I tried SoulCycle last month, which was a little gutsy since I was deep into a serious athletic hiatus.
By Annette McLoughlin
I tried SoulCycle last month, which was a little gutsy since I was deep into a serious athletic hiatus. Close to two years ago I had my fourth child and have since been hunkered down in my house, evading the world, and avoiding any reason to break a sweat. I’ve used that baby like a human shield — an unimpeachable excuse to say no. I’ve done practically nothing outside Momdom. And while my maternal crouch was valid for maybe a year, I’ve just hit a nice little lazy coast.
For the record, I wasn’t always this way: pre-children I was a workout freak. In my 20s, I was a front-row, back-to-back, multiple-early-morning-class-manic, riding every new exercise fad for a decade. Then, I caught the running bug, and pounded enough Central Park pavement to require double-knee surgery in order to walk pain-free.
So that’s where my head was at when a good friend badgered me and essentially dragged me to a class. And despite my lethargy, I was happy for the hard nudge. I’d been hearing a lot about the fanatical SoulCycle spinspiration for a couple of years and was having a hard time buying into the hype. Eventually though, it piqued the old endorphin-chaser buried deep inside me. So, I snapped in for my virgin ride at SoulCycle’s new Greenwich location. Here’s the low-down: I was duly humbled and impressed.
If you haven’t heard, SoulCycle is a rapidly growing full-body spin workout that promises to whip both your body and mind into shape. They’ve developed a very individualized approach to group fitness that’s working. They’re growing like crazy, opening studios all over New York City, the Hamptons, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Given their rapid growth, they clearly know how to motivate people and have tapped into a brilliant business formula.
SoulCycle’s genius presents itself the moment you walk in the door; they’ve created a high-end spa experience that goes beyond just the actual workout. Like a nice spa, your senses are catered to from the moment you arrive. The Greenwich studio has a cool vibe, with a visually sleek design and their signature bright yellow and grey colors integrated throughout. It smells nothing like a gym; there are Jonathan Adler grapefruit candles burning everywhere. The water fountain features filtered water and fresh towels are provided. The army of exuberant staff makes the biggest impact, providing clients concierge-level treatment (which seems totally genuine) to make sure everyone is happy and that the traffic in and out of classes moves smoothly. The company philosophy is one of brand immersion; every one of the staff, from top to bottom, takes the classes and all corporate employees work the front desk for a week, in order to get to know their customer base. They learn your names. They remember your birthday (and make a big deal out of it, which I witnessed that first day.) And I think it’s absolutely brilliant customer pampering.
Part of the deal in taking the classes is that you have to sign up on-line ahead of time to secure all of your classes for the upcoming week. So for Greenwich, you sign up on Mondays at noon to reserve a bike for that week’s classes. A friend of mine says that this advanced sign-up is one of her favorite aspects of the class. “If you’ve put aside the time and hired the babysitter, you want to be sure you’re getting into that class. I love the guarantee, the idea that my bike is reserved for me before I get there rather than waiting on a line and maybe getting shut out.” But if you dally, be warned; from what I understand, you need to have your fingers hovering over that keypad at 11:59 to ensure your class preference.
The only specialized equipment you need is the footwear. They require special, clip-on biking sneakers, which you can rent for $3 if you don’t own your own. I assume they’re required so that they can keep the lights low and so that riders can close their eyes. For me, they kept my knees from slamming my chin up into my sinuses while I tried (in vain) to keep up with the choreography of arms and legs (which, isn’t to say is overly complicated, I’m just under-coordinated.)
Without asking for help (frankly before I even knew that I needed help) a buoyant staff member tracked me down to give me a quick and cheery lowdown on adjusting and working my bike and locking my shoe clips into place. And not surprising, that super-friendly spin fairy also later emailed me with my bike measurements (holy personal touch, right!) Fantastic.
Prior to my first class, I was a little confused about the class itself. I had heard several people describe it as a combination of spinning and yoga, that there are positive mantras shouted out throughout class (sounded annoying), and that the room was kept dark with the exception of candles (treacherous, possibly and annoying.) And that they played really loud club music (OK, as they should.) Mostly, I couldn’t wrap my head around how this all comes together to be the intense, life-changing experience I was hearing about.
So, I sat skeptically perched on my little seat kind of smug for about the first three minutes as Mandy Brooks warmed up the class. The Rye native has been a lifelong lover of sports and credits Rye School of Dance for igniting her early passion for modern dance. When she and her husband Rhys, also from Rye, lived in San Francisco, she became enamored of cycling and spinning.
“When our family moved back to Rye in 2007, I was desperate to find a spin class like the one I was hooked on out West,” said Brooks. After taking SoulCycle classes, she decided to pursue a career as an instructor.
“I auditioned in Tribeca and was honored to be chosen to join the next training program. After nine months of training, I was assigned my first SoulCycle class in Scarsdale,” said Brooks, who now teaches eight to ten classes a week in the new 60-bike Greenwich studio.
The traditional spinning classes I’ve tried were fairly straightforward, with some tension added to simulate hills. What differentiates SoulCycle from spinning is that it incorporates arm work — with light weights and simulate push-ups on the handle bars. You also spend a lot of the class hovering over your seat (“riding out of the saddle”). This out-of-the-saddle part is seriously challenging and the best/worst part of the workout. I failed to stay up for any sustained length of time so I was very happy the room was dark.
Brooks describes the workout in classic SoulCycle lingo: “A typical class entails a proper warm-up leading into a cardio dance party followed by an arm series, and, lastly, a soulful and heroic ending.”
Heroic is probably not the word I would use to describe my own ending that day.
Brooks is incredibly enthusiastic and very tuned in to the people in her class, calling on many by name and throwing out the tailor-made validation that is a fundamental part of the SoulCycle teaching approach (and I think, a major component in their success). Instructors are hired for their ability to inspire as much as their athletic prowess and they’re carefully trained to say the right things at the right time.
I anticipated the whole shouting out of affirmations in class to be distracting. What’s worse than the overly verbose instructor? But as with most of my SoulCycle presumptions, I was wrong. As all the instructors are trained to do, Brooks kept her mantras well worded and well timed. “Each ride is a celebration of one’s potential on and off the bike. We talk a lot about pushing your limits and riding over your fears in life. People have claimed they’ve dropped their therapists after becoming addicted to SoulCycle.”
Getting your mind (or soul, as it were) in shape at the same time as your arms, abs, and buttocks? If you’re lucky enough to achieve both of those from an exercise class, eureka!
Music is a major element of the classes and instructors are trained in how to make a great music mix. Each playlist is created to allow riders to feel an arc in every class.
Maybe I’m suffering from a little SoulCycle fever, but I have to say that Brooks’ music was one of the best elements of the class. It included a lot of cool, new dancey remixes of great old classics, so it was familiar but not stale.
The cool, spa-like facilities and first-class personal catering, state-of-the-art equipment, and specially trained and motivating instructors all come with a price tag of $34 per 45-minute class (plus that $3 shoe rental.) This may seem a little rich, but if SoulCycle inspires you to get in shape and feel great about yourself, what price is too high? Of all the things that we as a society spend money on, wouldn’t it be great if more people “wasted” money on fitness? I say give your body (and your soul) a ride and see for yourself.