Aimee Ducharme, a 26-year-old who works at Lole in Tribeca, may be a SoulCycle regular, but she’s only got eyes for one instructor: Stacey Griffith. “I went to a class that Stacey was supposed to be teaching and there was a sub. I was so upset. I hopped off my bike and asked for my money back.” But SoulCycle wouldn’t refund her ride and she stayed for the sub. Ducharme wasn't smitten. “It made me realize that if Stacey’s not teaching, it's just not worth it,” she says.
These days, instructor loyalty runs much deeper than studio allegiance. In fact, some exercisers are so devoted to one teacher that there’s a new term to describe them—fitness monogamists. They've done fitness speed dating and found their true love.
You can see this monogamy-based mindset at work on a new website, Rate Your Burn, where users critique fitness instructors like Tom Colicchio rates top chef contenders on factors like intensity, amount of cardio, music selection and intangibles like charisma that can vary from pro to pro.
This kind of loyality extends to yoga, too. Paul Birch, founder of Birch Coffee and a student of yoga instructor Isaac Pena, says, “There's just nobody like Isaac. He’s challenging, moves me deeply, and it’s also a safe practice.”
A lot of people feel that way about Pena. In fact, Pena’s popularity was the downfall of his small studio Sankalpah Yoga. Pena’s classes were jam-packed, but if he wasn’t teaching attendance suffered. When Sankalpah closed, Pena started teaching at Pure Yoga and Birch immediately joined him there.
Ilaria Montagnani, creator of Powerstrike and Athletica, among other classes, also has a hard-core following that follows her from gym to gym. “For a while I had 30 students who had memberships at both Equinox and Reebok so they could take more Powerstrike classes,” she says.
Janet Ramos, an Upper West Sider who owns a lifestyle management company, is among Ilaria’s most ardent fitness admirers: “I take 4 or 5 classes a week and 95 percent of them are with Ilaria.” Ramos cites Montagnani’s attention to cueing and posture, as her strengths. “She’s constantly innovating and improving, so class never gets boring,” says Ramos who’s been taking Montagnani’s classes for fifteen years, so she’s made it well past the seven-year itch.
What explains this level of fitness fanaticism? “When you’re a strong instructor, of course people are going to follow you,” Montagnani conjectures. “People stay consistent with instructors much more now than 5 years ago.”
It could be that the recent explosion of fitness options—in classes and instructors—actually creates more loyalty. “With so many clubs and so many instructors, people want to figure out who their guru is,” says Montagnani. And it’s about more than just the exercise.
There’s a cult of personality at work, too. Ducharme, the Stacey Griffith fan, says. “Personally, I could not have gotten over extreme heartbreak without her class's motivation and inspiration.”—Alexia Brue
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