SoulCycle: The high-octane, candle-filled spinning studio has landed in Canada

What do this writer and Madonna now have in common? We’ve both been to SoulCycle.

The high-octane spinning studio, made most famous by its celebrity-friendly cachet, has landed in Canada. The New York-based company has expanded quickly, to 70-plus locations, since opening in 2006. A King Street West outpost in Toronto is about to become SoulCycle’s first outside the United States, with another one set for the Yorkville area later this year, as well as openings to come in Vancouver.

SoulCycle’s candle-filled, mantra-centric approach to fitness has been easily lampooned in pop culture over the years. In the TV comedy Broad City, one of the main characters works at the cheekily named Soulstice gym, where she aspires to become one of the dopey instructors who survive on green juice and namastes.

Boutique cycling studios are nothing new in Canada. But SoulCycle, along with its competitor CycleBar, which opens next month in east Toronto, will be the first chance for Canadians to see for themselves how a slick, hyper-branded U.S. operation goes about the business of pumping you up.

Ahead of the March 2 opening, The Globe and Mail asked three writers, of highly varying fitness levels, to do advance scouting on the SoulCycle experience.

Ty Roberts teaches at the new SoulCylcle studio in Toronto on February 21, 2017.

Ty Roberts teaches at the new SoulCylcle studio in Toronto on February 21, 2017.


Dave McGinn: The runner

I can run five kilometres in under 25 minutes. Since the fall I have spent three days a week in a weight room punishing my core and building strength in my legs. How hard could it be to spend 45 minutes on a stationary bike while an instructor yelled New Age-y slogans?

This was my admittedly unfair assessment of SoulCycle based on nothing more than its name and its status as a celebrity obsession.

As it turns out, I was right about some of my assumptions and wrong, so painfully wrong, about others.

The pitch-black studio is illuminated only by four thick candles on the ground in front of our instructor Ty’s bike.

“Resistance is your friend!” he yells into the microphone hooked around his ear as he shows us the dial on each of our bikes that, with a few quick turns, makes you go from straightaway sprint to quad-burning uphill struggle.

Ty turns on the the first song in a playlist that would run through a remix of Panda by Desiigner and JaySki & the Quad City DJ’s 4 Minute Twerk Out, among others. We are up out of our saddles and going hard. By the middle of the second song I have to sit for a moment to catch my breath – even though Ty and the rest of the room are still up and going strong, hips back, shoulders pumping up and down. I am pouring sweat.

This is way more intense that I expected. It only gets harder. We start doing crunches and then push-ups as we pedal at Lance Armstrong speeds. We grab two little two-pound dumbbells from beneath our saddles and do curls and throw punches with them. My shirt is soaked with sweat.

Resistance is not my friend.

While it is not nearly as New Age-y as one might expect, considering it’s called SoulCycle, it is wonderfully over-the-top in its positivity.

As the class is gasping for breath while Jazmine Sullivan’s Masterpiece is cranked to top volume, Ty is yelling, “You’re a masterpiece!” to the room. Then he’s screaming, “Spread your wings and fly!”

Ty has legs like an NFL running back and is, I guarantee, the most fun person to hang out with at dance parties. He never stops smiling.

“I want everyone to feel successful,” he told me after the class. “I want to make sure you guys are getting the workout you deserve.”

I don’t know if it was the workout I deserved, but, leaving the studio with my legs turned to jelly and my core burning and music still ringing in my ears, it is certainly the workout I’ll be telling friends about for a long time to come.

From left, Globe writers Dave McGinn, Clifford Lee and Trish McAlaster suffer through a workout at the new SoulCycle studio in Toronto on Tuesday. February 21.

From left, Globe writers Dave McGinn, Clifford Lee and Trish McAlaster suffer through a workout at the new SoulCycle studio in Toronto on Tuesday. February 21.


Trish McAlaster: The triathlete

I’m a spin girl. I have been for almost 15 years now.

As a triathlete, I use spin classes as part of my workout regimen, and I’ve trained under the same avid cyclist/instructor for years. Spinning has even helped take me to international-level competitions. So when I heard SoulCycle was opening in Toronto – just a block away from my home spin studio – I had to give it a try.

I’d heard the stories about the club’s format: larger-than-life instructors (who aren’t necessarily from an athletic or fitness background) spouting mantras worthy of motivational posters, performing dance moves while clipped onto their bikes. All by candlelight, no less. It all sounded a little over-the-top to me – they’ve earned a cult-like reputation for their approach to classes – and the triathlete in me was skeptical about the workout.

