Line of stationary bikes

"Fusion" fitness--mixing and matching elements of exercise to create a new experience and shake up complacent athletes--is all the rage, evidenced by a flurry of newcomers to the workout playing field. One of the latest entrants is called SoulCycle, which combines indoor cycling with an upper-body and core workout. Think of it as spinning on steroids, but with a spiritual twist--the popular, packed classes are generally conducted by candlelight and led by motivational instructors.

How does SoulCycle work?
Unlike traditional cycling or spinning classes, SoulCycle packs a full-body workout into its signature 45-minute ride. For upper-body work, riders lift hand weights (usually weighing one to two pounds) or use resistance bands (hanging from the ceiling) as they pedal. Instructors guide riders through workouts that incorporate arms, core, and legs simultaneously.

A typical class contains elements of spinning, such as focus on sprints, hills, and steady climbs to music, which is choreographed to the warm-up, interval, and cool-down sessions. However, instead of just gripping the handlebars while your legs take most of the punishment, you might be pulling on resistance bands, keeping your shoulders steady, and clenching your core while your legs keep the pace. You might also find yourself doing push-ups on the bike, or doing crunches that work your oblique muscles. There's a competitive element to SoulCycle as well, as many studios post a board at the front of the classroom that allows riders to challenge each other to races.

What are the benefits of SoulCycle?
Co-founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler credit their unique classes with several fitness benefits, including:

  • High calorie burn: between 500 and 700 calories in under an hour
  • Stress relief that turns a workout into an enjoyable, inspiring practice
  • Physical/mental blend and cardio/resistance mix: In other words, it's a one-stop workout

What do beginners need to know?
SoulCycle classes aren't for the faint of fitness. Here are a few tips to make sure that your first class goes smoothly:

  • Be prepared for a tough workout. Although the class is only 45 minutes long, it's performed at a high intensity. Come equipped with a large bottle of water or a water pack, keep a sweat towel handy, and be sure to wear comfortable workout clothes.
  • Wear proper shoes. SoulCycle experts recommend that all participants wear cycling shoes, which offer a more secure grip on the pedals than regular athletic shoes or sneakers. For the best performance, try indoor cycling cleats. Some gyms and studios offer this type of footwear for rental.
  • Adapt your effort to your fitness level. With the instructor motivating you to do your best, you may find it hard to hold back your efforts. But if you're new to cycling, your body will need time to adapt to the workload. Don't be afraid to back off if you start to feel over-exerted.
  • Pad your seat. SoulCycle founders admit that the seat may feel uncomfortable to beginning cyclers. Try wearing padded bike shorts to your first few classes until you get used to it.
  • Pull up, don't push down. With indoor cycling shoes and foot clips, your feet are more stable, allowing you to move more freely. SoulCycle instructors emphasize that when clipped into your foot pedals, it's important to pull upward with your leg to work your core muscles, not push down as you would do in regular cycling.
  • Enjoy the ride. This could be the workout of your life. After you feel the burn, take some time to bask in the candlelight and congratulate yourself for making it through!