As popularity increases, YouPower strives for inclusion through spin

By BENJAMIN GLASS

SOPH CHARRON
Abby Okin ’20 leads a spin class last Tuesday, one of two weekly sessions she teaches as a YouPower instructor. This is Okin’s third semester teaching YouPower classes.

Hidden among the grey folds of the Freeman International Center — a bunker-like building known for its brutalist exterior — the YouPower spinning studio might just be a quintessential “diamond in the rough.” The blacked-out 1500 square foot studio has everything you’d expect in a fully-functioning “soul-cycle”-esque pain-cave: riders in bright lycra uniforms, massive speakers, racks of spin shoes, colored dumbbells, folded towels, floor candles, and, in the middle of it all, 22 well-oiled spin bikes.

“Once you get to the studio, the instructors do everything,” said YouPower co-president Anna Hubbell ’19.5, who teaches classes on Monday afternoons and Tuesday mornings. YouPower offers over 19 cumulative hours of instructor-led spin sessions every week, an activity that promises enough EDM and sweat to last you the entire semester.

However, the YouPower of today is unlike what is used to be. The idea to turn the Freeman International Center space into a spin studio was conjured after the organization’s original concept came to fruition — a project to increase energy awareness on campus. In 2012, a group of Middlebury students received money to create a spin-bike system that stored energy in a generator. At the time, YouPower leadership led events like Watt-a-thons, where participants tried to produce as much power as possible in a session. After a few years, however, this initial experiment died out, as the power-generation component of the studio became less of a focus. YouPower’s advisor, Franklin Dean-Farrar, cited that the spin bikes were able to generate an underwhelming amount of energy, which led to disinterest. The studio then became, in essence, a satellite workout room where students could spin when they wanted to without trekking to the athletic center.

“The YouPower room really provided, and still provides, a workout space across campus,” said Dean-Farrar, who has been involved with the organization since its founding. Both Dean-Farrar and Hubbell stressed the importance of the studio being across campus from the athletic center.

“The founders thought it would be a good idea to keep it on the other side of campus as an alternate space for people who didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym or for people who live far away from the athletic center,” Hubbell said. 

YouPower was still undergoing drastic changes when Hubbell and co-president Andi Evans ’19.5 became involved with the organization. It was moving towards a more organized form of spinning, one that involved instructor-led classes, loud music, and a brand that focused on personal development and well-being. This is the YouPower of today.

INCREASING POPULARITY

In the last few years, YouPower ridership has increased significantly.

“YouPower has become more of a household name across campus,” Hubbell said, citing the increased number of riders and instructors involved since she came to Middlebury College. “It’s been really exciting seeing a ton more students walk in through the day, and seeing full and waitlisted classes. YouPower is definitely on peoples’ minds as a way to work out during the day.”

Isla Bowery ’20.5 said that she started spinning her sophomore year, and since has regularly attended YouPower sessions multiple times a week.

“There was a learning curve [at first],” she said, “but you just have to jump into the deep end.” Bowery said that even though she felt a little intimidated at first, she enjoys the fact that in the studio you can still concentrate on your own performance. “Everyone is so focused on their [own riding]; you’re not in a spotlight like you are in the weight rack in the gym,” she said. 

One reason for YouPower’s increased success as a spin studio has been the recent efforts by leadership to decrease financial barriers to entry. Recently, YouPower’s $17,000 annual budget has been used to buy new spin bikes and buy equipment for participants to use. In the summer of 2018, the studio received a donation of around 40 pairs of spinning shoes.

“As presidents, Andi and I have tried to make YouPower accessible for everyone on this campus,” Hubbell said. To further increase accessibility, YouPower has tried to get their name out into the campus community as a fully-equipped spin-studio free of charge. The group started going to club fairs in the fall of 2018, which Hubbell said has been a successful advertising strategy.

“When I started it wasn’t uncommon for less popular time-slots to only have three riders in the class,” she said, citing early morning and later afternoon classes as the most popular. “Now we are seeing those [unpopular] timeslots frequently fill up.”

Another reason for the popularity can be attributed to the collective and peer-to-peer nature of the activity, something the Dean-Farrar has witnessed as Assistant Director of Athletics for Operations and Events.

“What people are looking for is a lead-bike in the front of the room, loud music and an actual spin instructor leading the class,” Dean-Farrar said. He said there is something about group-led exercises, like YouPower, Middlebury Crossfit and yoga classes, that are popular at the college. “[Andi and Anna] have done a tremendous job with the organization,” Dean-Farrar said.

YouPower attendence by month for the last 3 years. The organization has seen as rise in the amount of full and waitlisted classes, and also visibly more people walking into the studio.

SPINNING CULTURE

YouPower has been acknowledged by some students for being intimidating, due to the fairly homogenous demographic that attends spin classes. Bowery said that she has seen more men attend classes recently, in an activity that is dominated by women. In October, the Local Noodle ran a satirical article that jokingly described YouPower as an organization that idolizes “super-hot blondes.” The Local Noodle declined to comment when asked about the motivation behind the article.

Hubbell stressed that inclusivity is one of YouPower’s top priorities. 

“I want YouPower to continue to be a comfortable and welcomed space on campus, and this is something that can be constantly developed and thought about,” she said. 

This year, nine instructors, or about 40% of YouPower’s leadership, will graduate, leaving a large opening for new initiative. Hubbell and Evans hope that new instructors will get involved and continue the club’s trajectory of the past several years. 

“I want [YouPower] to continue to foster an environment where people feel welcome and supported and comfortable trying something new,” Hubbell said. 

If there is anyone that would convince you to go to a YouPower spin session, ask Hubbell. As soon as she arrived to campus in the February of 2016, Hubbell began attending spin sessions in hopes of picking up a new athletic endeavor in lieu of tennis and field hockey, two sports she played in high school.

“After I went to a bunch of YouPower classes, I quickly realized I wanted to be an instructor,” she said. “I feel like I have a group of people to rally behind in place of being on a sports team.” As for getting new students to attend classes, she is really enthusiastic about spin. “Spin is the best workout you can ask for on a college campus,” she said. “All you have to do is get yourself there.” Likewise, Bowery praised spinning as a form of escapism. “Middlebury can be such a pressure cooker,” she said. “YouPower is very efficient and a very effective form of exercise.”

To sign up for spin classes, visit mindbody.io.

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