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You’ve likely heard of SoulCycle, the widely popular cycling company known for its intense cardio workouts and trendy studios. It’s built an impressive following in the 15 years since it opened, with 87 studios across the country to date. The 45 minute-long workout blends high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with strength training to get your heart pumping and tone your muscles. It's clear that many adore SoulCycle, so we talked to two instructors and a physical therapist to find out what the hype is all about.
Read on to find out what the workout involves, how it impacts your body, and how to get started.
Meet the Expert
What Is SoulCycle?
SoulCycle classes combine HIIT, resistance training, and strength training while riding a stationary bike to the beat of the music. SoulCycle is known and loved for its ambiance: the low-lit studios feature flashing lights, energizing music, motivating instructors, and enthusiastic riders.
“SoulCycle is unique in that it offers a complete mind, body, and soul experience,” says Loebs. “Thousands of riders take SoulCycle classes every day to ride through struggles, strengthen their bodies, empower their minds, and find joy in movement.”
Who Is SoulCycle For?
HIIT workouts like SoulCycle's involve quick bursts of vigorous exercises followed by periods of lighter activity or rest to let your body recover. That might mean 30 seconds of all-out pedaling followed by 30 seconds of light cycling. HIIT makes your heart rate fluctuate quickly, which trains your heart to pump oxygen through your body more efficiently and builds endurance, says Lyons.
Like other HIIT workouts, SoulCycle’s interval circuits kick your heart into high drive and torch some serious calories (in the neighborhood of 500 to 700). Afterward, your body has to work to replenish its oxygen stores, which means you’ll keep burning extra calories and fat for hours following—an afterburn effect called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). The constant pedaling strengthens and tones your lower body and core, and classes also incorporate lightweight training to work your arm muscles.
HIIT is a great way to reap all the usual benefits of exercise, but faster. “Exercise, in general, can boost your mood, endurance, aerobic metabolism, and more, which all help reduce risk of diseases,” says Lyons. “Studies suggest that with HIIT, these benefits occur at a quicker rate.”
What to Expect During a SoulCycle Class
If it’s your first time spinning or you need to rent cycling shoes, arrive 15 minutes early to meet your instructor, get the equipment you need, and set up your bike. If you’re new, your trainer will show you how to use and adjust the bike to fit you.
The workout starts with a warm-up to get your legs moving. After that, you spend the bulk of class doing HIIT circuits involving intense bursts of high-speed or high-resistance pedaling. “You can expect sprints over the beat of the music, along with crunches and oblique work to the beat,” says G, “We also do jumps and runs, where we temporarily rise out of the saddle for short periods of time. While out of the saddle, we jog, body roll, push up, tricep press, and more.”
Classes also include strength training series, like arm exercises using one- to five-pound weights provided at the studio, says Loebs. The workout concludes with a few minutes of light pedaling to cool down and stretching. “All classes will focus on a mix of resistance training, as well as speed and endurance work,” she says. “Sometimes you’ll work on one more than the other, but it’s guaranteed that every class is different, which is one of my favorite things about SoulCycle.”
Classes are typically 45 minutes long, though there are sometimes hour- or 90-minute-long workouts to pick from, says G. Class sizes usually range from 14 to 60 riders depending on the studio. During the pandemic, SoulCycle offers SoulOutside classes at select studios, where you can get the in-person experience while safely distanced in the outdoors.
Benefits of SoulCycle
- Builds endurance: HIIT challenges your heart to pump more efficiently, which can lower your heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and improve your endurance over time.
- Tones muscles: spinning with resistance, intervals, and weight training will strengthen and tone your muscles.
- Easy on joints: cycling is a low-impact sport, so these workouts will take it easy on your bones and joints while still challenging your muscles and endurance.
- Releases stress: Research shows that exercise can reduce feelings of stress and depression. And the SoulCycle experience can be especially cathartic. “You can sing, laugh, cry if you need it, and celebrate yourself and each other,” says Cat. “Whether you’re looking for a workout, some me-time, or to work something out on the bike, that space is safe, and it’s yours.”
Proper form and bike setup are essential in a SoulCycle class, says Loebs. Your instructor can help you set up your bike before class and coach you through proper form. In a nutshell, sit on the wide part of the bike seat, track your knees over your ankles, keep your shoulders down, engage your core, and grip the handlebars lightly.
Because this is a HIIT workout, people with heart problems should be cleared by their doctor before partaking in any exercise, says Lyons. G recommends telling your instructor if you have an injury or pre-existing condition so they can help you modify movements. She also encourages listening to your body throughout class and taking breaks when needed.
At-Home vs. In-Studio
While famed for its in-studio experience, SoulCycle now offers digital options to carry you through the pandemic and beyond. The brand recently debuted the SoulCycle at-home bike ($2,500), a stationary bike with a built-in touchscreen to stream live or on-demand classes through the Equinox+ app ($39.99 per month). You can also take live virtual classes with SoulCycle’s Studio Stream for $20 a pop to get the workout on your bike at home.
SoulCycle vs. Peloton
Though SoulCycle and other popular cycling experiences like Peloton are both beloved for their interval-centric classes, inspiring instructors, and curated music, there are a few differences to keep in mind as you pick the best spin program for you. SoulCycle emphasizes community, and studios filled with tightly packed bikes reflect that--expect to get cozy with your neighbors once the pandemic allows indoor cycling studios to return to normal. If dynamic fitness classes are your jam, then SoulCycle won’t disappoint: Between the concert-like playlist, mood lighting, and animated instructor, the class experience is as fun and entertaining as it is effective.
Peloton, on the other hand, is more widely known for its at-home bike (starting at $1,895) and virtual classes on the Peloton app (starting at $12.99 per month), though it also has brick-and-mortar locations across the U.S. The app also offers treadmill, yoga, strength training, and outdoor classes if you like to switch up your fitness routine.
What to Wear to SoulCycle
Pick clothing that will prevent thigh chafing, says Loebs, like spandex leggings or bike shorts with a sports bra or tank top. You’ll also need spin shoes that clip into the bike (they help you pedal more efficiently and prevent slipping). If you don’t have a pair of your own, you can rent or buy them at the studio or the Soul Shop. You can also pick up a towel at the front desk, says G, since these classes get sweaty.
SoulCycle is an enormously popular spin studio with classes that test your endurance and strength with resistance- and speed-based HIIT and lightweight training. Thanks to all those intervals, the workout boosts cardio endurance, burns major calories, and tones muscles while still going easy on your joints. If you have heart problems, check in with your doctor before trying this cardio-heavy workout.
If you’re motivated by high-energy group fitness, the SoulCycle atmosphere delivers. “Our classes are equal parts celebratory, meditative, and inspirational,” says G. “The workout is intense but accessible, and our community is strong and welcoming.”