I arrived at the club to find a high-end space with a sleek lobby, locker area and, most amazing, a fully stocked change/shower room with any toiletry product you’d ever need. I started to understand the $28 price tag for classes. I was surprised that the studio itself was on the smaller end, and it felt a bit cramped with the bikes butted up against each other front to back. Trust me: You want a front-row seat at this club, otherwise your view will be someone’s backside.

As everyone set up to ride, we met our instructor Ty: superfit, friendly, engaging and obviously raring to go. Ty is a former Disney cruise ship dancer, previous experience that helped to explain his presence and impressive acrobatics once the class was under way. The lights were out, the candles lit, and what ensued for the next 45 minutes seemed like a high energy, frenetic dance party – on a bike.

My sport watch showed that my heart rate was all over the map as I tried to match the frantic pedalling pace combined with various push-ups and arm movements. For me, the class wasn’t fitness building. It wasn’t structured that way. The real workout was trying to keep up and keep co-ordinated. At one point we were doing such rapid-fire push-ups that I thought, “If my sweaty hands slip off, I’m going to smash my head on the handlebars!”

Now, about the soul in SoulCycle. I’d read about their classes and how people described the instructors as basically delivering spiritual sermons throughout the class. It was like taking advantage of the darkened room and the light-headedness of spinners, high on endorphins, to induce a feeling of transcendent group achievement. Knowing that I can get a little mentally wonky during and after a strenuous workout, I feared I’d be reprogrammed like Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Ty, while animated, thankfully did not go overboard with the mantras. While I personally don’t need such introspective and uplifting dialogue during a workout, he did seem to keep the other spinners engaged and motivated and got everyone working together as a group.

A class at SoulCycle is a definite experience. While it might not be the right type of structured workout that I require to train as an athlete, it would probably be more fun for a recreational fitness type (with better dance moves) than me.

The sweaty aftermath for Dave McGinn, Trish McAlaster and Cliff Lee, along with instructor Ty Roberts.

The sweaty aftermath for Dave McGinn, Trish McAlaster and Cliff Lee, along with instructor Ty Roberts.

Cliff Lee: The casual rider

2009: I take my first spin class. I’m not an athlete by any means; I certainly drink more than I spin. But I love it, and have taken classes on and off for years.

2017, 15 minutes to SoulCycle class: I arrive at the studio, all white walls, yellow-and-black accents and hype-inducing bass music. There is a nice mug for sale at reception, but I put it back after considering the $34 price tag (and the $28 cost of a class).

5 minutes: You get what you pay for at SoulCycle, which is the works when it comes to amenities. There is even a framed New Yorker Talk of the Town piece on the wall, which is odd because the writer is most certainly poking fun at SoulCycle.

The best perk: lockers with built-in combination locks. But don’t forget, like I did, that you took No. 66, and No. 69 won’t open no matter how hard you pull.

Class starts: The lights dim, and the instructor Ty hops on his bike, which he will leap off many times with a dancer’s grace. Ty says, “It’s getting thick, it’s getting juicy!” which seem to be more apt descriptions of his finesse than my beer belly leaning over the handle bars.

5 minutes into class: I wonder if earplugs are available because I seem to have entered a dance party set to the song Panda.

15 minutes: The front of the room features floor-to-ceiling mirrors, creating the illusion of a 100-strong SoulCycle crowd. “We are one: one tribe, one family, one community. Let’s spin together!” But all I can see is myself grimacing as I try to time a combo of ab crunches and pedal strokes to the 4/4 beat.

22:30 minutes: “Right, right, right, left, right!” yells Ty. It’s officially the halfway mark of the class. I know this because three SoulCycle employees bound into the room with flashing red lights, hollering and whipping towels that accidentally, but gently, catch me on the arm as they run past.

30 minutes: My Smartwater bottle is drunk dry. The marketing here works: I desperately need another Smartwater.

35 minutes: The hardest part of the class was the upper-body intermission, where we grabbed two-pound weights and shadowboxed in our seats. Ty is still at peak energy, encouraging us to punch harder and harder. I worry more about accidentally socking him in the face as he leans over to check my form.

45 minutes: Class is over. I am ready for a beer.

The next day: I am sore all over. The SoulCycle workout was a success. I am ready to buy that mug after all.

The writers were guests of SoulCycle. The company did not approve or review this article.


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