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Author: Pernille

The sport of indoor cycling

What’s the idea behind Kinomap?
Indoor training can be boring. People buy a piece of gym equipment for their home and within months they’re disengaged and no longer using it. In creating Kinomap, our idea was to make indoorsessions fun, using technology to engage people and make their journey to good health more interesting.

What is Kinomap?
Kinomap allows exercisers to access real-world video footage – a huge variety of routes through which they can ride, run or row – to make their indoor training more engaging.

It was developed over two key phases. The first phase, in 2010, was Kinomap.com: a free sharing website for geolocated, user-generated video content. Anyone who uploads content to Kinomap needs to upload not only a video, but also the corresponding GPS track; it’s a bit like YouTube and GoogleMaps rolled into one.

KINOMAP WORKS WITH ALL TYPES OF CARDIO EQUIPMENT: BIKES, TREADMILLS, CROSS-TRAINERS AND ROWERS

We now have 140,000km of track – real video footage – from 86 countries around the world, from Europe to Brazil, China to Vietnam to Mongolia. You can go for a run on the Great Wall of China, cycle the Alpe d’Huez route from the Tour de France, row along the canals in Amsterdam… There’s a huge diversity of content, with five to 10 new videos uploaded by users every day and made available to those using Kinomap to train indoors.

Having created Kinomap.com to collect video content, we then moved on to developing training apps that used this content. The main Kinomap app was launched in 2013 and was followed by a series of white label apps for partners, like Decathlon and Kettler, who promote Kinomap to those purchasing their equipment; Kinomap works with all types of cardio equipment, from indoor and recumbent bikes to treadmills, cross-trainers and rowing machines.

What makes Kinomap technology special?
The geolocation technology, combined with the real video footage, is key. It moves Kinomap away from being virtual reality entertainment and into a sporting, performance-focused arena.

These are real videos of real tracks that you have to complete; anyone using our Challenge mode will see their avatar moving along the track on the map at exactly the same speed as they’re moving through the video footage. It doesn’t matter how long the original contributor took to complete the track: they might have labelled it as a 30-minute track, but you could do it faster or slower depending on your power output on your chosen piece of cardio equipment.

kinomap app systemAnd the system is highly accurate – so much so that when it comes to cycling, for example, Strava equates it to a real road ride and allows you to log your Kinomap training data on its app.

The system works best when the cardio equipment features a sensor that Kinomap can pair with. On a bike, for example, this allows the resistance to automatically adjust to the incline of the track. Where the bike has a power meter, we can also accurately adjust your speed: if your output is 200 watts on a flat road, we’ll move you along at 30kph; if you’re climbing the Alpe d’Huez at an 11 per cent incline, you’ll be down to 8kph.

However, you can still use Kinomap if you have an older piece of fitness equipment with no inbuilt electronics: the app can use the front-facing camera on your mobile phone to detect your cadence on a bike, your stride if you’re running, or your stroke on a rowing machine.
Alternatively, if you’d rather just use the video as entertainment, you can choose Discovery mode. In this case, you pass through the video at the same speed as the contributor. You’ll still feel the inclines and declines, but you don’t get the full experience of completing the track for yourself.

you can still use Kinomap if you have an older piece of fitness equipment with no inbuilt electronics

How does it work if you’re training from home?
Most people run the app through their smartphone and cast the video onto a TV screen, so the whole experience is very immersive.

It’s made even more engaging by the fact that you never train alone. We have a multi-player mode, so you can get a group of people together – in the same room, around the world or a combination of the two – and compete against each other on-screen. But even those who don’t have anyone to train with will always be competing against the original contributor of the track; an avatar of their own previous best performance if they’ve completed that track before; up to six other users at a similar level as them; and the best performer on the track to date.

Importantly, anyone else shown on-screen will have logged their time using the same piece of fitness equipment as you; inevitably some brands of equipment are more accurate than others when it comes to measuring power output, and we want to compare like with like.

kinomap app

Can Kinomap also be used in a gym setting?
For gyms, the best use of Kinomap is in a cycling studio: it’s a great way of maximising the value of the studio during off-peak times when there aren’t any live, instructor-led classes. Gyms can use Kinomap’s multi-player mode to allow groups of members to compete against each other, either in scheduled ‘public races’ or in on-demand ‘private races’ set up by the members themselves.
In this scenario, we charge a licence fee per bike rather than per user, and the videos can be downloaded in advance to avoid problems with internet speed.

We’re finding it hard to break onto gym floors though, at least at a commercial level, because Kinomap works almost too well: it causes people to be on the cardio kit for longer than gyms’ equipment usage models allow. The average time people spend on a treadmill in the gym is 13 minutes; Kinomap users average 38 minutes. Similarly, on indoor bikes, the average usage time is 17 minutes; with Kinomap, it’s 42 minutes.

The technology does offer a great opportunity to run tactical marketing events in a gym though: a cycling challenge in the run-up to the Tour de France, for example, or a team run around Central Park when the New York Marathon is coming up. We have enough different tracks around the world that you should be able to find something to match any upcoming event.

What future developments are you planning for Kinomap?
We have a few things we’re working on, from slipstreaming technology to making the avatars more realistic.

We’re also keen to get more official race footage, so for example you don’t just have the chance to cycle the Alpe d’Huez course. You have the chance to cycle that route as part of the Tour de France peloton and get your ranking at the end.

We’ve already started doing this with the Hammer Series – a new race series for elite cycling teams such as Team Sky, where three races take part in one city over the course of a weekend. We see huge potential in this sort of agreement, both for the end users of Kinomap and for the brands involved in the tour.

WE WANT TO SEE INDOOR CYCLING RECOGNISED AS A SPORT: REAL RACES, TAKING PLACE ON REAL TRACKS, INDOORS

Tell us more about this Hammer Series agreement
We’ve signed an agreement with Infront, which holds the rights to the Hammer Series. As part of this, it asked the pro cycling organisation Velon to film video footage of three races – in Norway, the Netherlands and Hong Kong – with a camera on-board one of the bikes. It then approached us to create an indoor version of the Hammer Series using this footage.

