Ask any woman what her least favorite part of going to the gym is and she’ll likely tell you it’s the men. Whether it’s the lurking eyes, unwanted conversations or — God forbid — physical touching, female gymgoers are no strangers to unwelcome advances while they’re simply trying to work out.
A recent study conducted by RunRepeat found that of the 1,107 female gymgoers surveyed, 56% have experienced harassment at the gym to the point that they’ve canceled gym memberships or changed their routine, clothes and/or appearance when going there. Per the report, 92% of cases of harassment against women at the gym go unreported.
So when the world shut down nearly two years ago and virtual workout platforms like Peloton were suddenly all the rage, this rather unsavory element of gym life should’ve vanished, right? Not exactly.
On Reddit, female Peloton users have been expressing frustrations and concerns over harassment they’ve faced on the famed workout platform via its “High Five” feature. Three months ago, Redditor u/pedalpower2020 posted in r/pelotoncycle — “the world’s largest Peloton community” — about an uncomfortable experience they had with said feature. The post received nearly 300 comments, the majority of which were from fellow riders detailing similar encounters.
If you’ve never been on Peloton, you might be confused as to what the High Five feature even is. Essentially, it’s a tool that enables you to cheer on fellow riders while you ride. You can give someone a High Five in a live or on-demand class, and when you receive one, a notification will pop up on the bottom left side of your screen. Peloton has cautioned that users can’t give or receive more than one High Five a minute to a single member in order to avoid it becoming a distraction.
Still, the feature is being abused, and mainly by men, according to female riders.
In the initial Reddit post, u/pedalpower detailed how a fellow rider incessantly High Fived them during a 45-minute ride. When they went to investigate their spammer, they discovered it was a male rider who follows around 400 other riders — all of whom are women.
“By this point I have about 10 minutes left in my ride and this man has High Fived me at least 15-20 times, and I’ve got the sinking feeling that this is some type of sick attempt to flirt or to let me know he’s got his eye on me,” read the post. “This felt like harassment and it left me feeling deeply unsettled to imagine that a man on the bike hundreds of miles away was getting some type of pleasure out of this routine.”
Nicole Leonard, who has been a Peloton user since January of this year, tells InsideHook she has experienced multiple scenarios like the one described in the Reddit post, with the most aggressive incident happening three months ago.
During a ride, Leonard explains she received a High Five and instinctively High Fived the person back.
“You have the High Five feature to the left side while you’re riding and because you’re very in this zone, you’re working out hard, you’re sweating and it’s torture, you don’t really pay attention to what’s going on.” When she High Fived a second time, she realized it was the same person who she had High Fived before.
“I didn’t know you could do that. I assumed it went away after you’ve done it once, but you can actually continue to High Five. Then it just started popping up multiple times. They’d High Five, High Five, High Five, and it was very odd to see it, so I just closed the notifications and continued my workout.”
When she got off the bike, Leonard noticed her perpetual High-Fiver had begun following her profile, a scenario she’s now experienced a few times.
“I’ve had three individual people High Five me, me High Five them back and they’ve all followed me after — and they’ve all been men.”
Leonard notes the incidents did not make her feel excessively uncomfortable, mainly because there is no in-app messaging system or method for communicating with another rider through the platform. She also says no one has tried to contact her via her Instagram, even though her account shares a similar username to her Peloton. Still, she found the incident strange.
Heather, another Peloton member who has been using the service since 2017, tells InsideHook she began experiencing harassment on the platform shortly after the High Five feature was introduced.
“For the most part, people would High Five once at the beginning of a ride, or if we were playing ‘bumper cars’ on the leaderboard. On one of my rides, I returned a High Five that I’d gotten, and then they immediately sent another. I got at least 10 High Fives from the same person in a 30-minute class. I noted their username to see if I could do anything to block them after the ride was over,” she says.
She notes the incident was not necessarily alarming at first — just annoying. Then she looked up the person’s profile and found it was a man who not only followed her, but also hundreds of other users who all appeared to be women.
“Every photo was of a woman who looked similar to me: white or Hispanic, dark hair, and in their 20s or 30s. At the time I had a public profile, so I didn’t know how long he’d been following me. When your profile is set to private, you have to accept follower requests, but public profiles just get a ‘you have a new follower’ email that I usually ignored.”
The incident prompted Heather to turn her profile private and remove her location from her bio.
“I’d never really cared about strangers being able to see my Peloton profile because there was so little personal info on it, but this situation really creeped me out. I also removed the follower, but was pretty surprised that I didn’t have an option to block him.”
There are a limited number of actions users can take to prevent harassment on the online workout platform, and zero solutions to the omnipresent High Five problem. You can set your Peloton profile to private, which will prevent other members from viewing your full profile and workouts information unless you accept their follow request. However, users can still search you, and whether you’re public or private, you have no option to turn the High Five feature off, nor block another user.
