Cult Fitness Brands Vol. 1: An Instagram Case Study


Cult Fitness Brands on Instagram

Cult brands create followings that are loyal, enthusiastic, evangelist and near-fanatical. Their super-charged community base goes above and beyond to maintain their relationship with the brand as well as help spread the word. In the world of fitness, this is ever more apparent, as cult fitness brands need to maintain an ongoing, fairly regular routine with their customers. Saying that you’re a member of SoulCycle and Crossfit is a way of describing your lifestyle and commitments and means much more than saying you sometimes go to a yoga class.

According to CultBranding, the seven rules of cult brands center definitively on the brand’s ability to express a lifestyle and maintain their loyal community base. Key traits are that they motivate and spur their consumers on. In fitness, this positive attitude can become contagious, thus contributing the increase of cult fitness brands in recent years. If community and together-ness is a key attribute of cult fitness brands, what better way to exhibit and sustain that energy than with social media? Here are four winning cult fitness brands and how they utilize Instagram to support and grow their community.


SoulCycle started in 2006 in New York, and has quickly expanded to over 41 locations worldwide. In Manhattan alone, there are ten. Soul Cycle’s Instagram strategy lives and breathes their brand and lifestyle by leveraging the influence of their instructors.

Cycle de Mayo! We’re rocking out with @elvisduranshow live on @z100newyork! Tune in! #cycledemayo

A photo posted by SoulCycle (@soulcycle) on

Followers: 89,000+
Average comments/post: 75
Each post gets: 1000-1500 likes on average

SoulCycle tags and @’s a range of instructors through their social media feed. Each SoulCycle instructor utilizes their own Instagram or Twitter account to support the @soulcycle brand by talking about classes and sharing class stories. Some of them are “mini-celebrities”. Akin Akman, for example, is so popular that he has his own fan club #akinsarmy. Akin’s website details all the classes he teaches, allowing customers an easy way to sign up.

The above is an example of a recent post that performed well on @soulcycle. @mdforkos teaching a class on the Elvis Duran Show received almost 2,500 likes from followers, without using multiple hashtags. Clicking further on @mdforkos, you’ll see that the instructor’s feed exhibits the community aspect of SoulCycle, hinting at reasons for customer loyalty. There’s a plethora of SoulCycle dotted through Mark’s feed – including celebrations of birthdays and one-on-one photos with some of his students. Each of SoulCycle’s instructors is directly responsible for creating micro-communities that contribute to a larger whole that is, SoulCycle itself. And when these smaller interactions are shared on individual Instagrams, they feel more genuine and relatable, too.


Like SoulCycle, Zumba also dramatically increased their following in the last decade. In 2011, they already reached more than 10 million participants. Reading the comments on some of the popular posts (that may have over 5000 likes), customers follow specific instructors and are actively discussing them in the comment threads.

Followers: 172,000+
Average comments/post: 5
Each post gets: 1500 – 2500 likes on average

But though Zumba also post photographs of classes and dancers, their Instagram also concentrates on motivational lines with a slice of humor.

But don’t take our word for it. Find a class near you at 😉 A photo posted by Zumba (@zumba) on

How are you celebrating #stpatricksday today? #zumba #letitmoveyou A photo posted by Zumba (@zumba) on

These posts boast more than 4000 likes at a time, easily surpassing photos of classes in their feed. Looking through the comments, most users are @-ing their friends the motivational line and paying it forward, to spread more positive energy amongst the community. With these posts, Zumba gets to spur their community on, with the added benefit of users sharing with others – for an increase in reach by network effect.


Physique57 is slightly smaller than the two above examples in following, but still has a loyal, sizable community that is continuing to grow. Like Zumba, some of their top-performing posts are also motivational quotes. as seen below.

Followers: 10,500+
Average comments/post: 4
Each post gets: 80 – 100 likes on average

Other posts that do well on Physique57’s Instagram include those that show customer and/or instructors having a good time while they do barre. They even documented one of their trainer’s path with barre through and after pregnancy – showing a love and commitment to barre from their team, leading by example for their customers.


CrossFit is perhaps one of the most mysterious of the cult fitness brands. CrossFit participants have a serious commitment to their fitness, and may be the most representative of the phrase, “No pain, no gain”. Their Instagram community is the largest of those discussed so far, and the only hashtag they generally use is #crossfit. They are also the most profilic poster mentioned here, posting up to two times a day every day.

Followers: 757,000+
Average comments/post: 300-400
Each post gets: 10,000+

Typically, CrossFit’s Instagram posts might post a work-out routine, as the one shown above. But they also feature real-life stories and videos of customers who use CrossFit gyms to work out. These are inspiring stories, and may be the real motivational pull behind CrossFit. There are pages of comments sharing videos and also commenting for users.

Like SoulCycle, CrossFit also leverages influencers and power CrossFit users. Dan Bailey, for example, was featured in one of CrossFit’s posts as he trains in the NC CrossFit. Looking on his instagram, he himself has over 139,000 followers, fueling a CrossFit community beyond @crossfit’s own handle.

Takeaways from cult fitness

The power of cult fitness brands lies with their ability to sustain and exponentially grow a loyal community. Although the brands above differ in their chosen exercise, there is an abundance of similarity when we look at their Instagram strategies. Here are some high-level takeaways from their social media strategies:

  • Leverage influencers’ Instagrams (such as instructors and power-users)
  • Spread positive energy through quotes and humor
  • Tell individual stories that people can connect with

These are lessons that could be applied beyond fitness brands, as the strategy is focused on community building. Although the Instagram posts are targeted towards existing customers and supporting their lifestyles with the brand, this ultimately serves present a wholesome image of what that brand community is like. In turn, this may help attract new and potential customers to join, indirectly leading to growth. And as Instagram and social media usages continues to increase, brands will definitely need to continue iterating on their social media strategies to engage and sustain their followings.

Illustration by Andres Maza.

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