It’s a great strategy for Infront for a number of reasons: it keeps the buzz going around the events for far longer than simply the day or week of the race itself; and it gives the participating teams something to involve their fans in throughout the winter, when there are no races going on. Team Sky, for example, has 800,000 followers on social media – and little to tell them during the winter months. How amazing would it be to offer those fans the chance to take part in a half-hour section of one of the races, racing alongside the likes of Chris Froome – maybe even giving them a ranking compared to him at the end of it?

Once again, we come back to the fact that this isn’t virtual reality: it’s a real race, indoors.

What do you see as the future of indoor cycling, and what will be your role in this?
We want to persuade the British Cycling Federation to allow a broader definition of indoor cycling. At the moment, it views indoor cycling as track cycling in a velodrome, but we feel what we deliver is also indoor cycling – not just exercise, but a sport.

If you look at rowing, there’s a World Rowing Indoor Championships: a real, competitive event using Concept2 rowers. We want to do the same with indoor cycling.

In fact, we’re already seeing this start to happen in places like Paris, where a peloton cycling out on the roads is deemed too much of a terrorist target; the cycling legs of triathlons now have to take place indoors.

But we want to formalise this. We want to see
indoor cycling – using Kinomap technology in conjunction with the most accurate power-based bikes, like Body Bike and Wattbike – recognised as a sport: real races, on real race tracks, indoors.


Kinomap: Facts & figures

  • Kinomap was created by co-founders Philippe Moity and Laurent Desmons.
  • The Kinomap community is currently about 200,000 strong, with 30,000 active monthly users.
  • Prices start at US$5 a month on an annual contract, for which you receive unlimited access to all videos on Kinomap.
  • Most users use Kinomap at home, with about half choosing Challenge mode and the other half preferring Discovery mode.
  • At the moment, cycling accounts for 70 per cent of activity on Kinomap, with running and rowing making up the rest.

Les Mills LIVE – Singapore 2019

Regarded by many as the ultimate fitness festival for the region, we combine the best of entertainment and exercise in what we call “exertainment” with the best of stage setup, lighting and sound carefully coordinated with each program track, elevating the offerings of our presenters and the experience of all participants. This will also be exemplified through our program THE TRIP, which takes cycling to a new frontier of motivating and immersive fitness experiences.

Over the last few decades, Les Mills International CEO Phillip Mills has seen huge change in what drives club members and keeps them motivated. In this video, using exercise bikes as an example, he explores how the evolution of technology has helped create a more motivating environment for exercise that helps members achieve more.

Imagine being among over a thousand people, energized by the music, moving full-out to the hypnotic rhythm

We started running Les Mills Live for the first time in Singapore in 2018 and we saw the benefits and potential that it offers to various facets of the business, especially in Southeast Asia which is currently experiencing rapid growth in terms of fitness awareness and gym/club membership adoption. That’s why we decided to bring it back to Singapore for 2019 as it is a strategic point for the various countries in our market to congregate, as well as a popular international hub for other countries. This is possibly why our 2019 event has already attracted fitness fans from as far as US, UK, France and we anticipate that there will be more people from other countries joining us. We’re expecting many international instructors and fitness leaders from emerging and established markets alike to take this opportunity to network while enjoying themselves.

From a participant number of over 1,300 people in 2018, and the rave reviews received, we are not surprised that ticket sales for our 2019 event is already close to that figure at this early bird ticketing stage, and we anticipate to be playing host to over 2,500 participants in 2019!

Imagine being among over a thousand people, energized by the music, moving full-out to the hypnotic rhythm and beats as they are led by our program directors or their ‘fitness heroes’ who are the designers and first teachers of the various Les Mills program tracks and are pretty much synonymous with them.

les mills cycle sprint
The classes will be delivered by a team of hand-picked presenters

This event is not just about ‘doing exercise’ or working out in a group, but it’s about experience, connection, challenge, community and performance. Our goal is that each and every one who attends, leaves inspired and with tools and insights that they can harness and build upon even long after the event ends.

We are excited about the impact that we will be making in each participant’s life through this epic event.

Friday night bikes

For the first time in Singapore: FRIDAY NIGHT BIKES powered by BODY BIKE® makes its debut. The 4-hour cycle-a-thon features popular Les Mills cycle programs RPM, SPRINT and new to market THE TRIP. THE TRIP is an immersive cycle experience where riders are lead through fantastical worlds on big screens. The classes will be delivered by a team of hand-picked presenters from Australia, Southeast Asia and THE MAN himself Glen Ostergaard – the Program Director of both RPM and SPRINT.

Ophelia from Australia is making the trek to Singapore especially for Friday Night Bikes “I’m expecting on the Friday night a whole lot of crazy cycle obsession!”, “We are quietly confident there will be a whole-lotta-obsession as at the time of writing most of the cycling sessions have sold out.”

Amanda Breen, Les Mills RPM Presenter says: “I can’t wait to ride with 150 people who love indoor cycling – the energy will be insane!”, “The fact that we are featuring our 3 cycle programs makes the event even more special, I’m so excited!”

LES MILLS ASIA PACIFIC

Les Mills Asia Pacific (LMAP) was founded when Bill Robertson, then owner of Deakin Health Spa in Canberra, Australia (now Fitness First) mused the decline in aerobics classes. In search of answers Bill travelled to Auckland New Zealand to investigate a new concept in aerobics: PUMP.

Bill Robertson
Bill Robertson

Immediately he liked what he saw: enmasse members participating in a weights class to music – revolutionary in so many ways: females participating in resistance training, males participating in aerobics and barbells and weight-plates occupying real-estate on the studio floor. Today we would think nothing of this concept – but in the 90s, females and weight-training were atypical, males certainly didn’t participate in aerobics and weights were confined to the gym floor. However, Bill was immediately hooked and recognized the potential in the concept for his facility back home. And right he was: PUMP was a success. Members flocked back to the aerobics studio no thanks to this pre-choreographed-weights-to-music class. This gamble on a single program, in a single facility in Canberra has 2-decades later expanded in to 15 programs (including RPM and BODYBALANCE) across 1,000 facilities in Australia and Southeast Asia. Facilitating these classes across the Asia Pacific region is close to 10,000 Les Mills trained Instructors.

