It's no secret I'm a fan of SoulCycle. I think it can be a great part of a well-rounded physical and mental fitness program that can help get and keep you lean and strong. For more on my thoughts about SoulCycle, check out my previous post. I try to go to a class a week as a way to get some effective aerobic and anaerobic cardio in between lifting, yoga, running and swimming. Plus, it's fun and challenges me to (reasonably) push myself.
Like most group fitness classes it's ALL ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR. Last week I stumbled into SoulCycle SOMA for a 930a SoulCycle Survivor class led by Andrew Stinger. And immediately I knew he'd be inspiring. His programming and cuing were on point, his attitude was positive (no "Come on you fat bitches! Move, move, move!" drill sergeant crap) and his enthusiasm was exactly what I needed. He rode along side us and made hard work fun. No wonder his class was full of smiling faces working their asses off (and why one rider chose him to celebrate her 100th ride with and another her birthday with that day).
After class I stalked him down and he graciously agreed to share some of his insights for new and veteran SoulCycle riders below. Enjoy and I encourage you to give one of Andrew's classes in the Bay Area a try!
Q: How would you describe your coaching style and what can a rider expect in one of your classes?
I walk into each class with a few intentions that I hope my riders share with me by the end:
- Body Awareness: Our bodies are un-freaking-real. Sometimes we spend so much time censuring our bodies for not looking or performing a certain way, that we miss out on all they CAN do. You’ll probably hear the phrase, “Beautiful, capable body,” at least once in my class because I really do believe that, if you’re clipped-in, your body is capable of doing the workout. To help get you there, I do focus a lot on form cues and anatomy (especially during the arm series), but I also know sometimes you just want to let your hair down, sing along and live your damn life on a bike, so I’m not going to single someone out so long as they’re being safe and not disrupting their neighbors.
- Clarity: SoulCycle was such a haven for an overworked mind and an often-tired body when I was a rider. What drew me to classes taught by instructors like MK and Molli (and ultimately every instructor at SoulCycle) was that their coaching wasn’t your typical, “JUST PUSH THROUGH FOR ONE MORE REP” coaching, but a focus on learning about myself in the midst of challenge and to pursue personal best and progress over perfection.
- Courage & Progress: If you do the same thing the same way, your results are going to be the same. I spend a lot of my classes on my bike, and it’s because I’m chasing down the same progress as my riders. I’m putting more resistance on my bike than I was when I started teaching, and it’s incredible to see riders come along that same journey with me.
Q: Tell me about your story and how you became an instructor. I understand you rebounded from a pretty serious injury.
I admittedly went to my first SoulCycle class kicking-and-screaming. I was a long-time runner who knew enough about what to do in the gym to stay occupied, and outright dismissed my co-workers who raved about SoulCycle. Finally, after our team at Google organized a “Q1 Fitness Challenge” to help make sure we actually stepped away from our desks and stayed healthy, I went with some co-workers to a SoulCycle class taught by Lauren. It took maybe two songs for me to realize I was participating in something truly unique. Lauren’s focus on realizing the abundance in our lives (We live in San Francisco, one of the best cities in the world! We have innovative jobs in tech! We have bodies that were made to move!), and riding with gratitude blew my mind and got me through my first, grueling class.
123Honesty: I absolutely sat down four or five times and cursed under my breath, but I left the studio feeling like an athlete in a way I hadn’t in years.
In 2002, while training to run track in college, I woke-up one morning and couldn’t move my legs. The sudden onset paralysis quickly worsened, and I was quarantined under observation at the hospital for several days before I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). GBS is a condition where my immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, typically because my immune system is in overdrive (e.g., if my immune system is fighting off a major infection like mononucleosis, which was the case in 2002). GBS can result in permanent paralysis, cardiovascular trauma and worse. I was fortunate to have an early diagnosis and relatively-healthy body in order to make a faster-than-usual recovery.
Instead of training to PR in the 800m that summer, I had to rebuild the strength and coordination to walk around the block in my neighborhood. I still attempted to train with the track team in the Fall, but it was too much for my body and I went down with a stress fracture early in preseason training. That day, I hung up my track spikes for good and focused on academics and, eventually, my career.
