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BY CLARISSA-JAN LIM | SoulCycle’s new branch in the West Village is a sleek, immaculate space on Leroy St. that, like its 16 other studios across the country, caters to a trendy, tote-toting crowd who come prepared to sweat it out in designer workout gear.
I am more accustomed — meaning, if lucky, three times a year — to exercising in a fluorescent-lit room with CNN showing mute on the TVs as I stare at boring, white brick walls (ahem, SUNY Purchase gym).
But when I walked into the new SoulCycle, at Leroy and Greenwich Sts., I was greeted by a front-desk staff so scrubbed-looking and chirpy that I almost disregarded my wariness of the workout ahead that, according to its Web site, “incorporates a mental component of inspirational coaching” (cue eye roll), and for which the price of a single session could buy me six beers at a decent bar in Brooklyn.
I had to fill out a first-timer’s form and put on a pair of shoes with clips on the soles that attach to the pedals of the bike I would be spinning. My class was already five minutes into its 45-minute session when I arrived, so I hopped onto my bike and clipped my shoes to the pedals amongst a smattering of already-sweaty SoulCyclers.
My instructor — and DJ, light technician and life coach — for the day was Stephanie Pearson, a petite ball of tireless pedaling energy perched on her bike on an elevated platform in front of the room, spouting into her microphone headset words of wisdom and encouragement.
I applauded SoulCycle’s ingenuity to have the room lit only by candles (yes, we were cycling by candlelight), because it would have been discouraging to see in the mirrors how awful I looked trying to keep up with Pearson.
SoulCycling includes an intense session of arm and shoulder workouts on the bike handlebars, light weightlifting and some moves that involved the abdomen muscles, all while pedaling to the beat of the music — and Pearson’s reminders to “hit the corners!” It felt like extreme dancing on a bicycle. I regretted not eating a banana for energy before the class.
The seat was uncomfortable and painful at times, but the bike itself was attuned to my movements — when my legs dragged, the pedals slowed. There was a knob below the handlebars to increase the resistance (but instructions to do so I completely ignored because I thought it would’ve killed me) and small weights stored underneath the seat that, when I lifted them out, at first seemed pretty light but after a while felt like sacks of rice.
The novelty of SoulCycling’s resemblance to dancing in a nightclub wore off at about the halfway mark. I marveled at Pearson’s endurance; even her voice never once wavered throughout the session. At times sounding like a self-help guru (“You never know who you might inspire today! Challenge yourself to be better than before!”), she cheered us on to the music with whoops of encouragement, and the class enthusiastically responded with hoots and hollers of their own. Sweat dripped into my eye.
“Here at SoulCycle we’re a community!” she exclaimed into her mic. Pearson knew some by their first names and commended our performance often. I was a little terrified when she whipped her ponytail back and forth to a remix of an AC/DC song. She had an inhuman amount of energy.
Part of SoulCycle’s draw is the instructors’ personalized playlist of songs that drive the sessions. Pearson had a great choice of high-energy tunes that synched perfectly with her instruction. That, along with her spirited encouragement, went a long way in getting me through the session — I don’t think I would have made it otherwise.
As the 45-minute sweat-fest wrapped up, everyone clapped (me in relief) and thanked Pearson for “an amazing class.” She confirmed my suspicions of her superhumanness when I asked her how she had so much energy by replying happily, “I don’t really know, I’ve been up since 4:30 in the morning!”
Despite having been around for seven years, SoulCycle has a small presence in the U.S. Its carefully handpicked locations certainly contribute to its exclusivity — all 17 of its studios are situated in New York and California’s wealthiest of neighborhoods.
I get the workout’s appeal, though. It’s one you can’t replicate on your own (although SoulCycle bikes can be purchased for your home at $2,200), and won’t find at a regular gym. And even though every fiber of my being cried out in protest during the session, after it was over I wistfully wished I could repeatedly splurge $34 on classes.
SoulCycle’s West Village studio is located at 126 Leroy St. For more information, visit www.soul-cycle.com.