Les Mills mission 

Les Mills’ mission is to create a fitter planet, and we do this by helping clubs build healthier businesses by making more people love their clubs. Our programs help them achieve this through better member acquisition and retention as studies show that club members who join group fitness classes are 4 times more likely to attend their facility. Statistics also show that members that attend their facility twice/week remain a member between 2-5 years. As instructors play a key part in enabling this to happen by delivering our programs, we also focus on growing our instructors so that they become the greatest instructors (and human beings) they can be. LMAP countries Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Guam, Brunei, Maldives, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Laos

 

ØRBIKE – a dream coming true

The story about one the largest indoor cycling events in Denmark, ØRBIKE, takes its beginning six years ago, when Jesper Sørensen, also known as JAS among friends, was first introduced to indoor cycling. With a deep-felt passion for road cycling, he found indoor cycling to be the perfect supplement to his training routine, and it did not take long before he was completely and utterly hooked. Consequently, he decided to become an indoor cycling instructor and soon started working as an instructor at Midtfyns Fitness Center leading indoor cycling classes on a daily basis.

Working at the local fitness center, he began, however, to feel an urge to test his instructor skills somewhere else. He envisioned a bigger scene and a larger crowd, and this kick-started his dream of organizing a large-scale indoor cycling event. As a young man he used to work as a DJ and with his passion for not only cycling but also for music, he felt that his dream was within reach. The idea of organizing an indoor cycling event kept growing on him, and he decided to commence on an exciting and challenging journey toward his goal.

The idea of ØRBIKE is born

“As an active road cyclist and working in the cycling industry in Denmark, representing ASSOS cycling wear, cycling is both a passion and a livelihood to me”, says Jesper Sørensen, in an attempt to describe what cycling means to him and what motivated him to organize the first ØRBIKE event.

Passion and personal ambitions were, however, not the only motivation factors for Jesper Jas Sørensen. Another strong motivation factor was the increased demand at the local indoor cycling center for a heart rate monitor system for group workout. “We tried hard to raise the funds for the heart rate monitor system, but we did not succeed”, says Jesper Jas Sørensen. “We talked to various foundations, sponsors and the local civic association, but they were not willing to fund equipment – only events! Suddenly, it seemed like I had reached the point of no return, and that this was the final incentive I needed to get the project started”.

Starting from scratch with absolutely no experience was tough

Difficult beginnings

The event gradually began to take shape – not only in the mind of Jesper Jas Sørensen but also in real life – and in 2014 the first ØRBIKE indoor cycling event finally took place in the small town of Ørbæk on the island of Funen, Denmark. The event spanned six hours and included 88 bikes and four company teams.

“Starting from scratch with absolutely no experience was tough”, Jesper Jas Sørensen admits. “With a last-minute sponsorship cycle race we just barely managed to make a small surplus, and skeptical voices doubted the future of the entire project. Should we take a risk and try again? It was not an easy decision, but fortunately we have managed to prove the skeptics wrong.”

From 88 to 280 bikes

Since the difficult beginnings, ØRBIKE has experienced significant growth, and has evolved into a fun and popular fundraising event selling tickets at record speed and with great importance to the local community. According to Jesper Jas Sørensen, ØRBIKE is one of the most entertaining and well-organized indoor cycling events in Denmark. He is of course not completely objective in his evaluation, but the numbers speak for themselves. When the event celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2018, it included 280 bikes, 45 company teams, 12 instructors, and 1200 riders who kept the bikes spinning for 12 hours. And every year, when the event takes place the second Saturday of November, the population of the small town of Ørbæk is doubled.

It takes 12 committed instructors to cover a 12-hour event

An invaluable team effort

“In the early days, I was sort of a lone warrior”, says Jesper Jas Sørensen, “but today, it is a very different story. Without the help of others, I could never pull it off. The more than 1200 riders need food, service and massage, and during the event more than 150 invaluable, local volunteers keep the wheels turning, so to speak. Together with our six members of the board and invaluable partners and sponsors, like Fitness Engros and BODY BIKE, our volunteers give the riders nothing less than a superior
and memorable cycling experience.”

Meet the instructors

When it comes to creating memorable cycling experiences, the indoor cycling instructors are leading forces that play a significant role in the success of the event. “It takes 12 committed instructors to cover a 12-hour event”, Jesper Jas Sørensen explains. “We always try to find instructors with different personalities and styles to ensure variation and to keep on challenging the riders. Our aim is to be able to present a mix of well-known, experienced instructors and new, upcoming talents.”

Orbike instructors ride high
Thomas Alsing, 6th hour – Evert van der Zee, final hour – Christian B. Mentzoni, 5th hour

Drummers and dancers

At ØRBIKE 2018, instructor Rikke Kirkegaard kicked off the event and made sure that the
riders got the pulse pumping and the sweat rolling during the first class of the day. She knew from experience that the opening hour of a big event has to offer something out of the ordinary. “When I said yes to open ØRBIKE 2018, I told Jas right away that I wanted an orchestra of drummers on the stage with me”, Rikke Kirkegaard says. “He agreed without flinching, and told me that he would find the drummers for me. Along the way I even added a solo dancer to the show.”

Indoor cycling comes first

Regardless of the big show setup, Rikke Kirkegaard is clear about what matters the most to her. “To me, the entertainment part is always secondary. The actual indoor cycling experience is truly what matters. That is why my event hours always closely resemble my daily classes at the local fitness center. I just add a bit of glamour, like drummers and a dancer, or change the playlist. Some tunes might work at the gym but not at a big event with hundreds of riders, stage lighting and so on”, Rikke Kirkegaard explains.

Passion & positive vibes

No matter where the scene is set, at the local gym or at a big event, indoor cycling is all about fun, passion and positive vibes, if you ask
Rikke Kirkegaard. “To me, being an indoor cycling instructor is all about having fun, spreading joy and motivating people to do their best. I love working with the combination of music, cycling and choreography and always strive to take it to a higher level. I have a true passion for indoor cycling, and I feel very privileged to be able to share it with others. It brings so much positive energy into my life”, Rikke concludes.

