BODYPUMP 80 and interview with Glen Ostergaard
Posted August 7, 2011on:
Well this is the big one! If you’ve not seen my earlier post, as part of the celebration of BODYPUMP 80, the twenty year anniversary of literally the world’s most popular group fitness program, Les Mills asked if I’d be keen to interview the leader of BODYPUMP for the entire globe, Program Director Glen Ostergaard. And, what’s more, I could ask anything. I actually offered to allow LMI to pre-approve my questions and this very blog post in advance and was told that wasn’t necessary – literally nothing was off-limits. How cool is that?!
So, I did what any self-respecting blogger would do, I asked you guys for a hand with the questions; and boy did you help out! In fact between comments on the post, facebook and twitter you guys had 65 different questions. SIXTY FIVE! Which when you think about it makes sense, after all, I live in New Zealand, literally a short drive from Les Mills Auckland City, I’ve attended the last 12 filmings, rehearsals and trials, and even though I’m right here I’m not entirely sure how the whole process works… I can’t imagine how mysterious it is if you live on the other side of the world!
So of course you guys had loads of questions about the choreography process, music selection, where the innovations come from, how the filmings work, how the presenters are chosen, the development of a release, and of course BODYPUMP 80 itself. And yes, the good news is we’ll get to all of that!
But before I jump into it all however you do need to know a bit about release 80 itself. You’ll see that we spent quite a bit of time discussing the release and that’s because this release is very different. The BODYPUMP 80 filming: just. went. off. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a class quite like it, and doubt I ever will again…
BODYPUMP 80 was presented by Glen O, Mid Thomas, Matty Thraxton, Will Pritchard and Les Mills Jnr. An appropriately all Kiwi line up for a New Zealand born program. The energy in the room was simply electric. I was fortunate enough to be in the second or third row, typically for filmings I will stay at the back of the class and leave the front section for the international guests, but as I knew Glen and I were having this interview the next day I figured I’d stay nice and close. And I couldn’t have picked a better night to do that – the class was NOTHING SHORT OF EPIC. All the team absolutely peaked on the night. If you know Matty you know he pulls out some classic lines, and he was on form alright! Will was the same, in fact I am certain that some of the calls Will made had never been heard before as the looks on the faces of the group as he said them were priceless. They were all absolutely bursting out with laughter during the bicep track – it was hysterical! Impossible to articulate the incredible vibe of the night in words, you’re just gonna have to wait and see!!
As for the release itself? Well Glen has taken the workout to a new level. BP80 has an entirely new degree of intensity, and new dynamic moves that will not only lift your heartrate through the roof, the lunge track has a new move called the Propulsion Lunge that literally sends your body through the roof! (more on that below) I was absolutely gasping for air after that track and without missing a step we immediately moved into the mother of all shoulder tracks (which Mid delivered amazingly). The workout is nothing short of spectacular. I teach 4-5 BP classes a week and I have never had my ass handed to me like that before. I am not exaggerating when I say BODYPUMP 80 truly feels like it marks a new incredibly exciting direction for the program. I could happily explain more about the release myself from my own perspective, but much much better than that and luckily for us below Glen explains exactly how it came to be and where the program is going.
So let’s get into it! If you did ask a question and I didn’t get to it I do apologise. I literally picked Glen’s brain for close to an hour straight, and tried to cover off as much as I could. In reality I could’ve probably spoken to him for three times as long! We did cover all the big stuff though. I’ve got over 20 pages of notes to work from here so I’m going to try to keep it as concise as I can…
THE JOURNEY TO PROGRAM DIRECTOR
Glen’s initial venture into the fitness world came at the age of 16 in his hometown of Motueka when he was first allowed to use his father’s home weight set (he admits he was eager to get into training well before then but his Dad wouldn’t let him lift until he was 16). It was from that point his passion for training and the fitness industry continued to grow, even more so years later after joining Gold’s Gym in Christchurch and seeing his first “aerobics class” (as they were then called). The decision was made – he wanted to be a BODYATTACK instructor! This was back in 1992/93, long before the days of module training, however he worked with Maureen Baker at Les Mills Christchurch and did some instructor training courses.
The road shall we say, was a “little bumpy”. Glen failed a few some of his assessments, and admits it wasn’t easy, but continued to work at it, and eventually achieved his first group fitness goal and became an attack instructor – all the way back at BODYATTACK 4. He continued teaching BA in Christchurch for 5-6 years before moving to Auckland.
From here as well as personal training Glen began to work with LMI; writing notes, proofing material and working behind the scenes in the filming process, but explains that during all this time he’d had a desire to become a choreographer. As luck would have it, he had his chance. An opportunity arose to choreograph an RPM release; RPM 26 and he was given the job. He continued as PD for RPM for 1-1.5 years when he, along with several other people was asked to choreograph a BODYPUMP release. Although Glen describes it by saying “there were no fireworks” and it was matter of being at the “right place at the right time” we all know, and history has clearly demonstrated that he was the right man for the job. Phillip Mills obviously felt the same way and at BODYPUMP 59 the job was his, 22 releases ago.
