Adjusting the way we exercise has been just one of the many ways the pandemic has irrevocably altered life as we knew it, particularly for myself. As a former Classpass-subscribed YMCA member with an enthusiasm for in-person cycling and hot yoga classes, the lockdown forced me, and many others, to totally rethink the way we approach personal fitness.
Which is to say nothing of how the pandemic upended the lives of the people we trusted to instruct us in these endeavors. Even more so than the music industry, the fitness industry has endured unrelenting restrictions with fewer opportunities for relief from the federal government or any other type of aid. Instead, they watched as former clients gleefully posted about their new Peloton bikes and subscribed to apps that advertised unlimited classes for just $20/month, whereas a single drop-in fitness class in the before-times would cost at least that much. While the live music industry could not be replicated on an app, fitness classes could, no matter how inferior the product, and these instructors, many of whom spent years and hard-earned money investing in their training and certifications, watched it all unfold helplessly.
Well, perhaps not so helplessly – which is where NuSweat enters the narrative. NuSweat is an online (and now in-person as well) fitness platform driven by great music and dedication to creating fitness programming that works for ALL bodies, in a fun, friendly and inclusive environment. Founded on New Years Day 2021 by Leigh Barton and Ky DiGregorio, two stalwarts of the NYC underground music scene and former cycling instructors at Monster Cycle (a sort of anti-Soulcycle studio in Chelsea that closed in 2020), you won’t hear anything about “burning off your dinner” or “earning your dessert” in a NuSweat class, but you will hear some bumping tunes and unpretentious, delightfully real encouragement from instructors who want to make your work-out work for your body.
Barton and DiGregorio dreamt of beginning their own collaborative fitness brand long before the pandemic, but Barton explains that it was the push they needed to get the ball moving. “While everything shutting down was a massive challenge in some ways, it also made us become a bit more resourceful, and the shift of the landscape allowed new methods to come through,” she says. “Everything happened, I don’t want to say at the right time, but we kind of came up with alternatives to what happens if gyms don’t reopen, or what happens if where we were working previously doesn’t reopen? We were just ready to go.”
And go they did. Wrapped in iridescently-colored cyberpunk packaging, they began offering classes in Pilates, “flow” (the NuSweat equivalent of yoga, focused more on movement and flexibility and less on the spirituality and impossibly bend-y poses that turn some newbies off), strength-training, HIIT, focused stretching and even cycling for those who had stationary bikes at home. They leaned into their hard-earned community of “weirdo” clients who didn’t fit the mold of the “traditional” fitness class attendee you might see in a Lululemon advertisement – in other words, people just like them.
Barton says that “knowing there were other people who were like us, [who] didn’t look like fitness models” was instrumental in developing the brand’s ethos, one focused on fun and feeling good. “The first time I auditioned for a fitness role was at Soulcycle, and I remember the instructor I rode with and really liked told me, ‘listen, Leigh, I’m one of the only people here who doesn’t look like a fitness model. You are different and you like weirder shit and that is something you’re gonna have an uphill battle with, basically.’”
But instead of changing herself to fit this mold, Barton sought out spaces that would embrace someone who “likes weirder shit.” She began teaching classes at Monster set to the metal, experimental and emo music she loved, where she met DiGregorio first as a client, then as a friend, and eventually as a colleague once DiGregorio got her teaching certification and joined the crew there. There they formed their community of fitness misfits who wanted to find a movement practice that saw them for who they were, rather than compelling them to transform into something entirely different.
While the tunes are a huge part of the NuSweat brand – they offer themes as far-ranging as SZA and ’60s soul to Black Sabbath and the Matrix soundtrack, with seasonally-themed programming thrown in – inclusivity is perhaps their most definitive value. Their Instagram bio reads “FITNESS FOR EVERY BODY,” and every class offers both easier and more difficult modifications so you can customize your workout depending where you’re at that day, in terms of energy, ability and injuries. You’ll frequently hear them reassure you throughout the workout that it’s okay if you can’t do something the first time – it’s the first time you’re trying it, after all! – which seeks to encourage newcomers to keep coming back.
“There wasn’t really a space for that, and [I] was just getting really tired of people who were coaching from a place of, I don’t want to say negativity; we did have peers who were really cool and uplifting in some ways but were like ‘burn off your dinner’ and shit,” Barton says. “I was like dude, I’m not coming here to hate myself or punish myself. I’m here to have fun, to meet other people.”
Because there wasn’t a space like that, they created their own. Since starting the platform in January 2021, they’ve opened a small studio in East Williamsburg for in-person classes and one-on-one personal training (as well as vintage clothes and CBD goods). It hasn’t been without challenges, of course – the whiplash of COVID variants constantly forces them to adjust their plans, and the ebb and flow of fitness throughout the year (i.e. big rushes in January and leading up to the summer months) are harder to predict in a digital space. And of course, it’s challenging to watch friends and former clients post about their Peloton workouts, but still, they persist.
They continue to churn out fresh themes, fun merch, pre-commit programs and monthly challenges to keep old and new clients alike engaged and excited about working out. They continue to offer flexible pricing for those whose income has become unpredictable due to the pandemic. As they enter their second year of business, Barton says, “We’re ready to keep doing fun shit. Really we’re just happy that we’re still here chugging along, and that people stick with us and are feeling better about their bodies, and not just doing it to lose weight or have abs or whatever the fuck.”
So there you have it – whenever you’re ready to join Team NuSweat, Leigh and Ky will be waiting with open arms (and inboxes – they encourage you to DM them if you’re unsure about starting a new fitness routine!). Time to get moving, on your own terms.