked full time.

How did things progress?
I opened my first studio in September 2001 and it went really well. Then, in 2003, I made my own machine – the Proformer – which was a huge reformer with platforms and cables.

My one mistake was this: I should have said at the time ‘hey, this isn’t pilates’, it’s something different – but I didn’t. I went along with what people wanted and delivered my workout under the label of pilates. I was a new PT, and as long as people came to me and paid me, that was good enough.

Twenty years later, I realise the damage and confusion this has caused. We’ve had to put a lot of energy into restoring the idea of what Lagree Fitness actually is. I’ve really been pushing the brand – Lagree Fitness – since 2011.

What exactly is the Lagree Fitness Method?
The Lagree Fitness Method is essentially the workout I always delivered, which addresses every element of fitness with a workout using my specially designed machines.

When we exercise, many of us will pick one or two elements. We might run and think that’s fitness, or lift weights, or do yoga and we think it’s the cure for everything. But each of these disciplines is just one part of fitness.

Fitness for me is far more multi-faceted. As a society, we’re more mobile than ever before, but we don’t physically move. This is a problem, because the body needs to move to be well and healthy – and to get that happening, you don’t need to just do one thing. You need to do everything.

So what I do at Lagree Fitness – and through the evolution of my machines – is create a workout regimen that targets all facets of fitness: cardio, core, balance, flexibility, endurance and the development of large and small muscles.

It increasingly ticks the boxes for both men and women, because women are getting into strength, understanding that having muscle definition is sexy, and men are moving more towards flexibility, balance and core.

What other needs does it address?
There’s the whole mental aspect. A workout has to be engaging, and that’s what the Lagree Fitness Method is designed to be. If you go to the gym and watch TV on the treadmill for an hour, I don’t think that’s fitness. You’re not engaging anything.

Perhaps the most important aspect, though, is that while the workout is high intensity, it’s low impact. I look at Lagree Fitness as a healthy alternative to HIIT or CrossFit. I believe a lot of older people don’t work out because the workouts they’re aware of are too harsh on the body. Lagree Fitness is something you should be able to do for the rest of your life.

How has your business developed and grown?
My first studio went well, and by 2006 I was getting offers to expand. I decided to go down the licensing route.

We opened the first licensed studio that year and it took off from there. We now have 300 licensees worldwide – some have over 20 locations – and I’ve never had to market or promote. All the growth has been by word of mouth.

But what I’m most proud of is what I’m able to do off the back of that income stream: the fact I can evolve the method and the equipment and keep offering a unique style of fitness.

What’s different about your equipment?
I was the first person to put a platform on the reformer – firstly as the Proformer, and more recently as the Megaformer. I also got rid of the shoulder rests, I added handles and worked out a way to get different tension on the springs just by moving my hands and feet around.

As a result, when you work out on one of my machines you can have so much more variation within the exercises. The moves we do would be dangerous on a normal reformer, but on the Megaformer there are all these places to put your hands and feet, so you can do the exercises safely and get the maximum benefit from each movement.

I also design my machines to minimise the transition time between exercises. To my mind, if I do a few repetitions and then do nothing for five minutes while I set up for the next exercise, there’s nothing: no raised heart rate, no cardiovascular workout, no muscular intensity, no endurance.

Finally, we have a ramp that allows you to raise one end of the Megaformer to create an incline. That not only gives more intensity, but now each incline level will target the muscle differently; you can change the effect of each exercise simply by raising or lowering the Megaformer.

So, while I loved the original reformer’s springs and the carriage that rolled back and forth, everything else in my machines was an evolution from the original.

You’ve created a new Supraformer – why?
In the 20 years I’ve been teaching professionally, the number one excuse I get – it doesn’t matter which continent I’m in – is time. ‘I know I should be working out, but I don’t have time.’

People have this idea that you need to work out for an hour to get any benefit. In fact, you can get real physiological benefit from just one minute of moving correctly. So I’m on a quest to make workouts more accessible and manageable.

The Supraformer has been designed with this in mind. It not only inclines, but you can also tilt the machine from side to side. This allows you to work all three body planes without having to bend or twist. You get a really high intensity workout that’s very low impact on the spine, joints and connective tissue. All this means you can do a workout in 25 minutes, as opposed to 40 minutes for a Megaformer class.

I have two studios in LA where we test out new concepts, and the 25-minute classes are proving so successful I’m now working on a 15-minute workout. My idea is not to get people moving less – it’s to motivate more people to move. Because 15 minutes or 25 minutes is better than nothing.

What’s the next big trend in fitness?
Since we launched our 25-minute workout, I’ve seen lots of other studios launch shorter workouts. This is a real opportunity: instead of competing, studios will be complementing each other. No longer will people have to choose between a membership at SoulCycle or Barry’s Bootcamp or whatever. Shorter workouts will be cheaper, so they’ll be able to afford more memberships. There’ll be more mixing and matching of different workouts.

