I’m surrounded by men and women all biking to the beat of a fast-paced song, trying to keep up with the ripped female instructor cycling on stage in front of us.
“What makes you beautiful?” she shouts into her microphone at all 40 of us as we stand up and sit down in unison on our bikes, pedalling with the beat of the music. “Are you beautiful because of your strength? Is your perseverance your beauty?”
Welcome to SoulCycle, the exercise class with a cult-following that is taking over America. Founded in 2006 by Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, the brand is known for attracting celebrities like Charlize Theron and David Beckham, and has 31 studios across the US (soon to be 37) in New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Westchester, Massachusetts, California, and Washington DC.
They even plan to go worldwide with a studio in London.
“It’s way more than an exercise class,” Jaime Gleicher, who’s been going to SoulCycle since 2011 at a rate of roughly 10 times a week, told Business Insider. “It’s equal parts dance party, killer workout, meditation, therapy, and social setting where I know, without fail, I can see my friends and gain a piece of mind.”
For lovers of the high-intensity cycling class, SoulCycle is a lifestyle — and the studios reflect that. Aspirational words like “WARRIOR,” “ROCKSTAR,” and “ATHLETE” are plastered on the walls. Lululemon SoulCycle-branded clothing hangs in the lobby ($US42 for a tank top), and you can even buy the grapefruit-scented Jonathan Adler candles they have burning in the studio.
In a typical 45-minute class, students can expect to do choreographed, high-resistance sprints and “climbs” with an arm workout section and a yoga-esque cool down. The lighting in the studio itself is dim with candles at the front of the room and music blaring.
For riders, it’s not about calories or how many reps they can do, but about letting go — it’s not uncommon to be asked to close your eyes or to cycle through a song completely in the dark.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when a helpful woman strapped me and my cycling shoe loaners into the bike at SoulCycle’s Union Square location. The class excitedly chattered and started peddling at minimal resistance while waiting for our instructor to finish helping newcomers like me adjust our bikes. Some people who knew one another were talking about the Tribeca studio’s recent renovation, while others compared favourite ‘Soul’ instructors.
Then our instructor hit the music and we were riding, increasing our resistance and biking faster and faster to the beat. Sometimes we were standing up and trying to keep as still as possible as our legs cycled beneath us. Other times we were seated and learning forward and doing push ups to the rhythm of the music. After a five minute arm section and cool down, we were stretching and finally unhooking our shoes from the bikes.
I left the class sweaty and with a new understanding of why people pay $US34 a pop in New York City for this experience (their best class package deal brings the cost down to $US28). The class flew by and I felt motivated to keep going the entire time.
And though the instructor was filled with exultations to keep us pumped, I was especially inspired by the front row of fit men and women who, judging by how hard they pedaled, were obviously SoulCycle adherents.
For them, $US34 is the small price to pay for a community that makes them want to work out and push themselves harder. The expensive classes, gear, and candles are just a way of distinguishing themselves (and each other) as a part of a very cool club.
“I believe it’s worth every cent,” Gleicher insists. “The price of the class is also a motivating factor: It encourages me to work my absolute hardest and get every cent out of my investment.”
“Whatever mood I am in, whatever kind of day I am having, SoulCycle has never not given me what I needed,” she added. “And that is why I keep going back.
Interested in trying SoulCycle? Here’s our advice for trying the spinning phenomenon.
1. For curious first-timers, SoulCycle has a $US20 introductory class. Reserve a bike in the second row — the first row is usually filled with the more intense SoulCycle clientele and it can be helpful to watch both them and the instructor when you start out.
2. Wear sweat-wicking clothes that won’t ride up, like leggings and a tank top. Most SoulCycle locations charge $US3 to rent shoes.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. You sweat a lot in this class, and will want to be as hydrated as possible before entering the room. Bring a water bottle, too.
4. Have the staff adjust your bike, but make sure it works for you. Having the seat pushed too far or not far enough forward can make all the difference in your comfort level. Start out with their advice and adjust accordingly.
5. Don’t be intimidated by the sense of community. “It can seem as if everyone knows each other and the instructor, and that is true,” Gleicher told us. “The sense of community at SoulCycle is a huge part of the experience. Make yourself open to becoming a part of it. We want you there!”
6. Go at your own pace and stay in the saddle. Observe the form and pace of the instructor and others around you. Listen to the music, and do the best you can.
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