Claudio Caniggia’s Hard Training: “No Excuses”

The New York Times

Opinion: Goodbye to the cult of SoulCycle

FROM PEOPLE SKIPPING THE VACCINE RANGE TO BEAUTIFUL RACISM, SOME REVELATIONS ARE EXPOSING THE DARKNESS THAT HIDES THE CULTURAL FITNESS FRAGRANCE. For years, I resisted SoulCycle, the popular indoor cycling chain. My last experience with indoor cycling had been in the 1990s, when we called it “spinning,” and my most vivid memories were the bruises caused by the bike seat and an instructor who seemed to have forgotten to remove his Halloween costume. by Lance Armstrong. However, in 2011, she was too pregnant to run or dance. One day a friend who worked at Soul, as the acolytes called it, invited me. The class seemed less like a morning in the gym and more like a night on the town: the powerful music, synchronized movement, and the gloom offered a sense of security and the thrill of belonging to a group of beautiful people. The experience was orchestrated by the instructor, a title that does not do justice to the radiant woman who uttered inspiring phrases from her own bicycle on top of a candlelit stage. He didn’t know her, but after 45 minutes, he wanted to hug her. Maybe he wanted to be her. “You did great, Natalia,” he said. I booked another class. The ritual became intoxicating. But the very environment that makes these experiences so tempting can have a dark side. Popular SoulCycle instructors have faced recent allegations of sexual harassment, racism, fat phobia, and general misanthropy. They have been accused of forcing cyclists to perform oral sex on them, calling a black female cyclist wearing a headscarf “Aunt Jemima” and throwing fruit at employees in a fit of anger. Last week, one of SoulCycle’s most famous instructors committed the cardinal sin of the COVID-19 era: skipping the vaccine line and posting it on Instagram, as she claimed she was eligible as a “health educator” and the welfare ”of their community. (He apologized). The fact that brands founded on “inspiration”, “authenticity” and “well-being” can encourage such unhealthy behavior shows how easy it is to exploit our instinct to bring positivity to the pursuit of health and people who help us to achieve it. These allegations put the industry in the limelight, from Bikram Yoga (a charismatic leader was charged with sexual harassment and rape) to CrossFit (the CEO was charged with sexual harassment and making racist comments). Like many community institutions — Boy Scouts, churches, college campuses — spaces where we gather to sweat can sanction abuse as easily as inspiration. I’ve seen it first hand, as a student and teacher of group fitness classes. In the early 2000s, I found a fitness class that supplanted destructive diet talk with assertions of strength and courage, and reinforced what I liked about exercise, even though I couldn’t put it into words. Although it sounds trite today, in 2005 it felt like a liberation. After a year of touring New York City to take multiple classes a day from its founder, I was certified as a leader. My students asked me why I was so positive and I told them that, since I had stayed out of sports, teaching physical fitness classes – or as we say now: “wellness” – made me feel invincible. However, this all-absorbing culture made me think from time to time, like when a thin, wide-eyed young woman told me that she had quit her psychotherapy: my class was all she needed. I saw firsthand the transformation of the role exercise played in American life. As one entrepreneur in the fitness industry told me, after 9/11, a new wave of “fitness” companies began to sell “workout as wellness,” bringing the holistic health of the hippie culture to life. dominant culture. Exercise had gone from being a purely physical routine that could occupy a few hours a week to an all-encompassing activity. Instructors much more popular than me were his avant-garde. It became commonplace to describe these figures as “cult leaders”: they became therapists, fashion icons, DJs, nutrition experts, spiritual teachers, and sex symbols. Overblown motivation (“IMPOSSIBLE HAS TOO MUCH ‘I’ AND ‘M'”), high prices ($ 42 per class!), And obsessive fans made fitness boutiques mocked. However, classes continued to sell out. During the pandemic, those collective exercise experiences can seem like a holdover, our own speakeasy or dance hall. After all, nearly 60 percent of Americans who exercise at home say they will never go back to the gym. And that doesn’t take into account boutique “fitness,” where the sweaty, visible intimacy of crowded classes – a memory that makes me nostalgic and still reach for my mask – is partly the goal. But even now that many studios are closed, the hunger for instructors whose incandescence can make users cry and turn them into superheroes is still very much present. Thanks to the intense connections these instructors cultivate, since the pandemic began, students have followed them online and in parking lots, sometimes even joining anti-lockdown demonstrations. Peloton, the digital home fitness platform, has flourished in the past year in part thanks to its quirky instructors, serving hundreds of thousands of people, including the president of the United States. And several other remote “fitness” instructors have risen to stardom during the pandemic. This phenomenon is not going away, so we have a responsibility to understand it. For a well-to-do clientele who work in offices regulated by human resources departments and move in social circles governed by polite restraint, exercise classes can be both an exciting transgression of this disciplined sensibility and an extension of it. If not, why not pay to be doused with water at the climax of an intense bike circuit that gets you nowhere, to sweat under the red lights of a brothel-inspired training ground, or to have a ex-convict rudely guide you through “prison training”? I have experienced all of these environments. In general, I have found them more interesting, from an anthropological point of view, than offensive. But the dynamic encourages the crossing of limits. After one session, I texted a friend saying that they had unintentionally given me “a lap dance in spinning class.” Even in the gym, where the usual restrictions on flattering and touching other people’s bodies can be more relaxed, I was surprised that the instructor did a suggestive dance on my handlebars. However, the hall full of cyclists laughed loudly with apparent delight. I pulled myself together and just didn’t come back. But when the backdrop for these kinds of behaviors is no longer the insular realm of a studio packed with admirers, but rather an industry facing serious abuse allegations, this interaction feels different. Most instructors handle their power responsibly, and an instructor who understands that their purpose is more than just helping their students put on a tight pair of pants can positively change lives. But that expansive role has not been accompanied by more rigorous certification, codes of conduct, or much thought. (No pay: many of the more than 300,000 fitness instructors are members of the precariat, just beginning to organize.) With a few exceptions, the instructors who aspire to that celebrity and the companies that profit from it have done little more than nurture rather than question personality cults. Unless we change this, our growing fitness industry and the culture it reflects will continue to be as capable of perpetuating harm as it is promoting health. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company