I want it to be fun and entertaining; a first class show combined with the best indoor cycling classes you can imagine

Making a difference for children with cancer

Like Rikke, Jesper Jas Sørensen is also driven by passion and by his strong commitment to develop a one-of-a-kind cycling event. “I want it to be fun and entertaining; a first class show combined with the best indoor cycling classes you can imagine. I want to try out new ideas and to create an event that people look forward to. That is my main motivation”, says Jesper Jas Sørensen.

In recent years, raising money for charity has, however, also become an important motivation. In 2018, ØRBIKE raised money for the Children’s Cancer Fund and Team Rynkeby to help support children with cancer and their families.

ØRBIKE in the future

Five years has flown by since the first ØRBIKE event, but Jesper Jas Sørensen and his team are still going strong. “We are hungry for more”, Jesper Jas Sørensen exclaims. “Our goal for the future is to consolidate our position as one of the leading indoor bike events in Denmark and even in Europe. We want to be the preferred indoor cycling event with the highest entertainment value, continuously setting the bar high when it comes to the quality of the bikes, stage lighting, sound, food, service and facilities. Through our passion, dedication and support from all the local volunteers I feel confident that ØRBIKE will be THE indoor cycling event to attend – not only next year but also in the years to come.”

Matthew Allison

You were previously president of EMI Music in Asia. How did you come to develop Space Cycle?
I was in the music industry in my 30s and it was a high-pressure environment: I looked after 18 markets, so I’d be travelling to three or four countries in a week, overseeing almost 40 different companies and thousands of employees.

I used to run as a form of stress release, but it was taking its toll on my knees. I knew I needed to look at my health in a new and different way, so I started to do yoga.

My idea at that point was to do something entrepreneurial in the world of wellbeing for the next phase of my career – but in fact, in 2002, I retired briefly, moving to Hawaii for a couple of years. During that time, I really flipped my lifestyle around to focus on wellness.

I then returned to Asia with the aim of opening a chain of top yoga studios in Taiwan and developing the next generation of yoga teachers in the Chinese market. The result was Space Yoga – the first brand within the Space Concepts family – with the first studio opening in Taipei in 2005.

 

OUR MISSION IS TO CREATE A NEW SOCIAL LIFESTYLE AROUND FITNESS THAT DOESN’T FULLY EXIST TODAY – Matthew Allison

How has the business evolved since then?
We now have seven studios in Taiwan and China, including one – our fourth in China – that we’re opening as we speak.

Our studios are now all multi-modality, with yoga, barre, cycling, dance and HIIT all sitting under the Space Concepts umbrella; Space Cycle launched in Taiwan in June 2015 and China in June 2016.

What unites all of these disciplines is our over-arching ambition to be an entertainment lifestyle brand that’s focused around fitness – one that’s driven by music and live classes. This is encapsulated in our slogan: ‘Moved by Music’.

Tell us more about the role of music in your studios…
When I first founded Space Yoga, in spite of my background in music, I hadn’t really focused on the link between music and exercise. That changed about four and a half years ago when I started working out in some of the boutiques that were coming into the market.

I found the experience at these boutiques far more spiritual and social – and with it more motivating – than training at normal gyms. In part that was down to the instructors, but it was also down to the way they used music. I found it stayed with me for days afterwards, especially the tracks from the peaks of the workout when I was pushing myself really hard. I think it’s the vulnerability in you at that moment that makes you particularly receptive to the sensory experience of music.

Asia Cycling

I therefore decided to expand our group exercise model with music at the heart of things; our studios are now a place where music and lifestyle meet fitness. We have a music curation department, DJs, live events, influencer and celebrity playlists… And those playlists are not only used in our studios, but can also be download from the leading online streaming services – QQ Music in China and KKBox in Taiwan – which further extends the reach of our brand.

We also aim to introduce people to new music all the time. The repertoire of what we listen to can often be quite limited; we work out what we like by about college age and then we stop exploring new artists. But music is so powerful – it can change your mood in a moment – and we want to encourage people to keep finding new inspiration. So we use our playlists to expose people to new music in much the same way as radio stations used to do. We showcase music in the context of health and wellness.

Once our customers find an instructor they respect, they’re open to that instructor introducing them to new music through their workout playlists – and this, in turn, enhances their experience with us.

This is a whole new way of reaching the millennial market, where the social aspect is the glue and the music is our means to communicate with them.

Tell us more about your celebrity playlists…
Our instructors are themselves often influencers – we work with them to build strong social media profiles – so people are keen to download their playlists, and we regularly work with
celebrities too.

For example, if a band has released a new album, we might link up with their record label to hold an event at Space Cycle. We’ll play their music, have exclusive rights to some video footage, we’ll have signed merchandise, and the record label will promote it to the fans. We might then film the event and post it on fan sites, and we’ll make the playlist available on our partner digital music services, so we become a downstream partner for the launch. It’s a new generation of online-to-offline model and it brings a whole new audience into our studios.

space cycle interieur

We also work with most of the entertainment companies in China to host their fan-based events: we did the main launches last year for Arianna Grande, OneRepublic, Maroon 5, the Fast & Furious 8 soundtrack… We had Linkin Park come into the studio through our partnership with Mercedes and create a playlist for us. And we take our experiences out of the clubs too: we partnered with Storm Music Festival, for example. It’s important that our brand isn’t only experienced in our studios.

We also have connections in the sports world – the likes of Nike and Lululemon – so we’ve had some of the top Chinese sports stars, such as tennis star Li Na, in our studios to host events. We had Apple CEO Tim Cook visit Space as part of the global Apple Watch launch, to promote its new features. And we have Daniel Wu Yan-Zu, who stars in the American TV series Into the Badlands, as one of our investors.

So we work with a huge number of celebrities: we’ve done 300+ celebrity events since we first launched Space Cycle. People see it as
the perfect space to showcase their own
creative endeavours.

You mention Space Cycle specifically in the context of these events. Why is that?
Indoor cycling is the closest you can get to a live concert experience. With the instructor up on stage it’s all about performance, it’s participatory, it’s focused on music, there’s a buzz in the studio with around 50 bikes.

This is really my motivation: I want people to feel as though they’ve been transported into a concert. We have technology in the studios to control the music and the lighting, and there’s no distortion of sound. It’s a full entertainment experience at a higher level than anything I’ve seen in any other boutique studio around the world.

But crucially, our focus on music doesn’t come at the expense of our fitness programming: it’s important to us that we teach at the highest level. To this end, all our instructors are trained by us – but they do then have a fair amount of freedom in their choreography. We want to give them a chance to rise to the occasion.

space cycle live
Space Cycle wants riders to feel they’ve been transported into a live concert

What’s happening in the Chinese fitness market generally?
The penetration rate is currently low, but the market is growing very quickly. People in the larger cities are becoming more focused on
preventative health and are increasingly willing to spend a portion of their income on that – our classes cost around US$22–25 in China and just under US$20 in Taiwan.

This is also a society in which people are very driven by the desire to share their experiences on social media. Indeed, China is so connected online that its ability to share and grow trends – something that’s powerfully connected to
millennial social media behaviour – means it will go through this cycle at a much faster rate than most countries.

We’re already seeing huge growth of the fitness sector in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities – Tier 1 being those with between 10 and 30 million people, so Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Chengdu, and then with Tier 2 as well you get up to about 20 cities.

We’re currently seeing the massive scaling of mass market models similar to Anytime Fitness and 24Hour Fitness. These will grow first, rolling out across second, third, fourth tier cities. But after that we’ll see online fitness and the boutiques come to the fore, with consolidation of the big boxes giving way to more segmentation of the market, just as we’ve seen in markets like the US.

I expect all of this segmentation to happen within 24–36 months: China will catch up faster than any other developed society in the history of boutique fitness.

What are your expansion plans?
We recently secured US$15m in funding, in an investment round led by Chinese internet giant Alibaba, and now plan to open 50 new studios in China and Taiwan over the next five years. We’ll focus on the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in China, as well as Taipei.

We’ll be opening different sizes of studio depending on the location – 1,300–1,500sq m flagships, 600–800sq m hubs and 200–400sq m ‘spokes’ – and some might not have all modalities, but all will be multi-modality rather than single discipline.

WE WANT TO SHOWCASE MUSIC, ENTERTAINMENT & CREATIVITY, WITHOUT SACRIFICING THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE FITNESS

We’re also working with GOCO Hospitality to extend the appeal of the destination spa model, adding a new dimension to the urban wellness centres it’s looking to develop by incorporating ‘Moved by Music’ studios.

Finally, we’re keen to expand into other markets outside of China and Taiwan via strategic partnerships. We’re open to new ways of doing this, but essentially, we’re looking for local partners with the scale to execute our model. They will then be able to plug in to a lot of what we do already: the design, music, celebrity connections, instructor training and so on can come from us. So, we’re open to approaches from prospective partners who want to work with us to bring Space Concepts to their market.

If you look forward five years, where do you see the business?
We’ll continue to explore new modalities, we’ll open new locations and we’ll focus on expanding our presence via online platforms and content. But ultimately, we want to remain highly innovative, reinforcing our role as a lifestyle influencer and not a fitness studio. We want to be another outlet to showcase music and entertainment and creativity, and we’ll keep looking at how we do this without sacrificing the science behind the fitness.

Our mission is to redefine millennial fitness in highly populated urban areas, creating a new social lifestyle around fitness that doesn’t fully exist today.

Cycling: the anti-obesity drug

Strength training and cardio exercise affect the body differently, not only in the obvious ways – building muscle versus developing cardiovascular fitness – but at a hormonal level too. This is the topline finding of a new study by the University of Copenhagen.

At face value, this may not seem overly surprising: these are, after all, two very different methods of training. But although logically we might have expected this to be the case, in fact the evidence hasn’t historically been there to prove it; surprisingly little has been known to date about the contribution of specific forms of exercise to the overall health benefits of being active.

The Copenhagen findings, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation – Insight, are therefore significant and worthy of a closer look.

A metabolic boost

So what did the researchers discover? One key finding for all you cycling enthusiasts out there is this: cardio training on an exercise bike causes an increase in the production of the hormone FGF21 that’s three times as large as the increase observed from strength training with weights. And that matters, because FGF21 has a number of positive effects on our metabolism.

Let’s first take a step back and look at the FGF family of hormones in general, which are involved in a variety of biological processes including cell growth, morphogenesis and tissue repair. Within this, FGF21 – a hormone secreted by the liver – has been shown to act as a metabolic regulator that plays a role in controlling glucose homeostasis, insulin sensitivity and ketogenesis. Indeed, treatment of animals with FGF21 has been shown to result in increased energy expenditure, use of fat and lipid excretion.

FGF21 cardio workout vo2 max
In the study, the cardio workout involved cycling at 70% of VO2 max

It’s therefore hugely important to discover that indoor cycling significantly increases the level of this hormone in our blood.

The power of cardio

A quick word about the methodology of this randomised crossover study. The researchers took 10 healthy young men, randomly divided into two groups. All 10 men did both forms of exercise – cardio and resistance – once a week, with enough time between workouts to keep results distinct. The subjects also fasted overnight before all workouts, to ensure hormone levels were not impacted by food intake.

Both types of workout lasted for 60 minutes and were relatively tough: the cardio workout involved cycling at 70 per cent of VO2 max, while the strength training workout consisted of five exercises – each repeated for five sets of 10 reps – that worked all the major muscle groups.

The impact of the workouts was then measured by taking eight blood samples from all participants: pre- and post-exercise, plus six more samples over the following three hours. The researchers monitored levels of blood sugar, lactic acid, various hormones and bile acid in the body over this total four-hour period.

And the findings were notable. Specifically in relation the cardio workout, the researchers observed a significant increase in FGF21 production; there was no significant change in levels of this hormone in response to strength training. In addition, the researchers observed a robust increase in plasma glucagon preceding the FGF21 increase. This suggests that a fairly intense, 60-minute cycling workout can result in the co-ordinated regulation of FGF21 and glucagon – a hormone formed in the pancreas which promotes the breakdown of glycogen to glucose in the liver.

In contrast, glucagon concentrations were unchanged after strength training, and gradually declined during the three-hour recovery period.

