putting a little Soul back in group fitness

group-exerciseMy first contact with competitive bike racing was the movie Breaking Away. There was a very emotional segment in the middle of the film where our hero, who has always idolized an Italian racing team, has the opportunity to ride with them in his hometown. Unfortunately, the Italian team, mean-spirited and small-minded, force our hero to crash rather than letting him ride with them. With his visions of these people dashed, our hero goes home and tears down all the posters he had hanging on his bedroom walls.

My first contact with group exercise was in a hot, sweaty dance studio in New York City in the late ’80s. Since grade school gym class, I had always hated “fitness” and “exercise” and felt the need to avoid it at all costs. But there was something about the group energy that I found hypnotic. More than that, there was a sense of community that superseded my own personal journey. It wasn’t about me exercising; it was about the group working together.

I’ve been teaching exercise in New York for 26 years now. I have been very lucky and worked with wonderful, inspirational people. I have helped many people with my work, and many of my students have inspired me with their strength and dedication. Every so often, there is a negative experience — this wouldn’t be New York if there wasn’t — but over and over again I am reminded that group fitness is an opportunity for us in a modern community to enjoy being tribal once again. Celebrating work and life with a heavy back beat, it hits a chord that runs deep through all of us.

So I was a little disappointed to hear that a New York-based indoor cycling studio had allegedly gone so far as to ban fitness people from their classes. At face value, the argument can really go either way: that there are trademarked ideas that the company fears losing, or that the act wreaks of insecurity.

To address the first point: Yes, this company had worked long and hard to develop ideas regarding their classes. The classes are amazingly successful. Consequently, they don’t want those ideas showing up in competitors’ gyms. But their ideas, however groundbreaking and wonderful, were developed on the backs of others’ ideas, equally groundbreaking and wonderful. Were it not for the opportunity to go to the earlier classes, these people would have never been able to develop their ideas. That smells more than a little bit of hypocrisy.

To the second point: When I heard the story, I thought it was a little odd that it appeared right at the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls. Here’s a story of the popular kids who are going to throw a party and decide who can and can’t be invited. It’s not the first time that they’ve done this, though usually they are simply alienating newcomers. They are kind of famous for it. But it is funny because now they are excluding pros. Now, I own my own gym, and, occasionally when I exercise, I like to get out of here because, as much as I like exercise, sometimes I just want to be taken on the ride, not driving the bus. And I am sure that this is what the gym owner who has now been excluded was thinking: I just want to have a little fun where I am not The Teacher. To be honest, as he is a top professional and owner of his own gyms (note the plural), he probably has a number of his own ideas that are pretty solid and doesn’t necessarily need to steal ideas. And if he isn’t all that great, and he is stealing ideas, then it doesn’t really matter because his ability to follow through will never be as great as the original.

We are, most of us, in this business to help others, to bring some health and happiness into people’s lives. Our professional sense of community only serves that purpose and makes us stronger, more creative and more vibrant. Let’s not be petty.