Exercise is work. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable and most people would rather take a nap instead. SoulCycle is exercise in disguise. It takes an aggressive form of exercise and makes it fun. Turning a difficult workout into an enjoyable experience can be a great motivating tool, but for some it can be a problem.
Indoor cycling, otherwise known as spinning, has been around since the early 90s, but in 2006 a spinning company called SoulCycle entered the workout scene. Picture a dark room lit with candles and 50-plus stationary bicycles packed closely together, full of people you see so often it feels like a club. The doors are closed. Upbeat music blasts over the surround sound speakers. Riders aren’t just spinning; they are pedaling on beat almost as if they were dancing.
The group dynamic and club atmosphere at SoulCycle are qualities that push you to keep coming back for more. The temptation to schedule another class (or two), even when you shouldn’t can be overwhelming and, for some, it’s risky for their mental and physical health.
Many people will inject spinning into their schedules in a healthy way. Some others will make excuses to opt out of commitments in order to make a class. “If you are experiencing guilt and anxiety for missing class, those are signs of a greater problem,” says Dr. Stacey Rosenfeld, psychologist and certified spinning instructor.
The addictive qualities of SoulCycle range from the room’s vibrant atmosphere and motivating instructors to the endorphins being released by the exercise itself. It is the effective combination of environment and the body’s physiological reaction to it that can lead to obsession. SoulCycle’s energetic classes are filled with cheering and encouragement from an instructor who calls out, “How are we doing?” as riders grunt up an imaginary hill. Through heavy breathing riders respond with cheers. According to Dr. Rosenfeld group energy and camaraderie can carry some people much further in productive exercise than individual workouts. She says, “a little bit of competitiveness gets played out and if it’s not crazy it can be motivating.” Having previously worked in New York and now California, Dr. Rosenfeld notices a difference in attitudes towards exercise.
“I’ve noticed here (in California) people seem to have a healthier relationship with exercise because of the nice weather,” she says, “there are other reasons to be doing outdoor activities aside from working out, it just feels more balanced. In New York for six months you are going into a little cave, you’re going underground, to accomplish a task.” Since New York isn’t exactly the ideal place for outdoor activities such as hiking or swimming, indoor exercise creativity is important for many.
At SoulCycle working out with other people who are clearly giving the class their greatest effort, and seeing the sweat pool on their lower backs, is a motivating signal to push harder. The sensation of exerting the body to its highest capacity is, in a way, thrilling.
Andrew G. Rundle an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University says, “the euphoria seen in the phrase ‘runners high,’ which came about during the jogging craze in the 70s and 80s, can probably be applied to spinning.” Pleasure is gleaned from engaging in this act and therefore facilitates a want. And in some cases, a need.
Dr. Diane Klein from the department of psychiatry at New York University says rewards from exercise are both intrinsic and extrinsic. One reward of exercise includes the belief that you are doing something really healthy for yourself, she points out. SoulCycle has a built-in cheerleader telling you just that. Instructors congratulate you for simply existing in the class. They also give motivational speeches. You don’t exactly get a pat on the back for your (very) light jog on your gym’s treadmill. Who wouldn’t say, “Please sir, I want some more?”
SoulCycle is meant to be an all-encompassing experience. Alexandra Brunetti, 19, a student at Manhattan College spins six times a week. The fervent SoulCyclist says it frees her mind and when the instructor gives motivational speeches it applies to more than just the bike.
“I remember the last song (during my last class) was ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay. The instructor made us close our eyes and ride at our own pace,” she says. “When we were at the top of the third hill, it wasn’t about the bike anymore, she talked about what we wanted to be on and off the bike,” Brunetti says.
What fanatical spinners may not know is that over time your body needs a change. Cross training is essential. Professor Rundle says your body acclimatizes and your muscles figure out the most efficient way to do an activity. “If you cross multiple exercises your muscles won’t get used to doing one thing and figure out how to be efficient,” he says. Spinning six times a week is therefore not the most effective way to stay in shape.
It is also possible to over-exercise. If the rider is ill and requires tissues to be stuffed into the bicycle’s side water bottle holders for sporadic nose blowing – stay home.
Professor Rundle points out that physical activity affects the immune system and both the endocrine and antioxidants systems. When you exert yourself to exhaustion, he adds, you are at danger for infection and there is always a possibility of repetitive motion injuries to your joints.
The potential to be addicted to an exercise regime is exacerbated by a culture obsessed with looking good. People today are always looking for ways to get into shape. When an exercise fad is introduced to the
exercise world people think it could be it for them. The key to unlock the door to skinny. A culture consumed with appearance provides the platform for a SoulCycle to succeed. And succeeding, it is.
Photos by Roxy Kirshenbaum.