Having become a guru to fitness fans worldwide with his exhausting exercises, trainer Sebastien Lagree is opening a studio in his home city of Los Angeles.
There are 300 fitness studios around the globe licensed to use the Lagree brand and method, including 40 in Los Angeles, but this new branch of Lagree Fitness Inc. will be the only one he owns himself and positioned as the centerpiece of his exercise empire.
“Los Angeles is really the fitness capital of the world. More than anywhere else, people here care about their bodies and how they look,” he said. “For me, this is not just a studio, it’s kind of a showroom, think of it as my dealership.”
Lagree, 42, made his name with a fitness method known as “the shake,” a set of exercises aimed at tiring muscles to the point of exhaustion, causing limbs to tremble.
“If it’s not shaking, it’s not working” is the mantra of the Burbank coach, whose devotees shaking their way to fitness include famous names such as Michelle Obama, Sofia Vergara and Nicole Kidman.
The new studio, on La Cienega Boulevard just north of the Beverly Center mall, already has 500 students registered for classes ahead of its Jan. 25 opening. Classes will be offered to 17 people at a time in intense 25-minute bursts, the optimum time for a full workout, according to Lagree.
It will also help him pack the schedule: 140 classes a week are initially planned and that will rise to 200. That means up to 3,400 students a week. Single classes cost $15, with a set of 16 classes running $189.
Lagree is an inventor as well as a trainer, and his main revenue comes from selling the fitness machines he has developed to studios that sign a licensing agreement allowing them to use the Lagree name and logo.
Most of the machines are manufactured by Baked Industries, a company in Yuba City near Sacramento. He said that he has always kept manufacturing in California so he can keep a close eye on his products, even though moving it to China would cut costs in half.
He is busy creating more futuristic workout machines – including one that reads brain waves – as he sees a greater mind and body connection through technology as the key to better bodybuilding technique.
“In the future of fitness, we’re not going to be using dumbbells,” said Lagree, who instead believes gyms will become dominated by high-tech machines such as his latest creation, the Supraformer.
The contraption – whose sleek black lines and flashing lights make it look like the interior of the Batmobile – will debut at his West Hollywood studio, which is being managed by his wife, Danielle.
He would not disclose his earnings, but the fact that Lagree owns a silver Lamborghini and is buying his pilot-in-training spouse a single-engine plane suggests business is good.
Growing up in his native France, Lagree said he was a chubby kid more interested in playing video games and sketching than exercising. But admiration for his favorite superhero, the Hulk, eventually got him into bodybuilding, and he spent his teen and young adult years pumping iron in the gym.
He moved to Los Angeles at 23 to pursue modeling and acting. That didn’t work out, but a personal training business did – largely helped by his having a business degree and M.B.A.
Lagree put his unique stamp on the fitness industry when he brought cardio to Pilates – a strengthening technique popular among dancers that emphasizes unhurried stretching and alignment.
He created a new version of the Pilates reformer machine, which he dubbed the Megaformer, a machine sturdy enough to handle quick exercise transitions and a wide range of motion.
“When I got certified in Pilates and added bodybuilding elements, people thought I was nuts,” said Lagree, who recalled Pilates instructors telling him: “If (Pilates inventor) Joseph Pilates knew what you were doing, he’d be so ashamed.”
But he attracted a global following all the same, including several celebrities. “Modern Family” actress Vergara bought one of his workout machines for her personal use. Movie star Kidman and first lady Obama have been seen at Lagree Fitness classes.
Further machines followed and now comes his latest, the Supraformer, which has a computer embedded into the frame and can be programmed via remote control to tilt and lift, intensifying the workout. Blue and red lights glow beneath the black device.
“You want a workout that is tailored to you. Integrating technology is the only way to do it. That way a machine could tell you if you’re moving too fast or your right knee is out of alignment,” he said.
Lagree is part of a fitness market increasingly crowded with options. Zumba Fitness, created in Colombia in the 1990s, certifies teachers in its cardio dance technique, then lets them teach classes anywhere from parking lots to beauty salons. CrossFit Inc. since 2000 has certified trainers to lead group classes in running and weight lifting while licensing its brand to gyms. SoulCycle Inc., founded in 2006, filed for an IPO in the summer to expand its brand of party-style cycling classes.
But Lagree said his only competition comes from the licensees that he claims have illegally copied his technique and machines. The dozens of machines cluttering a 10,000-square-foot warehouse he owns in Burbank attest to the numerous iterations he has created since setting out on inventing in 2001.
Some Pilates instructors look at Lagree Fitness as an option for advanced students who want an extra kick in their workout, but caution that newcomers should be careful.
“I’m intrigued by his new reformer,” said Jennifer Martin, who teaches at Harmony Studios in West Hollywood. “The technology is advancing so far, why not put it into the equipment? But it’s always safety first.”
The latest inventions could help Lagree hit on a big new business opportunity – selling pieces of technology to other fitness companies, just as in the way some cutting-edge car makers aim to impact the auto industry.
“What Tesla is doing, I love it,” said Lagree. “They have their own cars, but are also in the battery business.”