“FGF21’s potential as a drug against diabetes, obesity and similar metabolic disorders is currently being tested, so the fact that we are able to increase the production ourselves through training is interesting.”

Exercise versus drugs

“We’ve known about the effects of various forms of training on more well-known hormones – like adrenalin and insulin – for a long time, but the fact that strength training and cardio exercise affect FGF hormones differently is new to us,” says Christoffer Clemmensen, associate professor at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, and one of the researchers behind the study.

“Endurance training on a bicycle has such a marked effect on the metabolic hormone [FGF21] that we now ought to take a closer look at whether this regulation of FGF21 is directly related to the health-improving effects of cardio exercise.

“FGF21’s potential as a drug against diabetes, obesity and similar metabolic disorders is currently being tested, so the fact that we are able to increase the production ourselves through training is interesting.”

FGF hormones blood sample test
Blood samples were taken pre-exercise, and then across the three hours after the workout.

A solid foundation

The researchers point out that their results are limited by the fact that blood samples were not taken more than four hours after training – the longer-term impact was not measured. Neither are they able to comment on the effects of a full training programme on the FGF hormones.

Nevertheless, the results are so significant that they provide a solid foundation for further research, including whether similar effects can be seen in other population groups based on sex, age and metabolic status.

For now, the take-away is this: if you want to boost your metabolism and burn fat… get on your bike!

Riding high

The Riding High event – organised by Ministry of Sound Fitness and DOSE – promised “5 days, 5 music genres, 14 classes, 75 bikes, 1000+ people”. Monday would be a 90s throwback, complete with backing dancers; Tuesday’s Drum & Bass rides would feature beatboxers on the mic; Wednesday was all about Divas, with the promise of “sass and booty shake in the saddle”; on Thursday, the vibe would switch to Hip Hop and R&B; and then finally things would go Old School garage on the Friday, followed by a garage after-party.

I went for DIVAS, driven in all honesty by my calendar but also quite happy that the vibe might be a little more party-on-a-bike and a little less hardcore. The class strapline: “Bring it Bitch” and the description: “Bring the sass and booty shake with Beyonce, work it from side to side with Ariana and get nasty with the princess of pop. Join Mark Jennings and your favourite divas for a fierce and fabulous, empowering ride. Who runs the world? Girls.”

Bring it on!

The DIVAS beckon

And so, on a blustery September evening, I made my way to the Ministry of Sound filled with expectation – and with fingers crossed that the experience lived up to the hype.

It absolutely did.

Having signed up for the earlier class – doors opened at 6.00pm for a 6.15pm ride – I fully expected it to be a little on the quiet side, with most people still stuck at work. But there they were, outside the gates of the Ministry of Sound: a group of mostly 20-somethings, ready and waiting in their gym kit.

We were soon let into the club – shamefully my first time there, in spite of 20 years living in London – and it was already buzzing… screens filled with the DIVAS logo, music setting an upbeat vibe, neon lights guiding you down the corridor and into the bar area. Off to the left, the cycling studio space – head on in when you’re ready and grab yourself a bike.

lights flashing, music pumping, a darkened space filled with excited chatter and friends calling out to each other between bikes.

Once in the studio, it really began to hit home that we were in a nightclub: lights flashing, music pumping, a darkened space filled with excited chatter and friends calling out to each other between bikes. As the dry ice began to drift over my head from the back of the room, it was impossible not to get in the mood as everyone chose their bikes and got settled in.

ministry of sound london

Work hard, play hard

The one slightly odd moment of the night came when a Geri Halliwell drag queen walked on-stage to introduce the instructors, complete with Union Jack dress. Had she simply hung around the club since Monday’s 90s night, I wondered?

But once the instructors appeared – the highly charismatic Mark and, to each side, a flanking rider – we got right down to business. And high-energy stuff it was, as we immediately knew it would be when we kicked off with Slumdog Millionnaire’s Jai Ho.

Adding to the party vibe were two hula-hooping goddesses – the Majorettes – each on a podium to the side of the stage, clad in skin-tight leopard-print catsuits and swirling multiple neon hula-hoops around for the duration of the 45-minute class.

But let’s get back to the instruction, because wow did Mark have some moves. Luckily, his minimum requirement of us was to stick with the beat for each track – which meant quite a few of us on my row, about halfway back, were content to do as much as we could and then simply look on in awe at the single-time, side-to-side movements as Mark & co hovered above their respective saddles.

Ministry of sound riding high

That said, looking around the probably two-thirds full studio – not bad given the early class time and the fact the studio held 75 Stages bikes – it was clear there were quite a few experienced cyclists in the room, all able to keep up with the double-time tap-backs and dance-inspired arm movements. This really was a workout to challenge the pros without alienating the beginners.

But if I thought DIVAS was going to be less hard-core than other classes…. Well, I was wrong. With upbeat track after upbeat track, there was very little time in the saddle – and with pumping music to keep spurring us on, not to mention Mark taking the occasional stroll around the studio to give everyone an extra nudge, neither was there much of a let-up at any point.

So, it was one hell of a workout – but it was also fun. Highly entertaining, great music, great instruction, great environment. Anyone wanting a more technical, data-orientated ride might have been disappointed, but with apologies to the puritans, I’m one of those who will only really do indoor cycling if it’s a party on a bike. And it absolutely was that.

Dragging my poor, tired legs upstairs after the class was a bit of a mission – passing through a bar area that now held enough people to fill almost every one of the 75 bikes in the 7.15pm class – but it was worth it. Because this is where post-workout express facials were on offer, courtesy of skincare specialist Murad. Cooling, hydrating, and just the ticket after a tough, sweaty class.

This event just proved it: millennial is a mindset, not an age… because I loved it.

A legal high

I did notice that most – albeit not all – of the men from the class had made their way straight out, giving the facials a miss. But to be honest, given the Girl Power tone of the marketing for DIVAS, I was impressed by how many men were there in the first place.

I was also impressed that I wasn’t the oldest there. Not far off, mind you, but to be fair this was an event clearly targeting the millennials. In a way, though, I guess this just proves it: millennial is a mindset, not an age – because I loved it.

