Peloton Instructors Ride for Fitness and Fame

This post was originally published on this site

Last year, Fred Klein spent a lot of time in group exercise classes in Manhattan, although replacing his love handles with rock-hard obliques was not his objective. Mr. Klein is the chief content officer for Peloton Cycle, a boutique fitness studio. He was seeking instructors to poach and hire.

For months Mr. Klein burned calories but came up empty in his talent search. No instructor had the qualities he was looking for. Then, at a rival studio, Flywheel Sports, he discovered Alex Toussaint.

“Five minutes into the class, I knew it,” Mr. Klein said in the dazzled tone a Hollywood casting agent might use to recall first meeting Denzel Washington. “I was, like, he’s a really great Flywheel instructor. But also — that voice. This guy could do commercial voice-overs. What is he doing locked in a room with only 50 bikes?”

The fitness industry has been a cult of personality since the days of Jack Lalanne, and there is no shortage of models and performers within the instructor ranks at places like Equinox and SoulCycle. But perhaps no brand is trying harder to make the connection between working out and glossy entertainment more explicit than Peloton.

Peloton started three years ago and has a single location in New York, on West 23rd Street in Chelsea. Riders take classes there, just as they would at any indoor cycling studio. But Peloton’s main source of revenue comes from the black logo-embossed stationary bikes it sells for $2,000 around the country. (The company says it has sold 80,000.)

The physical studio, with cameras and lights placed amid the stationary bikes, is really the set where the company films classes, creating sleek videos that can be seen via live stream or downloaded on-demand by Peloton bike-owners for $39 a month. The instructors are encouraged to break the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera and talking to the at-home riders, whose names and hometowns appear on a computer tablet affixed to their bikes and everyone else’s.

“Let’s not think about it as a fitness facility with cameras,” John Foley, a founder of Peloton and its chief executive, once told his staff. “Let’s think about it as a television streaming facility filming fitness content.”

In a sense, each class taught is the show, with the 11 instructors as young, beautiful, racially diverse cast members: It’s like “Real World: Peloton.”

There is Ally Love, 28, the Afro-sporting model-dancer and Brooklyn Nets host who used fitness to overcome a childhood car accident. There is Matt Wilpers, 33, the aw-shucks Georgia guy who ran Division I college track and might throw a country tune into his ride. The Peloton executives want star power, but not just that. “It’s also about relatability and authenticity,” Mr. Klein said.

If the Peloton cast has a leading woman, it’s Robin Arzón, 35. She is the studio’s head instructor and the company’s vice president for fitness programming. She has, not incidentally, 86,000 followers on Instagram.

One evening last month, Ms. Arzón arrived at the studio to lead a 6:30 class. As women and men changed into cycling shoes, Ms. Arzón swept by them and descended to a small basement dressing room.

Sitting before a mirrored vanity like a Broadway actress, she sipped green juice from the gym’s cafe and prepared her workout music. At the sound of a Lil Wayne remix by the D.J. Haterade, Ms. Arzón jumped up and started energetically dancing.

“This drop is so sick! I just lose my mind,” she said, overcome.

A former lawyer, Ms. Arzón quit office life in 2012 to take a teaching job at a group fitness studio and build a coaching business as RobinNYC. None of that compares with what she is doing now for Peloton. “It’s the difference between standing with a megaphone in Union Square and getting on the soundstage at the ‘Today’ show,” she said.

“You’re up there on the stage, you obviously see the lights and the cameras and think, O.K., this is different,” she added. “You’re being counted down by a producer and you simultaneously have nearly 60 people in the room, and at home, 800 people sometimes.”

Ms. Arzón was dressed in a black spandex catsuit with maroon piping that she had worn to teach her afternoon class that day. It was part of her five-piece capsule collection, which she helped design. The catsuit was carried in Peloton’s boutique, before selling out.

To not repeat outfits, she changed for her evening class into orange leggings, a black Peloton-branded sports bra and an orange hat worn backward so it wouldn’t cast a shadow across her face.

“I almost always wear bright lipstick, too,” said Ms. Arzón, who has discovered that bright colors pop on camera. “I don’t tend to wear eye shadow because that would be a disaster waiting to happen. You’ll look like a football player.”

Ms. Arzón runs 50- and 100-mile ultramarathons, and last year she published a motivational guide, “Shut Up and Run.” After her afternoon class, she did a 10-mile sprint around the city. The evening class would be her third workout of the day. Though instructors care about their on-camera appearance, fitness comes first. “It’s not a dog and pony show,” she said.

When it was time to teach her 6:30 class, Ms. Arzón went upstairs to the studio to greet the live riders, then was cued in by a producer — 3, 2, 1. The show began, and she gave an over-the-top performance, pounding her hand against the bike frame, cursing as she climbed imaginary mountains, barking out “20 more seconds!” to slackers, giving shout-outs to home riders (“HP, I see you, baby, stay at the top”), dancing in the saddle to Kanye songs.

Fame for instructors at studio franchises like SoulCycle is intense but tends to be hyperlocal. But Peloton’s small cadre of instructors is reaching thousands of people across the world every week.

For Peloton riders who live outside New York, of which there are tens of thousands, traveling to the city to take classes with favorite instructors is a special rite.

Emma Stern of Ames, Iowa, bought a bike last fall. She used to live in Dallas and had enjoyed indoor cycling classes at Flywheel. Absent any similar boutique cycling studios in Ames, she went the Peloton route and says she loves it.

She and her husband, Matthew, traveled from Iowa in late December to work out in the studio. “At first, there was definitely some shock and star-struckness that we were taking Cody’s class,” Ms. Stern said, referring to Cody Rigsby. “Oh, my gosh. I’ve seen this person on TV.”

It’s that kind of reaction that Mr. Rigsby, 29, hoped for when he became a Peloton instructor three years ago. He had been a dancer who performed with Katy Perry and other singers, but he said he was tired of being “a moving piece of furniture” and wanted to “create my own career, my own brand, my own energy.”

Jessica King, 31, another Peloton instructor and trained dancer, also saw a gig with Peloton as a different shot at fame, which is just what Mr. Foley, the chief executive, promised when recruiting her.

“He looked right at me and said, ‘We’re going to make you a celebrity,’” Ms. King said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, sign me up.’ That was the sole motivating reason to do it.”