Ally Love smiles softly at the camera. Sitting on an exercise bike in an empty Peloton studio, Love stretches one arm toward the ceiling and the other triumphantly toward the audience at home. As she looks straight into the eyes of her followers, she says:
“I leave you with this. … May you always do everything with peace and do it with love, because I am Ally Love and you are love.”
To the uninitiated, this might sound like an evangelical church revival or a motivational speaker’s thunderous words to a rapt, paying crowd. But Love’s audience is spread all over the country, pedaling in their spare bedrooms, living rooms, or garages — many in matching purple workout sets emblazoned with Love’s name.
This class is part of Sundays With Love, the flagship series of Love’s Peloton offerings. Love may be a spin instructor, but being part of the “Love Squad,” as she calls her fans, is about more than getting in a good workout. Love has transformed her rides into part sermon, part TED Talk: Her riders aren’t just coming to work out, but also to fundamentally improve themselves and their lives.
“You feel as though she's speaking directly to your struggles,” Shannon Parker, a 29-year-old Peloton rider from Chicago, told me. “She's a bright light that brings me back to the bike when I need something more than just breaking a sweat.”
“Fitness and working out has always brought forth feelings of judgment and self-doubt for me, but Ally brings a message of the opposite, challenging us to be our best selves on and off the bike,” Parker continued. “It goes beyond the workout and gives you the added confidence I craved long before I owned a Peloton.”
Her riders aren’t just coming to work out, but also to fundamentally improve themselves and their lives.
Love’s spiritually and emotionally fulfilling workouts have made her a bona fide star for Peloton, where she has worked for five years. She now has nearly 850,000 followers on Instagram, sells Sundays With Love merchandise so riders can “wear love” on their sleeve, and works as a motivational speaker and as a host for the Brooklyn Nets. She is the CEO of her own women’s empowerment company, also called Love Squad, which hosts events and networking opportunities. She founded the company before joining Peloton but has deftly incorporated the brand into her persona on the bike, forming a new legion of devotees.
Peloton doesn’t provide statistics on the popularity of their instructors, but a Facebook fan page for Love has more than 22,000 members and her last edition of Sundays With Love has been taken by nearly 75,000 riders. Off the bike, Love has become so famous that her proposal was featured in People magazine and her wedding in Vogue.
Over the phone in February, Love told me that her career is about more than her own success. She wants to change people’s inner selves, not just their bodies: “I want to continue to share what I've learned and what I've experienced,” she said. “I think through storytelling and testimony, people change their lives.”
Picture this. You have been stuck at home for weeks, unable to see family, friends, or even that random stranger you came to recognize on your commute. Your gym is closed, your office is closed — even the coffee shop down the block is closed. You have limited contact with other humans and must confine your entire life to the radius of your home. But you have your Peloton.
It’s hard to describe how intimate the relationship with Peloton instructors can feel to people who have never taken a class, but let me try. I have always loved the exuberance and connection of group fitness and am a true believer when it comes to a collective workout experience. I clapped and shouted in SoulCycle and breathed my worries out deeply in yoga. But when I took workout classes at home, I could never really stay focused. That is, until the pandemic, and Peloton.
Maybe it is the Peloton special sauce. Maybe I was starved for human contact. But the parasocial relationship I developed with the company’s instructors during the pandemic was greater than any I previously had with influencers or celebrities. When I shut the door, put my headphones in, and hop on the bike, I really feel like the instructors are speaking directly to me. I’m a fan of Jess Sims, a former basketball player with several catchphrases she repeats to cheer on her “team.” When I ran a 10K last year, I surprised myself by repeating her mantras in my head throughout the race. When she tells me not to quit (even if I am, at that moment, totally quitting), I swear she can see me through the screen. Other instructors have loyal fans too. Upbeat and sassy Cody Rigsby has his #boocrew and is known for his jokes and dancing on the bike, while Jess King hosts her own series, which she calls a “dance party.”
For many Peloton riders, this connection was a lifeline during the early stages of the pandemic, creating a sense that they weren’t just working out at home, they were part of a movement.
