For some, working from home provides time to binge watch shows, master some dishes in the kitchen, get reading done, and tackle new projects. For others, the sheer idea of being stuck in one place is anxiety inducing. Inertia keeps them going. Inertia keeps them sane. Inertia is their calm. Many pro athletes fall into that category — staying static isn’t exactly in their very nature, and between being used to traveling, constant motion, and structured workouts, athletes gain strength from routine. Much of that routine is rooted in that very inertia.
When that’s taken away, a sense of self can be lost. While some of that can be filled with video games (which admittedly help many players as a relative substitute for meditation), time with family, or other hobbies, the workouts alone are still needed. Like many in the workforce today, pro athletes more so than others identify with their profession. When their job is taken away, when that sense of community is removed, it can be isolating and lonely and be an utter drain on self-confidence.
That’s where Alex Toussaint comes in. A senior instructor at Peloton, Toussaint uses his background and his own personal journey to inspire riders in his classes, many of whom are pro athletes themselves. Masked by leaderboard names where they can stay relatively anonymous, Peloton rides allow them to track their metrics, compete and chart their own personal growth, get hyped up by contoured playlists, and use the teaching Toussaint gives to feel as though they’re getting the personal touch they’d be getting from their trainers in their respective sports. It’s not the same as on-court time, or live reps, which are irreplaceable.
But it does scratch an itch many other workouts can’t, as it’s been hyped by everyone from Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt to Cam Newton and the Golden State Warriors. Classes can be taken live – although in-studio live classes have been paused through the end of April, with live “at-home” classes beginning April 22 – or on demand, and often clusters and groups will pick a recorded class to take at a certain day and time as a chance to build community and compete against each other.
Many pro athletes have gravitated towards Toussaint specifically for his style and approach. For that, he feels a responsibility to those riders, just as he does his advanced cyclists, or those stepping on the bike for the first time. UPROXX Sports had the chance to speak with Toussaint about his experience, and his role in an athlete’s fitness journey in strange times.
Martin Rickman: I’ve noticed more athletes, more pro guys tend to ride with you than anyone else. Do you have a reason for that in your head or something that you feel like has really connected with those guys?
Alex Toussaint: I think for me, just being like a young kid growing up, always wanting to be a pro athlete, always having dreams that they can enter the NBA. I think that I bring my competitive athlete’s side to my Peloton approach. Also, I went to military school, so I have a real militant boot camp discipline format of how I structure my class. Then on top of that, the music that I play, like I said, I was a kid growing up wanting to be a pro athlete like some of these guys who are taking Peloton now. So I’m listening to the same music I listened to in the locker rooms, the same stuff they’re using on pregame warmups.
I think there’s a relationship where it’s like they’d get on the bike, they’re still getting that full on pro athlete mindset kind of workout with the same music that they’re accustomed to while they’re training for what they’re training for in their respective sports. I think that’s why athletes are tending to navigate towards my rides, just with that similar relationship going on.
What is it about the bike that really resonates with really peak competitors, whether it’s Olympians, PGA tour athletes, NBA players, NFL players? Do you think it’s the metrics available or is it the sense of community that even when you’re by yourself, you feel like you have a team behind you?
I think that honestly, it’s the combination of everything that makes the Peloton bike what it is. I think it’s a combination of the hardware, the software, the instructor that’s on it, the music that’s playing. I think it’s really a combination of everything. There’s not one piece that’s really left out. I think it just also, allows the athlete in the comfort of their own home to keep to, to have that competitive edge, whether they’re competing with other athletes that they know are riding or whether they’re competing against themselves and improve your score the last time I got on the bike. Regardless, I always allow them to have a competitive edge and there’s always a level to evolve your game, evolve your hustle. So I think for them, it’s a no brainer.
How did the Cam Newton ride come about in the first place and what was that experience like? How has that kind of shifted your mindset and how you developed classes moving forward with the knowledge that everyone has their own style, but they also have their own audience and you tend to make your rides fit kind of the people that look to you for those sorts of experiences and those sorts of workouts?