THE CHOREOGRAPHY PROCESS – FROM CONCEPTION TO FILMING COMPLETION.
Glen explains the process all begins with and is completely driven by the music. He spends most of his time listening to tracks on itunes and other websites, every day in many different genres. Approximately 200-300 songs are chosen per release to begin with, and that’s then cut down to 20-30, basically 2-3 per bodypart. From this core playlist he’ll sit down with Diana Mills (the Creative Director at LMI) and together they choose the songs that have the best fit. He describes as a jigsaw puzzle where piece by piece they will put it all together. By his own admission this part of the process is far from scientific – more creative. What’s more, while Glen is choreographing one release he’ll be simultaneously collecting the music for the next.
How does the music then translate into the actual choreography? Again, it is the music first. The music guides the movements and not the other way around, it is rarely the reverse where Glen thinks of an innovation then tries to insert in into a track. The innovations do come, whether it be from Bryce Hastings, Corey Baird, from magazines, Crossfit, or whatever inspires Glen, but it is always driven from the music first.
Something I was personally dying to know was if Glen had ever choreographed a track in his head and found in reality it just hadn’t worked at all. The answer; absolutely. Once he has the music, and the first draft of the choreography he will trial it in his own BODYPUMP classes. If it’s not quite right he will refine it over 4-6 weeks. When he feels it is 80-90% ready he will bring in Diana and even Jackie Mills, they will take a look and refine it even further. After more trials Phillip Mills will sign it off.
Of course this all begs the question has he ever trialled a track and found it has just been too hard? I have heard stories in Glen’s classes about tracks literally being gut bustingly tough. In fact I had heard stories about the initial choreography for the back track in BP80 being incredibly difficult! Many were saying it was almost too hard! Glen responded to this by saying yes, he always makes them as hard as he can first and then if needed works backwards. He never wants people feeling a track was “too easy”. He said initially when he tried the choreo for the shoulder track in BODYPUMP 80 he almost passed out (trust me after doing it I definitely know the feeling!) You’ll be happy to know the end choreography in the actual release it has not changed from this though – Glen has just made adjustments in the weight selection accordingly (so don’t say I didn’t warn you!).
THE FILMING PROCESS
Something a lot of you asked was how the presenters are chosen for each release. Glen explains that this is a group decision. For the last few years Les Mills agencies around the world have sent in DVDs with their best trainers and many have been chosen from those. LMI also have trainer summits around the world and recommendations are made from those. And of course, there’s the top line home-grown instructors selected from within NZ as seen in BP80.
Will we see a new wave of instructors start coming through from the new AIMs (Advanced Instructor Modules) around the world? The answer is yes – however Glen reiterates that they need to be the absolute top echelon of instructor or at trainer level.
The process from arrival of the presenters into NZ to filming takes just one week. They will arrive the Wednesday before, and it is an incredibly intense process. By the time the team arrives the choreography is done, Glen has trialled it many times and knows it works. During the week the presenters are taken through the AIM coaching model and upskilled to the high level required for DVD presentation.
I was interested in knowing if LMI allow the presenters to script their own tracks. The answer is yes, however they give them “the bones”. LMI will provide them with the purpose of the track, and for each block within it. Ruthie T is the program coach who walks them through this aspect. Then they continue to do it over and over again until they can literally do it without thinking. It is only really at this point that their personality can begin to shine through. The presenters are then able to deliver the track with purpose and coach it successfully and still be themselves.
I mentioned Will and how brilliantly funny he was on the filming night for 80 and Glen actually brings that up as a perfect example to illustrate this. He describes the preparation as being similar to that of an athlete where they will peak on the night – and peak for BODYPUMP 80 they definitely did. Which brings us to the release itself.
So, as I’ve already talked about BP80 has a whole heap of innovations, not only in movements but to the actual “feel” of the class. It just feels like the intensity of the workout has lifted completely. I wanted to know more about these innovations and where they came from. Glen explains that a lot of this came from his own personal inspiration, from his own workouts, and this has leached its way into pump, but again this has all been guided by the music. He puts it very simply: “80 is different”. He breaks it down into two parts:
Of course an integral part of the workout is Strength as seen in tracks like chest, biceps and the core work. This is where BP has had its roots as this will always be a foundation of BODYPUMP.
However the other part is High Intensity Aerobic Conditioning. Examples of this are found in the squat track, there are a lot more singles (much more than in BP79) – this track is less about building pressure and more about increasing the heartrate. This runs through into back with the Power Press (yes it has returned). The Power Press is a full body movement which equates to a high intensity aerobic burst. This then moves through into the lunges with the new Propulsion Lunge (trust me this is the track that will kick your butt). Those three tracks anchor this part of the workout. There are also two circuit tracks, triceps and shoulders that move very quickly through different exercises with no break. The shoulder track especially has an extremely rapid transition from standing to floor work that will leave you gasping (remember this is the track that Glen said he almost passed out doing the first time).
It is this high intensity aerobic conditioning style that the fitness industry is moving to – away from “old school” training and more into a circuit style with full body movements. This is where he sees BODYPUMP going. Pump works, there’s absolutely no denying that – but full body integrated cross training is where the industry is heading for good reason.
