Peloton: One Year Later
I never thought I’d be the kind of person who bought a Peloton. Even before the infamous commercial from the 2019 holiday season, I thought that Pelotons were stupid and over-priced.
My first memory of hearing someone talk about their Peloton was during a Backroads cycling trip to France in 2017. Everyone there had enough money to spend on such things, so Peloton came up at dinner.
“What’s so great about the Peloton?” someone asked. The guy answered, “The instructors are hot. Oh, and it’s got a nice screen and it’s a good workout. But did I mention, the instructors are hot.” I didn’t picture myself joining that club.
Trying to make my own
Fast forward to late 2020. No, I didn’t buy a bike during the original COVID shutdown. Since the weather was pretty nice in California, I doubled down on running outside. I think that kept me grounded during those first couple of months that seemed like a year. After obsessively looking at the COVID case stats from Johns Hopkins and refreshing my Twitter feed over and over, getting outside for a run was wonderful, even if I had to cross the street when someone came towards me.
Just before COVID hit I was training for an Olympic triathlon. Obviously it was canceled and my registration rolled over into 2021. I started my training again after Thanksgiving 2020, just in time for another California COVID stay-at-home order that winter.
I decided to start using my indoor bike trainer I had for years. I set it up in our guest room and I rode it half a dozen times. At first I tried listening to podcasts and to an audiobook. Still, an hour felt like 24 and it was so hard to stay motivated. I hated taking my bike on and off the trainer and I was worried about doing it wrong.
Around this time, Apple introduced Apple Fitness and we got three months for free. I tried the cycling classes, which were significantly better than riding without them, but there wasn’t a lot of choice of instructors or music. I liked it enough that I thought I might get a regular stationary bike and pay $10 a month.
A Taste of the Real Thing
Then in February of 2021 we went to visit Mark’s daughter and I rode her Peloton for the first time. I didn’t really know anything about it, I just hopped on and started looking for something to try. There were so many classes and instructors I was overwhelmed. I noticed that I could filter by music, so I chose alternative and found a 60 minute New Wave ride with Christine D’Ercole.
Years ago I used to love to go to spin classes at our local gym. I burned lots of calories and enjoyed myself, but I almost never liked the music. I usually felt like I was at my high school prom with all the jocks and popular kids who liked to listen to John Cougar Mellencamp and Van Halen, or worse, country. The others would be singing along and I’d be gritting my teeth hoping the next song would be better.
So finding Christine right away was a game changer. She was about my age, built like a normal woman, and she was playing dark wave and goth tunes from bands like Depeche Mode and Joy Division. She starts off each class saying, “Drop your Shoulders, Drop your Baggage.” I was all in, and by the end of the ride I was crying. At that point, I got it. This is why people get hooked.
I did a few more rides that week then ordered my own bike after I got home. This was at the height of the Peloton frenzy and they originally estimated it would take 6 weeks for me to get one. I did a couple of rides on my sad trainer while I waited but as it turned out, it didn’t take that long. My bike arrived on March 11, 2021.
The delivery was smooth and professional, two guys carried my bike up the stairs, set it up and gave me a quick rundown on the parts.
While I waited for my bike, I had spent a little time on the web site searching for and bookmarking some classes, mostly from Christine, but I also started looking for instructors who played similar music.
I knew from my friends that they liked Cody Rigsby so I tried some of his rides too. I did a lot of different warm up and cool down rides so I could try out different instructors without making too much of a time commitment.
My first problem I had with my bike was clipping out after a workout. I’ve been riding with clips on my road bike for years, so they weren’t new to me, but the first time I rode I could not get off the bike. I was already emotional (I had just finished a ride with Christine after all) so I was almost in tears when Mark came over and helped me clip out. He was able to loosen up the screws for me so it made it easier, but it was still hard those first few rides.
I googled my issue and found the Peloton subreddit, a group of almost 300K users with a wealth of information and resources that you’d expect to find on Reddit. Someone had posted that Peloton had shipped some defective pedal cleats, so I contacted Peloton and they sent out two new pairs right away.
I learned so much from Reddit – this group has been around since 2015 and they maintain a comprehensive Wiki with everything you would ever want to know about Peloton. They host virtual group rides and are super responsive to questions, even the ones that keep getting asked again and again. I’d recommend any newbie to join this group – it really helped me learn a lot and I go back there whenever I have a question or just for fun.
My biggest surprise about Peloton has been strength training. I bought the Bike Plus with the swiveling screen, that lets you turn the screen so you can work out in front of it. At first I thought this was dumb, right behind me in my workout space is a TV. Wouldn’t it be better to stream my workout there?
As it turns out I use the swiveling screen all the time. It’s so much easier to just get off the bike, turn the screen and start my workout, instead of turning on the tv, launching the Peloton app on my phone, and projecting it to the TV. The screen itself is plenty big and it comes up a lot faster than the TV.
I used to love to workout with my personal trainer, especially when we did small group training in the park or at someone’s home. Since she moved away I’ve really neglected my strength training. I know what to do, but it’s so hard for me to motivate myself to follow a written routine. I love having someone tell me what to do and keeping track of the time, and being able to see a demonstration so I don’t mess up my form.
