Peloton Trainers

Peloton's Instructors Have Created a Devoted Fanbase of Fitness Fanatics

These masters of motivation get members excited to tackle tough challenges in and out of class.

No, it’s not just your imagination: Peloton does, in fact, have a cult-like following. If you aren’t an avid user (yet), you might be saying to yourself, “It’s just a cycling workout, right? Why are people so obsessed?” Well, sure, the brand offers cycling workouts — and strength, running, boxing, yoga, and more, FTR — but the real answer lies with its roster of instructors who have become known as masters of motivation, utilizing catchphrases to get members psyched on fitness, and building celebrity-like status along the way.

Peloton Instructors
Peloton outfit. Jordan shoes.

Emma Trim

The fitness equipment and workout live-streaming brand launched its first bike in 2014, aimed at bringing the boutique cycling experience into members’ homes. And while its popularity climbed over the next few years (especially as they continued to add other fitness modalities, such as running, strength training, and rowing), it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020 that the brand became an almost-overnight phenomenon. Over the next few years, Peloton seesawed between astronomical growth and worrying setbacks (including a safety recall of the Tread+ treadmill and a dip in sales leading to company-wide cuts in 2022). 

Still, throughout and despite its business ups and downs, one thing has remained constant: the love and adoration for Peloton’s star trainers. With motivating mantras such as “You don’t have to, you get to,” “When you feel like you can’t and you do, that’s when you find your power,” and “Never cloud your confidence,” it’s hard to not feel motivated during class and hungry for more. Shape spoke with three Peloton instructors who have built fiercely loyal fanbases — Callie Gullickson, Camila Ramón, and Jess Sims — to learn how they make people feel seen in a way that motivates them through tough workouts and hurdles in daily life.

Callie - Peloton Instructor
Peloton outfit.

Emma Trim

They Know That Fitness Breeds Resilience

When you start making exercise a part of your life, you notice that something magical happens. Your attitude starts to shift — not just during your workouts, but in everyday life, too. Suddenly, a task that felt monumental before doesn’t seem so hard. It’s as if all the “I can’ts” in your brain have slowly morphed into “I cans.” That’s because physically and mentally, you’ve been proving to yourself that you can do what you set your mind to, and that’s a pretty powerful thing.

Research backs this up: According to 2020 research in the journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, women who regularly strength train are more equipped to persevere through other challenges in life, as Shape previously reported.

“How you do anything is how you do everything,” says Sims, a former collegiate basketball player and current co-host of College GameDay on ESPN. In fact, this is one of the star trainer’s go-to mantras, both in class and out. “It’s a reminder that you can’t just half-ass things when you're working out or in life,” she says. “There’s going to be a time when you really need to be your best, and unless you’ve practiced performing at your best, you can’t just flip a switch and turn on your best.” The time you spend exercising is just that: practice for pushing through difficult things, for overcoming mental and physical challenges, and for trying your best. “It’s literal repetitions of doing hard things, so when you are called to do a hard thing outside of working out, you're like, ‘Oh wait this is what I do. I’m built for this,’” says Sims.

For Sims, there’s an undeniable connection between what she does in her training and the rest of her life. For example, if she’s sitting down to craft a playlist for class, gear up for a photoshoot, or consider her opening lines at an upcoming hosting gig, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and let self-doubt creep in, she explains. But then she thinks back to what she recently accomplished — whether hitting a new PR in her deadlift or mastering a new skill — and focuses on how she felt in those moments. “I can literally cross reference that, and I'm like, ‘You can do hard things. This is tough, but you’re tougher,’” she explains. 

Similarly, Ramón says that fitness has helped her build confidence to rise above the pressure and hustle of building her career as an immigrant in America. (Ramón was born in Argentina and raised in Miami.) The mental strength she built during her workouts — and the practice of taking small, challenging steps toward a larger goal — fueled her to keep going, she says. “I thought, ‘I’m not really sure where this is going to take me, but I have faith in myself, and I believe in myself that if I continue to work hard that something will happen for me,’” says Ramón, who ditched her desk job to pursue fitness in 2016. That’s the kind of confident mindset athletes develop through training.

“The number one thing I get asked as a Peloton instructor is, ‘How do you stay motivated?’” adds Gullickson, who trained as a dancer for years before becoming a fitness instructor. “When I think of motivation, I think of the desire to want better for yourself, to do better for yourself. So when it comes down to that, I know that strength training just makes me feel so confident about myself, and that translates so much to life beyond the mat and bike,” she says.

Peloton Instructors
Peloton outfit.

Emma Trim

They Make Fitness Fun

There’s one piece of fitness advice that has withstood the test of time (because it works!). It’s that the best workout is the one you actually enjoy doing. Gullickson, Ramón, and Sims make sure that you’ll have a good time in their classes — so that you actually want to keep taking them.

“It’s really hard to motivate yourself to do something if you’re not enjoying it,” says Ramón, who turns to humor to keep her classes fun and make the effort feel more lighthearted. Specifically, the Latina instructor whips out Spanglish phrases that she knows will make people laugh. Think: “No pata sucias,” which essentially means “no dirty feet” in Spanish. “In Miami, it’s used to describe someone who takes their shoes off at the club [when their feet start to hurt from high heels or all the dancing],” she explains. “So I’m like ‘There’s not going to be any quitters in class today, you’re not going to be a pata sucia, you’re going to bring your flip-flops if you need to, you’re going to modify, but you’re not going to quit.’”

