Riding a Bike Doesn’t Make Me a Better Person

I love Peloton workouts but the instructors’ comments can be too much.

I’ve been using the Peloton app, and I like it.

I’ve never been particularly athletic (and my very, very low ranking on the leaderboard is a reminder of that) but I can’t deny that for one to two hours after I finish a workout, I feel accomplished, clear-headed and energetic. Work tasks seem less overwhelming, drinking water seems more exciting, and falling asleep at night is easier. Especially amid a pandemic, it’s really nice to not have to leave the house to exercise. I know there will be at least 30 to 45 minutes a day during which I’m not looking at my phone or laptop.

I also really like the instructors. They’re warm and kind, great at what they do and generally seem like people you’d want to be friends with. So this isn’t meant to personally attack them. But I could really pass on some of the over-the-top motivational commentary that makes the simple act of pedaling a bicycle and getting your heart rate up seem much, much deeper and more meaningful than it really is.

Like I said, I try to keep my phone out of reach while I’m riding so I haven’t written down their comments word-for-word but I remember being told things along the lines of Hard work is self love” (Is it really?) “How you do anything is how you do everything” (Actually I do a lower-than average job at this and a very good job at other things!) “It’s you versus you, who’s going to win?” (What??) “Chase the best version of yourself” (In reality, I’m not any better than I was a year ago when we were all laughing at the infamous Peloton commercial) and “Courage is the power of the mind” (Again, what??) In a yoga class I was repeatedly told to place a crown on my head and remember that I was a queen on and off the mat. I’m just a person, doing warrior pose — I’m not royalty, and that’s okay. At the end of one workout I was encouraged to go out into the world and “stay in the fight.” But I was done. “The fight” was over! “The fight” that is pedaling up several imaginary hills doesn’t have anything to do with the real world.

What really got me was what I heard after the events of Jan. 6. My instructor stopped short of making an explicit reference to the insurrection (too political, I assume), but used the tragedy to anchor a message suggesting that by pedaling away we were strengthening ourselves in a way that would somehow equip us to deal with (and maybe help stop?) attacks on democracy.

Maybe I’m being overly critical. Probably. But it really does bug me to get a message that seems to suggest that people who have the physical ability, time and resources to do this kind of (not cheap, arguably totally indulgent) home workout — or any workout — are somehow becoming better, mentally stronger, and more virtuous people than those who don’t.

Of course, none of this will stop me from doing a workout I enjoy. As the Peloton instructors say in a motivational quote that actually does feel kind of true, “You can do anything for 15 seconds.” I suppose that applies to listening to ridiculous statements about the relationship between exercise and the rest of the world, too.

Writer & editor currently at @nytopinion. Before this: @jskstanford @voxdotcom, @theroot, @harvard_law, @howardu

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