Like many others, my fitness routine lagged considerably during the COVID-19 lockdown. I’ve been a gym guy for much of my life – I’ve been going pretty regularly since I was 15. In more recent years, I learned that cardiovascular health is as important as physical strength (and probably more). So my routine over the past few years has generally been: go to the gym for strength training. For cardio, I’d run outdoors. If the weather was bad I’d use the gym’s treadmills and exercise bikes. All of my cardio took place in the gym between November and March.
I’ve never been able to motivate myself to work out at home. The pandemic obviously changed that. When the lockdown started, I stopped going to the gym, and I ordered some resistance bands, a pushup board and an exercise ball. But workouts were a slog. I’m not proud to say that by November of 2020, I had pretty much stopped doing cardio.
But I started noticing something on my friends’ Instagram stories, these quick videos of instructors with readouts of the statistics from a workout: distance, calories burnt, etc. In some cases, these videos were posted by people who weren’t necessarily fitness nuts. After a few online conversations and in-person discussions with my wife, we decided that we were getting a Peloton. If you haven’t heard of Peloton (which is hard to imagine, as thousands of devoted customers love evangelizing for them), it is a stationary exercise bike with a large video screen attached that streams a huge variety of classes, which are nearly always archived. And new classes are added every day. Not all of the classes are on the bike, either: there are yoga classes, strength training (dumbells sold separately), and more.
I’ll note here that I didn’t try out other brands, so this isn’t an endorsement of Peloton over other connected home-workout options like Soulcycle, the Mirror home gym, or Chris Hemsworth’s Centr app. I’m just sharing my experience.
There’s a lot to like about the Peloton. It feels… friendly. People “follow” you on Peloton, the way they would on any other social media. Personally, I haven’t really participated in that aspect of it, but I can see the appeal. I also haven’t “shared” my workouts on social media, although I can see the appeal of that as well. Occasionally I will reciprocate when someone sends me a “high five” during a workout — I guess it’s like the equivalent of an old-school Facebook “poke,” but it’s nice encouragement.
When you turn it on, there’s a Netflix-like display offering a variety of classes with different instructors. I hadn’t done research on any of the individual instructors: I mostly selected classes based on the kind of music they used (I tend to veer towards different varieties of rock or ’80s and ’90s hip-hop). Also, I look for English-speaking instructors; for some reason, a lot of classes in German are offered to me and I don’t speak German.
You can take “live” classes – it’s like live TV. The instructor is leading a class in a studio somewhere (New York, London, etc.) and a lot of people treat this like appointment viewing. Even though all classes are archived, people enjoy taking the classes “live” with their friends. You can compare your performance to everyone else taking the class at that moment on the leaderboard. This is a social media-like function that may turn people off in the same way that social media might turn people off. You might not want to know that you came in 9,999th out of 10,000. The leaderboard is also up when you access archived classes. Happily, you can swipe it away, and indeed, many instructors encourage you to do just that. After all, your real competition is with yourself, especially when you’re just starting a fitness program (or if you’re new to Peloton). One nice aspect of the live classes: you might get called out by the instructor, with a birthday wish, or congratulations for your 500th ride, or even your first ride.
I started out with a few “beginner” classes which were not as easy as I thought they’d be. But soon I moved to regular classes, usually 20-minute sessions, sometimes 30 minutes. It’s definitely a great workout, and often quite strenuous. The teachers instruct you on how fast to pedal, and how much resistance to put on your bike. Of course, it’s ok if you have to pedal slower or lessen the resistance if you can’t keep up (and many of the instructors mention this, as well). The entire experience feels nurturing and encouraging with a bit of tough love thrown in. After you’re finished with a workout, like Netflix, Peloton suggests what you should “watch” next. In their case, the suggestions are cooldown rides or stretch routines after your workout is over. If I have time, I’ll do both.
As I mentioned, I’ve never liked working out at home: it just seems boring and like a grind, even as I’m happy to do the same four-mile run, and the same workouts in the gym. But the fact that the Peloton is five feet from my desk in my home office makes it hard to avoid, and the fact that I could get a workout that will leave me drenched with sweat in 30 minutes or less takes away any excuses I may have about not having time to workout. I’ve used it fairly regularly and I’ll use it even more regularly in the winter. My wife uses it regularly and rarely misses a day. The fact that it’s so convenient and that I’m never doing the same workout twice (and that the instructors are so encouraging) has made it worth the not-small investment.