Last weekend, I finally made it to SoulCycle, and I am alive to tell the tale.
I had been curious about this “full body indoor cycling workout” for years. I mentioned in an earlier post that my cousin started doing SoulCycle around 2007 or so, when she first moved to the city. She started alternating between SoulCycle and Physique 57 for her exercise routine, and now looks like Kelly Ripa (also a regular at both fitness establishments).
My friend, after reading that post, decided to try SoulCycle herself, and fell in love with it. She has been waking up to take their 6 am classes almost every day, and has been trying to get me to go for weeks. I was free this weekend, and finally bit the bullet and took a class with her on Sunday.
Since I’ve been spinning regularly for about a year now, I figured I would be safe. Still, I’m always nervous about trying new things, especially when they are this physically demanding!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with SoulCycle, here is an excerpt from their webpage:
SoulCycle’s full-body workout has revolutionized indoor cycling and taken the world of fitness by storm. Combining inspirational coaching and high-energy music, SoulCycle offers an engaging workout that benefits both the mind and the body.
Each SoulCycle ride delivers an intense FULL-BODY workout with a fun and energizing atmosphere. Not only do riders burn calories and get their hearts pumping, but using the SoulCycle® Method, riders also work their core and use hand weights to tone their upper bodies. In all of our studios, we ensure that SoulCyclists are treated to the country’s best instructors and staff, trained to deliver unique services and personal attention to all levels of riders.
Celebrities like Kelly Ripa, Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, and Chelsea Clinton frequent the chic spin studios in New York City and LA. Co-founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler wanted to combine an intense cardiovascular exercise routine with a spiritual, inspiring journey, and boom – SoulCycle was born. SoulCycle has become “the thing” to do in the city. Check out their press page to see what I mean. There are always waiting lists for the best instructors, and at $32 a class, I have to wonder what kind of expendable income these clients have! Their Facebook page boasts albums of their popular themed classes, birthday classes, and even bachelorette party and bride classes. Oh, and branding. They have amazing branding. They are the Apple Computers of the spinning world.
I was really, really nervous. I watched this news segment (below) featuring SoulCycle, where they sent one of their news casters to a class and the poor guy got sick! I thought I was definitely in for it:
As soon as I arrived at the Scarsdale SoulCycle studio, I was surprised by how small it was. Everything is shiny and white – the desk, the lockers, the waiting area. Very chic and clean-looking – like a gym/spa hybrid. I was greeted by two young, beautiful, svelte girls who either looked perfect without makeup OR had perfected that “I’m not wearing any makeup” application. I felt like a little bit of a tub in my Under Armour tank top (the only thing I wear to spinning), spinning capris, and Croc sandals. I looked around and noticed that I was in a sea of riders wearing Soul Cycle’s own branded gear. My God, it was a cult!
The girls asked me to sign in, and asked me if I needed shoes. SoulCycle requires that you bring your own clip-in spin shoes, or rent a pair at the studio ($3 a pair). Since this was my first time at SoulCycle, the class and shoe rental were both free. This is a nice bonus, and was definitely an incentive for me to try the class. Everyone was very nice, except for the woman next to me who was breathing down by neck while waiting to sign in. When I stepped aside to let her sign in, the girl explained that they release unclaimed bikes 5 minutes before class, which is why people were so anxious to sign-in. I get it. If I paid $32, I would want to be sure I got on a bike too.
I met my friend and her mom, and we quickly put our belongings into one of the available lockers. I noticed that there was a line for the bathroom – my friend said that apparently there is only 1 bathroom in the studio. For such a popular place, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have more than one, especially since they’re so strict about getting on your bike in time.
There was a fairly mixed group of people at the studio – typical Westchester women, men who looked like they were regular cyclists and bike enthusiasts, and then a few people who didn’t really fit into either category. I have to admit, I was worried that this was going to be a very um, white establishment, but I was relieved to see that there were quite a few African American women there as well. For me, the more diversity, the better.
Next, we entered the studio and went to our assigned bikes. The place felt like a nightclub – it was dark, music was pumping in the background, and there were a bunch of candles in the front of the room. I felt like I should order a drink. They had a big inspirational message on one of the walls, which was a nice touch. Although when you’re sweating your balls off and want to die, I doubt you notice it.
