Here we are, two weeks into the New Year, and chances are all the well-intentioned resolutions you put on paper somewhere between the countdown and that last glass of champagne are in need of resuscitation. If you're anything like the rest of Americans, fitness goals appeared somewhere (most likely, very near the top) on your list. Here to help: SoulCycle!
Now, I know I'm about four years late to this trendy workout scene--if only Brooke Shields, Tory Burch, or Anderson Cooper had given me a call!--but my new found love for this party-on-a-bike compelled me to write what might be the umpteenth testament to its virtues, but will hopefully be the only one you need to read to get your butt over to a studio.
What is SoulCycle? It is a 45- or 60-minute indoor cycling class that incorporates pushups, weight-lifting, and core-activation into the ride...but trust me when I tell you it is unlike any cycling class you've been to before. In speaking with their PR director, Gabby Etrog Cohen, I learned how the founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice (veterans themselves of corporate America who struggled to find an efficient workout they could find time for) decided to create a program around indoor cycling that would allow clients to tone, burn calories (500-700 per session!), relieve stress, and find community.
Turns out, it is precisely this community element that makes SoulCycle so revolutionary. Whereas for most gyms, group classes are not profit-bearing, SoulCycle's core business centers around creating a "team of riders" that builds the momentum each participant rides on. Whereas some fitness group classes can feel competitive, the mentality for riders at SoulCycle is one of shared energy, inspiration and encouragement.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that SoulCyclers ride by aroma-therapeutic candlelight--no lights whatsoever. It is hard to feel judgment, anger, competitiveness, or frustration when you are breathing in soft wafts of jasmine and mandarin orange and can only see dim outlines of the others riding with you.
Then there is the incredible soundtrack that changes every week. The tunes vary with the instructor--my favorites are Ayana (Nicki Minaj, Common, Kanye) and Daniel (Florence + The Machine, Michael Jackson, Beach House--all amazing remixes). I've often found myself secretly dancing along to the music, forgetting that I am riding like a maniac, sweating bullets.
The instructors, who must audition for teacher-training and only the cream of the crop are actually allowed to learn what brings a great SoulCycle class together, ride along with you. There are none of the typical screaming taunts, or even more irritating "Come on! You can do it!" jeers. What they do have is an incredible capacity to select songs with a rhythm you can ride to, and to count beats so that, for instance, you can do eight-, sixteen-, and thirty-two-second intervals of riding on the seat and riding out of the seat at varying weight-resistance (these simulate "jumps", "runs" and "climbing hills") in sync with the song's progression. If you're anything like me and rely on knowing exactly how much longer you have to push through while working out, the system of counting down songs and routines within songs is an incredible motivator.
Since opening in 2006, SoulCycle has grown to seven locations in New York and Florida and expanded their repertoire of classes, including the addition of SoulCycle Bands--a 60-minute fat-burning cardio ride with simultaneous resistance band training (hanging from the ceiling) to work abs, arms and back, and SoulCycle Yoga. In the next year, they hope to make the move out west, opening a flagship in that mecca of health (or at least of workouts): Los Angeles.
The undeniable popularity of SoulCycle classes at $32 a pop (another clever development--there are no membership fees, but paying on a class-by-class basis incentivizes riders to show up) speaks to their addictive nature and the quick results riders experience. Every Monday at noon, when registration for the following week opens, women and men of all ages race to their computers to try to select a bike in their favorite class. I'm sad to say, I have often had to claim myself a spot on the waitlist because classes fill so quickly.
When I spoke with Peter Schrager, a frequent visitor to the TriBeCa location who has lost north of 30 pounds since beginning with SoulCycle last February, he told me it was his girlfriend who encouraged him to check out a class with her, and he's been hooked ever since. When I asked him whether he would prefer or feel more comfortable an all-male cycling group--he told me he'd formed a friend group of guys who all SoulCycle together--he replied that, if it were an all-male class, "it would lack the same energy and female-driven spirit." I think the reverse is true, as well. Though it's an entirely platonic setting, having the mix of male and female actually boosts the experience for everyone because it keeps the positive encouragement running high.
Feeling inspired, I dragged my triathlete husband along with me to a weekend class. Now he's the one who signs us up for Sunday mornings before brunch. I've never been one for couple's workouts, but I'm happy to share my favorite calorie burn...as long as he sits on the other side of the room.