Soul Cycle must be a cult.
People gather in a dark place, are meticulous about their hair and makeup, wear gear that costs more than my car payment and move in unison to trance-like music. Afterward, everyone goes out for avocado toast — which, I admit, is a significant improvement over suicide pacts and poisoned punch — but the comparison holds.
As far as cults go, at least it’s a healthy one. And while Soul Cycle isn’t my favorite of the bunch, other studios offering similar rhythm-based spin classes have been firmly planted in my exercise rotation for years. Somewhere between the energetic instructors, mash-up playlists and on-the-bike choreography, there’s a solid workout — one that keeps me coming back for more.
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to hate spin.
Your average spin class in your average big box gym can be hard to like. Then I found Flywheel. What a difference that made. Dedicated studio space for spinning? Check. Finely-tuned bikes? Check. Clip-in cycling shoes, gratis towels and the “TorqBoard” — used to measure your progress against your fellow riders (and yourself) — also check. You even incorporate arm weights for a total body workout. It was great. It still is great. The classes are challenging, the music’s good and the atmosphere is welcoming.
So that’s where I remained, on a Flywheel bike, for about a year. I had no complaints. Well, few complaints. I thought the instructors could have mixed things up more to keep classes fresh and interesting from day to day and week to week. But overall: good stuff. Solid B+ all around.
I went to my first rhythm-based spin classes because my wife suggested it. It seemed innocuous at first. Pretty Flywheel-like, from the space itself to the bikes. But then the class started, and all around me, people were riding to the beat of the music and … dancing?
Tap-back-presses, pulses, four corners and other choreographed movements are a big part of rhythm-based spin. The idea is to use your whole body, including legs, core and arms — and to do so while maintaining the beat. It took some getting used to. For a guy who is an unskilled-albeit-enthusiastic wedding dancer, staying on beat and matching the riders around me was a work in progress.
But once I got the hang of it, I loved it. The fun music, engaged participants and varied classes kept me coming back for more. As I improved, things became more natural. After a few weeks, I could find the rhythm without staring at the instructor’s feet. After a few more, I was nailing each piece of choreography. Eventually, I could put it all together into a cohesive package, maintaining the cadence even through the fastest, most challenging stretches of class. And because you set your own resistance, you can avoid those pesky plateaus.
READ MORE > WHY I LOVE SPIN CLASS — AN INSTRUCTOR’S TALE
That said, not all rhythm-based spin studios are created equal. If you’re bike-dancing more than you’re pedaling, that’s not good — well, not if you’re primarily there for a workout. But the best studios keep you working hard, sweating and gasping for breath from start to finish, using a mixture of standing runs, seated sprints and brutal climbs. Sure, you’ll occasionally be bouncing around the bike like a crazy person, but hey, so is everyone else. Embrace it, and the whole experience can be really liberating — just as long as you’re not expecting to be a real cyclist.
At the very least, a good workout — just like a perfectly-filtered Instagram post — is scientifically proven to make your avocado toast taste better.