One of the receptionists helped me adjust my seat and clip my shoes into the pedals. Whenever I take a spin class, I always wear my regular sneakers and use the toe cages that you can tighten around your shoe. I like the feeling of being completely secure on my bike. The spin shoes that they gave me however, didn’t feel very secure. My ankle was able to move from side to side, and I felt like I wasn’t completely stable. I asked the girl, and she said she would adjust the pedal and my cleat. Even after she did that, it still didn’t feel right to me, but she assured me that your foot isn’t supposed to be completely immobile during spinning — apparently it’s not good for you. I think this might be true – for all I know, I’ve been doing damage to my knees by having my feet strapped in so tightly during spinning — and I figured these people knew what they were talking about.
Then the instructor dimmed the lights and took the “stage” – a raised platform with a bike in front of the class, like most spinning setups. I’ll also mention the spinning room – it had stadium style platforms, so the first row was on the ground level with subsequent rows placed higher and higher behind them. Since we were all the way in the back, we got a great view of the rest of the class, and it felt empowering to be up nice and high. However, the room was HOT. Very hot.
When you sign up for a class online, you get to choose your bike, and the diagram of the studio has clear indications of where the fans are. I noticed that I was going to be right next to a fan, which I thought was great, since I sweat like a pig. Well, the fans weren’t on, and it was a hot day. Not as hot as it was two weeks ago, but still pretty sticky. I kept waiting for the fans to go on, but they never did. I’m not sure if this is intentional – my cousin mentioned that the rooms are always very hot so that you burn more calories – but I have to wonder how safe that is. I don’t know enough about exercise and health to have an answer for that.
Then, the class started. Our instructor was a beautiful, young, extremely fit African American woman named Taye. She got us started by yelling out some inspirational words, then said not to worry about the lack of air conditioning in the studio. Wow, I guess I wasn’t the only one who noticed how hot it was in there! But then, she got right down to it. The music started blasting – techno/pop — and Taye had what looked like a mini computer screen next to her bike, I guess to help her act as a DJ and a spin instructor at the same time. My gym doesn’t have this, but it seems like a cool idea.
Everyone was spinning like a maniac. There was no warmup, no time to think. Usually, my spin instructors let you warm up to one song just to kind of get your feet moving and your muscles adjusted. Not here. I was amazed by how fast she had everyone’s legs moving! This part wasn’t completely new to me – I mean, everyone who takes spin classes is familiar with sprints – but this was something different. Everyone seemed to be in their own personal game zone. It was like the inspiration of every single Under Armour and Nike commercial was condensed into a pill version and distributed to all the riders. I couldn’t understand why some people think SoulCycle is a zen-like experience. To me, I felt like I was running a marathon in the dark, but according to the SC website: By keeping the lights low and riding by candlelight, SoulCycle creates a cardio sanctuary where riders can come to clear their heads.
3 minutes in and I was sweating. like. a. pig. It was at this point that I realized that the bike brake was actually turned on about halfway, so I had inadvertently been spinning with unnecessary resistance. Whoops. I have to say that the brake system on the SoulCycle bikes is different than what I’m used to. On theirs, there is a red lever that turns from side to side for a brake, right below the resistance wheel. The thing is, when you’re up and down in the saddle, it’s very easy to bump this with your legs and unknowingly add resistance. I actually have a bruise from the damned thing!
I turned around and looked expectedly at the fan, but to my surprise, it remained off. ”What?” I thought. Was it going to be like this the entire class?
Apparently so! The fans never went on during the 45 minute class. I was really surprised by this. I mean, it’s the middle of the summer and you cram 50 people who are all sweating buckets into a tiny dark room and don’t even turn on a fan? Wtf? Maybe I was overly sensitive to this, since my own humble NYSC had no air conditioning or fan in the spinning studio during the two-week heat wave that just passed. Still – for this price – I’d expect a fan! Maybe it’s the same concept as hot yoga – you burn more calories because you sweat more?
Before class started, the receptionist who helped me set up my bike asked if I had ever been to a SoulCycle class. I told her no, but that I had been to a spin class. ”Oh,” she said, “this is completely different!”
And it was very different than your average spin class. For one thing, we spent a lot of time out of the saddle. There was much more jumping, push-ups, and dips with your torso than there are at a regular spin class. Most are done at very fast speeds.
While I like all of these motions, the thing that bothered me was that they were done with almost no resistance on the wheels. Usually when you’re doing jumps, you have your resistance at least two turns up, just for safety reasons. But not here. I suppose if your core strength is great enough, you don’t need any resistance in order to be stable, in theory – but I still wasn’t completely comfortable with that. Spinning your legs at that great a speed while getting up out of the saddle seems like an accident waiting to happen. Plus, I find it’s hard on your knees!
