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Applying the Magic of Peloton

What can we learn from Peloton’s success? A research study reveals important lessons from the Peloton platform that we can all use to motivate and sustain engagement in our lives.

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My Peloton Story

This is the church of hustle and sweat,” an instructor declares through my headphones as I turn the resistance up on my bike, wipe sweat from my dripping brow, and nod my head vigorously in complete agreement. I think to myself I can do anything in this moment. I forget about the negative self-talk I had been ruminating on after a tough meeting earlier in the day, and feel a weight lift off my shoulders as I get lost in the moment, with the music, the words of the instructor, and over 19,000 other people taking the same class. This is a Peloton cycling class, an at-home exercise bike that live-streams fitness classes to users around the world. 

Before beginning my Peloton journey, my commitment to personal well-being was severely lacking. I prioritized long work hours and a high-stress job and found myself drained of the vital energy to care for myself. Integrating the Peloton experience into my life shifted my perspective in ways I could never have imagined; exercise became a priority in my daily routine, and a pathway to cultivating well-being.

As I shared my experience with other Peloton users, I came to realize that my experience is not unique. Peloton users from different backgrounds, age groups and abilities reveal similar stories and trends – as one user reports, “I often say that Peloton changed my life.”  Whether talking with a family member who recently purchased a bike, a fellow Peloton rider, or an overheard conversation in a restaurant or airplane as individuals gush about their favorite Peloton instructor – it is clear that there is something unique about Peloton that draws users into this shared experience. I wanted to learn more, I was curious to understand why Peloton had captivated my attention and how the experience had shifted my perspective. 

Peloton, Pandemic and Positive Psychology 

In 2019, I decided to pursue a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. As I began my journey in positive psychology, the study of applied research and science of well-being, I found myself relating each tangible example of research and theory to my experience with Peloton. 

As one rider describes, “When I first started riding, I hoped that the bike would offer me a good workout and be fun and that I would stick with it. Now, the bike has become a huge part of my life and my well-being, even my sanity. I think I would struggle more in my day to day life if I didn’t have the bike to turn to to blow off steam, feel positive, challenged, motivated and more like myself.”  

Then, the Pandemic hit. Suddenly, what had felt like a poorly kept secret among Peloton enthusiasts was the talk of news articles, internet memes and stock market reports as Peloton saw a 172% increase in sales. So, what is it about the Peloton experience that is cultivating this booming demand and prioritization of well-being? I decided to take a closer look, and conducted an exploratory study of 104 Peloton users, unpacking the Peloton experience through the lens of positive psychology. Whether you have a Peloton or not, the findings reveal essential tips and tricks to increase motivation and engagement in any pursuit. 

We need Hope, with defined pathways.

As reported by Hope researcher Charles Snyder in his book The Psychology of Hope: You can get there from here, studies reflect that individuals with high hope are more likely to persevere through challenges and setbacks in the pursuit of a goal. But what is Hope? Snyder’s hope theory posits that having clearly defined goals, identified pathways to pursue your goal, and seeing yourself as capable to reach your goals are the essential components to initiating and sustaining motivation. When analyzing responses from Peloton users in the study,  94% of responses describing the initial motivation for purchasing the bike revealed elements of hope – they had clear personal goals and a belief that Peloton was a pathway to reach their desired outcomes. 

So what can we take away from this? When we set and identify goals, we need to be just as mindful about what we want to achieve as the pathways we utilize to reach our goals. 

To start, make it convenient.

There is no doubting the appeal of having a piece of exercise equipment in your home – no commuting, accessible at any time, and in the face of a global pandemic, it’s safe. When asked to identify the top three motivations for purchasing a Peloton, 78% of respondents mentioned an element of convenience.  In contrast, only 43% of responses referred to a focus on health and exercise and even fewer (37%) made comments about overall well-being. 

What can we learn from this? Convenience is an important part of defining your pathways. If you aren’t an early morning riser, making a routine to run every morning before work probably isn’t going to meet your expectations of convenience. So, even if the data tells us something is good for us or is the “key to a successful morning” – don’t forget to set yourself up for success by making your pathway convenient, for you.  

To keep going, find meaning, joy and engagement. 