“It wasn't until the pandemic hit that I really started drinking the Kool-Aid,” rider Yasmina Pettine told me. “At the time I was struggling to lose weight, I was stressed out from a toxic job, and then perpetually stuck at home. The bike became my outlet, and the instructors were the only people I ‘interacted’ with for months during the height of the pandemic.”
And for members of the Love Squad, this movement is about more than just exercise. It’s about enlightenment and self-improvement.
“I really connect with Ally's brand of empowerment and spirituality,” said Jessica Flores, 35, of New York City. “She's like the voice you wish you had in your head reminding you that you are more than enough and you're amazing.”
During her rides, Love often espouses her personal dogmas, encourages her riders with analogies and stories, and spreads the Love Squad edicts of hard work, finding your own path, and enjoying each day.
“Take stock,” Love said during one Sundays With Love ride. “Take deep, internal stock of who you are, who you want to be, and who people say you are. … Small habits build character.”
“It's hard to explain or quantify what listening to someone saying positive and encouraging things to you for 30 minutes straight (or however long the class is) can do for you,” Flores said. “But, essentially, they make me feel great and really lift my spirits.”
Parker told me that taking a Sundays With Love class feels like “church.” And like a church service, Sundays With Love is not just about the sermon, but about coming together in a community. Peloton has many tools that make people feel connected virtually. Riders can see who else is taking the class, as well as their bio information and photos, and can “high-five” each other on the screen as they pedal. Parker has found these virtual interactions to be a good substitute for in-person community.
“Even from home, you feel a level of connection that's hard to replicate,” she said. “While I'm not physically in the studio, I feel connected, supported, and motivated.”
Love never intended to become a celebrity fitness instructor. She spent most of her childhood studying dance, and after high school moved from Miami to New York City to attend Fordham University and study fine arts. (Love declined to confirm her age.) She auditioned for Ciara and Beyoncé, went on to dance for the New York Knicks from 2009 to 2015, and toured with multiple ballet companies throughout North America.
Constantly putting herself out there and facing rejection from a young age was a formative experience for Love, giving her an unbridled sense of confidence.
“It was a confidence that was a byproduct of having nothing to lose, because I already heard ‘no’ so many times,” she said. “So it was like, If I get a no, I get a no. I've been there before, but the time I get a yes, it's worth it.”
She eschewed the notion of a typical 9-to-5 job, instead seeking to become a multihyphenate. Feeling frustrated by what she viewed as the lack of resources for women who do better in nontraditional career paths, she decided to create a site called Love Squad in 2016, an online space that would empower women “through conversations that educate, motivate, and inspire,” as the website states.
To Love’s surprise, Adidas soon noticed her “rinky-dink website,” as she called it, and asked her to write for its blog. It eventually made her a global ambassador for the brand and more opportunities followed. She hosted a Love Squad women’s empowerment event, and it was so successful she began holding them monthly and partnered with businesses in New York to host even bigger events.
Then, in 2016, she got a call from Peloton. Its team had seen her work and wanted her to audition for the company as a fitness instructor. Their inquiry seemed odd to Love because she had never taught fitness before.
“My natural response was, Nobody really wants me to teach fitness,” she said. “I don't really have anything to add. … I was an athlete in my own right, but not necessarily someone who wanted to be in front of the folks teaching them fitness.” But she decided to try out, attracted by the potential community.
As one of 11 founding instructors, Love had a lot of freedom to design her rides. From the beginning, she set out to integrate the Love Squad ethos into her Peloton brand. She frequently preaches self-love, discipline (telling followers frequently to “boss up”), and empowerment in her rides and strength classes as well as on her Instagram account. She gives her riders a good workout, but what she thinks draws people in are her persona and the mantras she shares on and off the bike.
The Sundays With Love series actually began because no one else wanted to work on Sunday mornings, so she volunteered. When discussing what she should do with the time slot with her then-boyfriend, now-husband Andrew Haynes, Love said he told her he would want to take a “feel-good ride” on Sundays, so that’s what she set out to create.