Another thing that surprised me about this class was the tameness of the hills. I’m used to doing hills through one or two full songs at a fairly high resistance. I don’t think the resistance in this class went above a 2 or 3, which I couldn’t believe. Maybe this wasn’t representative of the majority of their classes, though. Or maybe the instructor was making up for the lack of air in the room!
Then came the long-awaited upper body portion of the ride. I was afraid of this – I am not the most coordinated person in the world, and lifting weights while pedaling a bicycle seems like a recipe for disaster. But honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I couldn’t understand why Kelly Ripa said that the one or two-pound weights used during classes felt like ten-pound weights while you were using them. We did about 4-5 minutes of weight training, mostly bicep and tricep work. I was expecting more of a challenge with this part, but I think this exercise had more to do with strengthening your core than toning your arms.
Then, it was over. We did a very fast-paced cool-down. Our instructor asked us to unclip from each of our pedals at different points, and stretch each of our legs over the bike’s handlebars while sitting in the seat. I had trouble with this, partly because I couldn’t unclip my shoe, and also because I was afraid of leaning my leg over the handlebars and accidentally falling off! I couldn’t help but think that when your muscles are working in such an overdrive, that you have to be really careful doing this type of cool-down. Sometimes people get head rushes, or their muscles feel wobbly… I wondered if anyone had fallen before!
For me, the jury’s still out on SoulCycle. I can see the draw – it’s fun, it’s popular, it’s very “in,” while at the same time I appreciate those who feel that it’s all hype.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad that I went and experienced it, and hopefully burned at least 500 calories doing so. But I don’t think I liked it enough to give up my regular spin classes (not that I could afford it, anyway!). For me, regular spinning is based on actual cycling, which I think I prefer. I would do another SoulCycle class just to break up the monotony of my workouts, but it’s not something I would do on a regular basis.
Fun, club environment: Low lights and loud music make it easy to let go and dig deep – you won’t worry about what you look like to your neighbor, so you’ll push yourself harder.
Enthusiastic instructors: They really seem to love what they do, and this translates into a great class environment. I doubt any of these instructors phone it in.
An exclusive club: SoulCycle has created the perception of an insider’s club. This means you have camaraderie with other cyclists, and feel like part of the Soul Cycle family, so to speak.
Music: SoulCycle has so many different themed classes and such an array of instructors that you’re bound to find one who plays the right music for you. If you’re new to spinning, you’ll soon realize that it’s all about the right music. I like “fight” songs with a good steady beat that helps me set my pace, and yells at me to move my ass, like rock and hip-hop. Taye’s class had a lot of pop/dance music, which kept the pace up really well.
Quick: Class goes by very quickly. You don’t even have time to look at your watch to see how many more minutes you have to work!
Fat-burning: Knowing that you’re scorching between 500 and 700 calories in 45 minutes does wonders for your motivation.
Hella expensive: One class is $32, shoe rental is $3. In terms of NYC fun, this isn’t expensive, HOWEVER, if you plan to make this a part of your regular exercise routine (3-4 times per week), it will cost you $128 per week. By comparison, my New York Sports Club membership is $70 per month, and that includes unlimited classes and use of free weights, machines, etc.
Not a complete full-body workout: Soul Cycle is touted as a full-body workout, and promises results of a toned upper-body along with a tight behind and legs. But I highly doubt that this workout is enough to tone your body. I just doubt it’s enough resistance training to see visible results in your upper body. And frankly, for the price of class, I would want the muscles in my fingertips and toes to be toned!
Crowded: 1 bathroom and a tiny locker space make the studio feel like a subway station. A nice roomy locker room with some high-end toiletries would do wonders for this establishment.
Towels: This is a small pet peeve, but I would have preferred if the towels were larger. I like a towel that fits across the entire handlebar of my bike without slipping through the bars, so that it catches all my sweat and prevents me from slipping! The SoulCycle towels were a bit on the small side. I guess some people prefer this because they are easier to pick up and wipe your face with, but I like something larger. Also, the towels seemed to have some kind of fragrance – lavender, maybe? This is a nice contribution to their spa/zen/soul mission statement, but I’m very sensitive to smells, especially when exercising. A nice undertone of bleach would have been better for me.
So, do the pros of SoulCycle outweigh the cons? That’s for you to decide. If you are interested in SoulCycle, I highly recommend taking a class – after all, the first class is free. You have nothing to lose except some major calories, and then you can make up your own mind about this chic new method of spinning! And when you do go, pick up a SoulCycle tee-shirt or tank, if you happen to have another $35 to spare — even if you never take another class, you’ll still have a souvenir and bragging rights from the experience!