The chubby, unathletic person’s guide to DIY Peloton

I live in Massachusetts where it’s uncomfortable to exercise outside during the winter and I share a world where it’s dangerous to exercise at a gym or studio during a pandemic. It would be good for me to get some exercise during the winter — far more pressing, though, is that my girlfriend turns into a gremlin if she doesn’t move her body each day.

The love of my life.

She is also cheap and I am too annnnnnd google docs are our love language, so we decided to figure out a DIY Peloton set-up.

Background, etc. (scroll, as they say, for recipe below)

I came to body awareness late in life. I was definitely the kid in third grade who was almost last in the “run the mile” portion of the President’s physical fitness test. I’ve never done a pull-up and I don’t really care to. You will not pick me for your softball team and I react like George Michael Bluth when you toss your keys to me.

In December 2017 I hit my head sledding and I also got Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch which meant that I fucked up my noggin sooooo bad playing (and beating) it 8 hours a day over the holiday break while suffering from a concussion. Yes, I was having terrible headaches as I played. Yes, I collected every star. When I finally went into the doctor the first week of January she nearly lost her mind hearing about my “recovery practices.”

You-a fuck-ed it uppa soooooooo bad!

That winter and spring, my motley crew of doctors and physical therapists helped put me back together and I went on partial medical leave from work. Meanwhile, I came to truly understand what a couple decades reading feminist theory couldn’t convince me of — I am not a brain in a jar floating around this world. I am in a clumsy meat body and my experience on this planet is highly dependent on its functioning. (I had understood the core point that my experience in my body is an interplay between the hardware of birth, the software of conditioning by family, culture, and society, and the peripherals of how I modify and discipline my appearance. Power, performance, roles, expectations, bodies are such a drag, etc. Regardless, my hardware had definitely been in the benign neglect / deferred maintenance phase for a long time.)

Two things about recovering from a head injury — it gave me the emotional range of a four-year-old (crying, impatience, irritability) and I also wasn’t allowed to do anything that engaged my visual cortex (reading, screwing around on the internet, playing Mario, everything else that gave me joy) for more than a few hours a day. It was winter in Massachusetts and my spouse had just left me (a never blog post for a never time).

So I had to figure out stuff to do that was allowed so that I wouldn’t die of boredom and loneliness. Instead of sporadically going to the yoga studio in town whenever my friend suggested it as a hang, I signed up for the January 30-day challenge and, since I literally had nothing else to do, I went every day.

There are a lot of essays on the internet about how yoga changed a person’s life and it makes me so, so happy to read about people finding peace and meaning. Yoga doesn’t necessarily have that role for me (I find life’s meaning through a combination of Jesus and observing humans’ capacity for weirdness/creativity/transcendence), but I DEFINITELY like taking time each day to sweat and move and stretch. I liked that I felt like I had more control over my body — I’m better able to think about what I want my body to do or where I want it to go, and then make it do that. I like that I can tell my stupid brain to chill out for 75 minutes — it’s not wanted or needed here.

Shut up, brain, or I’ll stab you with a q-tip.

I also signed up to use a personal trainer until I realized that I was spending all my money paying a 22-year-old cishet white dude to cheerfully yell at me.

I’ve been a not-thin person my whole life and I thought that exercise evangelism is a form of fat-hatred — and in some cases, it totally is. But it’s also annoyingly true that I sleep better when I exercise, I think better, I’m better able to regulate my emotions, and I feel like I have much more control over how my body feels.

Anyway, whatever, I like exercise. Which is why we spent a few hundred bucks on a spin bike set-up.

The Pelo-non, or DIY Peloton

First of all, this has all been done before. We were grateful for the following blog posts:

Honestly, though, old-fashioned personal recommendations did us in. Our friends recommended the Peloton app at a barbecue and a friend on Twitter recommended the Sunny bike in particular.

The bike

#PracticalEffects

I do not have $2400 to spend on a Peloton bike. If you do, I bet it’s really good and totally worth it.

We did like a whole comparison spreadsheet and everything and tried to come up with our criteria and ended up just buying the most well-recommended mid-range one, the Sunny SF-B1805. It has a belt drive and magnetic resistance, which means that it is basically silent. I have to turn up the music or class or whatever really loud because otherwise there’s nothing to drown out the noise of my heavy breathing. It cost $600 with free Amazon shipping. It came in like two days and our UPS dude was surly because it weighs a zillion pounds.

