Les Mills Smartbar


Les Mills International is a global pioneer in the area of choreographed exercise-to-music group fitness classes, which began in the 1980’s. Since that time they have grown to have 18,500 clubs worldwide using their programmes. Their most popular programme is BODYPUMPTM, which uses the barbell weights system to build strength and fitness to the rhythm of popular music and pre-choreographed movements. The social aspect of group fitness creates a unique workout atmosphere motivating the participant to work harder.


The brief was to research and design an equipment solution for use in BODYPUMPTM:

“It must be innovative to reflect our programme and Les Mills brand. We want unique intellectual property and it must be cool”

- Vaughan Schwass – CEO Les Mills Enterprises


Extensive user and market research was conducted to extract insights and opportunities for providing a richer, more beneficial workout.

The main factors that drove the design were:

The complete group fitness system was looked at holistically, allowing the development of an ergonomic design which sped up plate transitions, and helps participants maximise their workout.

The complete group fitness system was looked at holistically, allowing the development of an ergonomic design which sped up plate transitions, and helps participants maximise their workout.

The product also underwent rigorous user testing through the process allowing the design to evolve rapidly and ensure optimisation for maximum user benefit. In parallel physical lab testing was performed to ensure it met the required specifications for a rated lifetime of 5 years and still maintain it’s mechanical functionality and cosmetic features.


The result was the globally patented and multi award winning Les Mills SMARTBARTM. A unique fast plate changeover barbell specifically designed for the needs of group fitness classes - along with weight plates that are ergonomic and versatile in their use.

The Les Mills SMARTBARTM comprises of a bar and a jaw with retractable teeth (the ‘gator’) at each end that holds up to three weight plates in place. The plates simply slide on the bar and lock into place on the gator.

When changing the plate, the release lever is pulled and the plates sild off, making transitions fast and seamless. Because plate changeovers are much quicker and easier, group fitness participants can use a heavier weight until fatigued and then reduce their weight in the middle of a set, without missing more than a couple of repetitions, meaning they’ll get stronger faster and see better results.

Another feature of the Les Mills SMARTBARTM that improves the quality of a workout is the rotating gators. The rotation of the weight plates means the movement of the bar up and down feels even and smooth, eliminates wrist strain and maintains good form, which in turn provides more effective training focus. The gator is also designed to accommodate not only weight plates, but handles for the Les Mills CXWorksTM bands - allowing a whole range of new fitness moves or resistance training exercises.

The weight plates are multi-functional due to multiple ergonomic grip options this allows them to be used in place of Kettle-Bells and Dumbells in addition to traditional weight plates. This allows increased exercise versatility and being easy to grip; people can handle heavier weights and fatigue their target muscles. The natural grip position also means injuries are less likely. The plate design allows people to hold two plates in one hand, giving them more incremental weight adjustment e.g, instead of jumping from 2.5kg to 5kg the 1kg plate can be added thus achieving optimum exercise progression.

Les Mills SMARTBARTM radically challenged the status quo of barbell weights systems and connected the user and gym more strongly with the Les Mills brand. Les Mills achieved a return on the design investment within 6 months of product launch, and the qualities and features of the product has enabled the business to expand into new programmes and open up new market opportunities.


SmartBar 2.0

As leaders in the group fitness industry, Les Mills demand their equipment to be as cutting edge as the programmes they develop. In the 5 years that the original SMARTBARTM was in the market, it has proven to be widely successful, reliable, and delivering on an improved group fitness experience.

4ormfunction were challenged to improve this further.

Given the solid foundation and confidence in the design and design process, the 4ormfunction design team were able to embark on a user research and investigation into how the incumbent product was being used and look to optimise further. As well as the opportunity to modernise the form, small improvements were made across the product - the sum total delivering a substantially new design.

Key innovations were in exploiting new manufacturing techniques never been used before in the industry within the Weight Plates – not only delivering cost advantages, but more importantly introducing new barriers to entry from competitors or “Asian copycats”.

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