One of Gullickson’s go-to sayings during her Peloton classes also sums up this outlook on fitness nicely: “We take the work seriously but not ourselves,” she says. “I think the main barrier to working out [for many people] is that [you think] it’s going to be too difficult, and you don't feel like working that hard today — and newsflash, you don’t have to,” she says. If you’re not feeling that 45-minute class, try a 10-minute workout instead. Or take the structure out of the activity entirely, and just have a dance party to your favorite throwback jams at home. Finally, know that you can always take a rest day if that’s what your body needs. Forcing yourself to do a specific exercise routine is a great way to make movement feel like a chore, which isn’t exactly going to leave you coming back for more. Thinking of it as something you get to do, as Sims says — feeling gratitude for the ability to move your body — can turn exercise or activity into something you actually look forward to doing.

“Sometimes too much pressure is not fun whatsoever,” says Gullickson. “When you expect perfection, you’re going to resent it and automatically burn out and not want to do it.” That’s equally as true for fitness and pretty much any other task or activity you tackle in life.

You also want to keep your expectations realistic about what fun actually means. “Not every workout is going to feel like Disneyland,” says Sims. “Not every workout is going to be amazing, but you shouldn't hate your workouts.” If you do, that means you haven’t found the right routine, schedule, or training style for you yet. “If you’re finding you’re really not enjoying something, do something [that you know you do] enjoy at least until you build that discipline of getting your body moving on a daily basis,” she says. Then, once movement is a mainstay in your routine, you just might find it’s a lot easier to add new types of activity — maybe even those you didn’t think you’d like.

Peloton Instructors
Peloton outfit. Jordan shoes.

Emma Trim

They Make Sure You Know You’re Not Alone

Even people who work out for a living and have achieved celebrity status within their community still have days when they don’t want to work out. And there’s something so reassuring about knowing these ladies (and the rest of the Peloton team, for that matter) are not, in fact, superhuman.

Sims says there’s a huge number of workouts — maybe even the majority, depending on the week — that she’s not in the mood to do. But that’s when she taps into her “arsenal of whys,” or the core reasons that physical fitness is important to her, and calls on the discipline she’s spent years honing to drive her into doing the workout anyway. She wants members to know that it’s okay to not feel motivated and to focus on making fitness a habit — so that they have the discipline to lace up and get moving even when their motivation is low.


For Gullickson’s part, she makes sure to let you know when she, too, is struggling during classes. “That really makes us connected on a whole other level,” she says. Connection is what makes everyone feel comfortable being vulnerable — which is necessary to push past your perceived limits during a workout and beyond. 

Another way these instructors connect with members: During class, they are able to see which participants are meeting specific milestones — for example, their first-ever Tread Bootcamp class, their 200th cycling ride, or their entrance into the “comma club,” as Sims calls those who have reached more than a 1,000-class benchmark. They then recognize these members aloud by shouting out their username and accomplishments. For some people, that personal connection might just be the spark of motivation they need to keep going during a challenging spot.

“Sometimes we’re working out and we feel like we’re alone and all of a sudden you get a shoutout and you’re like, ‘Wait, we’re in this together, there are other people on this leaderboard, there are other people feeling the same way I'm feeling right now,’” says Gullickson.

Peloton Instructors
Peloton outfit.

Emma Trim

They Focus On What Your Body Can Do — Not What It Looks Like

“For a long time, I struggled a lot with my body image and the way that I would motivate myself was from a very negative standpoint,” says Ramón. “I’d say, ‘Why aren't you strong enough to do your workout? Why isn’t your body changing? Why aren’t you losing weight?’ And I was eventually like, ‘This is not it.’” So, Ramón says she made the effort to change her relationship with her body and conversation she was having with herself — and she started to have fun with fitness. “Once I just focused on having a good time, everything changed for me, and I really started to enjoy training again,” she says.


This message is something Ramón says she tries to send to her followers as well. In class, you can often hear her say, “You have one body! You might as well have a good time in it.” She hopes her messages around body positivity will resonate and stay with people long after class has ended. “I hope to plant a seed in people’s heads that eventually leads to the internal work and conversations we need to be having with ourselves to better the relationship we have with our bodies and to have self-acceptance and compassion.”

Similarly, Gullickson says she wants people to stop thinking about working out as something you do simply to look a certain way. “[Movement] is for feeling a certain way and for being confident,” she says. “When you’re confident about yourself, you can truly spread that good energy and make this world a better place.”

What’s more, she hopes people will begin to see that fitness is not a fad but rather a form of self-care. “When you realize that, it will change your life,” she says. In fact, members often tell Gullickson that her classes have changed their lives simply because they feel stronger than ever before, she explains. Being able to pick up both your kids at once, or lift your dog, or just carry your Trader Joe’s groceries (Gullickson is clearly one of the grocery store’s number one fans), are small wins that add up to so much more.

“When it comes to fitness, a lot of people look at working out in two ways,” she says. “That the sole purpose is to look a certain way, which in reality, you will lose your motivation if that’s your main goal. And the other way you can go is that working out to feel a certain way, and that will ultimately make you feel good. When you feel good about yourself, you’ll always come back for more.”

Credits

Photographer Emma Trim

Hair & Makeup Lynsey Buckelew

Editorial Director Alyssa Sparacino

Creative Director Jenna Brillhart

Social Direction Marietta Alessi

Special Thanks to Peloton

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