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Feel good, do good: When your fitness studio is about more than just sweat

A SoulCycle ride hosted by Victoria's Secret models that donated money for Pelotonia, an organization that works to end cancer. (Photo: SoulCycle)
Victoria’s Secret angels hosted a SoulCycle ride to raise money for Pelotonia, an organization that works to end cancer. (Photo: SoulCycle)

What if you could justify your $34 spin class for some reason other than the fact that it’s a great workout (and your legs have never looked better)?

Lately, the boutique fitness scene is putting more heart into heart-pumping workouts with lots of studios building a charity component into their rates. Consider it the TOMS and Warby Parker of working out: if our glasses and shoes can give back with every purchase, why can’t our fitness addiction?

National brands are starting to think it can. SoulCycle and Barre3 already have a habit for giving back, whether through offering charity (and sometimes star-studded) rides and classes. Cycle House in Los Angeles donates meals for every single ride in their studios, and New York City’s The Movement sends $1 from every class to The National Brain Tumor Society.

That’s not to mention trainers like Holly Del Rosso and Natalia Petrzela, who work to help underprivileged girls get healthier and more confident through their own charities. More and more, the idea of living a healthy life includes not just taking care of yourself, but helping others do the same.

Natalia Petrzela with spin instructor Dyan Tsiumis at a HealthClass 2.0 event; and Maria Menounos at CycleHouse. (Photos, from left: Natalia Olivares; CycleHouse)
Natalia Petrzela with fitness instructor Dyan Tsiumis at a HealthClass 2.0 event; Maria Menounos at CycleHouse. (Photos, from left: Natalia Olivares; CycleHouse)

So how—and why—do fitness companies make a difference? 

At Cycle House, for every one class that a rider takes, the brand donates two meals to hungry Americans in need, through organizations like the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. “It’s our belief that for-profit businesses have a responsibility to give back to the community in any way that they can,” says Cycle House co-founder Adam Gillman. “If every for-profit business built social responsibility into their business model it would change the world.” And there are others who share his sentiment.

Sadie Lincoln, founder and owner of Barre3, believes that being a force for good in the community is her job, too. Since the company’s inception, it’s hosted local food drives and offered donation-based classes to raise money after natural disasters on a global level.

Recently, Lincoln has upped the ante on Barre3’s charity commitment by partnering with Every Mother Counts, donating 10 percent of certain class packages to the non-profit starting next week. Studios will also accept cash donations to support the organization’s efforts to make childbirth and pregnancy safer for women worldwide. “Helping mothers—be it through staying fit during pregnancy, getting strength back after kids, or even providing childcare in our studio—has always been a big part of what we do,” says Lincoln, who walks the “give generously” talk. “Every Mother Counts makes such a difference.”

What impact have fitness studios made? 

Considering that these are brands with cult-followings and classes booking up for weeks at a time—that kind of manpower can definitely make a mark. At Cycle House, it’s a whole lot of meals for people in need. “Since opening our doors in October 2011, we have donated more than 350,000 meals,” says Cycle House co-founder Lara Gillman.

In 2014, SoulCycle raised more than $2 million for charity for organizations like Pelotonia and the CFDA’s Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, and donated more than 9,000 classes to charity auctions. This year, the national indoor cycling brand hopes to launch its SoulScholarships program across the country, which will provide underprivileged teens with cycling classes (and the necessary accoutrements), as well as mentors.

With outcomes like these, it looks like the money you throw down for your sweat session benefits way more than your muscles. —Molly Gallagher