This story is from the 2017 Access FYI: How Young Innovators Are Connecting the World. Explore more from this issue

Nourishing Body, Mind and Communal Spirit

Group fitness is taking an innovative, distinctly interpersonal new twist.

CrossFit made a name for itself not only for combining multiple forms of exercise into a comprehensive workout but for fostering a spirit of community and an almost cult-like loyalty. Now boutique fitness studios such as SoulCycle are taking it to the next level, boosting the heart rate while nourishing the mind and spirit — and forging relationships in the process.

All-important, high-intensity cycling aside, SoulCycle uses candlelight, celebrity-like instructors and pulsing music to strengthen the body, calm the mind and create a shared experience. It seems to be working: Participants report an energy and a camaraderie that keep them coming back.

As SoulCycle moves from innovation to institution, others are jumping on board. Rise Nation offers a group training experience that uses climbing equipment for a workout that founder Jason Walsh hopes will change bodies, minds and lives. POUND fitness classes aim to “launch people to new heights of self-worth, happiness and human connection” when they use drumsticks to create rhythm while performing elements of cardio, strength training and yoga. Fly Feet Running combines a high-intensity mix of speed, hills and intervals with strength and stretching exercises, a combination intended to transform both body and mind. And Mile High Run Club, known for group treadmill training, conducts a Namaste Sweating class that ends with a calming meditation.

Meditation and More

Mile High may be on to something: Research shows that group workouts incorporating meditation and other spiritual cues provide a shared experience that forges personal connections. In a report called How We Gather, authors Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile note that millennials are attracted to organizations, including fitness studios, “that deepen community in ways that are powerful, surprising, and perhaps even religious” in their search for physical and spiritual health.

Perhaps the most interesting fitness phenomenon right now, however, is a mash-up of sorts: group training at home. Peloton pioneered the idea with live and on-demand group bike rides — complete with what they call “elite instructors” — that you access from a bike configured with an internet-connected touchscreen. It now offers a library of more than 3,000 on-demand rides as well as at least 10 live rides every day.

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