Photo by shutterstock.com/Maridav

We spend the majority of our awake lives staring at screens—from our phones, computers, and of course, Netflix binge-watching. In fact, Americans spend an average of over 11 hours consuming media, according to a recent Nielsen report. 

When work is finally done for the day and you’re ready for an hour of unplugged workout time, is it positive to be interacting with yet another screen? We head to the streets of New York with Peloton, the virtual fitness brand taking the globe by storm, to find out.


What Is Virtual Fitness?

Virtual fitness claims to be changing the industry (particularly at-home fitness) as we know it. With virtual brands such as Mirror, iFit, Flywheel, and Peloton, all the headaches of traditional fitness classes are addressed: no more driving to the studio, finding an inch in an overcrowded change room, or praying for the waitlist to pull through for you. You can stream some of the best fitness classes in the world in the comfort of your own home and still achieve a killer workout.

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Many swear by the online fitness phenomenon. So much so that the industry’s leader, Peloton, which has over one million users, is valued at $4.15 billion. The technology company that began with as few as ten on-demand spin classes filmed in a makeshift studio, has now expanded into thousands of on-demand classes including 14 live classes per day featuring at-home treadmill and spin workouts, as well as yoga.

Despite the premium cost (the bike will run you $2,950 plus the $49 monthly subscription), Peloton is quickly gaining popularity around the globe and is in the midst of finalizing their second, fully equipped filming studio in the UK.


Technology 

When you look at a Peloton bike, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the sleek, yet giant, iPad-like screen. The Peloton bike provides a seamless experience with accurate readings of the rider’s output, cadence, and resistance. Unlike traditional studios where you may be able to fake an “add-on,” the Peloton leaderboard doesn’t lie. You’ll be riding (and competing if you so choose) with thousands of members across the globe.

Not only does the Peloton leaderboard show your ranking within the class, it also provides the details of the other members riding with you. Name, age, output, cadence—it’s all there.

You can choose classes based on music genre, length, or instructor, and you can even virtually ‘high five’ other members. But the competitive nature aside, the concern still remains that the lack of in-person interaction and energy evident at a local spin class is further isolating ourselves in a time when human connectivity is already on the brink of extinction.


The Real Virtual Community 

Last month 3,000 passionate Peloton members took to the streets of New York City for a weekend of camaraderie, live classes, and meet and greets with their celebrity-status instructors.

In the change room of Peloton’s NYC filming studio, dozens of anxious members waited for their turn to ride with their Peloton trainers for the first time in person. Sure, they’ve pedaled along with them daily from behind the screen, but this time they’d actually see their fitness idols in the flesh.

As a non-member, I didn’t really know what to expect attending Peloton’s Homecoming. I witnessed strangers hugging after recognizing each other’s virtual leaderboard name from months of riding together. I watched members who attended solo exchange numbers so they could meet up throughout the weekend.

I watched hundreds of members swoon over their trainers in hopes of a selfie during the Community Celebration at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom (while ignoring the performance by multi-Grammy award winner, Beck, I should add). I observed the entourage surrounding the celeb trainers ensuring their Peloton personas remained perfectly intact.

I felt the power of members uniting together during difficult talks about real life issues: the struggle of taking care of a husband after a stroke, losing a child after a brave fight with cancer, and the struggles that come with facing adversity in male-dominated industries. 

I quickly realized this is not an ordinary virtual community. When you get on a Peloton bike, you will never ride alone.

In an effort to further connect Peloton members and give back, Peloton introduced The Comeback in January 2019. Peloton committed to gifting 100 bikes to 100 individuals with a comeback story.

One of those recipients was Gervel Sampson. Before winning her bike, Gervel never sat in a Peloton saddle. She and her husband have been fitness fanatics ever since she can remember, often driving over an hour into LA to try out the newest spin studio. When Gervel’s husband had a stroke, everything changed.

Gervel spent the next 322 days in the hospital beside her husband. Once home, her once do-anything, fit partner needed constant care. In order to get to an hour fitness class, Gervel had to truly plan ahead and commit to hiring a nurse for said hour. Naturally, her relationship with fitness changed—that is until Pelton came into her life.

“That bike is in my living room, and in theory, it goes nowhere,” says Gervel. “But when I get on it, it takes me a million miles away.”

Since receiving her bike, Gervel joined a Peloton sub-group consisting of over 1000 women of color, and even attended a local meet up. “It felt like meeting friends you’ve known forever,” says Gervel. “Even though you’ve never met any of them.”

“On the leaderboard, you see those names and ages,” says Gervel “It’s something encouraging, and it makes it human.”

“It’s cool to watch these people who ride together at 6 a.m. in different states celebrate each other’s birthdays and hold each other accountable,” says Hannah Marie Corbin, who is one of Peloton’s first trainers. “For them to then meet in person and make that connection is really powerful.”

While Hannah says some members still opt for a more human connection by celebrating their milestone ride in their Peloton showrooms (or even at Peloton Homecoming), most of Peloton’s one million members had a purely virtual Peloton Homecoming experience.


Isolating Individuals or Connecting Communities?

Those using virtual fitness programs still crave community, and access to a studio, a lack of confidence, or shift work may hinder their ability to get to class, but not their desire to connect through sweat.

With hundreds of digital health trackers on the market, we have the ability to connect with friends across the country and challenge them to daily fitness goals without breaking the bank.

There is no doubt that Peloton classes are immersive, but will they ever replace the human connection you receive from going to a local class? Will a virtual high five ever provide the camaraderie of a real one? We want to know what you think of the virtual fitness craze.