Have you heard of SoulCycle? In New York City, where I live, it enjoys a cult status that’s rarely matched. I confess, whenever I saw someone walk by wearing that trademark skull and bones and “SOUL” logo, I felt a little weirded out–sort of like in high school when all the volleyball girls wore their hair in French braids tied with grosgrain ribbons on game days. How to wrap my head around that? I did dance team, ballet, and orchestra. Likewise, the number of spin classes I’ve ever taken could be counted in two hands, and none were branded like SoulCycle. But since we’ve been having some SoulCycle instructors come take classes at Pure Barre UWS where I teach, I’ve been really curious about “the other side.”
Before class started, I sat quietly on a bench while other clients stood around chatting–many of them clearly knew each other, and walked around wearing cycling shoes that clip on to the pedals. I was as confused by those shoes (they make click-clack sounds) as barre newbies must be when they see us going around in sticky socks. A short while later, I made my way over to the studio, where most people were already stationed. The studio was dark, save for the spotlight over the teacher’s bike on pedestal and some candles. (I was actually really excited about the candles before coming, so yay!) The desk people recommended a bike in the middle back section for my first class, so I stood next to my bike while a helpful attendant adjusted the bike to my height and helped me clip my shoes onto the pedal.
By this time, I’d realized that the ride today was going to be Disney-themed, thanks to the music and the teacher dressed up in a Mary Poppins costume. At first I thought that would be distracting, but the exercise got hard enough that it just didn’t matter whether I was spinning to Tiesto or The Lion King. It started off slowly (“jog”), then very quickly picked up pace as the teacher kept telling us to turn the knob to the right, shift forward or sit back, add push ups, etc. Coming from my background, I really liked the more choreographic elements: when the teacher cued, “take it side to side” (shift upper body left and right), I went all crazy with it thinking, “I know what that is. I can do that.” At some point, she had us pick up 2 lb weights and do a short upper body sequence while pedaling slowly, and that was my favorite part. I only wished that they’d get even more dance-choreo-like, to keep things interesting.
I also noticed that there are some big differences to teaching spinning v. barre. In SoulCycle, the teacher rode the entire time, and moreover, she talked a lot about things unrelated to your exercise at that moment. For instance, she brought up what seeing The Lion King meant to her as a child (inspirational story), or even gave back story to each song (“This is the song that they sing when Belle is at the fountain!”). It seemed to be an entirely different kind of performance than in Pure Barre. When you teach barre, you just don’t have the time to talk about anything other than exactly what you’re supposed to do, since moves are more complicated and change more quickly. You are also putting on a performance and giving your own twist, although other things count for more, such as giving great cues for body alignment and placement. But I could see how talking in detail about where to put your hips (on the saddle) or how to hold the handlebars can get pretty boring in spinning, so this approach made sense.
The experience of letting the teacher entertain and distract me from the tough physical activity was really fun, for a change. Before I knew it, the forty-five minute class was over and we were doing stretches next to the bike. I’d never had a spin class that flew by so quickly–I used to check the clock ten, fifteen, twenty minutes in, wondering when it will be over. Afterwards, I was so tired that I couldn’t unclip one of my shoes and just left it dangling on the pedal. While I slowly picked myself back to the lobby, other clients were already done chatting and getting back to their day. It goes to show that even when you are active 15 hours a week, you can always get your butt kicked by a new form of exercise. As for results, I can imagine that SoulCycle is most effective for your waistband area, hips and thighs, and as an all-over slimmer, since it’s a very intense cardio exercise. Will I become a SoulCycle addict? I’m not sure yet–but it sure made me feel like a warrior for about an hour, and I now have so much respect for spin instructors!
More fitness inspiration in I Tried It: Mysore Ashtanga Yoga
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Photo: tracy benjamin via Flickr; Peaceful Dumpling