“It's simple. It's to the point. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing,” she said. “We want to be honest, we want to be respected, we want to feel good. And that's exactly how I show up.”
The series has subtle Christian themes, offering empowerment through an emphasis on “spiritually grounded” movement.
“How can you give? How can you love? And how can you give a little more freely?” said Love during one class, as a song by contemporary Christian singer Lauren Daigle played in the background.
For some riders who aren’t in the Love Squad, the spiritual focus of the Sunday rides can be a bit jarring if they aren’t expecting it. In a Peloton subreddit, one rider said they were uncomfortable when they took one of the Sundays With Love rides and realized it was “super heavy on the Christianity.”
“This community is all about bringing people of all sizes and types together, why are we dividing people by religion? Peloton should either be offering something to all major groups, or not bothering at all,” they wrote.
But Love is quick to note that everyone, regardless of religious background, is more than welcome in the class. She said her “prime priority is to hold and create spaces for people to show up as themselves.”
“I don’t hide the spiritual part of me,” she said. “I am proud of that. That makes me who I am and is a big part of my story, but we are multidimensional humans. I think the connecting point is that I get to show up as me, and [I’m] excited for you to show up as you. Our differences make us unique, but our will to be better makes us stronger.”
One of the ways Love connects with her community is through her Instagram account. Love already knew about content creation because of her company, but Peloton has turned her into a mega-influencer. Last year, Love masterfully turned her five-day wedding celebration in Mexico into content, going private so her fans could see “exclusive” wedding content first and ensuring all of her Peloton coworkers posted photos and videos from the parties at the same time.
The wedding raised Love’s profile and led new members to the squad. Parker, the fan from Chicago, decided to take a ride with Love after seeing her all over social media.
“There seemed to be so much hype and press around her nuptials, so when I bought my Peloton she was one of the first instructors I decided to try out,” she said.
For some, though, the display of Love’s wedding on social media felt a little too perfect. Pettine said that the “simultaneous sharing of identical content throughout the wedding week” that all the Peloton instructors engaged in “was just a little contrived.”
“At the end of the day, I understand the social presence is probably more of the ‘job’ than the classes and it was a strategic way to get engagement and show this life event,” she said. “It was just a bit too much for me.”
Some content creators tend to not like the word “influencer” because it has developed negative connotations, but Love embraces the term.
“I would consider myself an influencer,” she said. “I think most people are influencers. Most influencers know the power they have and the dynamic they have with the community that follows them, and they know the responsibility. I do know that.”
Love engages with fan accounts and groups on social media, although she said she prefers to speak to a bigger audience through her accounts and on the bike rather than responding to individual DMs. She sees communities like the Love Squad Facebook group, run by Peloton members, as proof that her followers are taking her messages to heart.
“I appreciate them,” she said of the group. “We have one of the top followings for any fan group, so that's a big reward.”
Flores said she feels like she fell into the Love Squad because it was exactly what she needed.
“You start out joining a group just to get insight and recommendations and all of a sudden you're celebrating strangers' milestones and buying merch,” she said. “I, for one, am grateful for it.”
The past few months have not been great for Peloton. After losing more than 80% of its January 2021 stock value, the company announced in February it would be replacing its CEO, John Foley, and cutting 2,800 jobs, about 20% of its workforce. The drama has turned Peloton from one of the few winners to come out of the pandemic into a cautionary tale. Despite this, Love said she remained loyal to the company.
“I love the fact that they give me a space to be myself,” she said. “I feel at home in our community and with our organization.”
However, she has goals of spreading the Love Squad even further beyond the bike. When I asked what her plan for “world domination” was, she laughed but didn’t seem to hate the idea. Love wants to write a book, grow her social media presence, and hold events. Eventually, she envisions creating her own media production company, to be called Love Squad Productions.
“How can I continue to give more than I take?” she said. “The more that I can give — I think that, to me, is tapping into my superpowers — and that is world domination.” ●