Let me begin with an admission: I have never gone to a spinning class. I’ll take it one step further and say that I don’t get on any bikes at all, stationary or not. You’ll usually find me by a squat rack or bench press in the weight room, powerlifting my way through a workout. Spinning, like many other cardio-intensive classes, just never called out to me. I prefer to lift heavy and workout alone. That’s just me.
I’ve spent the last couple of years listening to people wax poetic about the amazing workouts they’ve had at Soul Cycle, the premier spinning studio in New York City (with additional studios in California and most of New England). The trainers, their heart-pumping music playlists, and the party-like atmosphere were among the most popular comments I heard from Soul Cycle devotees. It all sounded pretty great, but I wasn’t convinced.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year and I found myself reconsidering my strict strength-training routine in favor of new fitness challenges, especially the fast-paced, heart-pumping kind. I took the ongoing construction of a spin studio in my gym as a sign that maybe I should broaden my horizons, namely on a bike.
Soul Cycle: me and you? A date? Okay, let’s go for it!
My first stop was on Soul Cycle’s website to pick my class and to find an instructor. Instead of offering a typical membership plan with monthly or annual coverage, Soul Cycle has a pay-as-you-go model with an option to pre-purchase any number of classes you want. The only fine print is that you must use those classes within a certain amount of time. Just keep that in mind, if you decide to buy several classes at once.
After spending a few hours perusing Soul Cycle’s excellent website and reading online reviews, I decided to pick Akin as my instructor. Each instructor gets their own page with a running feed of their social media networks and a current playlist of their favorite music. I like to know what I’m getting into before I sign up for anything, especially if it’s fitness related, so I really enjoyed the fact that I could compare different instructors to figure out who would be a good fit. Akin had a lot of thumbs up from both beginners and advanced spinners, and his mix of hip-hop, r&b, and pop was right up my musical alley. I suggest you take some time to do this for yourself. You also get to pick which bike you want to reserve, so if you want to hide out in the back, sit next to a friend, or burn it up with the pros up front, you have that option.
Arriving late to a Soul Cycle class should be avoided, especially if it’s your first time. I got to the studio with about ten minutes to spare and I wish I had some more time to get settled. The front desk staff was very friendly and efficient, even offering me a complimentary water for class. Once I signed off on the forms and picked up my shoes, I headed to the locker room to store my stuff. The studio itself is beautifully designed with the white, yellow, and black theme running throughout the space. The locker room was fairly small and co-ed, although there are separate bathroom facilities for men and women if you prefer to change in privacy. No need for a lock either. Each locker has its own digital lock that you can configure with your own code.
Once my stuff was safely stored, I ran upstairs and put my shoes on outside the doors. I didn’t understand the need for a rental until I got to the studio. Each shoe has a special clamp that locks onto the pedals. This ensures your stability and keeps you safely on the bike as you transition from one move to the next. I didn’t really get it at first but I quickly saw the need for this as the class got started and silently thanked the genius who thought of this little invention. That said, it should be noted that the shoe rental is required for each class. First rental is free, thereafter rentals are $3.
Note: Let me get this out of the way now: Soul Cycle is pricey. It’s $20 for your first class, $34 thereafter. That’s a bit of a splurge, especially if you’re a New Yorker trying to balance a limited budget. Then again, I know people dropping hundreds of dollars on Crossfit boxes and personal trainers, so to each their own. I say this now to cover my bases, but let me tell you about my class before you write it off completely.
If it’s your first time at Soul Cycle, be sure to inform one of the staff so that they can help you get set up. They adjust the set height, ask about lower back issues, and explain how to lock your shoe on the pedals. There are small two-pound hand weights located underneath the seat and a knob that increases or decreases resistance by the handlebars. The class was completely full and the music was already streaming out of the speakers. It’s a bit cramped with each rider within inches of each other in the dimly lit room, but already there was a lot of buzzing energy coursing through the studio.
The doors close and the class starts at a running sprint. With the music pumping and my fellow riders spinning their wheels like maniacs, I felt a bit overwhelmed within the first five minutes. It gets hot, fast, and then to make matters worse, my towel fell to the ground with no easy way for me to pick it up. I had to leave it behind and just keep moving. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to dress appropriately, with a loose cotton tank and lightweight tights. This is NOT the class to wear sweats and a hoodie, Just a tip.
I’m not going to lie. I consider myself pretty fit so I thought I’d handle this class
like a boss pretty well. It’s just a bike right? And I’ve got rhythm. I can dance. What’s so hard about doing a little shimmy to some awesome music while pedaling? I just squatted 125lbs the week before, so really, how could this be that tough?
This is where the date got kind of ugly.
You could tell who’s done this before as they expertly wove their bodies on the bike from side to side. I, on the other hand, spent most of my time trying to figure out how to move without losing pace on the pedals. Within the first fifteen minutes I thought there was no way I could ever get it and that this would be my first and last spinning experience. My heart was in my throat and my legs felt like they were on fire. I slammed headfirst into a wall and wanted nothing more than to collect my abandoned towel off the ground, wipe off the sweat, and head home with my tail between my legs.
I have to give a lot of credit to Akin. He led the charge with motivating speeches, encouraging us to let out great big yells to help release the tension. I’m a big believer in energy transference – sounds new-agey but I think that the tone of a room can be greatly influenced by the people in it, and that studio was no exception.
My bike was smack dab in the center, so I got to see all the riders around me, whenever I was able to tear my eyes away without losing my balance. Some were rocking it out, dancing like their lives depended on it. Others were just like me, figuring out their pace and struggling to get their coordination down. But the really awesome thing is that ALL of us were into it. There were no bored expressions and you got the sense that everyone was pushing it to the max throughout the workout.
Then came the breakthrough. Maybe it was Akin’s encouragement to dig a little deeper to beat back our fears that roused a familiar sensation deep inside. I am very familiar with the self-defeating talk that kept me from exercising so many times before. The person I am now, who embraces fitness and healthy living as a lifestyle, took years of soul-searching and half-hearted attempts at changing my habits.
Suddenly I found myself actually smiling. I even closed my eyes and let the rhythm wash over me, as silly as that sounds. I realized that it was a little ridiculous to walk in there expecting to be an expert without ever having tried it before. Even the 2lb weights I sneered at when he pulled them out during the workout, kicked my butt. I was utterly humbled.
I’d forgotten what it was like to be truly challenged during a workout. Powerlifting is not easy, but sometimes I get caught up in the routine of it all, mentally checking out along the way. Switching it up with an intense spinning class woke me up and got me truly jazzed about making it through the class. I felt proud of myself, which I hadn’t realized I’d been missing.
I can thank Akin and Soul Cycle for shaking me out of my fitness rut and reminding me that how important it is to test my boundaries.
That’s one of the reasons I started working out in the first place: to fall in love with how much my body is capable of, even when my head tries to throw me off stride.
Not too shabby for a first date. Trust me, I’ve had worse.
What did I take away from my date and what tips can I give you? Check your ego at the door. And please don’t drop your towel on the floor. You’ll need it.
Here’s more info on Soul Cycle and the studio I visited:
Soul Cycle Tribeca, 103 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007
Classes: 1st class $20; Each class thereafter $34
Shoe Rentals: 1st class FREE; Rentals thereafter $3
As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy.