March 28, 2012

By the Numbers

On Sunday, I attended my very first Soulcycle class. For those of you not in the NYC/LA area, Soulcycle is the see-and-be-seen spinning studio that features nightclub lighting, thumping bass, and candles for atmosphere. In New York, it definitely has a cult following among both regular people and celebrities, but it’s something I’ve always been a bit reluctant to try. For starters, at $32 a class, one class is 1/2 the price of a month’s regular gym membership!

But when they announced that they were doing a very special “Broadway” class, featuring showtunes throughout the ride, I decided it was good a time as any to try a class. ONE class. (Or at least I hoped I wouldn’t get sucked in and that it would only be one class, or I’d go broke pretty soon). I sent an email out to a lot of NYC blogging friends who go to Soulcycle a bit more regularly, and soon a plan was devised: Broadway Soulcycle, then 16 Handles frozen yogurt to eat back all the calories we burned. Two cult favorites in one afternoon – genius!

While the company (Jocelyn, Sam, Ali, Lindsay, and Susan) was awesome, the class wasn’t really my favorite. I totally rocked out to the Broadway songs, belting away at the top of my lungs, and was psyched that the playlist basically matched my own “Showtunes Power Songs” playlist (aside from “Finishing The Hat” – seriously, I just don’t think Sunday in the Park with George lends itself to rocking out and pushing through a workout, with the possible exception of “Move On”). But while I got really sweaty, I feel like it was only partially due to the workout… and partially due to the overly hot room. It kind of bugged me, as it seemed pretty obvious that they do that on purpose to make you sweat more and feel like you got a better workout in than you really did. But my main issue with Soul Cycle was just the lack of numbers.

I know that quant people aren’t supposed to be bloggers, but here I am. Hello, my name is Laura, and I am an Excel addict. I get excited when I figure out a new array formula, and I double tally all of my workout numbers in both a spreadsheet and an Android app (yes, separately). Part of the reason I’ve gotten so into weight lifting in the past year or so is that I love seeing how much more weight I can lift than when I first started, and also measure the incremental progress from session to session.

And of course, it’s not all about improvement. Sometimes I go backwards and lift less than I did the previous time, but I like knowing that too. If I pick up the same dumbbells that I used in my previous session and I am having trouble, it makes me stop and think: am I sick? Tired? Underfed? (HA to that last one, which is pretty much never the case). Or is it that I am not pushing myself as much as the last time, and that I just need to try a little harder? That measuring stick helps me get a better gauge on my health and well being, for better or for worse, and I really like using it.

Of course, the numbers do lie. Last night on the elliptical, I somehow covered 4.26 miles in just 30 minutes – or a 7:02 pace. Sure, I was sweating like crazy and really exerting myself, but if you had put me outside, there is no way I would have run 4.26 miles in 30 minutes. That said, this morning when I got on the same machine and was only able to do 1.46 miles in 20 minutes, I knew that I was tired. Sure enough, all day I have felt a little dizzy and out of it, and so I’ve been eating a bit more and planning for an early bedtime tonight. Conclusion: the actual distance covered does not matter; what does matter is how I was able to use it to get a better idea of how I was doing.

I miss that at Soulcycle. Call me totally self-centered, but part of why I like going to classes is because I like comparing myself to others and seeing how I’m doing. When other people are going harder than I am, it makes me push myself more to try to get to their level – if not that time, then in a future session since I now see what’s possible. If I am going harder than other people, it makes me really proud to be in such great shape – and, oddly enough, it still makes me push myself harder to try to stay in that super-fit top spot. All in all, group classes and the idea that everyone else is watching me (okay, not that they are, but that they could be) makes me push myself harder and not give up. I take a lot fewer “stretch breaks” in a in-person class than I do while doing a Daily Burn video at home!

