A little note before I start: It was really hard for me to write this post. I would always rather people be exercising than sitting at home on the couch (even if it’s in a non-conventional way), and I never want to bash something that has made people happy or helped them create a healthy lifestyle. That being said, as a certified personal trainer and spinning instructor with a lot of classes under my belt, it’s my goal and responsibility to share the FACTS and hopefully help you all avoid unnecessary injuries or issues.
So, what do you think of when you think of SoulCycle?
Intense, sweaty, colorful, fun dancing on bikes? This description is all true, even the “dancing on bikes” part, which is a hard stop for me.
As a Maddogg certified Spinning instructor, I was taught that SoulCycle and other similar pop-up cycling studios are “the devil” because they basically turn indoor cycling into dancing on a bike. The way that a lot of these studios run their classes is dangerous, can cause serious injuries, and in the end it’s really not even a good workout. I burned half the calories in SoulCycle than I usually do in my cycling class.
Although I knew what I was getting myself into, I truly believe that I can’t share an opinion about something with you all until I actually try it myself. So I did.
SoulCycle surprised me in many ways, both good and bad.
Here’s my full review of the 45-minute class that I took on Saturday:
What’s the setup like?
- There are two instructors. One of the instructors was off-bike and his job was to explain the choreography and motivate the riders. He was almost like a DJ and basically danced the whole time, which was actually super entertaining. The other “instructor” didn’t say a word, but demonstrated the choreography from a bike on a stage up in front.
- The bikes are REALLY close together. I’m talking a couple inches apart. Indoor bikes should be at least a foot apart so a rider could dismount quickly in an emergency. It also seems like there should be even more space in a SoulCycle class because of all the arm movements. I had men on bikes on either side of me and we kept hitting each other in the arms and faces…Cool.
- Lighting was pretty standard. Most studios keep the lights dimmed during class, and SoulCycle was no different. However, the off-bike DJ instructor would occasionally turn the lights on and off with the music, making it feel a little more like a party.
Now, let’s break down the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I’ll start with the GOOD:
- It smells awesome in the studio! They must clean the bikes with something magical because there’s a grapefruit-like smell that permeates the whole studio. Most gyms don’t smell that good so it was a nice surprise.
- Friendly and helpful staff. There were literally 6 people behind the front desk to help me sign in when I arrived . They were all very nice and excited for me to try my first class. Once they let the riders into the studio, a few of the staff helped attendees adjust bikes. I loved that they did this because it helped newbies get comfortable and more importantly because proper bike setup is crucial to a safe ride.
- High energy and a fun atmosphere. The class felt a little like a rave. They played pop and hip-hop music (Rihanna, T-swift, Clean Bandit, etc.), and as I mentioned earlier the instructor would coordinate the lights with the workout. This made for a lively and energetic environment.
- Motivation all around. This part might change depending on the instructor, but the DJ instructor for the class I attended was a former actor and performer, and it definitely showed. At one point he got into a speech about transcending the bike and everyone started cheering. A few times he even had us high five the people sitting next to us, which was a little difficult given how close together we were sitting but it made for a cool team-like atmosphere.
Now, on to the BAD…
- Expensive. A single SoulCycle class will set you back $30. If you need to rent shoes, it’s an extra $3. I’ve noticed a lot of new fitness studios charging a high price per class, but thirty bucks for forty-five minutes seems a little much, which leads me to my next point…
- Exclusionary. Since the classes are super expensive, you would need a decent paycheck to be able to make SoulCycle a regular part of your day. Not many people have that kind of flexibility in their paycheck, which automatically excludes them. On top of that, it’s pretty tough to reserve bikes for classes because they fill up quickly. You have to be ready to buy a spot as soon as the classes open up, and from what I hear it’s almost impossible to get in the front row.
- SUPER loud music. You know how when you leave a loud concert and you can’t hear much for awhile? I had that feeling after a SoulCycle class. Loud music doesn’t bother me too much, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Here’s a lawsuit against SoulCycle that might make them want to turn down the volume. In this case, a woman “impaled” her leg on a SoulCycle bike and nobody in class even noticed her screaming because the music was so loud. She needed 50 stitches in her leg, which also became badly infected. Ouch.
- Not a good workout. Soul Cycle is basically a combination of dancing and an upper body workout…on a bike. Guys, you will not build muscle by lifting 1-pound weights as you pedal on a bike. And the “push-up” on the handlebars part is just absurd. The point of a push-up is to resist your bodyweight against gravity. If your legs are pedaling underneath you and holding your body up, there’s very little bodyweight left to actually push up. You would be much better off grabbing heavier weights once you are OFF the bike, and doing a real upper body workout. And the dancing part is fun, sure, but it’s also distracting from the actual intensity of the workout and really just slows things down. I’m all for fun fitness once in awhile, but not if it’s unsafe, and safety is an issue with all of the moves I just mentioned (I’ll talk more about this in the UGLY section).
And finally, the UGLY…
- No directions whatsoever. There was zero time spent at the beginning of class to teach newcomers how to use the bike. I’m extra sensitive to this one given I am an instructor myself, but it really upset me. If someone comes to a class never having worked out before and they aren’t even told how to use the resistance knob, how to move into different positions on the bike, and how to do all the random moves that SoulCycle created (tap-backs, bicep and tricep moves with the handlebars, etc.- UGH, we’ll get into these in a minute…), then they are NOT going to return and they’re probably going to lose confidence and feel insecure.
A few Gawker writers gave SoulCycle a try and one of them described how she felt so lost in the class because there was no real instruction: “From start to finish I had no to very little idea what was going on. I wish there had been some kind of prep video I could have watched beforehand. I tried to base my moves on what those around me were doing. BUT I DIDN’T REALLY KNOW WHAT THEY WERE DOING.”
Does that sound like the kind of class you would want to go back to?
- Candles?!? This I just can’t understand. I didn’t notice when the candles were lit, but at some point I looked up and the DJ instructor was dancing around with two candles in his hands. I didn’t question it then because I thought for sure they were fake….Yeah, they weren’t. I know because I checked as I walked out at the end of class, and there were 6 lit candles surrounding the bike on stage. Not only is this a major fire hazard, but the room was PACKED with over 50 people and god forbid something went wrong…I don’t even want to think about it.
- Dangerous moves. I get that some of the SoulCycle moves seem fancy and cool, but dancing and lifting weights should NOT be done on a bike. As I said before, most of these moves aren’t giving you a good workout anyways, so if they’re also dangerous then what’s the point? If you try one of these classes you will likely notice that the moves you do just don’t feel “right”. They feel like your body is being forced into a position that it shouldn’t be in.
At one point during the class, we were in third position (out of the saddle with hands at the far end of the handlebars), and the instructor kept us there for a while without adding any fancy moves. He called this the “cardio “section. A few minutes into it he said, “It’s much more difficult to just ride on the bike isn’t it? It’s way harder without the choreography! ” In my head I was thinking, yeah, that’s why people take REAL spinning classes…
[If you want more of the nitty gritty details, you can read some of the bio-mechanical reasons for why upper body workouts on a bike are a no-no in this article by Jennifer Sage (a personal trainer and Master instructor and Founder of the ICA).]
If you want a fitness class with dancing, stick with the ones that keep you on your feet.
I hope this review is helpful for those considering SoulCycle or for people who already frequent the studio. Shoot me an email (email@example.com) if you have any questions, and make sure you sign up here to get exclusive insights and tips that I only send to me email list.