Beyond Jane Fonda Tapes: Home Workouts Go Virtual : All Tech Considered In New York City, an instructor leads an indoor cycling class while participants at home around the country ride along — and compete with other riders — on special bikes outfitted with tablets.
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Beyond Jane Fonda Tapes: Home Workouts Go Virtual

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Beyond Jane Fonda Tapes: Home Workouts Go Virtual

Beyond Jane Fonda Tapes: Home Workouts Go Virtual

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If you're not doing it, spinning can sound like just riding an exercise bike. What's the big deal? People who are spinning see a lot more. Rob Sachs takes a closer look.


JEN SHERMAN: Three, two, saddle, same pace - dig.

ROB SACHS, BYLINE: Peek into a Peloton class in New York's posh Chelsea neighborhood and it'll look like most other spinning classes - 60 stationary bikes clustered in a dark room, loud music to get the heart racing, and a mic'd up instructor motivating riders.

SHERMAN: Breathe through the burn. I know it's not easy. It's not supposed to be.

SACHS: Except this class has one major difference. Instructor Jen Sherman isn't just talking to riders in the classroom. She's also monitoring metrics for riders in places like New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and Kansas.

SHERMAN: Jamie in Wichita, good to see you this morning.

There's an energy in the studio that's amazing. But when you factor in that you've got people that are riding with you from all over the country, all over the world at this point, it just takes it to another level.

SACHS: Peloton CEO John Foley explains how they do it.

JOHN FOLEY: This is also a television production facility. There are five cameras, one of which rotates on a track around the room.

SACHS: Peloton bikes come outfitted with a custom waterproof tablet, enabling home riders to watch the action in Chelsea live, as well as monitor their own metrics. It also ranks each rider's output on a virtual leader board. For 40 bucks a month, home riders have unlimited access to live and archived rides. That's in addition to the $2,000 it costs to buy a new bike - a high bar for many, but still, more than 10,000 have signed up today, like Greg Vadas from Bethesda, Md. He keeps his Peloton bike tucked away in a small room in his basement next to his four real bikes. Greg is a serious rider with a not so serious Peloton screen name.

GREG VADAS: Gregawatt.

SACHS: Like a megawatt?

VADAS: Like megawatt, right.

SACHS: (Laughter) I love it.

The class begins. The instructor tells riders when to adjust their tension to simulate different elevation. Vadas barely notices. He's only looking at one thing - the leaderboard.

VADAS: I have to admit, I don't really pay that much attention to the instructor. I'm all about the board.

SACHS: But Peloton isn't the only company offering virtual instruction. Startup allows fitness trainers to connect directly with clients via video chat and other tools, radically changing home cardio workouts, says CEO Viva Chu.

VIVA CHU: Back in the VHS or Beta days, you have Jane Fonda in your living room, but we're actually trying to take it one step further than that. It's like, you can not only work out with them on your own time, but you can also develop a personal relationship them.

SACHS: While working out in front of a screen may seem weird, it's actually becoming much more the norm, says Cameron Jacobs, a research manager for the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

CAMERON JACOBS: Many believe that technology, social media and physical activity somewhat run in conflict with one another, but that's not the case.

SACHS: Whether it's a Fitbit watch or a metric screen on a piece of exercise equipment, Jacob says the industry is adapting to make working out more interactive and immersive, entering into an exciting new era where classes are becoming fitness experiences and not just workouts.

JACOBS: You need to have fun while you're getting physically active because if it seems like a chore, it won't stick.

SACHS: Back in his basement, Greg Vadas is pedaling away, climbing up the leaderboard. He's closing in on a rider who goes by the screen name Jack Bauer.

VADAS: He's fourth. We got to pass Bauer.

SACHS: Vadas gets up on his saddle to increase his output. A few seconds later, Gregawatt vaults ahead of Jack Bauer.

VADAS: We're back in fourth place. All right, we'll try for third. I'm going to see what this guy has.

SACHS: Today, he won't catch the top rider, Big Poppa, from New York, but he did come in second. Either way, Vadas still counts it as a win.

VADAS: You know what? It's fun, and that's all that counts, as long as it's fun and efficient.

SACHS: For NPR News, I'm Rob Sachs.[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, we refer to Peloton spinning classes. Peloton is not affiliated with the Spinning brand.]

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