January 4, 2014

Are “Fitness Cults” a Bad Thing?

Today I went to a Fly90 class (that’s a fancy way of saying a 90 minute spin class), and honestly wasn’t having a great ride. The instructors were amazing – Ryan Makely is my absolute favorite New York instructor, and he was joined by Danielle Devine (who’s also very popular, though I had never taken her before) and three instructors from the London branch of Flywheel. Cool! But I was just exhausted, and could tell right from the first song that it wasn’t going to be a strong ride for me. The energy of the room was amazing, but nothing could get my overtired legs to go faster. (I guess that’s what six intense workout classes in three days does? Shocker.)

But then, at the very end of the ride, the instructor announced that she had a very special guest coming for the finale, the one “who started it all.” All the instructors pointed toward the studio door, where I could just barely see through the glass that there was some kind of commotion with the staff getting someone ready to enter. I immediately knew who it was – Ruth Zukerman, the savvy founder of Flywheel! Despite not increasing my RPMs or torq, I felt my heartbeat getting faster, and my thoughts racing. RUTH WAS HERE! I was so crazy excited when the door opened and it was indeed her, and I led the room in screaming/cheering like a banshee as she bounded in and took her bike. Perhaps it was just the rush of adrenaline for having been biking already for 85 minutes, but I was pretty much beside myself with excitement. In fact, when she grabbed the mic and started teaching, I got a huge grin on my face and actually started crying because of how happy I was to be there riding. Um, what?

This is not to say that Ruth isn’t awesome – she is! Not only do I admire her fitness prowess, but she’s also an incredibly savvy businesswoman who has built a cycling empire across the US and in several other countries as well. However, she’s someone I’ve met and have taken class with before, and she’s very approachable – not the type to act like a celebrity diva. My reaction to her entrance was pretty much bordering on cult-like obsession, and that kind of creeped me out, to the point where I was thinking about it for a while even after the ride was over. My strange excitement did get me to push harder and faster, and I scored higher in those final songs that she taught than I did the entire rest of the 90 minutes. So was my crazy admiration for her such a bad thing if it got me great results?

Fitness studios in NYC (and elsewhere too, I would imagine) definitely seem to generate cult-like followings. Flywheel and Soulcycle each have their devotees, and those students are even known to harbor animosity against those from the other studio. Meanwhile, you have the Refine Method lovers (WWBD?); the Physique 57 fanatics; the Pure Barre posse; and of course, the cult of Crossfit. Honestly, I have found it pretty intimidating to take some of those classes in large part because they feel like they have such an “in-crowd” that it’s hard to break into the group and not feel like an outsider. I probably would never have even tried Flywheel for that exact cult-ish reason except that Blake suggested we go in Dallas – and since it was a brand new studio, everyone was a newbie and I didn’t have to feel intimidated. (I would venture to guess that I’m now probably part of that in-crowd at Flywheel Texas, but I like to think that we’re pretty welcoming and that anyone can join that crew. Come Fly in Texas, y’all!)

And yet… is it really such a bad thing for studios to cultivate an in-crowd? I love tweeting with my fitness friends about going to a particular class – and there has been many a day that I’ve headed to the studio more because of the social aspect or because I had told someone online that I’d go, rather than because I really wanted to work out. There’s something special about knowing how the class works and what comes next (see: Zumba classes where it sucks to not know the warmup routine that everyone else is doing), and there’s also something motivating about seeing the same faces in class every week. If you don’t go, you think they’ll notice – and that kind of shames you into getting off your butt and going.

So while I thought it was totally weird how crazy excited I got about seeing Ruth in the studio, I’m going to write it off as something positive. The best workout you can do is the one that you love doing, and Flywheel has made me love every aspect of their classes – the instructors, the fellow students, and even the delicious-smelling lemon sage Bliss bath products. Full-sensory marketing at its best: I don’t get to reward myself with that smell in the shower until I’ve put my time in on the bike!

However, just because Flywheel has provided the most enjoyable-to-me atmosphere (so far), I also don’t want to stick to just spinning – there are lots of other group workouts that I love too (Barry’s Bootcamp and Refine Method in NYC, Tread Fitness and Bodybar in Dallas), and most of those seem to have an equally cult-like following. My ideal is to feel like I’m an insider at lots of different places, so I can keep them all in the rotation and do what’s best for my body that day instead of just feeling like there’s only one studio “where everyone knows my name.” (Oh yes, just compared fitness studios to the Cheers bar.) So while I’ll probably continue to avoid the studios/brands where I feel unwelcome (sorry, Pure Barre, I’m looking at you here), I’m going to keep rotating around the other studios and enjoying the camaraderie at each of them.

USA vs UK Fly90 with Ryan Makely
And being THAT girl who takes pics with her friends/fav instructors after class.

What studios do you find the most welcoming? Are you in any “fitness cults”, or have you felt excluded by any?


6 thoughts on “Are “Fitness Cults” a Bad Thing?”

  1. Today’s ride seemed amazing! I wish I could have gone. I have newly drank the Flywheel kool aid and couldn’t love it any more!! Pretty sure my friends are sick of me talking about it. But every class is a party and some of the days when I am just beat have been my biggest numbers bc of the energy the instructors bring. The only downfall is that of my poor poor wallet. I need to try more studios though – I do occasionally feel intimidated to get through the door to that first class.

    1. I’m going to do a post in the next week about Classtivity – you should check that out as a great way to try awesome boutique studios without paying a crazy amount of money. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover Flywheel, but I’ve tried a lot of other great studios (Barry’s Bootcamp, Body by Simone, Uplift) that in the past have been scary to where I didn’t want to shell out the money.

  2. Hmm, don’t think I like this cult feeling thing. It should not be like that at all at ANY studio.

    I know there is a Flywheel in Chicago but it’s in the Gold Coast (rich neighborhood). 🙂 I haven’t been there yet because I have not made time to go. Yes, I was off for two weeks and did not make time. Oh, and each class is definitely NOT cheap.

  3. These classes do all kind of seem cult-ish, now that you mention it! But for whatever reason, I still love it. It’s almost like blogging…you’re suddenly in this (usually) supportive, fun community with people who have similar interests and goals. It’s empowering!

    Also, knowing that someone is successful, kind, approachable, and fun definitely warrants excitement when seeing them. Most of the people I would get that excited to see aren’t celebrities, but people who work hard, are inspirational, and are generally just good role models. These are the types of people that change MY life by following their own dreams!

    1. I had never thought of them as a cult until that moment with Ruth, but it was really funny to me when I realized the similarities!

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