It’s swimsuit season! Ugh, yes I know that those words can strike fear into the hearts of pretty much anyone and send even the most body-confident of us scrambling to squeeze in some gym time. But nowadays, it’s becoming more common for people to ditch the gym in favor of home workouts—which is probably why Peloton’s streaming spin classes and bikes have risen to fame over the past couple years. But is Peloton worth it?
Well, consider this. Pre-2016 you had to drag me kicking and screaming to a spin class. Why? I needed earplugs and a Xanax to get through cycling because of the loud music and migraine-inducing lights that my 20-something spin instructor favored.
And my husband, Bill? Well, his workout mantra was always “I only run when chased.” That always got a laugh at cocktail parties, but he wasn’t laughing when his doctor ordered him to get more exercise and lose weight if he wanted to avoid diabetes. Nearly every single adult in his family has Type 2 diabetes. It was like his doctor was Darth Vader saying, “Bill, it is your destiny.”
So for a pair of empty nesters who hate the gym yet needed help with their health, what option did we have? Well, a Peloton bike.
Even though the Peloton price—$2,000 plus a monthly $39 membership—gave me pause, we decided it would be our holiday gift to ourselves a couple of years ago. Now, when I think about whether the Peloton is worth it, two years in I can answer a resounding, “Yes.” But before I explain why it’s a yes from me, let’s get you up to speed on exactly what Peloton is and what it can do for you.
Stream Your Spin Class At Home
Never heard of Peloton? You might have seen their commercials with impossibly fit and sweaty people riding a spin bike at home. Or maybe you’ve seen one of their mall showrooms.
My husband Bill needed to exercise more, doctor’s orders, if he wanted to avoid diabetes.
What sets Peloton apart from other bikes is the fact that each comes with a 24-inch monitor—or tablet, as it’s called—mounted in front of the handlebars and that streams live spin classes from the Peloton studios in New York City. You can also do classes On Demand.
You also get a free pair of spin shoes when you buy a Peloton bike. Great, if there is just one of you. But since Bill and I both ride, he took the free pair, and I ended up getting a pair of my own. Because I have wide feet, I bought what are technically mountain biking shoes on Amazon.com. Mountain bike shoes tend to be wider, they were way cheaper than the shoes I saw at my local cycling shop.
When you boot up the Peloton tablet, you’ll see a screen of in-progress or upcoming live classes, with audition-worthy headshots of the instructors. (Many are former actors and dancers.) You can also choose from popular On Demand classes sorted by class length (20-60 minutes), instructor, or musical genre. Recently, Peloton added new user-friendly features, such as allowing you to search for classes based on your favorite music. Like Mumford and Sons or Madonna? Your search results will show the classes that have that music played in them. Peloton has also added themed training programs, such as Climb Rides and Tabata (short bursts of activity followed by even shorter rest periods—ouch) for people looking for a more structured workout.
My Love Hate Relationship with Instructors
I ride two or three times a week, sometimes four. Bill rides two to three times a week as well. At this point I’ve spun with nearly every Peloton instructor—there are about a dozen. Then in Fall 2018, Peloton expanded to add British spinning instructors, but I haven’t tried any yet. In 2018, Peloton introduced the Peloton Tread, a high-tech treadmill version of the Peloton bike. With it came more instructors offering boot-camp classes as well as running and walking instruction that you can do on your Peloton Tread or outside using the Peloton Digital app.
Want to hack the whole Peloton thing? Pay for the Peloton Digital app only (under $20 per month) and use it on your phone with your own gym equipment. Peloton owners like myself, who’ve had the equipment prior to the app’s release in summer 2018, access to it as part of our monthly subscription fee. It’s a great option for when you’re traveling and want to get in your workout but your hotel doesn’t have a Peloton bike.
But back to the instructors, some of whom I love and some of whom I hate. One instructor does this weird jaw thing as she rides, like she’s blowing imaginary smoke rings. She might as well be scraping her perfectly painted nails down a blackboard. Another leads her class while wearing Lady Gaga-esque makeup. I rode with both once and never again.
My husband is terrified of instructor Robin Arzon, tatted and with a kick your ass and take no prisoners attitude. She’s achieved a certain level of celebrity, thanks to this New York Times article. Technically, she’s Peloton’s VP of Fitness Programming; I enjoy her boot camp approach. My two faves are Christine D’Ercole, who plays tons of 1980’s music and knows her shit—she’s a world-class competitive cyclist. Then there’s Jenn Sherman, who has a series of sing-along rides filled with karaoke-worthy tunes. (You can search for “sing along” using the aforementioned, newly introduced search feature.) When you are singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” or Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” at the top of your lungs, you forget you are exercising. Perhaps I like both Christine and Jenn because they are clearly Gen Xers. I feel like they “get” me and my generation.
