You know the ancient saying: if it’s happening in the States right now, then it’s on its way here. Which means that SoulCycle, a group cycling class that merges upper-body exercises with a traditional stationary bike workout, is probably a big thing at a gym near you.
SoulCycle started in New York and now boasts an impressive roll call of celeb fans, such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise and Chelsea Clinton, who used it for her pre-wedding shape-up. Classes come with dimmed lighting and a zesty instructor, plus aromatherapeutic wafts of essential oils to hide the BO of punters performing push-ups on handlebars while pedalling like mad.
You work on core strengthening and upper-arm toning with weights, while your legs are whizzing round like Jerry’s when he’s being chased by Tom. Rather than slipping your trainers into stirrups, you wear proper cycling shoes that clip on to the pedals just like Bradley Wiggins’, so you can perform the ‘up’ pedalling movements that target your abs. You feel that if you don’t stop soon you may die, but only in a good way.
That said, there’s actually nothing much new about it. It’s more a repackaging of the enduringly popular indoor cycling class known as spinning, in which you sit on a bike facing your instructor/torturer and spend 45 minutes burning 600 calories and releasing a Niagara of sweat to a soundtrack of motivational music.
The original spinning workout was created in 1989 as a training routine by a racing cyclist called Johnny Goldberg after a near-miss with a lorry persuaded him that indoors was safer than outside. It proved so popular that two years later he opened up a cycling studio in Hollywood. The stationary bikes involved are heavyweight beasts that feature an adjustable, weighted flywheel that you control by a knob or a lever to raise or lower resistance.
A spin class lets you replicate the experience of dancing on the pedals while climbing a mountain road or flying downhill or zooming along the flat while keeping you safe from outdoor cycling drawbacks such as getting soaked to the skin in a downpour or crushed to death by a lorry. Your instructor might encourage you to visualise an outdoor environment and you might even get to experience a simulation of race conditions, complete with sprints and intervals, though without the mass pile-ups.
Spinning also works muscles in ways not offered by other cardio classes, strengthening the core, back and shoulders while working out the quadriceps and hamstrings. And unlike other group exercise classes, they’re hairy-chested enough to appeal to blokes who shy away from the female-dominated aerobics studio.
The fact that spinning sessions are still so popular after 20 years that you have to book a place in advance says all you need to know. If your experience of a spin class has been confined to some local leisure centre offering a few manky, sweat-spattered bikes in a horseshoe and a rubbish soundsystem, you probably won’t have been impressed. But spinning at its best is hugely energising fun.
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Remember to take a towel (because you’ll get very sweaty) and an industrial-sized bottle of water (because you will constantly need to rehydrate). Check that your kit isn’t whiffy, because you’re riding close to other people and it gets very hot and steamy in there.
On the subject of kit, if you’re new to spin, then for heaven’s sake invest in a pair of padded shorts. Unless you want to spend the next week walking like John Wayne.