Does this mean the actual structure of the class could change? Glen’s response is well yes, but without losing its identity. Pump has a strong grounding in a weight training mentality and that aspect will never change. It is a barbell workout and will always be squats/chest/back etc but it will keep up with the industry. BODYPUMP 80 is a perfect example of what can be done in this regard.
So were these innovations in the pipeline already or were they included specifically because it was release number 80? Glen explains that they “just happened”. Once again he reiterates it was what the music dictates. He does try to include a couple of innovations in each release, but says he doesn’t want too many. When 80 was first choreographed it was a little light on innovations so Bryce helped out – and that is where the propulsion lunge came from [gee thanks Bryce! 😉 ]. Glen then says they added a new move to the shoulder track. Sometimes Glen will have the bones, and then he’ll go to Bryce/Corey and they’ll create an innovation.
Does that mean BP80 was choreographed like any release? Glen says because it was ‘80’ he wanted it to be a fantastic release and worked really hard to get the music and choreo right, then went on and looked for bits that would really stand out. He says the process unfolded over the full 12 weeks and that the release did not look anything like that even 6 weeks ago.
I explained to Glen that for me personally, after seeing 80, or even after experiencing tracks like Firework or Dangerous, or looking at new movements like the Power Press it does feel like BODYPUMP is getting harder. Is this the case or is it just my imagination? Will it continue to do so? Glen confirmed that yes pump is getting harder – but explains this has been a gradual change. He says he looks back at the first release he did, or even some of the stuff Mike [McSweeney] was doing and there is a noticeable difference. But it has been gradual, he said there’s never been a conscious decision “we’re going to make pump harder” – more that they’ve just rolled with the times and what’s happening in the industry.
So my next question had to be if he sees this lift in the intensity of the workout as a possible challenge for new participants? He says they want to make sure they give tonnes of options, and gives an example of the Power Press in BP80 (note, for BP80 an actual new option for members instead of the PP was filmed). Glen explains as well as the options it’s important that weight selection is right too. He brings up the shoulder track in 80 to show this, and says that when he first tried it he failed in the last block. However he backed the weight off next time and this became the new benchmark. Finally along with options and weight selection it’s imperative new participants are shown correct technique, so that movements like the power press don’t become a shoulder press.
JUST FOR FUN
As we started to run out of time I had a few light-hearted questions to ask Glen as suggested by you guys.
What release is Glen most proud of? BODYPUMP 80. Though he does clarify that by saying he lives in the now and if I’d asked him that three months ago he’d have said 79. But he is especially proud of BP80 because they broke new ground. Not only that but he’s so proud of the presenters and the way they trained up – he truly felt they were amazing on the night.
What part of the job does he most enjoy? He loves finding the music, choreographing the release and then sharing the workout. When he gets into his 4:10 Monday class he doesn’t tell the members it’s new, he just delivers the workout and watches their response. Are they smiling? Are they grimacing? He loves sharing his creativity.
The part of the job does he find the most challenging; Like anyone he gets tired, he gets stressed, and there’s a lot of pressure along with a lot of travel. And while he’s travelling and conducting workshops and trainings he’s still got to do his job as PD and that can be stressful. But he explains that’s part of life and without that pressure nothing even happens.
His most embarrassing moment? He didn’t name one specifically though says he does sometimes struggle with the performance stuff. He specifically cites the Michael Jackson moonwalk from BP72 – that aspect of the job can make him feel a little uncomfortable (I suggested he leaves all that stuff to Thraxton haha!)
How about resting, with filmings and the travel on going does he ever get to have a holiday? He tries. The day of our discussion was the day after the BP80 filming and of course now his attention immediately moves to the filming of RPM 53. After that he’ll try to take a small break but in a couple of weeks the team are all heading to the USA for a trainer summit, then on to Sweden so holidays are very hard to come by.
As the interview came to a close Glen once again reiterated that creating each release really is a team effort. Although it is he that creates the release musically and choreographs it, there’s Susan that does the notes and education, Bryce and Corey who ensure it’s safe and effective and give new ideas, and Jackie and Diana that oversee it all. It really is an accumulation of the work of an entire group of people.
Finally I had to ask him about his standout moment in his career. Glen explains that getting the job for BODYPUMP was a real celebratory moment as he worked so hard for it. But for him the highlight of his career was last night. He really felt the filming of BODYPUMP 80 was something very very special.
And I’d have to agree. BODYPUMP 80 is truly a landmark release and being in that room that night was something I’ll never forget. Although the world won’t begin to see 80 for a few months yet you should really start to get excited now. It’s an amazing release that truly marks the beginning of a new era for the program.
If you are interested in reading more (yes there is more!), a second part of this interview is going to feature in the UK instructor Kia Ora magazine. I’ll post a link to that as soon as I have it. In closing I’d like to thank Glen for his time, thank LMI for asking me to do this and allowing me to learn so much, and a big thank you to you for reading all this way! Cheers to BODYPUMP for making it to an amazing twenty years young, and cheers to at least another 20!