I also enjoy Matt Wilpers‘ sweet demeanor and Denis Morton‘s hysterics. There’s nothing like doing a heavy metal ride with Denis and having him take his long hair out of its ponytail and do some head banging and hair swinging while leading class.
Live or On Demand
When you join a class (live or On Demand), a leaderboard appears on the right-hand side of your screen, showing the usernames of everyone else in class. You can follow people on the leaderboard by clicking on their name and tapping “follow.” Peloton awards you badges after a ride based on how many “friends” you’ve ridden with. If you liked gold stickers back in elementary school for a job well done, you’ll love this feature, too. Or at least I do.
You can also high five other riders by double tapping their profile pic on the leaderboard. You’ll see high fives come back to you on your screen when someone sends one out to you. It is literally a tiny hand “slapping” on your screen. These can be great for building camaraderie and getting you through tough classes.
I felt like a kid all those years ago watching ‘Romper Room,’ waiting to hear my name.
Many people create clever usernames so that instructors will give them a shout-out—instructors also have tablets in front of them. Names that stick out include “Mazel Tough” and “Mom Can’t Hear You.” Your username also includes your age and hometown, or you can replace it with hashtags related to certain instructors, like Sherman’s popular no-excuses phrase “Just fucking do it” or #JFDI.
Speaking of shout-outs, you also get them when you hit milestone rides—50 rides, 100 rides, 150 rides, etc. Getting a shout-out—which will live on in eternity when the live ride goes into the Peloton archives as an On Demand class—has inspired me to hit my milestones on a regular basis. I still remember my first one: It was ride number 50, which I did live during Christine’s New Wave Wednesday class. Sure enough, she congratulated me. I felt like a kid all those years ago watching “Romper Room,” waiting to hear my name. You’ll also get shout-outs on your birthday. Right now, I’m trying to time my 350th ride to coincide with my December birthday so I can get twice as many in a single day.
The Peloton screen also shows your heart rate as you ride. That meant I needed a heart rate monitor if I wanted to take advantage of this metric. My athletic 21-year-old daughter swears by the Polar monitor that you wear on a strap around your torso and right under your bra. So guess what her mother ended up buying and wears with each ride?
Tapping Into Your Competitive Nature
The leaderboard, which measures your output throughout the ride—the sum of the resistance on the wheel and your cadence or pedal speed—is also designed to inspire riders’ competitive nature. While I’ve never been in the number one spot, I always strive to be in the top 50 percent of riders. So if there are 218 riders in a class, I don’t let myself fall below 109th. There have been times that I’ve seen a 30-something or 40-something on the leaderboard who seems to be “catching” me, and I end up thinking, damned if I’m gonna let a young un pass me. So I spend the remainder of the class working to stay ahead of them.
If I see a younger person on the leaderboard who seems to be “catching” me, I spend the remainder of the class working to stay ahead of them.
It’s good that I’ve started riding at home: I realized that I’m a grunter when I exercise. It sounds somewhere between labor pains and orgasm, which is not great when you’re at the gym. But in the privacy of my own home, it’s not a big deal, at least to me. It’s gotten to the point that whenever I climb on the bike (it’s in the living room), my husband leaves the room. It’s either because of the grunting or the fact that I’m singing while I ride.
I’ve since started wearing Insignia Bluetooth headphones during my rides. They sit over my ears, not in my ears; I found that earbuds always fell out so, tip, don’t use the free pair that came with your iPhone. I’m loving these headphones because they hold their charge for weeks on end, are super comfortable, and ensure Bill doesn’t have to listen to class while I ride. I can’t say the same for my singing.
Because I don’t have to worry about getting to the gym in time, fighting traffic, finding parking, or getting a spot in the spin room, I’m working out more. And because I’m not enduring loud music and stupid lights, I’m enjoying it more. That leads to tangible results. In the first year of using the bike, I felt new muscles in my butt and legs, and because many classes include 10 minutes of arm weight lifting while on the bike (the hand weights are mounted on the back of the bike), I saw definition there, too. In year two I’ve noticed my waist getting smaller, not larger. That’s a miracle given all of the other perimenopausal symptoms my body has been throwing at me. My husband has benefitted, as well. He’s gone down two belt sizes and his doctor no longer considers him to be pre-diabetic.
So again, you might ask, is Peloton worth it? Well, with good music, great workouts, and better health—there is only one way to answer that question: yes.
Leah Ingram has written 14 books, including Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less and Toss, Keep, Sell! Her 15th book is The Complete Guide to Paying for College. Leah is a money-saving expert who has shared her unique personal finance approach and advice about getting the most bang for your buck on local and national TV, including The Weather Channel, Good Morning America and ABC News Now. She’s also written on personal finance, travel, business, education and health topics for Good Housekeeping, AARP The Magazine, Delta Sky, Costco Connection and Parade.com.
A version of this article was originally published in September 2017.