Well for me, I think when it comes to my design of class, I’ve always prided myself on being able to teach to every sort of demographic, whether it’s a rock ride, a hip-hop ride, ’80s pop ride, 2000s, whatever the case may be, I find myself being able to teach a wide variety of classes. I think the athletes are just navigating towards my HIIT rides, my Tabata rides and my hip-hop rides a little bit more as what they’re accustomed to. Whereas if the Peloton community, somebody who’s just hopping on for the first time, they might not be ready for a HIIT ride just yet, but that’s okay because I have a pop ride available, I have beginner rides available. So I make sure that I have, actually, every Peloton instructor to be honest with you, we make sure that we teach a wide variety of classes. That way, our members can take a wide variety of classes with whatever instructor they want to.
With the Cam Newton ride specifically, was that something that came from his side when you guys noticed that he had a bike or did you guys reach out to him directly? I noticed that response. That seemed like one of the more popular rides from a total rider standpoint of any of the ones that I’ve taken.
Yeah. That ride came about super organic. To be honest with you, Cam’s team reached out to Peloton and me being a fan of Cam Newton, it was a no brainer for me. So when I met Cam, before he came to New York, I designed a 30 minute HIIT ride, something that I knew was going to be challenging for him, but most importantly, challenging for our members too. I didn’t want to make it just strictly about Cam, even though that he was coming. I wanted our members to also have an open runway to feel accepted into this ride. So that ride was designed for everybody, but within the music itself, I made sure that I made it a little bit more than the Down South hip-hop side, the football kind of anthems and things like that. It was a beautiful concept. I think that in the future, we could possibly make other things like that happen with other athletes, but that was definitely one of my top highlights since I’ve been at Peloton for sure, and even in my career as an indoor cycling instructor.
How proud are you that you can look to this community that you have this opportunity here to keep people growing and keep people focused? Even for myself personally, the bike has been one of the more stabilizing forces in the last few weeks here as everything else seems like it’s been turned upside down. Not only that, to have the entire community behind you, but to have some of these athletes and these visionaries, these guys that I’m sure even you look up to really committing to taking your rides and making that a part of their wellness journey and also, their mindfulness to try to keep pushing forward in that uncertainty.
Especially, now more than ever like for me, when I started my fitness journey, I was asking that individual who was lost after college, had nowhere … was not really having a direction in life and kind of in a dark space. I actually got on a bike the first time in a sense of that gave me that positive light that I was looking for. I never thought that I’d be on the opposite stage of it and be teaching it. Now, that I’m in a position where I could provide light to others and just give other people encouragement and love, especially in a time that we’re all going through this together, I feel now more than ever it is my duty. There’s a quote out there, I forgot who said it, but like when you’re in a position, “those who can, must,” and I feel like especially now more than ever being at Peloton, that I’m in a position to provide light to others out there. So right now, it’s my duty and that’s what’s keeping me going to be honest with you.
With regards to the leaderboard and seeing more and more of these guys who are kind of surprises taking the rides, have you noticed more people being vocal about their public leaderboard names, especially from the athletes? Because a lot of the time, I know at least on some of the Facebook groups, people were trying to investigate, “Oh, this is this person, we think. This is maybe Michael Phelps. This is maybe this guy.” Now, people are sharing their leaderboard names more frequently, especially some of the more high profile guys. You guys always knew who was who because you have the access to that, but it seems like it’s really helping the rider base knowing that we’re all in this together. Everyone can kind of ride together.
Yeah, I think that’s a major shout out for the athletes who are actually doing that because they know that the community out there, we’re all in a position where we have no sports right now. I think it’s just showing the people out there that they’re everyday humans just like us and they need to do things to stay on point just like us. So I think it’s just a call out to the community to be open, to be out here just to support one another and especially right now, it’s less competitive and more just a community to encourage one another out there. I think it’s a beautiful thing of what the athletes are doing when they’re probably showing the leaderboard names. That’s a big shout out to them.
Who has been the most surprising person in the time that you’ve been teaching who popped up?
To be honest with you, it’d probably be Rory McIlroy or Cam Newton.
What has the anchor of being able to continue teaching, continue performing, continue pushing forward, what has that given you from a sense of calm that has allowed you to continue to kind of reflecting that back outward, to give that inner strength back to people who desperately need it? Because a workout journey can be a voice for people who don’t necessarily, I guess vocalize their feelings or emotions all that often, but it’s a chance to channel that energy in a really helpful and positive way.
