The loud, driving beats of dance, pop, and rock music filled the air. I found myself surrounded by people moving in time to the music. Was I at a club? No—I was at the local YMCA sitting in on a Body Pump class.
Body Pump is a strength-based, full-body workout that is set to music. To learn more about the classes and how they incorporate music, I interviewed Tasha Huff, who will soon celebrate her second anniversary as a Body Pump instructor and personal trainer at the PNC YMCA. In addition to her work at the YMCA, Tasha is a health and fitness coach and consultant for Herbalife, a PA state-certified EMT, and a PA state-licensed massage therapist.
Before talking about the music used in Body Pump, Tasha gave me some background about the class philosophy and format. The company Les Mills produces Body Pump workouts, which consist of a series of movements with barbells. A full class lasts for an hour and has ten sections: warm-up, squats, chest, back, triceps, biceps, lunges, shoulders, core, and cool down. Because Tasha’s class at the YMCA only lasts 45 minutes, she eliminates the biceps and triceps portions of the workout. Instructors can also condense classes to 30 minutes by omitting the triceps, biceps, lunges, shoulders, and cool down sections.
When producing its workouts, Les Mills determines the appropriate movements for each area of the body and choreographs these to musical tracks. It selects one track for each of the 10 workout sections. Because Les Mills believes in building strength through high numbers of repetitions with low weights, participants generally perform 70-100 reps per track.[i] Tasha and other instructors use Les Mills’ standardized choreography and song choices, but they develop their own scripts to instruct and motivate participants during classes. Sometimes Tasha also crafts a workout with songs from different releases, but she always works within the class format outlined above.
The Music of Body Pump
According to Tasha, “Music is the core component for Les Mills.” So why is music such an important part of the Body Pump experience? As with most exercise music, it’s all about using the beat to influence heart rate and keep participants moving in time.
Les Mills chooses music with an eight-count base for its workouts. Instructors then can tell participants in their classes how many counts they need to spend doing each move. For example, they might ask participants to pump their fists for four beats. Because Les Mills cares about properly syncing participants’ movements with the beat, it actually receives special licensing to adapt songs so that the beats and tempi fit the choreography in their workout routines perfectly.
Because of the importance of coordinating movements with the beat, all Body Pump instructors need to thoroughly know the music for their classes. To become certified to teach Body Pump, you actually need to present two tracks to an instructor, who sees if you feel the music correctly. This is a necessary skill for good instructors because as Tasha says, “It’s really important to hit beats or it messes with conditioning.”
In Body Pump workouts, the tempi of songs vary based on the areas of the body being worked. Participants intensely exercise their powerhouse muscles, like the legs and back, at higher tempi. In contrast, they move other muscle groups, such as the chest muscles, at slower tempi with more controlled movements. For instance, in the most recent version of Body Pump, participants work their chest muscles to Pitbull and TJR’s “Don’t Stop the Party,” which clocks in at about 127 BPM. They move their back muscles to “Again & Again (Club Mix)” by Nick Skitz & Basslouder featuring Brooklyn Bounce. This second selection has a noticeably higher BPM of about 145. Throughout the session, participants’ heart rates fluctuate with the tempo of the music.
Les Mills typically uses rock, pop, dance, and hip hop music with loud, driving beats that participants can easily follow. Since the class is taught globally, the company also tries to pick diverse musical selections that people across the world will enjoy. In terms of lyrics, Les Mills chooses clean songs that will energize and motivate participants.
Because Les Mills so mindfully chooses its musical selections, Tasha strongly believes that music is an essential part of the Body Pump experience. She says that with the music, the workout “just comes alive and flows better. You really can’t teach Body Pump without the music.”
Experience Body Pump 87
Les Mills releases a new edition of Body Pump every quarter and recently launched Body Pump 87. Visit the Les Mills website to see the full list of songs included in this release. If you would like to personally experience Body Pump 87, attend one of Tasha’s classes on Thursdays from 12:00-12:45 p.m. at the PNC YMCA. I’m definitely planning on going back to try the workout myself, so I might see you there!
[i] “About Body Pump.” Les Mills. Les Mills, 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.