Like with everything else, Peloton has a huge and overwhelming strength catalog. I started by doing some core workouts here and there – and I quickly learned that 5 and 10 minute core workouts are a lot harder than 20 minute core workouts. I already had some small dumbbells so I added a few other random strength workouts in between rides.
Then Peloton launched its Beginner Strength Program. It was six weeks, with two different instructors, Olivia and Matty. Every workout had a mandatory warm up and cool down, which gave me great discipline to take care of myself, and they did a great job teaching the basic form and warming up to more advanced moves. It was my first Peloton program and I loved knowing exactly what workout I had to do without searching or guessing.
After I finished Beginner Strength, I went back to Reddit in search of what to do next, and someone recommended the HardCORE on the Floor Facebook group. I thought it sounded a little scary but I joined it anyway and pretty soon my feed was flooded with posts.
When I joined the group, there were around 180,000 members and today it’s up to 362,000 and continuing to grow. Personal Trainer Nicole Gonzalez started the group originally to encourage people to do 10 minutes of core a day, and now she creates a calendar every month with workout stacks, targeting different muscle groups.
The first thing that struck me when I joined were all the before and after pictures. So many people of different shapes and sizes, all unafraid to post pictures of themselves in their bathroom wearing their sports bras and workout clothes. But, the results! Some are dramatic, some are hard to see, but everyone looks happier and stands up straighter. It’s very inspirational.
It took me a few weeks of lurking before I got up the courage to download the workout calendar and get started. Every day there are stacks of workouts, almost always starting with a 10 minute core. There are upper body, lower body, full-body, and rest days programmed in so if you follow it, you get a great overall training regime.
The first week I did the full stack everyday I could barely walk up and down the stairs, and there were moves in some of the classes that I just laughed at. But for everything I couldn’t do, there was a modification, and I began learning that showing up and trying everyday is enough.
It’s been ten months so far and this is the most consistent I’ve ever been with strength training in my life. I haven’t seen any difference on the scale but I am definitely trimming down and most importantly, I feel stronger. Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to post my pictures.
In my years of road cycling, I’ve had a VO2 Max test twice. VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen that you can utilize during intense or maximal exercise, and a good measure of cardio fitness.
Both times I had to pack my bike in the car and take it somewhere to get the test. Once there, an expert puts your bike on a trainer, hooks you up to some sensors and puts an oxygen mask on you to help you figure out your proper heart rate training zones – where you burn the most fat, your endurance zone and where your max output is – where you can do a final push up a hill or to end a race but that you can’t sustain.
I’m not a racer but I like to know where my heart rate zones are when I ride, since I’ve done a lot of endurance rides around Lake Tahoe I don’t want to push myself too hard, too early so I can’t finish.
One of the best things I’ve found on my Peloton to help me improve my fitness is Power Zone training and the Discover your Power Zones program. Peloton uses seven different output zones, from Zone 1, the easiest, up to Zone 7 where you can only stay for a minute or so. Output is measured on the bike by using the cadence (your pedal speed in RPM) multiplied by the Resistance (how hard you are pedaling). You control both of those yourself by either pedaling faster/slower or turning the knob to make it harder or easier.
I noticed it was there right after I got my bike but I put off doing it for a long time. I took a few Power Zone classes with Christine where she talked about how it worked but for some reason I felt like I had to schedule it in my life. Finally in November I forced myself to do the program before I started training in earnest for my triathlon. I don’t know why I waited so long.
The program goes over five weeks and starts with a ride that explains how it works. Then you do a short warm up ride before a 20-minute FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test, that pushes you up to Zone 7. After you do that ride, the Peloton bike automatically stores your output ranges, so the next time you ride, it displays all seven of your zones across the bottom so you know how hard you are working, based on your personal fitness level.
Now that I know my zones, I can really control how hard I work in every cycling class. I know if I’m not trying hard enough or if I’m past my limit. I love how this really puts me in control of my workout, and even better, I can take the FTP test again and again and see how I improve. And I don’t have to go anywhere or pay for another VO2 Max test.
There are fewer instructors who do Power Zone classes so I’m lucky that two of my faves, Christine and Denis Morton, are on the list. I don’t always do a Power Zone specific class when I ride but I always watch my seven power zones to help me keep track of where I’m at.
Community and finding your people
Peloton has been suffering from a lot of bad press lately, from Mr. Big dying in the Sex and the City reboot to massive layoffs and stock selloffs. There’s lots of speculation about whether they will go out of business or get acquired. I think they have some management challenges and issues to address, both with their business models and their inconsistent user experience.
I think Peloton will survive. They will not experience the same exponential growth as they did during the pandemic, but I think they have a loyal user base that will stay engaged and grow. There are plenty of people who are just using the app on their phone who may buy a bike someday and others interested in other equipment, like treadmills and rowing machines. I just bought the new Peloton Guide.
Of course, Peloton isn’t for everyone. Some people love going to the gym, for the camaraderie and for the variety of equipment. Others have a hard time motivating themselves to work out at home. And some folks may find the instructors annoying. That’s fine, and the good news is that if you bought a Peloton and didn’t like it, there seems to be a pretty healthy secondary market.
I don’t ever see myself going back to the gym. I love my commute to my workout (upstairs), the ability to wear whatever I want and crank up my favorite music. I hope to enjoy my Peloton for years to come. See you on the Leaderboard!