Yeah, I think now more than ever for myself has been a very humbling experience to being able to teach in a time like this. Obviously, I’m going through the same feelings that a lot of other people out there are going through. Even now more than ever, to be honest with you, I feel like I’m teaching a little bit more vulnerable. I have a little more vulnerability in my classes just because of what’s going on, a lot of emotions. I’m just thankful to be in a position where I could express my emotions in a safe space. I feel like Peloton’s a beautiful safe space where I can express my emotions openly to the people and for them to also support me.
Just knowing that when I get up and get on that stage and the community is out there, pedal stroke for pedal stroke, I’m giving them light. To be honest with you, they’re giving me the same light right back. So for me, it’s been a humbling experience and I’m just blessed to be a part of this company. I’m blessed to be a part of this community. To be in a position to be an instructor is even more of a humbling experience for me. So yeah, that’s just all thanks to the man above, for sure.
You talked about your military background and also, the athlete background that people have. It seems like the tide has really turned from a male masculine perspective to be a little bit more open, to be willing to share those feelings, whether it’s guys like DeMar DeRozan or Kevin Love sharing their vulnerabilities and things like that. Something I’ve been really proud of in being a member of the Peloton community is that we can be open with that, that those things are there, that our scars are who we are. I feel like it has helped kind of stem that conversation and push that conversation forward. How has it helped you and how are you noticing from a male perspective we’re able to kind of break down some of those walls and take away some of that toxic masculinity that’s really hurt the community in the past?
Yeah, I totally agree. I think shout out to DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love and certain players that have stepped up and been vocal about it. For myself, I’m 28 years old. I’ve been in therapy for more than half of my life and it’s been such a journey for myself. I’ve always relied on therapy, but at this point now in life, Peloton’s kind of been my form of therapy in other ways too. Meditation, various forms of therapy to keep me on point and going. I think right now more than ever, we’re at a time where it’s okay to be vulnerable because there’s no individual out there who’s going to out success their childhood traumas or scars. I think for us as men, we tend to walk around with a lot of pain and then we kind of redistribute that pain onto others when we could fix that. We could deal with our internal issues, figure out why we’re moving a certain way or feeling a certain kind of way.
Once we address that, we can turn that pain into power and turn that power into love and then spread that love. That’s what my message is always been about at Peloton. That’s how I’ve been with my entire journey in my last eight years of teaching cycling. I’m very, very authentic in my craft and what I express. I think for me, when it comes to my journey extremely, I only talk about what I’ve been through, what I’m about to go through or what I’m going through in the moment. That’s why I think it’s such a beautiful thing, especially right now, with men being a little bit more vocal because as a person who always hold back my emotions and now I’m on the opposite side where I could be vulnerable and express myself and not feel judged about it, it’s a beautiful feeling. I want everybody to understand and take that time for yourself and really deal with that pain, that internal pain, because you could turn that into power and really save lives out here, for real.
With just how tight knit the instructors are and you guys always kind of feeding off each other, learning from each other, sharing playlists around, doing everything that you do, how hard has it been in these like weird quarantine areas where you’re entering a studio when you don’t have an audience there, but you also don’t have the other instructors there to kind of push and drive you guys? How are you guys keeping each other connected?
Well, obviously we’re definitely doing the Zoom chat frequently to make sure that we’re seeing each other’s face and making sure everybody’s vibe is positive. But the best part about this, we’re supporting one another in each other’s classes. We all are home riders, so we all have Peloton bikes or treads. We’re taking each other’s classes and we’re on the leaderboard live with you. So it’s amazing. When I was teaching class and Becs Gentry celebrating her birthday, to see Robin Arzon out there taking class, [Peloton Founder and CEO] John Foley showing love, we got Jess Sims out there. So for me, as an instructor to see my colleagues at home taking class, honestly, it’s the highlight of when I’m up there live too. That’s one of the biggest things that’s been bringing me joy teaching live is knowing that the community’s there, but my instructors are there taking classes supporting one another.