I’d never quite gotten over the feeling that my athleticism had been hijacked by this rare condition of my neurological condition, and tried any number of times to “get back into shape.” I’ve finished five marathons, but never quite posted times I was proud of nor continued to train after race day. The yo-yo-ing of fitness (and how I felt in my own body) became a constant source of frustration.
And then, in the midst of a goofy challenge with co-workers, I clipped-in to a SoulCycle bike. It took one class to realize something special happened in that room, and I became an increasingly dedicated rider thereafter. When auditions rolled around that summer, I couldn’t ignore the desire to pay forward the experience I had at SoulCycle as a rider and took a shot. By September, I was off to New York for training, and it’s been the most incredible experience since!
Q: What do you see happen over time with your consistent, veteran riders? How do they change physically, mentally, spiritually?
The SoulCycle community is so diverse that the scope of change is equally diverse.
I have friends that take my class who, whether they realize it or not, have adopted some of the “windchimey” things I say, and are tackling life with a confidence that makes me so, so proud to be their friend.
I’ve watched riders bravely move to bikes in the front row, where they know I’m likely to ask them to take on a leadership role in class, and to celebrate their success and confidence with conviction throughout the ride.
One of my amazing riders in Palo Alto pulled me aside before class and told me, “Today is the day I get to wear my new SoulCycle shirt. It has 20 letters on it. One for each pound I’ve lost as of yesterday.” I had no idea she had a weight loss goal, but I absolutely saw her tackling the more challenging parts of class with increased tenacity.
Another rider at SoMa shared with me that he dunked a basketball for the first time in years, and that he credits SoulCycle with giving him the strength and courage to do so.
And then there’s me, personally: I used to be someone who never quite felt attractive enough to really put himself out there, and who found the majority of his self-worth in his output at work. Now, at age thirty-three, I feel stronger and more confident than ever. I’m attempting physical feats I never thought I could handle before. I’m eating better. I’m living better. I’m calling my Mom more often. I’m listening instead of waiting for my turn to talk. I’m dancing like a fool in the middle of the street because the beats in my headphones give me too damn much joy not to shake my booty. And at the end of the day, I can look myself in the mirror and say, “You are enough--exactly as you are.”
Q: What's your advice for new riders who have never taken a class?
The tactical stuff: Get to the studio at least 15-20 minutes before class to sign your waiver, make sure your shoes fit, change in your workout gear, and get help setting up your bike. If you have time, introduce yourself to the instructor and let them know about any injuries you may need to accommodate. I also recommend riding in the center of the back row (that’s where I rode in my first class!) because the back row is elevated, giving you an unobstructed view of the instructor and the opportunity to see how the rest of the pack is moving.
ALSO - there are numbers on the side of your bike that correspond to your settings. Take a look at these before you leave so you can confidently set-up your bike and calibrate any settings at your next ride!
For my road cyclists friends: We’re going to ask you do do things a little differently. Please go with it. For example, since you don’t have to worry about steering your bike, we can observe some different hand positions that rely less on your wrists and forearms for stability and let you enjoy a different range of motion in your torso.
The more fun stuff: Trust yourself! It’s going to feel foreign at first, but ultimately, it’s a beat, your body, your breath and a bike. The rest will follow! Take breaks if you need them, but whatever you do, don’t stop moving your legs so that blood stays pumping up to your brain.
Most importantly: DO YOU. If you want to sing, sing! If you want to hoot and holler, raise your voice! If you want to flip your hair, let ‘er rip!
Oh, and treat yourself after class--you just kicked ass for 45 minutes, so you oughta celebrate that! (But, if your “treat” is an adult beverage, please please please drink a lot of water first!)
Q: What are your top five songs to jam out to right now?
. . . but you are also very, very likely to hear “Closer” by the Chainsmokers, “Cold Water” by Biebs, “Jungle Bae” by Jack U, and everything from Mariah Carey to Knife Party in my classes!