Let's Get Physical

The commodification of exercise is not new, but we live in a highly commodified world, so naturally, this has been taken to a new level. No longer are we just talking about Jane Fonda workout tapes or even Yoga With Adrienne, this is next level.

The experience of exercising at home has been given a glow up, because even though you may be physically at home, there is a slew of companies which can make that experience so unlike being at home, but all from the comfort of your own home. A key point.

The much spoke about Peloton is in Australia. From what I understand, Peloton sells spin bikes. You buy the bike, the shoes etc. and then you pay an ongoing membership. The trainers themselves are a key part of the business which Anne Helen Petersen wrote about in this edition of her newsletter. I am unclear as to whether the classes are live or not. I have been familiar with Peloton for a little while because I watch a lot of YouTuber’s who are in the UK and it is quite common for them to have or contemplate having a Peloton. I spend around $150 a month on a gym membership. Which at once seems both up there and quite reasonable when you consider options like F45. This gives me access to the gym and unlimited classes. Now these classes are online, in live time and I credit them with keeping me sane during Melbourne’s lockdowns.

There is an argument for just finding workouts for free online but, and perhaps this is something I just tell myself, the trainers keep me accountable. I like to think I have willpower but if someone wasn’t on the other side of that screen encouraging me to keep going, I wouldn’t be hopping around the local cricket oval five days a week.

Exercise and lifestyle are indistinguishably linked. When everyone started wearing active wear constantly, there was a strange time when working out was considered in the equation. Now no one blinks twice if you are wearing leggings when pants may be the more appropriate choice. The semiotics of active wear still suggests that you just were, or at some point will be working out. And as we like labels, decreeing yourself as someone who works out gives you permission to buy into the fitness industry. This is not completely separate from, but not at one with the wellness industry.

The fitness industry has gone through many cycles, and as previously mentioned as brought us to the most aesthetically pleasing workout from home. My Instagram feed has been filled with influencers doing their Fluidform pilates at home. The fitness studio I heard of via Pip Edwards.

Interestingly, we seem to want a workout that is once both generic and personalised for us. The ultimate goal of much of our iTechnology. Perhaps I am paranoid but after I learnt Peloton was coming to Australia, I started seeing an increase of Nordic Track ads. The commercials, which I mainly saw whilst watching SBS OnDemand showed insanely fit people in empty rooms on the equipment. At first it seems that the magic is on their screen until suddenly the walls open up and a personal trainer is encouraging them to ‘come along’ and just like that, our initials model of an exerciser, are no longer in the light filled room but jogging along the equally attractive trainer on what looks like a hill in California.

Another entry into the market is Shelter. An Australian based brand from influencer (it feels like such a lazy word when a lot of these people run businesses, but anyway) Carmen Grace Hamilton and her partner. From what I can gather, you can buy a bike and pack (very similar to Peloton’s) and then cycle around the amazing landscapes Australia has to offer. All from home. Via a screen. Shelter does have a studio in Sydney but with current restrictions I am not sure what that situation looks like.

I don’t have any opinions on these systems one way or another. I go to the gym when I could walk around the block, so I am not anti-spending money on exercise. It’s the evolution of places like this I find so interesting, the branding, the motivations. Even the idea that you are fitter because you exercise at one place over another, or it’s more authentic because your trainers do or don’t wear matching outfits is interesting to me.

I do think it’s good to bring exercise to the fore. But I worry it’s not in an authentic way. So often we watch television shows, movies, whatever, where the people look fit. But throughout the series we never see them go to the gym or whatever. They’re just presented to us that way and we take it. Social media is just as dangerous and the Four Corners episode about TikTok and this very topic is illuminating. The reason I bring this up is because before I was looking at all these celebrities and their VMAs outfits. And then it occurred to me the amount of money, drugs and other things that goes into them looking like that.

So, when we join Peloton, the gym or whatever, what are we trying to achieve? And is seeing the elements from our screen the same as seeing the elements? And why do we all have to have the same experience of it?

I think I have just opened a can of worms for another time but would love to hear your thoughts.