What It's Like To Be... An Indoor Cycling Instructor
Stevie teaches indoor cycling for SoulCycle in New York
Video by Mariya Pylayev
Every once in a while a craze takes hold and bundles of jobs are created as a result. One such fad over the last few decades has been indoor cycling, better known by its trademarked name Spinning. The fitness regimen was invented in 1989 in Santa Monica, Calif., by a South African-born fitness instructor known as Johnny G. He said he came up with the idea after a car nearly hit him while he was out riding his bicycle in Los Angeles, according to a report by the Independent.
A quarter century later, indoor cycling studios are a global phenomenon ranging from the neighborhood gym to higher-end studios like SoulCycle. And according to Stevie, one of more than 125 instructors on the SoulCycle roster, working for the 20-gym chain is "like getting drafted by the Lakers." AOL Jobs recently met up with Stevie at a SoulCycle studio in the NoHo section of Manhattan. SoulCycle studios are currently located in New York and Los Angeles, but will be expanding soon to Boston and Washington, DC., and globally to London. Including support staff, the company has more than 500 employees.
The 48-year old instructor (Stevie doesn't share her last name when working) knows the exercise field. She's spent much of her career working as a trainer specializing in bodyweight composition and strategies on how to reduce body fat percentages. Before she started with SoulCycle, Stevie spent time as both a marathon runner and as a chef developing gluten-free recipes on a ranch in California, among other pursuits.
What makes SoulCycle stand out?
For starters, there's the price for the 45-minute class -- $32. And that's before you account for the special shoes, water and SoulCycle apparel. The pricing has led many to lambast SoulCycle; the Daily Beast said the brand offers exercise for the "1 percent." But according to Stevie, the real reason SoulCycle stands out is because the practice "is not just a thing you do, it's a lifestyle."
Embracing the SoulCycle culture is in keeping with the all-inclusive sharing culture of the social media age, and instructors like Stevie make themselves available to their riders on Twitter. "We are here to create a personalized, supportive environment," she said.
And tweets are only the beginning of the close relationship she keeps with her riders; instructors often take on an aide-de-camp role in their riders' lives. Such a full-on lifestyle approach, according to Stevie, is only gaining traction in the fitness world as instructors are both expected to and want to do much more than what their hourly exercise schedule demands. "How you treat your public should matter," she said.
And so she said she regularly goes to coffee with her regular riders. "Some are friends, some are acquaintances but we are all a family. You walk into that room as an individual and you leave with the collective energy of 50 people," she explained. Stevie added she regularly talks about careers and relationships with her riders, both during and after class. But what's said in the studio, stays in the studio, she added.
It is still the norm for many indoor cycling instructors to balance their classloads with other work. But at SoulCycle, "it's a career, not a job." For her part, Stevie said she teaches an average of 15 classes a week, mostly focused at SoulCycle's NoHo studio. She said she puts in an average of three hours of preparation for each class, which means Stevie is working 60 hours a week.
Why does the instructing require so much prep time?
A class at SoulCycle, like at competitors including FlyWheel, is much more than a roomful of people riding on stationary bikes. The class could best be described as variety show, with the instructor taking on a range of identities as class host, equal parts Sonny and Cher, Bob Fosse and Jack LaLanne. And during class, Stevie proved herself to be a force on the microphone, pumping up her riders as they tried to keep up. The cycling room itself has no windows and is lit by grapefruit-scented candles. With smoke and heavy music, the studio feels like a night-club.
Stevie and her fellow instructors spend time organizing a highly stylized musical arrangement. She said her musical taste includes a broad range from Metallica and Thievery Corporation to DJs like Hardwell. The riding itself is unlike that at other studios, and makes use of SoulCycle's customized stationary bikes that facilitate a standing-riding posture. On top of that, the instructors work in some weightlifting to diversify the workout experience.
"All the instructors truly are special in their own way, but you need to be dynamic to lead a class," she said.
Given the money pouring into SoulCycle, are the instructors fairly compensated?
SoulCycle does not release information about its payscale. The company even forbade Stevie from discussing salaries at other indoor cycling studios. But she did say she feels "very valued" for her work. During the interview, a SoulCycle representative stepped in and demanded any discussion of money be curtailed.
Other instructors are more likely to find themselves scrambling to get by. According to Ask.com, an indoor cycling instructor can expect to make $40 a class, while physical instructors of all kinds make an average salary of $31,090 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's also a sector that's seeing explosive growth, and the BLS projects the field to grow 24 percent by 2020.
How do you break in?
Web searches provide information for local certification programs that can be completed in as little as one day. SoulCycle, however, asks for a higher bar to be met for its instructors. SoulCycle's website advertises information for live auditions, which ask applicants to then lead a class in front of other instructors. The process also involves an in-person interview.
Given the amount of money SoulCycle riders pay for their fitness, the riders have every reason to expect their instructors will meet a higher standard and the full package. And that's what Steve said is at the heart of the instructing. "We sweat it out, we laugh it out," she said. "It involves everything."
What is the best part of your job?:
"I always leave here feeling better than when I arrived. And the clothing."
What is the worst part of your job?:
"When I am off sometimes I am so tired I just want to stay in bed."
Looking for a job as an indoor cycling instructor? Click here.
SoulCycle's NoHo studio is located on 384 Lafayette Street in New York, NY.