SoulCycle is the toughest workout you’ll ever love. Founded in New York in 2006, the body-rebuilding spinning-meets-support-group craze didn’t hit the Bay Area until 2013. Since then, it’s developed a rabid following in San Franciscans like Jaime Gagliardi, who describes the workout as a “Dance Party + Therapy + Triple Espresso while burning hundreds of calories.” How could we not try it after a plug like that?
At the SoulCycle location at 2095 Union Street in the Marina District, the staff is eager to help newbies adjust their bikes and clip in their cycling shoes in the darkened, candle-illuminated studio. “First time?” a staffer asks. “Don’t worry about keeping up, it’s a madhouse.”
For the next 45 minutes, instructor Natalie took attendees (most of whom were women, with body types ranging from fitness model to pleasantly regular) through a non-stop ride punctuated with handlebar push-ups, “choreography,” and even a set of bicep and tricep work using small dumbbells. Butts were off the seats more than they were on as Natalie exhorted her students again and again to increase resistance while pedaling to the beat. It was brutal, grueling, but also oddly exhilarating to be moving in time with so many other people. Maybe this is how wolves feel when they run in a pack? But they do it with less techno.
Don’t let words like “brutal” and “grueling” intimidate you, though: SoulCycle claims that classes work for people of all fitness levels, and that there's an expectation that it takes some time to build up to grasping all the choreography involved. The darkness of the studio certainly helps liberate one from fears of judgment—even if your classmates had the energy to shoot you the side-eye (they don’t), they likely can’t see you. Sitting at the back of class helps, too.
SoulCycle also has a reputation as a touchy-feely, self-help-verbiage-laden workout, but this wasn’t the case in Natalie’s class. According to SoulCycle’s Senior PR Manager Vicky Land, the New Age factor varies from instructor to instructor. “There’s someone for everybody,” Land says. “We have some people who really go for instructors who give constant affirmations throughout the class, and I know some people don’t enjoy that as much, and they seek out other instructors.”
And, the bottom line: this workout is fun. Attendees of Natalie’s class were genuinely into it, glowing with the pride of a job well done as they milled around the locker room after class. “I feel high!” one woman squealed. “After this, I can do anything.”
- Wear close fitting running or cycling pants that won’t sag in back (you’re working out, not fixing the sink) and a wicking tee or tank top, because you’re going to sweat. A lot.
- Smart riders hydrate all day, then bring water with them to class. It’s also available at the studio.
- First timers get to use a pair of SoulCycle shoes for free, subsequent rentals are $3. If you have your own cycling shoes, then Look Delta or SPD clips will work with their bikes.