Ruth Zukerman, the co-founder of SoulCycle and Flywheel, who has announced a summer residency at Hamptons Gym Corp’s Sag Harbor Gym, talks to Express Magazine editor Kathryn G. Menu about why spin class popularity has surged since the 1980s and how she found empowerment on the bike.
Indoor cycling has never been more popular, throngs of fans showing up for regular spin classes either at the gym or at home with programs like Peloton. SoulCycle, which you co-founded in 2006, is often credited with popularizing spin classes. What drew you to teach spin initially and how did your program differ from what was being offered at the time?
At the time that I tried my first spin class I was going through a divorce…clearly a traumatic time. While I approached the class as a new form of exercise to try, I left the class realizing that I had just experienced a mind/body journey. It was cathartic and transforming within all of 45 minutes. Suddenly my fears and anxieties were allayed, and I felt empowered. This was something I needed to explore and develop so that everyone could have the experience that I had. Once I started teaching I put a lot of emphasis on connecting with the riders and encouraging them to tap into their own individual journeys. It was a much more customer-focused and individualized workout than what was being offered at many of the big box gyms at the time. I made a point of getting to know everyone, giving them shout-outs of encouragement, and helping them to feel better about themselves. The class became a discipline, not dissimilar to the dance classes I had taken while training to be a professional dancer from the age of eight years old.
Did you anticipate the reaction to a program like SoulCycle when it first took off?
I spent five years building my following at what was the Reebok Club on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Once I saw that about 80 percent of my following gave up their gym memberships and followed me to what was a room crammed with bikes and one bathroom…I knew I was onto something. The community was so strong from the get-go because everyone pretty much knew each other already. And that community increased exponentially purely due to word of mouth.
Your brand — both at Soul Cycle and then later at Flywheel, which you co-founded in 2010 — seems to revolve on building a customer experience that feels personal, holistic and is rooted in a culture of positivity. What is the origin of this kind of philosophy when it comes to fitness?
I feel as if I should have a complicated answer but I don’t. The philosophy was rooted in my own personal experience once I started spinning. I felt better about myself at the end of the ride and that is what I wanted everyone to experience. As human beings we want to connect to others and be noticed/commended in a positive way. Both of these needs could be fulfilled within the spin experience if the instructor makes that the focus. Who doesn’t want positive feedback? As children develop, it’s so important. As adults, it’s really no less important.
This June, you have returned to Sag Harbor to teach a summer residency at the Hamptons Gym Corp’s newly renovated spin studio at the Sag Harbor Gym. What drew you to Sag Harbor and partnering with the Gym Corp in this new venture?
During our first summer after Flywheel launched in February, 2010, we worked out an arrangement with the Sag Harbor Gym and took over their spin program. We built out our signature stadium, mirrored all the walls and equipped the room with 57 bikes! Our experience there was incredibly successful and played a huge part in getting the word out about Flywheel. We spent several summers there but it was ultimately decided to vacate the space. I’ve missed it since the day we packed up our bikes and I know that our Sag Harbor riders did as well. I was determined to get back there one way or the other. I am also a Sag Harbor resident and can walk to class, which just adds to my joy in being able to teach there. Nothing beats the water, the boats and the Sag Harbor community!
What can students expect from the classes?
Riders can expect a beautiful studio with 30 bikes allowing a spaciousness and comfort that you don’t typically find in a spin room these days…brand new bikes that are so smooth, great music and sound system, a challenging yet intimidation-free workout and a place where everyone knows your name (Unless you prefer that we don’t)!
Do you see the popularity of indoor cycling lasting the test of time? What do you think it is about this class that keeps people coming back for more?
The spin class originated in the 1980s and today its appeal is stronger than ever. It’s a method of exercise that anyone can do. It’s low impact, rehabilitative for many injuries (knees, sprained ankles to name a few) and safe. I always love seeing the wide range of ages in a spin class as well as the varying fitness levels. You can ride at your own pace and never feel self-conscious in our dimly lit room.
But it’s the personal attention, the highly curated playlist and the resulting mind-body experience that allows for a “mini-reinvention” after every ride. Who wouldn’t want that?