At Soulcycle, it’s too dark to really see what anyone else is doing. Plus, by nature, spinning is very individually-focused. You turn the resistance knob left or right, but no one except you knows how much you’re turning it (and of course, every bike is different). Where is my chance to crank it all the way up and show off my legs’ prowess? I DEMAND THE SPOTLIGHT! (Kidding, sort of).

What do you think? Am I overly competitive and the only one who feels this way? If you live in NYC, would you like to join me at Flywheel, where they have the ultra-competitive leader board to pit you against your fellow riders?


8 thoughts on “By the Numbers”

  1. I love spinning, but that sounds SO expensive! I’ve only been spinning in low-key classes at the YMCA..there wasn’t a fancy board showing how you were doing compared to others. I suppose you could look around the room and judge how hard others were working, but you couldn’t see their resistance/speed/etc. I kind of liked it that way…let me focus on me and my own workout.

  2. I love spin but could never get myself to spring for flywheel or soulcycle when I lived in the city! I’ve been members of 3 different gyms and took a spin class at Exhale once, and honestly, I think Equinox has the best instructors/spin classes! I am like you in that I am often looking at others/wondering if they are looking at me in group classes – I am always proud to be one of the only girls doing “real” pushups!

  3. They are both motivating in their own special ways! And I appreciate Soul’s community classes (free!) and Flywheel’s sponsored series last fall with Lululemon (free!). Also the first class at Soul is $20 I think – hope you got that deal!

    I worked up a decent sweat and pushed myself on an “old” Spinning bIke at NYSC tonight with a nice consistent instructor. The room had huge windows looking outside, which was incredible as I often pedal in a windowless room it seems (except at Chelsea Piers, where you are starting directly at the Hudson and a fancy boat serving food & drink that you kind of wish you were on). And slightly itchy towels. All for the Groupon price of $24, for a whole month of that!

  4. Carrie – definitely see your point. The ironic thing is that when I run, I absolutely DON’T compare myself to anyone else then. I think part of it has to do with the fact that I travel so much and am unable to go to group classes often, so it is a treat for me to be able to work out with others and get motivation that way!

    Emily – I am SO going to kick your butt on the leaderboard šŸ˜‰

    Karen – AWESOME on the pushups! That is exactly the kind of motivating factor I mean.

    Allie – I did NOT get a discount on my first class, and now I’m annoyed! Wish they had told me about that. But a big YES to the community/free classes – I might like it more if I don’t have to pay šŸ™‚

  5. I went to Soul Cycle for the first time a couple of weeks ago and found it, well, pretty easy, mostly because there is no real way to gauge effort. Flywheel is definitely better from a data perspective, both on the bike, and afterwards in your account, where you can track progress as well. I don’t think there is an export .csv function though … I also have an Excel spreadsheet, although I actually find that I like the physicality of writing the numbers down more, and it makes me look at the rest of my training plan in more detail rather than dashing off the numbers.

    I also agree about the hot room. I nearly passed out in Flywheel once, and as I had run a marathon 2 weeks before I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because I was unfit.

    I like Soul and Flywheel for different reasons: Flywheel to get a butt-kicking workout, Soul to get an endorphin high from the music and break up the lactic acid from long runs.

    Okay, ending this epically long comment.

  6. I go to spin classes that aren’t flashy like Soulcycle. The music is great, but it’s not pitch dark. The instructors come by and check positioning and the drills are awesome. I love spinning BECAUSE it’s individual. I can tell after over a year of weekly spin classes (usually 2 times a week, depending on travel) that I have gotten stronger, my endurance is better, my positioning is better, my abs are stronger, my turnover is faster, I can handle more tension on the wheel… you can’t go a few times and expect changes. It really takes consistency over time.

    Also, I hate people looking at me in spin class.

  7. I hear you on the numbers thing – especially with running stats and all that. I’m not really into fitness classes in general. I occasionally like yoga, but I’m too obsessed with running to go to any class regularly. Kinda sad, but true. I like how you diversify your workouts. It’s also so interesting finding out what you are doing next re: fitness!

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