Your Core, My Business The fitness industry has gone through a metamorphosis. Concept classes have taken over the gyms, and fitness routines are being sold as products. Finnish Marja Putkisto is one of the new successful entrepreneurs in the industry. TE XT: KATI ALA-ILOMAKI PHOTOS: RIITTA SUPPERI
men sit on chairs in a circle. There are a bit over twenty of them, all wearing comfortable clothing: jogging trousers and t - shirts. They have small, red and spiky massage balls rolling under their shoeless feet. Their eyes look sharp as they listen to the blond- haired woman with fine features standing in the front of the room. We are in Helsinki, at an exercise class. However, sweat does not smell in the air and nobody is showing off their muscles. Instead, customers are mak ing faces that would usually be avoided in social situations. That is because the people in this room are not working on tougher biceps but tighter chin lines and wrinkle - free eyes. The class in question is a session in Method Putkisto' s face school new Method Putkisto 3 D Natural Face Clinic, and the beautiful blond woman is Marja Putkisto. She is the developer of the Method Putkisto concept, and she's arrived to wintery Helsinki from London to keep this class. At the same time in another part of the city, in another gym, a group of women and men are fiercely kicking and punching the air. The instructor is giving an example on the stage in the front of the room, and encourages them to work harder in a loud voice. Hearts are pumping blood at an increasing rate and sweat has路coloured the shirts dark. These fighters are not alone. There are identical fights with identical
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movements, music and rhythm beingpractised in exercise centres all over the world for the next three months. Why on earth? The beating down of the invisible opponent is a lesson in Les Mills Body Combat, which is undeniably one of the most successful group exercise concept in the world. Behind the name and the idea is Leslie Roy Mills from New Zealand, a former shot - putter and former mayor of the City of Auckland. Now his bank ac count gets fatter everytime there is a Les Mills - class in any part of the world. The gyms that buy his concept are not allowed to change the content of the classes, not even one movement. Instead, there's a new program launched every three months, developed by Les Mills' trainers. Marja Putkisto and Leslie Mills are an essential part of the methamorphosis that the fitness world has been through in the past ten years. Jane Fonda might have made a fortune on aerobic videos and books in the 80's, the golden age of pink tights and gaiters. But she didn't have the understanding to do what today's fitness professionals do. To cut corners a little here, one can create a fitness concept, sell it to exercise centres and train the instructors, who pay for the right teach the program. by Marja Putkisto in the beginning of the 90' s,is
METHOD PUTKISTO, DEVELOPED
essentially a technique of deep stretching, with strong bases in the principals of Pilates (more on that later) focusing on small but integral muscles that, when stretched will realign and ultimately reshape your body. Later on the MP Company's variety has come to include additional Method Putkisto programs such as MP Face School, MP Pilates, MP Peak (for spinal control, health rebuilding your way of walking or golf swing or any other movement) and MP Light (for recovery from stress and fatigue).
Some Finns still think the only way to exercise is to lift smelly iron at the gym or jog on forest trails. The story of Method Putkisto began when Putkisto was just a child. Like many little girls, she danced ballet. But no matter how hard she worked on her tendus and plies, slowly it became clear that little Marja would not become a professional dancer. This was due to an innate hip defect, which forced her to wear a support device during the first months of her life (interestingly enough, Putkisto'is not the only fitness concept developer who suffered from this: American Callan Pinckney, developer of the Callanetics method in the
80's, also used a support device for her hip as a child). "The thinking behind Method Putkisto was born ~hen I realised how wrong my posture was. I have literally had to rebuild my body from a state of deep stress and learn how to lift it back bone by bone to its aliment through slow and precise stretches and strengthening exercises - to my amazement I was able to do it. This allowed me to recover from ongoing aches, pains and discomfort. The idea that you can stretch yourself to a new posture was unheard at the time," Putkisto says. What nature had denied of Putkisto physically, it gave back in persistence, sense of movement, musicality and, in her own words, a sense of aesthetics. She made a career in teaching movement and dance in the Finnish National Opera where Method Putkisto concept was born during the six years period of working with the same group of performers, and was accepted to the Laban Contemporary Dance School in London in the beginning of the 90's. That's where her method was discovered by Londoners and further developed. "When I held my first lessons in London, very soon they were completely packed. I realised that there was a demand for the concept I had developed. I found myself in a situation where I couldn't meet the demand alone," Putkisto explains. "I was advised to protect MP in order to handle the overwhelming demand, and also not burn myself out. Protection allowed me to build my business. This is when I established MP institute both in UK and Finland offering MP instructor and MP Pilates professional training." The developer of a fitness concept can create income in different ways. Like in the Fonda model, book and DVD sales are important. Putkisto has published ten books and eleven DVDs. The education of Putkisto instructors began in 1997. The training costs a few thousand euro and lasts for at least a year. After becoming teacher, or MP specialist, the instructor represents MP brand and pays for the MP licence. The education can take place in the United Kingdom or Finland. In the UK, the instructor also receives a national certificate, acknowl- . edging the professional level of skill. It
is called the Level 3 NVQ in Instructing Physical Activity (Pilates). Putkisto included Pilates in her repertory in the beginning of the millennium and developed the MP Pilates technique. She had become a Pilates teacher in the early 90's already. The timiI}g was right. The Internet boom was changing society and the way we work. People became more concerned about their wellbeing and more aware of their bodies, minds and the two working together. The era of high impact aerobics had vanished and yoga had become a trend; it seemed like everybody from Madonna to your neighbour was doing it. Gyms advertised their mind and body classes, which were slow-paced and focused on core muscles.