And did I get my legal high at Riding High – the energy boost I needed after a long few weeks of work? Hell yes.


Healthy hedonism

Back in February 2017, the Ministry of Sound opened a “fitness nightclub” – a functional training studio, built in the former booze vaults of the Ministry of Sound club, where fitness and fun would be equally important. Ministry of Sound Fitness was born.

Featuring the same sound system as the nightclub itself, and with classes built around seven purpose-built training stations, the workouts are high-powered and results-driven. As the website explains: “Our studio is where we work as a team and sweat our arses off for results… and boy are we serious about results.”

However, the studio also has a fully licensed bar offering protein shakes, beer, wine and cocktails.

It’s this happy balance that the Ministry of Sound Fitness set out to replicate in its week-long Riding High cycling event, held in the main Ministry of Sound nightclub from 17–21 September and organised in partnership with DOSE – “an online magazine for healthy hedonists that promotes feelgood content and experiences”.
Morning and evening classes were on offer each day, all priced at £20 a ticket, and there were some nice added touches to make it more than just a workout. Morning ravers were able to sip on Pukka teas and matcha lattes, while evening guests were offered Heineken 0.0 lagers after class. Skincare specialist Murad also offered post-workout, stress-busting facials using its new Revitalixir Recovery Serum, infused with cannabis extract for a quick pick-me-up.

Shara Tochia, co-founder of DOSE, comments: “We want to redefine hedonism for the modern times, where pleasure seeking, and wellness go hand-in-hand.

“The Riding High parties were designed to get your happy hormones firing, allowing you to get high without the comedown, enjoy a drink without the hangover, all while raving to your favourite tunes in London’s most iconic club.”

Beating the downward cycle of dementia

Over recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in the way society has approached dementia.

Previously, options for the care of those with serious cognitive issues were limited, with daycare centres or full-time care homes catering for older people really the only choices. However, the latest research findings suggest a more active approach is needed – one that focuses not just on palliative care within care homes, but on rehabilitation and improving the quality of life for dementia sufferers.

A rehabilitative approach

Even though dementia is a progressive disease with no cure, many treatment centres have therefore begun to introduce a rehabilitative element into their treatment of dementia – and physical activity is an important part of this.

A number of studies have found strong correlations between brain health and levels of physical activity: inactive people have an increased risk of dementia, while on the other hand, regular physical activity can slow – and even reverse – cognitive decline. Among those already suffering from dementia, exercise can also enhance some cognitive functions and improve quality of life.

inactive people have an increased risk of dementia

Studies suggest this is due to the excretion of the neurotrophic protein BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) during exercise. BDNF plays an important role in maintaining our nervous system, including the formation of new nerve cells and nerve connections. Excessively low levels of BDNF are thought to be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Danish National Health Service has therefore produced a training guide for people with dementia, including suggested training activities and practical advice. Its recommendations around the level of physical activity are very similar to the recommendations made to the public as a whole: 30 minutes’ activity a day, including at least 20 minutes’ high intensity exercise twice a week.

In combination with other types of intervention – cognitive training, music therapy, sensory stimulation and so on – this level of activity is able to help alleviate the symptoms of dementia, and thereby improve people’s quality of life.

The positive impact of cycling

In practice, indoor cycling is often the chosen activity for dementia sufferers, as it requires no advanced skills and can be performed even by those with a severe degree of dementia.

We have to help people live with dementia, not just suffer from it.

In a recent Danish study – ADEX – researchers took a group of 200 people with Alzheimer’s. They were asked to train three times a week, for 16 weeks, with each session comprising one hour of moderate intensity indoor cycling.
The study showed these cycling sessions had a significant and positive effect on wellbeing and people’s quality of life, with a clear dose-response to exercise frequency and intensity: the subjects who exercised most, and hardest, experienced the best results. These positive results were not only physical, but also cognitive.

Similar results were also observed in a meta-analysis of 30 studies – a total of 2,020 subjects – with significant improvements noted in cognitive function as a result of exercise.

Furthermore, working out in small groups – with the social interaction that brings – has a positive impact on the effect of the training.

An interdisciplinary approach

In Frederikshavn Municipality, Denmark, we’ve therefore been putting together a programme to help citizens with dementia, seeking to improve their quality of life.

Over the last five years, a specialist team has been working together as part of this multi-disciplinary project – a team that consists of dementia co-ordinators (nurses with diploma-level education in dementia), a music therapist, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist (myself) and a psychologist.
We work both independently and as a group, helping local citizens suffering from all forms of dementia – both mild and more difficult cases. Operating out of activity centres, care centres and people’s own homes, we not only work directly with dementia sufferers, but also offer a number of services to the relatives of those with dementia.

dementia group workout cycling
A Danish study of Alzheimer’s sufferers reported both physical and cognitive benefits from regular cycling

We have, for several years now, based our approach on results from proven studies. Given our focus on rehabilitation, physical activity – such as indoor cycling – plays a key role in our programmes. We clearly see that this enhances people’s physical functionality, social life and overall quality of life.

However, although a lot of research from around the world has already observed a positive impact of physical activity on cognitive function, within our own programme the impact of exercise on cognitive function remains unclear.

This is why our team is now planning a pilot project, starting at the end of this year. We will encourage local citizens with mild dementia to take part in indoor cycling sessions, and will monitor its impact on their cognitive functions – functions such as maintaining attention, remembering, learning and solving problems. The project will last a period of 14 weeks, with three weekly sessions – each session being one hour of indoor cycling, done at an intensity equivalent to 75 per cent of HR max.

Our aim is to prove and clarify the impact of aerobic exercise, such as cycling, on cognitive function – and, of course, to establish whether such an offer is attractive to the participants. Ultimately, the more we can do to improve people’s lives, the better. We have to help people live with dementia, not just suffer from it.


DEFINING DEMENTIA

Dementia is an overall term that describes a group of conditions, marked by a decline in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. The term ‘dementia’ covers not only impaired memory, but also other symptoms such as reduced initiative, orientation, language, language understanding and motor skills. And there’s still no cure. All that can currently be done is alleviate the symptoms, and sometimes slow the decline, through medication… and exercise.

