The first time I took an indoor cycling class, I was immediately off-put. I hated racing against random strangers, struggled to keep up with the correct speed, and felt like I was spinning my wheels to nowhere the whole time — which I was. I swore off indoor cycling for years until I took a SoulCycle class with an instructor who resonated with me and chugged the organic Kool Aid.
In my opinion, the best thing about SoulCycle is that it's a solitary activity. You enter the dark studio, clip in, and bounce around to inspiring music for 45 minutes while you either clear your head or think about other stuff going on in your life. There's no mention of numbers, calories, or fat burn, and it doesn't feel like a workout so much as a meditation. But today, SoulCycle launched a new class called SoulActivate that changes everything.
SoulActivate is basically a SoulCycle class on speed. It's harder, longer, and more focused on building strength. According to the press release, the 60-minute class is an "athletic-based workout" that's suggested for consistent riders. Unlike traditional SoulCycle classes, SoulActivate incorporates interval training and more challenging upper body strength moves.
The press release explains that the "workout purposefully accelerates and decelerates your heart rate to burn fat and build endurance." The experts at Soul claim this variation will make you burn more calories than you would in a regular class and increase your "peak fitness levels" to "achieve intended results" — you know, if that's a thing you care about. As someone who exercises for fun not weight loss, I was naturally skeptical going into the class.
At the beginning of class, Charlee Atkins, a super-popular master SoulCycle instructor, wrote "ReCover to ReCharge Up" on the mirror to explain the premise of the SoulActivate. At some point in the class, there would be an interval section with intentional rest periods built in, she said. This allows us to "fire on all cylinders on the reboot," Atkins later explained to me in an email. The first part of the workout was just like a SoulCycle class; we warmed up to the music by walking and doing pushups on the bike.
When we got to the intervals section about a third of the way through class, Atkins used a stopwatch to time the intervals along with music, which was a departure from a usual SoulCycle class, where you simply let the music guide you. Atkins told me she likes that it's different. "Riding to the beat of the music entertains the brain so that you can let yourself ride emotionally in class," she said. "With SoulActivate, we are flipping the script for a few songs and taking it back to the science. We’re still SoulCycle, but SoulActivate just prioritizes the 'cycle' in ‘SoulCycle' a bit more."
The arms section of the class was pretty standard for SoulCycle, but we used heavier weights (5- and 8-pound dumbbells instead of 2- or 3-pound ones). In a regular SoulCycle class, you do fast repetitions with light weights, which challenges endurance, Atkins said. "In SoulActivate, we slow things down and increase weight to challenge strength." And that's generally true about lifting weights; if you want to build strength, you should opt for heavier weights and slower movements.
Even though this is a more challenging workout, it's clear that the instructors still want you to "find your soul" at SoulActivate. Atkins found ways to make the stilted intervals portion more captivating, like asking us to say "hello" to our neighbor (as an introvert, I hate having to do this), and yell the number of reps before an interval. "A 'team' aspect is deeply rooted in Activate," Atkins said. "It’s about verbal communication, being outspoken, expressing yourself, and actively cheering the team on." In many ways, SoulCycle has thrived over the past 12 years because of its community of fanatics, all of whom are on individual — not team — journeys. I'm curious to know: How will those riders react to this new class format, one that emphasizes structure and team-building over personal exploration?
Leaving the studio after SoulActivate, I heard one rider say to another that they liked it "but it's not Soul." Over the past year, SoulCycle has been finding new was to reinvent itself, with the launch of their off-the-bike studio SoulAnnex and now SoulActivate. It seems like Soul's aim with SoulActivate was to satisfy those riders who gravitate toward more difficult instructors (like Atkins or Akin Akman), or who book "doubles" or "Soul Survivor" classes because one isn't enough.
As for the rest of us who aren't there to burn calories and who appreciate the introspective aspects? Well, SoulActivate may just not be for us. The good news is, they'll still offer the regular SoulCycle classes. So, for those of us who actually like spinning our wheels to nowhere, there's still plenty of soul-searching to be had.