I wasn’t just interested in understanding why individuals started and purchased their Peloton, but I also wanted to know why they kept going.  Many studies demonstrate the positive effects of physical exercise – yet data from the US Department of Health and Human Services reveals that less than 5% of adults in the US engage in 30 minutes of physical activity each day. We are often well aware of the benefits of a physical activity, yet unlikely to initiate and sustain exercise routines. 

Something different is happening with Peloton. And, don’t just take my word for it, in 2020 Peloton reported a rate of 93% sustained engagement, representing the percent of users who are active subscribers and completing workouts through the Peloton platform. Additionally,  Peloton reports that users actually increase their engagement over time, with an increase in the  average number of workouts completed by users from the date of purchase.

Similar trends emerged when comparing this data with the responses in my study. While 78% of users reported an initial motivation based on convenience, when asked about what keeps users engaged with their routine, only 18% of respondents identified convenience as a motivator for continued use.  What changed? There was a notable increase in responses related to feeling healthy, 76% and overall well-being, 69%.

As Peloton instructor Alex Touissant often reminds his riders, “Look Good, Feel Good, Do Better.” Perhaps there’s some real science behind this mantra: when we feel good we are motivated to keep going! Paying attention to how we feel when we are engaged in an activity and after may be powerful tools to stick with our goals.

Making the switch from convenience to well-being.

When asked what features of the Peloton platform keep users engaged throughout the experience, four key features emerged – The Instructor, Metrics, Music and Community. While Peloton has certainly mastered these domains through their world class instructors, use of real time data, iconic music collaborations (see Peloton X Beyonce) and wildly popular community, there are some important lessons here that we can all use to drive engagement beyond the Peloton platform.

1. Find your instructor – In many ways, instructors have become celebrity-like features of the Peloton community. It was not surprising to see this feature emerge as a top motivator – but understanding why this was a strong motivator and how it was something that resonated across many users connects to the key research questions of identifying pathways of sustained engagement. When asked to describe how instructors motivate individuals, phrases such as “positive,” “uplifting,” and “relatable” were used.  So, whether it’s a manager or mentor, a friend or your own self-talk, be sure to find inspiration in a source that is positive, uplifting and relatable as you pursue your goals.

2. Define your metrics – While the Peloton may calculate and display a wide range of performance indicators, each metric can be hidden by a user at any point during a ride. When describing how metrics influence performance, respondents mentioned goals such as competition, achieving personal records, keeping up with the instructor, keeping up with friends. With or without Peloton, individuals have the opportunity to set unique goals and monitor their performance. Define the metrics that motivate you and come back to them often (also consider which metrics aren’t important to you – there’s no need to keep track of something if it doesn’t give you the feedback you need.)

3. Create your soundtrack –  Many users report music, or the class playlist, as being an element of variety that helps them select a ride. Research reveals that music may help shift focus and attention away from effort while exercising, while the tempo of a song may increase the intensity of performance.  Additionally, particularly motivational lyrics may provide meaning and inspiration for engagement in exercise.  Don’t underestimate the power of building your own soundtrack, make a playlist to motivate and inspire you as you work towards your goals. 

4. Find your people – It’s no secret that the Peloton community is a major draw to the platform. However, a closer look at survey responses reveal how users engage with the community in ways that we can recreate on a smaller scale. Individuals describe engagement with the community in the categories of high fives, social media, connecting with friends and family, in-person meet-ups and following other users on the platform. While the feature of high-fives and following friends on the leaderboard can be activated directly through the bike, connecting with friends and instructors using social media, discussing rides with friends and family, and meeting other Peloton riders at Peloton meet-ups all occur away from the bike. So, how are you sharing good news with your friends and family? Are you reaching out to others who may be working on similar goals? Reaching out to others for connection and support is a powerful motivator for any goal.

It turns out there’s more to Peloton’s success than the popularity of an at home fitness bike. We can all embrace some of the elements of the Peloton platform to initiate and sustain our own well-being goals. In the words of Peloton instructor Robin Arzon, and as reflected by participants in the study, “One ride will make your day better. Many rides, if you keep coming back, will make your life better.” So, how will you keep showing up?

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