I admit it. I was skeptical about SoulCycle. I assumed it was an elitist spin class that was outrageously overpriced for something you can get for half the cost at your gym or another studio. What made this class better than anything else, and why was everyone so hyped about it? It seemed almost cultish, and I was convinced my idea of what a workout should involve wouldn’t fit in with this soulful crowd. Boy, was I in for a ride…
Once the class started I quickly discovered that SoulCycle is not just a spin class, it’s a full-body movement class. Each studio is filled with a grid of special SoulCycle bikes designed specifically for their elevated way of cycling. You’ll do push-ups on your bike handles, all while bouncing in time to the music in a pulsing, dance-like set of motions. Each class contains a weights portion where you get a little arm strength in, doing bicep curls with hand weights as your feet continue to cycle.
In case you thought things couldn’t get any more different from your average spin class, SoulCycle is also a disco. The lights are kept low for the entire class, and lasers and spinning lights abound. A carefully crafted playlist (available online under each instructor’s profile) will be blasting from the speakers, and your instructor and fellow bikers may be singing along. No one is actively looking at each other. Instead, you all tune in to the music and let it dictate your movement through the class.
Cardio-party environment aside, SoulCycle classes are made extraordinary by their instructors. When Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice founded SoulCycle in 2006, their goal was to blend the benefits of pushing your body with guiding your mind to a better state of being. We live in a complicated world, and they recognized the need for places where people can go to cultivate toughness and personal growth (both mentally and physically) in order to release a little bit of the weight we carry around each day. Following this mantra, SoulCycle instructors urge you to let go of all the stresses in your life — whatever those may be — and just be there, in the moment, cycling it all out. They guide you to use your family, friends, and partners as motivation to keep pushing harder, to be your best not just for you, but for them too.
I can’t deny that I’ve become a complete SoulCycle convert. Rather than being elitist, it’s all about acceptance — of yourself, your present, your past, and your future— staged in a kickass environment full of pumped-up people. SoulCycle only has 36 studios to date, but plans to expand to 50-60 locations across the country. So if you’re close to a SoulCycle studio and looking for a way to invigorate your workout schedule with a fun and challenging class, SoulCycling definitely fits the bill. The cost may be a bit steep (after your $20 introductory class it’s $30 per class, no discounts or memberships), but you’re getting more than your spot on a bike — you’re buying into an experience, a community, a place where you can come and feel supported even if you don’t say a single word to a single soul around you while you cycle all your inner demons out.
How to SoulCycle like there’s no tomorrow
- Pick your class. Though they all have the same overarching qualities, different classes have different vibes that make SoulCycle experiences somewhat unique from class to class. The theme of a class is mostly dictated by the type of music favored by the instructor teaching the class, so if you hate hip hop, you’ll want to steer clear of Hip Hop Tuesday (note: not offered every Tuesday) and choose a class that doesn’t feature that type of music. If you don’t like your first class, it’s usually worth trying another class with a different instructor to see if switching it up changes how you feel.
- Pick your bike. Before your SoulCycle class, you will need to create an account online and reserve a bike in the class you plan to take. If you sign up for the class far enough in advance, you have your pick of any bike in the studio. I prefer the middle center, but if you tend to get overheated, the outside of each section is a good option. For your first class, your instinct may be to stick to the back row, but being able to see the teacher better from the second or third row will be helpful. The front row warriors (usually clad in Soulcycle swag) can get a little intense, but they are usually great leaders to situate yourself directly behind.
- Wear comfortable, close-fitting clothes. You’ll want to make sure what you’re wearing doesn’t distract you from fully tapping into your SoulCycle experience. Athletic headbands are great for keeping what will be very sweaty hair secure and out of your eyes. I usually wear breathable athletic pants or shorts and a tank top to avoid any chance of chafing and/or getting overheated. Bike shorts aren’t a bad idea if you tend to feel the effects of sitting on a bike seat the day after. Pro tip: there are gel seats available near the weights at the front of the class.
- Arrive early to sign in. You will need to fill out some forms when you check in at the front desk, so getting there a bit early is best for a first timer. You will also need to change into clip-on bike shoes and stow your personal items in a complimentary locker.
- Don’t be afraid of a sweaty crowd. Many SoulCycle classes have extremely tight quarters around the lockers and entrance/exit to class. Add to that a busy set of commuters and many classes running two to five minutes behind schedule and you have a group of people with somewhere to be! Don’t be stressed about being in the way and speak up to the staff if you have any questions — they are all incredibly nice and accommodating of newcomers.
- Acquire a pair of clip-in shoes. As previously mentioned, SoulCycle bikes require you to wear clip-in bike shoes. Each studio stocks plenty of pairs in all sizes available for rent — first timers get free shoe rental, but after that you’ll need to pay $3.00 per rental. If you already have your own pair of clip-in bike shoes for your non-stationary bike, those will work fine. Since renting each time does add up, if you don’t have your own pair of clip-ins and plan on doing SoulCycle regularly, it’s worth it to pick up a pair (plus a set of cleats to clip in).
- Bring a water bottle and a towel. You will definitely need a water break, and the bikes have two holders that will fit most water bottles. Towels are provided for each bike during class, but if you sweat a lot you may want to bring another towel that you can take with you when you depart the studio.
- Choose your weights. Underneath the seat of your bike there will be a pair of weights ranging from one to five pounds. Two-pound weights may sound like small potatoes, but when you’re more than halfway through this cardio session (with push-ups on the bars!), that can be more than enough. Try ones or twos for your first class rather than pushing it.
- Get vocal. Don’t be surprised if you hear a whoop or two throughout the class. SoulCycle regulars can be very outwardly enthusiastic, which can be helpful when they let out cries of encouragement during a particularly difficult climb. Your instructors will also sometimes encourage you to raise your own voice with the rest of the group, and I recommend letting go and doing so. It’s part of the experience and surprisingly can make you feel all the more energized!
- Move with the music. Instructors say it takes five to ten classes to fully understand all the moves and be able to stay on beat, tap back with confidence, and master all the sprints and climbs. The first couple of classes, just do your best to stay with the class and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. New movements take practice and SoulCycle takes some getting used to, just like riding a real bike.
- Be ready to let go. SoulCycle has the power to bring emotions to the surface, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Bring an open mind and be ready to feel whatever you’re going to feel — you might just experience the intensity of a hard workout, or you might end up working through some unresolved issues. Either way, know that the studio is a safe place to let go and ride it all out.
To sum it all up, SoulCycle is a complete cleansing experience — sweat is praised and you’re encouraged to do your best to stay on beat with the music, but the instructors also let you know that it’s okay to go your own pace when you need to. The SoulCycle instructor in the most recent class I went to summed it up perfectly: “I don’t care who you are, where you work, how much money you make, or where you live — all I care about is the energy you bring to a dark room full of light-minded people.” Before I tried a class I found statements like this a bit corny, but there’s something incredibly effective about hearing that sort of encouragement while confronting your own life struggles on the bike. See if there is a SoulCycle class near you!
Want another perspective on SoulCycle? See what our co-founder Brian Grey thought about his first class, or see how SoulCycle stacks up against its offshoot FlyWheel.