11 Reasons to Ditch SoulCycle for Weight Loss

Calories Burned in Spin Class May Be Less Than You Expect

Woman using spin machine in gym
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You probably feel like you burn hundreds of calories at SoulCycle. The wildly popular indoor cycling classes have long waiting lists and fiercely loyal fans. Riders often leave sweaty and exhausted. But do the trendy boutiques provide the workout you need to lose weight?

There is no doubt that the classes at SoulCycle and other boutique spin studios are fun. But they might not deliver the results that you expect. In fact, you might want to rethink SoulCycle if you want a strong, fit, lean body. Here's why you might not be losing weight.

What Is SoulCycle?

SoulCycle was the original boutique spin studio, founded in the mid-1990s on the upper west side of Manhattan. The studio and its signature motivational style quickly caught on and gained national popularity. Since that time, nearly one hundred studios have opened around the country and many competing brands have popped up as well.

SoulCycle is not the same as Spinning. Spinning was created by ultra-distance cyclist Johnny “Johnny G” Goldberg in the Los Angeles area as an indoor cycling experience for endurance road cyclists. A Spinning class is typically based on sport-specific cycling movement so that riders develop the skills they need to become better outdoor cyclists.

Even though boutique spin classes provide inspirational coaching, great music, and an addictive vibe, many endurance coaches will tell you that if your goal is to get the strong, tight body of a cyclist, you'll be wasting your time in these trendy classes. Boutique cycling has morphed into something that no longer draws on the athletic drills used by cyclists. Cyclists shape tight quads, strong hamstrings, and lean glutes by spending hours on the bike, doing sport-specific drills and perfecting an efficient pedal stroke.

11 Reasons to Skip Spin Class for Weight Loss

Every boutique spin class is different. And even within a certain gym, each instructor has their own style. But many studios, like SoulCycle, use techniques that may work against you if your goal is burning maximum calories for weight loss.

Heat Masks Intensity

Some boutique cycling studios jack up the heat in class. The added challenge might make you feel like you are working harder during class when in fact, the sweat dripping off your body is a response to the temperature, not to your effort. And the heat might prevent you from working hard enough to burn mega calories.

Unbalanced Lower Body Training

Music drives the movement when you burn calories at SoulCycle and other studios. That's what makes them so much fun. Instructors cue choreography so that clients move in sync and in rhythm on the bike. But this may lead to an unbalanced workout.

For example, riders come out of the saddle (usually leading with the right leg) on the beat of the music. Unfortunately, this means that throughout class, during dozens of repetitions coming out of the saddle, you load one leg more often than the other.

Ineffective Strength Training

You'll probably grab weights for strength training during your SoulCycle ride. You might do bicep curls, lateral raises, or triceps extensions with 1- to 3-pound weights. While this might seem like an efficient way to blend cardio and strength training, it's not.

To build muscle or improve muscular endurance, you need to lift 70-80 percent of your one rep max. For almost all riders, that will be much more than 1 to 3 pounds.

Unbalanced Upper Body Training

Balanced weight training while pedaling a bike is difficult, if not impossible. Seated riders can only move in limited planes of motion—which is a fancy way of saying that you train the front of your body more than the sides or the back of your body.

Too Much Activity in Too Little Time

Time flies by during each 45-minute session because riders participate in arm choreography, jumps in and out of the saddle, different hand positions, weight training, movement around the saddle and other activities like handlebar push-ups. But riders rarely do a single activity for a long enough to generate specific muscular fatigue.

Momentum Minimizes Power

Your SoulCycle bike (and bikes used in most indoor spin classes) use a weighted flywheel. This feature was originally meant to simulate the resistance of cycling on a road. The problem is that the weight of the flywheel creates momentum. Have you seen instructors bounce in the saddle? That means that the momentum is driving the ride, not power generated by his/her legs. In order to really create strength, your muscles need to control the ride.

No Core Work

Some boutique cycling instructors claim that you can "engage your core" during class. But to effectively train your core, you need to flex or rotate your torso against resistance (or gravity) or you need to put the torso in an unstable position. This is nearly impossible to do from a seated or standing riding position because the torso is bending forward with gravity, not against gravity, and the handlebars provide stability.

Poor Alignment Compromises Effectiveness

Choreography in indoor cycling classes is fun but it can easily compromise spinal alignment. Cyclists on the road use proper alignment of the ankle, knee, and hip to drive a strong pedal stroke, create power, and burn more calories. But SoulCycle riders miss out on that benefit when they dance, shift their hips and do other choreography on the bike.

Speed + Momentum = Risk

For riders with knee problems, any boutique cycling class may involve too much risk. Not only is hip, knee and ankle alignment compromised, but high-risk movements are performed in a locked and loaded position. Riders' feet are locked into pedals while they spin at speeds of over 110 RPM with 40+ pounds of momentum.

SoulCycle Calories May Be Exaggerated

Cycling at SoulCycle is fun. The studio has reported that you can burn 500-700 calories during class. But research reported by the American Council on Exercise estimates that riders might burn anywhere from 7.5 to 19 calories per minute in an indoor cycling class (330-850 calories).

The bottom line is that the number of calories you burn at SoulCycle (or in any fitness class) depends on a wide variety of factors, including your weight and how hard you work.

It may not be safe to assume that you burn the maximum calories at SoulCycle. If you do, your weight loss plan may suffer if you depend on those numbers.

Should You Try SoulCycle for Weight Loss?

Even though there are flaws in the rationale behind SoulCycle and other boutique cycling classes, it doesn't mean that the trend has no merit. There are a few reasons that you might want to give it a try. 

Many of the instructors are great motivators and even better DJs. If you want to have fun for 45 minutes while you burn a few extra calories, then this is definitely the workout for you. And the people-watching and camaraderie in class is unrivaled in any other class format. SoulCycle is seriously fun.

But if you have taken these classes and you're not seeing the results you expected, the reasons listed above could be why. Unfortunately, many people pay $30-40 for these classes with the expectation that they are a guaranteed ticket to fitness and weight loss. They are not.

The bottom line is that if you want to look like an athlete you need to train like an athlete. So, if you love SoulCycle, go once a week for fun. Then do your serious training to build muscle and burn calories at other times during the week.

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