Small Screen Star
ALEX TOUSSAINT, A FAVORITE AMONG PELOTON FANATICS, HAS GAINED A NATIONAL FOLLOWING AS A STANDOUT PERSONALITY IN AN EMERGING MEDIUM: THE INTERNET-CONNECTED EXERCISE CLASS
Remember when it was the height of modernity to pop in a Tae Bo exercise DVD and sweat it out alone in your living room? Today’s phenomenon is the live and on-demand, at-home workout class on an internet-connected indoor-biking system called Peloton. Founded in 2012, the company has grown exponentially and is about to go international, with bikes soon to be sold in Canada and England. And with the connected workout comes America’s latest twist on the celebrity export: the Peloton star.
Alex Toussaint got his start in 2013 working at FlyWheel in East Hampton—then going on to be a FlyWheel leader from Manhattan to Dubai. Today, he is a member of a highly elite cadre of a dozen Peloton instructors who reach clients through a desktop-size console touch-screen that sits at the front of each bike. With his upbeat personality, big smile, and model looks—no surprise he’s being featured in television ads—Toussaint at 26 is, some say, the most popular trainer Peloton has.
Were you always interested in fitness?
Growing up, just because I had two older brothers, I was always outside. I wasn’t the kid who was in the house doing video games. . . . My parents kept me in basketball and karate, just to give me a little bit of structure. I think that my fitness background, the core of it, actually came from military school and that discipline aspect.
How did you get your start?
I left college—I was going to school in Rhode Island—and I was kind of in between finding myself and figuring out how to maneuver in this real world. I was confused, to be honest . . . confused and kind of lost. I started out at FlyWheel Sports as a maintenance worker, just to make a little bit of money to support myself outside of school, and a lovely lady by the name of Ruth Zuckerman—she’s actually one of the founders of FlyWheel—gave me an opportunity to become an instructor.
That was FlyWheel in East Hampton?
Yes. . . . That’s kind of where my motivation for instructing came about. I used to sit outside the door and listen to the instructors teach—the music and different techniques for motivation. I would tell myself, “I could do this.” Then, one day, I just walked in there and said, “Teach me how to do this. I think I know what I’m doing. Just give me the game plan, the route on how to execute, and I’ll figure it out.” Ruth Zuckerman took a risk on me.
You’ve mentioned that your parents, especially your mom’s being an academic, supported you even though you decided not to go into academia?
It’s like the Kanye line: My momma told me go to school, get your doctorate / Something to fall back on, you can profit with / But still supported me when I did the opposite. My mom and I joke about it all the time. I remember I had to borrow $150 from my mom to pay for the instructor certification. I remember her saying, “This better be worth it. You better actually do something with this.” Now that $150 has changed my life.
How did you come to Peloton?
One of my friends was working at Peloton and she reached out to me. She explained what Peloton was all about and how they were going to bring fitness into the future. At first, I was hesitant. I was happy at FlyWheel. I love everybody over there. But my parents helped convince me to take the leap of faith. I could see what they were doing creatively was going to be amazing and I wanted to be a part of it.
Was there any sort of audition process?
Normally there is an audition—but for me, they sent a Peloton scout to take my class. . . . I guess that was my audition right there.
Do people stop you on the street?
Quite often, actually. I live pretty close to the studio [in Manhattan], so it happens a lot. When I’m outside of New York—that’s the crazy part I’m trying to get adjusted to. I love it. I love meeting people I’ve never seen before, who ride with me all the time.
What’s it like to have the recognition?
It’s always humbling. I’m never going to get used to people coming up to me and saying, “Oh my God. I love you,” because that’s pretty weird, but you also feel happy with yourself, that you’re doing something correct because you’re making people smile.
Can you put a number on your devoted fans who never miss a class?
I have a 6:30 ride on Mondays that gets around 500 to 600 people live. Then thousands follow, once it goes on-demand.
It is a performance in a lot of ways.
It is 100 percent a performance. A lot of people think I’m just getting on a bike and making a play list, but it’s so much more than that. Every second of my class is accounted for. Every song is accounted for. I schedule out my rides a month in advance.
What is your favorite music to play?
Definitely hip-hop. Without a doubt.
You have a saying, “Feel Good. Look Good. Do Better.” Where did you come up with that?
I went through a low period after college and I was just trying to find ways to get myself out of the slums to motivate myself, and a pep talk was just one of those things that helped me out a lot. So I used to tell myself, “If you feel good, you’re going to look good, you’re going to perform better.” That just became a natural thing to say and I would just tell myself and over time I started to say it on the bike and people used to like it and catch on. This might be my tag line!
What’s it like when you come home to East Hampton?
Coming back home is all love. I think, for me, when I get to see my friends’ parents and they say, “I take your class now”—or people I’ve never met before from town say, “Oh my God, you’re from East Hampton. I get to ride with you every day!”—it’s a welcoming experience.
It must be nice, too, when you see East Hampton or Montauk or Southampton come up on the screen.
I make it a very big point, if I see East Hampton, Sag Harbor, or any one of those towns, I make it my duty to shout that town out. I’m not even going to lie to you, I will scroll past everybody else to get to that one person. You’re my hometown. I’ve got to show you love. •
A graduate of East Hampton High School, Toussaint is now frequently stopped on the street. Isaac James for Peloton photographs.