This Is Your Brain on Peloton

Before I met Cody Rigsby, I thought Peloton, the bourgeois exercise bike company he employs, was about slavish devotion to a techno-religious sect. I didn’t realize it could also be about celebrities, accessories, and reshaping the high school social hierarchy. I was suddenly interested. I don’t like movement. When I do this, I want my brain to feel as numb as possible. And after signing up for Peloton’s 30-day free trial of virtual content and jumping on the dusty Schwinn in my in-laws’ basement, I got zonked.

Logging into one of Rigsby’s sessions feels like syncing with a human iPhone and heading for a new distraction over and over again. It keeps me stimulated just enough to relieve the monotony and discomfort of exercising without causing me to do my own mental work. Peloton has been known to sell its ridiculously expensive bikes, but you don’t have to buy a bike to stream its classes. The company’s more significant offering is this: total curation of the mind.

Exercise-as-Entertainment is an American institution. See: Jack LaLanne, Richard Simmons, “The Biggest Loser”. The fitness guru’s sphere of influence has usually centered on the body, with some leeway for related self-help psychobabbles and musical appreciation. Now, Peloton, which offers dozens of streaming courses every day, has brought topicality and specificity to the genre. The company offers rides around Black History Month, Women’s History Month and the philosophy of life of television producer Shonda Rhimes.

The instructors have worked out their own micro-genres in the expanded peloton universe, which in addition to the spinning courses also includes guided meditations, stretches, strength training and more. The glowing Ally Love is the queen of seated choreography. Jess King created a series she calls “The Jess King Experience” which features Campy costumes, dramatic camera angles, a DJ buddy, and extreme drama kid vibes.

And Rigsby has the energy of a messy podcast host. While he rides, he could lead the class in a skills ranking of defunct boy bands (“Undoubtedly, Kevin is the hottest backstreet boy”) or drop out of last night’s television event. The day after Oprah’s Royal Exit Interview, Rigsby began his class this way: “I’m bringing Meghan Markle energized into the ride, OK?”

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