Reebok and Nike have succeeded in marketing by creating new ways of exercise. Pilates caught up quickly with yoga. It is a method developed by German-American Joseph Pilates during the World Wars. It concentrates on strengthening the deep, core muscles with movements and breathing. It had been popular among professional dancers for a long time, but now it became so popular that even the women of Sex and the City were doing it on television. Today a gym without some kind of Pilate's class is practically unheard of. "The beauty of the body control methods like Method Putkisto and Pilates is that when thought properly they provide a foundation for wellbeing and movement of any kind," Putkisto says. "These methods have been around for a long time. The fact they have become well known just now is a show of the power of media." group exercise is a profitable business for large corporations as well. Reebok and Nike are examples of companies that have succeeded in marketing by creating new ways of exercise. Tiina Ranin, the founder of the Finnish
THE INVENTING OF
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Fitness Academy of Finland, 路smiles when looking back to 1991, when Reebok's step aerobics concept and boards arrived in Finland. "It was huge. I remember how we toured Finland in a van, representing Reebok and training instructors," Ranin explains. Unlike Method Putkisto or Les Mills, including step aerobic lessons in their schedule was free for gyms. However, lessons could not take place without the step boards that cost over 100 euro a piece. In addition, a lot of side products were sold: videos and music, among other things. For a while Reebok also made specific step
aerobics shoes, which were shaped below the ball of the foot to make it easier to step on the board. Step aerobics was a success and product development continued, which led to Reebok bringing slide classes to gyms. They, however, were quickly forgotten. This year the company presented the Jukari Fit to Fly class, developed in co-operation with the Cirque du Soleil circus company. Nike has enriched the gym sele<;tion with for example the Nike Rockstar lessons that incorporate dancing. This year saw the arrival of Nike Dynamic Training classes, premised on the practise programs of pro-
fessional athletes. Reebok has also opened an international chain of gyms. "The English language has the term Fitness and wellbeing Industry. The concept is new, but established. As the term is missing from Finnish language it highlights the fact how young the concept in Finland really is. This way of thinking is just taking its first steps," Putkisto says., This is partly due to Finnish history when during the wartime all movement classes were taught in towns and villages as a social gesture and contribution to the community - always for free (tyovaenopisto) or minimum fee.
Putkisto is right. The branding and marketing of exercise is the subject of wonder and scorn among Finns, who are often cynical towards commercialism of any sort, even when it benefits them. Some Finns still think the only way to exercise is to lift smelly iron at the gym or jog on forest trails, without flinching, just like our national hero Paavo Nurmi did in his time (a Finnish long distance runner and Olympic gold medal winner who practised by running after a train while holding on to its bumper). The scorn of the Finns is partly justified. "At present, wellbeing is being sold like it really could be bought. Body and mind - thinking has become a way to search for a short cut to happiness," Putkisto states. Among Westerners, the lack of everyday exercise, working on a computer and being overweight have become threats to wellbeing and the ability to work. This means the future is a business opportunity full of work for the people in the fitness industry. This can be dangerous in many ways. First of all, as work opportunities increase but control doesn't, almost anyone can become an instructor or offer instructor training. In the United States, for example, you can become an exercise instructor by taking a correspondence course. Even in Finland, Pilates instructors are nowadays trained at weekend courses, lasting only a couple of days. "These short courses can ruin the base what our professionalism fundamentally should be about. Methods like Meth0ds Putkisto and Pilates when thought superficially can also cost harm, even damage the body or just give poor results," Putkisto says. Secondly, Les Mills concept lessons have been a huge success among gymgoers and business-wise. It is no surprise that many try to copy the concept. In worst cases gyms end up with concepts that have been designed only to make a profit and fail to live up to their promises.
structors themselves designed the content of their classes. "At some point some of the instructors went too far. The classes became so intense, that only a very selected group of customers could attend," Tiina Ranin says. "Concept classes are safe; the movements are clear and developed by a professional. However, these classes also become stagnant when the designers have to come up with a new program and the soundtrack to it every three months. " The solution with the best results for the customer would be reached if teaching concept classes would require a proper basic training in exercise, not just a license for that particular class. The secret to the success of Les Mills, in addition to rewarding exercise experiences, is skilful marketing and an efficient team. "The machinery is big and they offer support to the gyms in the form of training and global marketing material," Ranin says. So far, their business knowhow remains unmatched in the fitness industry. In ten years the situation will most likely be different. The gym and group exercise are no longer just about taking care of yourself, the boring "must". Fitness has become a hobby just like any other. In the words of an American gym chain Equinox: It's Not Fitness, It's Life.
BUT THERE IS the positive side also. Licensed group exercise lessons are successful partly because they are safe. In the aerobics boom of the 80's and 90's in-
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