10 key signs of dementia are as follows:

  1. Memory loss, disrupting daily life
  2. Difficulties in planning or solving problems
  3. Finding it hard to complete familiar tasks
  4. Losing track of date and time
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. Problems with words, both speaking and writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Diminished or poor judgement
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Change in mood and personality

 

 

 

James Balfour

The co-founder of London boutique operator 1Rebel talks to Kate Cracknell about its ground-breaking new cycling amphitheatre

“We’ve created three distinct types of class at 1Rebel,” explains James Balfour, co-founder of the London-based boutique operation. “We have cycling concept Ride, bootcamp-based Reshape, and boxing-focused Rumble.

“Our first four clubs are dual-discipline, with the line-up shaped by the location of the club and the interior design opportunities within each building: we have three Ride / Reshape clubs and one Reshape / Rumble club.

“But at 1Rebel Victoria – our latest club, which opened in the newly-constructed Nova building in June of this year – we knew we had an opportunity to do something really different.”

BALFOUR: I believe what we’ve created is the best cycling studio in London – possibly the world – setting a new bar for the sector.

The Experience Economy
Balfour continues: “At 6,500sq ft, 1Rebel Victoria is a good size: our five clubs range from 4,500sq ft to 8,500sq ft. However, the space in Victoria lent itself to the creation of an amazing cycling studio, so we opted to make it our first single discipline club.

“I believe what we’ve created is the best cycling studio in London – possibly the world – setting a new bar for the sector.”

He continues: “The building has amazing ceiling heights, so we were able to put horseshoe balconies into the studio: the riders above look down on the activity below. We hadn’t seen it done anywhere before and it was a big risk. We weren’t sure how it would work with Ride choreography – would people like being up on a balcony, looking down on the instructor? Right up to the last minute of the huge £2m fit-out project, we weren’t sure if we were going to do it. But we did and it works brilliantly, creating the sense of a cycling amphitheatre.”

1Rebel interieur london

Of course, if you have a space this huge, with so many cyclists – the studio features 83 Technogym bikes – you need to create an experience that’s big enough to fill it… and 1Rebel has proved it’s more than up to the challenge.

“As a business, we see ourselves as operating in the Experience Economy, and this new Ride studio absolutely delivers on that,” says Balfour.

“We have a 3D sound and AV system that’s currently only used in one other place in the world: the Sydney Opera House. We have laser shows, smoke machines, a huge LED screen, a sensory shower system that creates incredible special effects and lighting, and a remote-controlled scissor lift that raises and lowers the instructor platform throughout the class.
“Crucially, we also have amazing instructors who bring the whole thing to life. The music and overall choreography are set by 1Rebel, but our instructors are encouraged to inject their personality into every class, giving everything a sprinkle of their individual brand of fairy dust.

1rebel instructor

“We don’t want to rely on tech to motivate riders in our clubs: we believe the words that are spoken to you in class are as important as anything else. With our best instructors, the performance is akin to that of a rock star on-stage at Glastonbury.

“We therefore we look after them. Our pay is very competitive – that may well be why instructors come to us in the first place – but they stay because it’s a great place to work. It’s really fun, really social, with a great sense of team. In fact, 30 per cent of our instructors are home-grown – they might previously have been on reception, for example. It’s just a great place to work.”

our instructors are encouraged to inject their personality into every class, giving everything a sprinkle of their individual brand of fairy dust.

Continual evolution
Balfour continues: “Across all 1Rebel clubs, we ensure the experience extends beyond the studio too – and it has to constantly evolve so there’s always something new on offer for the demanding, Experience Economy audience. You can’t just put in eucalyptus-scented towels and a Smeg fridge when you first open and hope that will be enough.

“We have live music events, we take members on adventures, we have Prosecco Fridays – free, drink-all-you-can prosecco for a bit of Retox, because life isn’t all about training. The social spaces at our clubs are very important.

“Less exciting but equally important, we’ve also addressed some of the pressure points you commonly find in boutiques. For example, people in the UK expect all gyms, including boutiques, to offer showers. The Rebel Army – our loyal customer base – is 70 per cent female, so at Victoria we have 15 ladies’ showers. There’s a light outside each that shines red or white to show which are available.”

He adds: “We constantly reinvest in the business too. I believe, when you set out to open a boutique, you should double the budget you think you’re going to need. You have to constantly reinvent yourself.”

1Rebel Victoria cycle studio C102
At 1Rebel Victoria, a scissor lift raises and lowers the instructor platform throughout the class.

Ride again?
Design-wise, too, the club is equally eye-catching outside the studio as in it. “Studio C102, the architect we use across all our clubs, is great at adapting to the space and the location of each club,” says Balfour.

“For example, 1Rebel Southbank takes its inspiration from the Tate Modern, while 1Rebel Victoria takes its inspiration from the theatres that surround it – the whole design of the club is very dramatic. It’s quickly gained the nickname of ‘The Spaceship’ thanks to its modern design: its reflective reception desk, galvanised steel staircase, wall of light and exposed white lacquered brickwork.”

So, will 1Rebel open more standalone Ride studios? “At the moment, we’re looking at three new sites for London next year. These will all be standalone clubs, but they’ll be Rumble or Reshape,” says Balfour.

“In London, the challenge is always finding the right locations – we want ground floor retail frontage in iconic locations, with great landlords – so we have to adapt the offering to the building.

“However, if the right site were to come up, we’d absolutely do another standalone Ride club.”


The spaceship is flying

Prices at 1Rebel Victoria – nicknamed The Spaceship – are the same as at all 1Rebel clubs: £20 for a one-off class, down to £16 per class on a package, and with membership options also available.

“We currently run around 25 Ride classes a week at 1Rebel Victoria, but that’s because we always start lower and build up the timetable in response to occupancy,” explains Balfour. “We’ll ultimately offer around 50 classes a week.”

If the performance to date is anything to go by, things may need to be ramped up quite quickly. “The club only launched a couple of months ago, but our peak classes are already full,” confirms Balfour. “If I look at this week, for example, all 83 bikes for Friday’s 6.30pm class were booked up by Monday. I believe this will be our most profitable club.”

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