We considered bikes that have trackers that display on the bike (cadence, resistance, etc.) but unless you buy a much higher-end bike, they seem kind of shitty and they don’t tend to inter-operate with relevant fitness apps.

I really like this bike. I like that it doesn’t try to have its own trackers and display — I like hardware that does one thing well. The seat and handlebar are adjustable enough that my 5'0" girlfriend and 5'6" self can both be comfortable. It’s not a huge footprint in our apartment and once the wheels are installed, it’s pretty easy to move around.

The Sunny comes with cage pedals but you can swap out clip-ins. It might be awhile before I get so obsessed that I decide to buy special shoes.

Trackers

Okay so I use the Peloton app for classes and I really like it. The teachers (coaches? whatever) are young and cute and look at the camera and flirt with you the whole time. I’ve done a few spin classes now but also some yoga classes and some guided stretches. They’re all great.

My girlfriend is a cyclist and likes to go climb hills outside. She’ll occasionally invite me to come with her and I occasionally stop halfway up a hill to whine and complain. This is to say that I don’t have great cardio endurance. I’m starting with beginner classes, and I like that they’re pretty short, they feel pretty rigorous, but I definitely get to control the experience.

I wear a heart rate monitor, which to me is the best gut check about whether I’m pushing myself appropriately. Classes are guided workouts where two basic elements are manipulated — cadence (or speed that you’re pedaling, which can be tracked with a cadence tracker) and resistance (which is managed by a knob on the bike).

The Peloton app is about $13 per month, and it’s only a personal subscription. If you get the bike, you can have a bunch of family members with individual accounts on the same billing account. Despite some confusing messaging, this isn’t the case with the app — if you want to track just your workouts, you have to have your own app subscription. It’s free right now for the first thirty days. If you know me IRL or over Twitter or whatever, feel free to follow me — I’m maureencallahan.

Oh I ALSO love YouTube videos of biking around beautiful places. Thanks to Oliver on Twitter for recommending some good channels.

Display

I have a four-year old shitty Chromebook and it totally displays the Peloton app. It’s kind of weird that they hide that there’s browser capability, but there is. Lots of people have tablets, and that’s a great option if you have one but I didn’t see myself buying one just for this. I also like that the screen on the Chromebook pops up so that I’m not as hunched over the bike to look at the tablet.

Price

In total, after the bike, the cadence tracker, the heart rate monitor and a cheap set of two-pound weights, we spent under $750. I love money and I don’t love spending it on stuff like this. Something encouraging is that it’s clear that these bikes keep their value on the secondary market, so if we find that it becomes a clothes hanger, we should be able to sell it and reclaim some of the cost.

More personal stuff / unsolicited advice, this time about concussion recovery

BTW, in the unlikely circumstance that you have found this and you are also suffering from post-concussion syndrome, particularly the migraine part, here’s what worked for me:

  • There could be no healing without good sleep. A few months in, my doctor put me on a low dose of amitriptyline at bedtime (a antidepressant developed in the 1960s that is not often used for depression anymore because it’s such an effective sedative) and after a few weeks of good sleep, migraines were rare, I was less irritable, and everything was just enough easier.
  • I also did physical therapy which I didn’t think would work but totally did. It wasn’t until after I met with a nurse at my neurologist’s office that this was even suggested as an option and it was great. They do a combination of massage and stretches to relieve tension in the skull and neck and spine.
  • Exercise (see above). It’s so fucking annoying that it works but it does.
  • FeWeR rEsPoNsIbIliTieS. This is annoying. I am annoying! I have a job that has a lot of responsibilities and I honestly had to just tell everyone that I was going to be bad/absent for awhile and made it someone else’s problem. I also don’t have children, which meant I could pretty much check out.
  • Ritalin, for when I have to power through, as prescribed by my neurologist. Her first advice is to not schedule brain-intensive activities after 2:00, but if I have to do it, I have a pediatric dose of Ritalin. It totally works.
  • Rely on your friends and call your mom if you have one that you feel okay about calling.

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