It is 6 a.m. the instructor starts class, and I am immediately struck by a blast of music. I am sure I have just incurred permanent hearing damage, and with that comes another painful truth; the seat of an indoor bike is completely devoid of any type of cushioning. Before my quads were even given the chance to prepare for the burn, I was already struggling to find a position that I could sit in for 45 minutes without obtaining some serious bruises. Here we go.
“Intimidating” is the most accurate way to describe SoulCycle, a fitness company that elevates indoor cycling to a new level and that continues to create a loyal following across the United States. For an average $30 a class, or $20 if it’s your first time, it’s only right that the 45-minute class supplies more than just a bike ride.
When I rented out a seat at SoulCycle, I also unknowingly bought myself a ticket to what felt like the most exhausting dance party of my life. While pumping my legs and feeling the burn, I was tasked with executing a series of movements that can most easily be understood as push ups on the handlebar of a bike. These movements are done in conjunction with the beat of whatever song is setting the pace of the workout. And yes, it is just as confusing and impossible to keep up with as it sounds.
The 45-minute class is split up in intervals of high and low intensity periods, with a portion devoted to free-weight upper body strengthening. At the end of the class, you are invited to participate in a few light stretches. After almost an hour of frantic pedaling, a relaxing stretch sounded amazing, but little did I know it would be more of an acrobatic exercise, as everyone flung their bodies forward, pressing their legs against the handlebars for balance as they leaned over the edge of their bike. Here come the acrobatics: what I didn’t realize was that you must lift yourself above the stem of the handlebar, or you will experience, much like I did, a very unfortunate collision. After that came a muffled yelp, while I tried to conceal my pain so as not to disrupt the sacred moment occurring between the other SoulCyclers and their bikes.
Beyond the supposedly rewarding cardio torture, what really makes a SoulCycle class is the music. Off the bike and out of the studio, if your favorite song comes on, there’s nothing you can’t do. Music is used to regulate your pedal strokes and to outline the class; upbeat songs take the riders through intense sprints while more mellow songs set the tone for the recovery periods. As the left-right-left-right tempo forced me to maintain my momentum, it came as a welcome substitute for the sound of my heart pounding rapidly. I was able to hold myself accountable, and if you don’t have an iron will, your instructor sure does. Especially if you are one of those people who, if given free reign over the difficulty of their workout, will just take it easy and ride off into the sunset, think again. After all, the resistance knob is directly in front of you.
When my instructor started the class, I could already tell the rider next to me was in trouble. Clad in a pink trucker hat and a face full of makeup, she didn’t look like someone who was prepared to lose half her body weight in sweat. A few minutes into class, while we were climbing an imaginary hill, the instructor dismounted and personally adjusted Trucker Hat’s bike and encouraged her. The instructors ensure that you are getting your money’s worth; the last thing they will let you do is coast through the workout.
SoulCycle is not a workout that appeals to everyone. It is much better suited for the adrenaline junkies of the world. Walking out of Soulcycle, I experienced a feeling of euphoria, and this post-workout sensation was addictive. I walked in feeling out of place among the Lululemon-adorned regulars, but I walked out feeling like an equal. Drenched with sweat and struggling to walk out of the studio in shoes that were made solely for cycling, even the pros looked like they were about to fall over. This feeling of belonging is especially advantageous to the people behind the counter as they invite you to purchase SoulCycle gear.
SoulCycle is revered by its fans as the perfect full-body workout. Despite the fact that it makes exercising more enjoyable, some people have critiqued its price and questioned how effective “boutique cycling” actually is. I can promise that this is a worthwhile workout. Despite the anxiety and initial discomfort that confronted me at the start of my Soulcycle experience, I experienced something extraordinary: an environment that distracted from the pain of exercise.