My goal is to get the price of a Lagree workout down to US$9, which I think we’ll be able to do when we launch the 15-minute workout. That’s the price of a coffee in LA. Lagree Licensees don’t have to follow this pricing model, but in my own studios, I want to address all the barriers that are preventing people from working out.

I’ve been working on a TV documentary called The Future of Fitness and we found that six out of seven people in the US don’t exercise. In the meantime, all these fitness businesses are fighting over the one in seven who do, trying to convince them that their fitness method or offering is better.

Me? I want to focus on the six out of seven, try to understand why they don’t work out and do something about it

People say the LA fitness market is saturated. It isn’t. It’s just that everyone’s going after the same people.

When we opened our Supra studio in 2016, over 13,000 people joined – and that’s in spite of there being 40 Lagree Fitness studios across LA. Around 80 per cent of people who joined had never heard of us before. Exercise just hadn’t been on their radar until a 25-minute workout came along.

But it isn’t just time and cost that are the barriers. I think another reason these people don’t work out is that they just don’t have any kind of emotional, psychological, intellectual or spiritual connection to physical activity or exercise.

If you only focus on the physical aspect of fitness, you’re missing the big picture. Fitness changed me at an emotional and a spiritual level. It increased my concentration and my self-confidence. It taught me discipline. It taught me to believe in myself. These are the qualities that have changed my life – not the fact that I was able to bench press X amount of weight or do 10 repetitions of an exercise.

Once people realise fitness isn’t just about losing weight or having tight abs, but that its effects go way deeper than that – I think they will really want to engage with it.

Mark my words, 20 years from now, gym adverts will be saying: ‘If you do this workout, it’s going to increase your emotional intelligence by two points’ or ‘If you do this workout, it will help you cope with the stresses of life better.’ Because let’s face it, there are thousands of workouts out there that claim to burn 1,000 calories an hour. Who cares? What can your workout give me at an emotional level? That’s what I’m really interested in.

Tell us about your licensing model
I want studio owners to have the flexibility to express their own vision of fitness. People pay a licensing fee and can then use the Lagree Fitness name and method – but if they don’t want to, they don’t have to. They can just use the licence to buy the Megaformers, although we do provide clear guidance and training to ensure these are then used properly.

But for example, some studio owners have Megaformers alongside a barre studio, TRX, boxing, Woodway treadmills, Versaclimbers and so on. Probably half of our licensees have Megaformers mixed with something else.

I’m fine with that – in fact, I learn from them and have many licensees who are growing creatively in their own way.

I couldn’t tell you if one is doing it better than another. As long as people love the workout – as long as they keep coming and see the results they want, that’s my goal achieved. Because if you change a body, you change a life.

Where will the business be in five years?
I imagine we’ll have twice as many studios as we have now, but I don’t mind if we don’t. It’s just a means to an end for me, allowing me to continue to refine my machines and my method.

The next thing I’m going to be working on is the way we create resistance. A spring has its advantages, but it’s still not the optimum source for tension. I’m creating my own type of electronic resistance that’s designed to keep your muscle at optimum stimulation, but at the same time reduce the impact. Because yes, your body needs intensity, but not to the detriment of your joints, spine, ligaments and connective tissues.

This tension will also mean the machine will react to users; no need to adjust the spring, as the machine will do it automatically. It will also tell you what to do and when to do it, so the role of teachers will become more about motivation and inspiration.

I plan to open another studio in LA, perhaps more, where we can continue to test our prototypes and new ideas before we pass the technology on to licensees. And I’m working on new solutions to make the studio environment more special.

To compete with at-home fitness, you have to create an experience at the studio, so for example I’m working on lighting, including integrating lighting into the machines.

I’ll probably launch some supplements too, but I don’t want to put my name on anything without doing the research.

And I want to branch out and create the first Lagree Centre. This would be a holistic facility where – alongside the workouts – we’d have recovery facilities: cryotherapy, infrared saunas, hypobaric chambers and acupuncture.

The focus would be on restoring your health – not just physical but emotional, helping people reach a point where they sit back and realise they’re happy to be alive.

One day I might even create a retreat where you detox, turn off your phone and focus on you. I’d like to help people understand what it feels like to be truly in balance: mind, body, spirit. I think if people were genuinely comfortable in their own skin, everything would change – not just in themselves, but in the world.

Duchess of sussex, Meghan Markle, is a fan

Meghan Markle has been quoted as saying Megaformer workouts are “hands down the best thing you could do for your body.”

When she lived in Los Angeles, Markle worked out on the Megaformer at Platinum Pilates, the studio chain founded by her friend Heather Dorak.


Meghan Markle

Originally published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 6

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