The music is pumping, flickering candles are the only light and I’m pedalling like crazy — but going nowhere.
The indoor cycling workout phenomenon began in New York in 2006, and the company now has more than 90 studios across North America and Canada, with 20,000 people taking classes every day.
Tomorrow, SoulCycle opens its first UK studio in London’s Soho — a clear sign that the cult of spinning isn’t waning any time soon.
Claire Coleman, pictured centre, tried a SoulCycle class at their new London studio. Although an A-lister favourite the exercise can cause some health problems
Who would have thought that cycling nowhere could be so popular?
The concept came about in the late Eighties, when U.S. endurance cyclist Johnny Goldberg was hit by a car while cycling at night and decided to find a safer training option.
Though stationary bikes had been around for a while, he was the first to plonk them in a studio and get people cycling to music.
These days, there are classes that take you on virtual reality rides through the countryside, ones that track your heart rate and get you to compete against classmates, and even some that think they’re nightclubs.
SoulCycle’s USP has always been that it’s a ‘philosophy’ as much as an exercise class. Devotees speak about its spiritual side in reverent tones and, more than once, it’s been compared to a church.
Claire, pictured, said that she wasn’t ‘wholly on board with the high-fiving, whooping and intense personal development’ but did ‘love that it’s done in near-darkness’ after the class
SoulCycle’s USP has always been that it’s a ‘philosophy’ as much as an exercise class and the London managing director Patrick Ryan-Southern said it’s ’45 minutes of disconnection’
Listening to London managing director Patrick Ryan-Southern talk about it, you can understand why. ‘It’s 45 minutes of disconnection,’ he tells me. ‘Where you’re just spending time with other people in a dark room.’
I worry I’m not American enough for it. My legs are going like the clappers and I’m trying to suspend my British cynicism.
Californian instructor Mantas — who, with his floppy blond hair and headset mic looks like a member of a boyband, but sounds more like a motivational speaker — encourages me to ‘fail, because that’s where we grow, not just in this class, but out there in your relationships, in your careers . . . ’
SoulCycle itself may be new to the UK, but, today, there’s barely a gym in the country that doesn’t have a spin studio (the term spinning was actually trademarked by Goldberg and his co-founder).
Boutique studios have started to open, with high-end changing facilities and a club-like vibe — from Psycle, 1Rebel and Boom Cycle in London, to LuvCycle in Manchester, Secret Spin in Cardiff, Rise Cycling in Liverpool, and Vibe across the Midlands.
The high energy exercise class, Claire pictured during one, is done to music and is a favourite of celebrities including Beyonce, the Beckhams, Madonna and Michelle Obama
But SoulCycle is renowned as the most intense of them all — and the most adored by its fans. Marvin Foster is responsible for recruiting and training its instructors. ‘Alongside yoga, cycling is the only thing that has been consistently popular for decades,’ he says.
‘I think it’s partly because of the calories you can burn — 500 to 700 in a 45-minute session — and the fact it’s low impact. You’re clipped into the bike, so it doesn’t create tension on your joints.
‘You can control the resistance, too, so, whether you’re an athlete, coming back from an injury, or pregnant, you can still do it. We have riders aged from 14 to 72!’
SoulCycle superfan Lady Gaga threw her 26th birthday party at its studio in West Hollywood
There’s no doubt spinning is a proper workout — it’s great cardiovascular exercise, working the muscles in your legs and engaging your core muscles for balance (although less than when cycling normally). Many classes add in arm work, too.
Plenty who spin are evangelical about it, with many claiming it leaves them feeling ‘euphoric’. Lauren Stevenson, 38, is the director of PR agency Aisle 8. She does three to five spin classes a week.
‘I have a road bike as well, but I save that for sunny weekends,’ she says. ‘Spin means that I have no excuse for not exercising. I go at 7.30am, in a room full of people with loads of energy and good music.’
These days, you don’t even need to be in a studio to spin — last September saw the UK launch of Peloton, a U.S. fitness brand that sells high-tech bikes which let individuals join classes virtually and interact with other members from home.
SoulCycle began in New York in 2006, and the company now has more than 90 studios across North America and Canada. Claire is pictured at one of the classes in London
The only drawback is the price — £1,990 for the bike, and a £39 monthly subscription for unlimited live on-demand classes. For most of us, a class at the gym is more practical.
Sam Arnold, 47, a computer programmer from Cwmbran in Wales, started taking a local class in January after her plan to run every day that month was scuppered by a foot injury.
‘The first time, I thought I was going to die, but I persevered, and, after the first week, I had more energy,’ she says. ‘The mood it puts you in is incredible: I never got the high from running that I get from spinning.’
After her SoulCycle class Claire, pictured, realised that she had burned 500 calories
Since January, Sam has been spinning several times a week and, by combining this with a sensible diet (the Zoe Harcombe plan), has gone from a size 18 to a 12. ‘It’s the first time I’ve ever done exercise and seen my muscles get toned as a result,’ she says. ‘I’m looking forward to going on holiday for the first time in ten years.’
With such a glowing endorsement, it’s hard not to be drawn in to the ‘church’ of spin. Who wouldn’t want an endorphin rush and to see the fat dropping off?
However, experts say there are drawbacks — and advise taking it easy, especially at first.
Several years ago, viewers of the hospital documentary 24 Hours In A&E saw a young woman come in feeling a bit wobbly after a spin class. The intense exercise had resulted in her muscle fibres breaking down so quickly that it caused her kidneys to fail. She needed several operations and extensive physio to walk again.
This condition — known as rhabdomyolysis — is a recognised hazard for spinners.
Over at Six Physio in Chelsea, South West London (sixphysio.com), they’ve started to see so many ‘spinjuries’ caused by poor cycling techniques and wrongly positioned saddles and handlebars that they now offer biomechanical assessment and personalised advice about setting up your bike.
‘A poor bike set-up or incorrect technique can cause knee pain if the saddle is too low, or lower back pain if the handlebars are too far away and you’re slumping,’ says Sarah Bentley, a physiotherapist at the clinic.
Sarah Bentley, a physiotherapist at Over at Six Physio in Chelsea, said a ‘poor bike set-up or incorrect technique can cause knee pain if the saddle is too low.’ Pictured is Claire at the class
‘You can also get numbness or tingling in your feet from having your shoes done up too tightly and even hyperextension in the neck from pushing your head forwards while looking up at the instructor.’
That’s not to say she’s anti-spin, however. ‘It’s great cardiovascular exercise, as long as you’re combining it with other workouts for your core and all-round strength.’
Fitness instructor Susan Birbeck, who runs Senior Spin classes for the over-55s, points out that spin doesn’t have to be super-intense.
The 53-year-old from Idle, West Yorkshire, says: ‘The great thing about spin is that it can so easily be adapted to anyone’s ability. You start at a low level and work up.’
Back at SoulCycle, I conclude that, while I might not be wholly on board with the high-fiving, whooping and intense personal development, I do love that it’s done in near-darkness.
I struggle to keep my legs going, and dip my upper body in time with the music, so I’m happy that I can make mistakes without anybody really seeing.
And, although I don’t quite feel the promised high at the end, my watch tells me I’ve burned nearly 500 calories — so I might just become one of those evangelical spinners yet.