How Cody Rigsby Went From Struggling Back-up Dancer to Top Peloton Coach
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they’re doing now is not what they initially set out to do. Making major professional changes—even mid- to late-career—can often lead to more fulfilling and successful outcomes. That’s what our series The Pivot is all about. Each month, we speak to founders, business leaders and entrepreneurs about how—and why—they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here, we speak to Peloton instructor Cody Rigsby.
Peloton instructor Cody Rigsby has developed a cult following for his hilarious and relatable messages of encouragement. He’s become known for cheeky catchphrases like telling riders to climb hills with the furor of catching your man cheating. While leading sweaty cycling and bootcamp classes for Peloton’s nearly seven million members, Rigsby gives shoutouts to “everyone who didn’t peak in high school,” calls himself a trashy bitch and loses himself to pop music, twerking and body rolling mid-workout.
His hilarious and high-energy approach has made him one of the most popular instructors on the platform. Last year, Rigsby’s classes surpassed the 100-million-streams mark. And now, he has his own series, “LOL Cody” (think talk show on two wheels, featuring celebrity guests such as Carly Rae Jepsen and JC Chasez), which has already racked up more than half a million rides since launching in November.
While the buff 35-year-old is in his element, Rigsby’s current gig is far from where he started. Rigsby grew up in Greensboro, N.C., and was raised by a single mom. He loved to dance as a kid, but with barely enough money for food, lessons were out of the question. So he’d learn dance moves by watching videos on shows like MTV’s Total Request Live. He eventually took his first classes at a community centre–the only free ballet classes available. “I was 18 and 6-foot-2 and taking class alongside 12-year-olds,” he says. “I had to start somewhere!”
Rigsby held a few summer internships at New York City’s Broadway Dance Center throughout university, and after he graduated from the University of North Carolina Greensboro where he studied consumer apparel and retail studies, he moved to the Big Apple for good. He worked in freelance fashion PR while auditioning for dancing gigs, and got his first paid job dancing back-up in The Real Housewives of New York’s Luann de Lesseps’ cabaret show in 2010. “Dancing for her and singing ‘Money Can’t Buy You Class’ was tragic and trashy, but I was so happy,” he says. From there, the dance jobs started coming in for big names like Pitbull, Katy Perry and even the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Despite his professional dance career taking off, Rigsby felt stuck. He was booking work but it was inconsistent; he found himself craving stability. He recalls thinking, “Hey, universe, world, God, Britney Spears, whoever’s listening–I’m ready for something new. I don’t know what it’s gonna be, but throw it my way.”
A few months later, in 2014, a choreographer he was working with at Manhattan nightclub The Box mentioned an exercise start-up called Peloton was looking for performers that were into fitness. The company was opening up the Peloton Cycling Studio in New York City and was hiring instructors. Rigsby saw the opportunity as a way to make some extra cash, so he sent his headshot and résumé in and was hired on the day of his interview. At the time, Peloton was selling internet-connected bikes and monthly class memberships so riders could stream indoor cycling workouts at home, either live or on-demand.
“I infused storytelling and who I am as a person to create a space where people felt welcome so that exercising and fitness wasn’t scary”
At the beginning, he spent a lot of time watching the other instructors teach cycling classes, like coach Robin Arzon, who Rigsby calls “a badass multi-athlete.” “I’d observe and infuse what she was doing in her classes into what I was doing,” he says. But ultimately, copying her style never felt authentic to him. So Rigsby analyzed his classes every day to see what was getting traction from riders and what type of response he was getting on social media. “It always brought me back to this place of levity and fun—making working out silly,” Rigsby says. “That’s when I started to invest my time and energy into it, and lean into the entertainment factor. I infused storytelling and who I am as a person to create a space where people felt welcome so that exercising and fitness wasn’t scary.”
The brand started building its ridership and slowly grew. In 2019, the company’s revenue was around US$915 million, doubling its 2018 revenue—despite that 2019 viral holiday commercial when a husband buys his seemingly terrified wife a bike. When the pandemic hit, both Peloton and Rigsby became household names. With people stuck at home and gyms closed, Peloton sales surged 172 per cent in 2020, and Rigsby was dubbed the “King of Quarantine” by riders throughout the lockdowns. He now has the most Instagram followers of any of the platform’s instructors at upwards of 1.3 million.
That’s not to say there haven’t been ups and downs during Rigsby’s time at Peloton. The high demand for its bikes and treadmills during the height of Covid in 2021 led to product-shipment delays, as Peloton’s manufacturer struggled to keep up with orders. The company also recalled its treadmills after a child died in an accident on the machine and dozens of others were injured. The organization had another hit of bad publicity when Mr. Big died from a heart attack after riding his Peloton bike in the Sex & the City reboot, And Just Like That. By late 2022, Peloton let go of hundreds of employees in several rounds of layoffs as sales slowed and revenues dropped. But Peloton CEO Barry McCarthy, a former Spotify and Netflix exec, might be turning things around: He is focusing on growing its digital app and adding Peloton subscribers through a bike-rental program, among other strategies. Shares in the public company were up about 71 per cent as of mid-February.
Rigsby’s life has been in overdrive ever since the pandemic. Feeling the need to recalibrate, he took a pause this past summer to prioritize his own mental health through meditation, therapy and talking with friends and colleagues. These days, Rigsby plans each of his classes, creates playlists for them and teaches multiple live sessions a week. While he’s as busy as he was when he was working as a dancer, the hustle and bustle is tied to a purpose, he says. Rigsby believes that Peloton members have a connection to the workouts and community. “It creates joy and changes members mentally, physically and emotionally,” he says. “I’m always honoured and really grateful for that because I think a lot of us have jobs that we don’t feel are connected to a larger purpose.”
Up next, he’s currently working on a book. Perhaps a self-help book composed of his sassy hot takes? Details are still under wraps, but Rigsby is adamant that he wants to continue to be a community leader who prioritizes mental health and physical wellness. “But also someone who is willing to say when I’m having a hard time, or don’t have it quite figured out,” he says.