When InsideHook reached out to Peloton for a request to comment, the company said in an email they are looking into complaints raised about the High Five feature, and encourage any members who have experienced issues involving it “to reach out directly to us or file a complaint through our website.” But when Crystal O’Keefe, a Peloton member since 2016 and the co-host of a Peloton podcast called The Clip Out, reached out to the company after a High Five incident escalated, Peloton essentially blamed her for it.
She tells InsideHook she began receiving High Fives from a particular person that had been blocked from all of O’Keefe’s social media accounts.
“I made it very clear I did not want to speak to them anymore, so I blocked them on Instagram and Facebook and all of my other social media, but I couldn’t block them on Peloton. So I stopped following them, and I removed them from my follower list, and I thought that would be the end of it,” she explains.
It was not. This particular user, O’Keefe explains, ended up following her from class to class, High Fiving her over and over again.
“What really ended up bothering me about it the most is that I contacted Peloton and described my concerns, and they said that this person High Fives people, so it was no big deal. That’s just what they do.”
O’Keefe then received a letter that was sent to her home address.
“Right about that time, this person had gone out of their way to obtain my mailing address at my home from another individual in the Peloton community. They sent me a letter, which in the letter, they were apologizing for what they had done. I don’t want to make it sound like it was threatening or anything like that, but it was my personal home address, so I felt like that was too far,” she says.
“When I explained to Peloton I really would like a way to block people — it makes me feel unsafe, it makes me feel like I’m being contacted — they said, ‘Well, you have in your location line that you were celebrating today. So really, that’s your fault. That’s why they reached out to you.’”
(For those unfamiliar with “celebrating” on Peloton, when you reach a milestone, like 500 rides, you can put that number in your location settings, which will increase your chances of a Peloton instructor seeing it and giving you a shout-out during class.)
“They said there was nothing they could do,” continues O’Keefe, “and gave me a link to send any future issues to. So basically, they just shut me down. And to this day, every time I take a class on Sundays, this person finds me and High Fives me multiple times, to the point where I don’t even take classes on Sunday as much.”
Peloton is first and foremost an online workout platform, but it’s user-driven, interactive functionality means it’s encroaching on social-media status, and the company seems to understand this. In a blog post written by Team Peloton, the company outlines all of the community features that’ll help members “stay connected.” The High Five feature itself shares a similar mechanism to Facebook’s poke feature, and when it’s not being abused, is intended to help riders interact and motivate each other. It’s also well-known among community members that the feature is sometimes used to flirt.
It’s odd, then, that Peloton doesn’t implement more protective features, like the simple “block user” function most social sites have, to help users ward off unwanted interactions while they work out. Many Peloton members who have expressed issues with the High Five feature also make it clear that they don’t believe the feature itself is the problem, and simply wish there were more options to prevent harassment.
“For the most part, I don’t mind the High Five feature at all,” says Heather. “The vast majority of people use High Fives the right way, and it’s encouraging. It’s a nice way to be able to interact and feel that community feeling even though you’re working out at home,” she says, adding that having an easier way to report a user would be helpful. If there were a “report profile” button, Heather says she likely would’ve used it on the profile that was spamming her.
Other members, like O’Keefe, believe Peloton should implement a block function or enable users to turn off the High Five feature altogether.
“We get on a bike to have a good time, to feel good, and it’s very upsetting to have somebody in your face that you don’t want in your face. It should not be something you are forced to deal with. It can not be that difficult to turn [the High Five feature] off, and I would personally rather have the ability to not receive any High Fives than to not be able to block a person. I just think that they should have both of these things,” says O’Keefe.
“I still really enjoy my bike, and use my Peloton app to workout at least a few times a week. I haven’t had many issues like this, but even one is too many. I shouldn’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable in any way when I’m using a fitness app, and I’d like to see Peloton offer a convenient way to advocate for yourself or flag inappropriate behavior,” adds Heather.
Besides adding standard anti-harassment features, members also seem to want the company to take their concerns seriously, and listen to their members who have put a lot of time, money and miles into Peloton’s services.
“It’s a little disappointing that whenever I reached out to Peloton, I was shut down so completely,” expresses O’Keefe. “I’ve been a part of the community for a really long time, and I don’t expect to get special treatment because I do a podcast about Peloton, but I feel like since I’ve been around in the community so long, and I’ve never complained about anything like that, to me, that should be heard.”
“It’s a little disappointing to me that Peloton has kind of gotten to this point that they only hear things if there’s a news article about it and people make a big deal,” she continues. “That’s disappointing to me as a consumer.”