Soul, Joe and You

If I asked you to compare the functions of a bullet and a rubber band, would you be able to? Would you question their integrity or strength? It sounds like they have no business being together at all, but I’m here to tell you that these two things can learn from the other, they can make a harmonious place in your fitness routine. I’m talking about SoulCycle and Pilates. SoulCycle, the bullet, is a high intensity, shot-out-of-a cannon thrill ride. Pilates, the rubber band, is patience and strength, the building blocks to changing your body. Let’s start at the beginning.

 JulieAnne Hull teaches a Mat Class at the Uptown Pilates West Village studio. Picture by CLASSPASS

JulieAnne Hull teaches a Mat Class at the Uptown Pilates West Village studio. Picture by CLASSPASS


Pilates started as a workout regimen developed by a man named Joseph Pilates while he was forcefully placed in a German Internment camp in 1912. He trained other inmates using a unique series of exercises which became the basis of the Pilates Mat we know today. Unhealthy as a young child, Joe wanted Pilates to be rehabilitative for people with diseases. His idea of the perfect body was one that was mentally, physically and spiritually fit. Joseph was able to take this exercise technique to America where he opened his own studio in New York City in 1926. In New York, his method known as contrology became widely popular among dancers and actresses but later spread to the larger population. Only after his death was the practice referred to as Pilates, his classical style was passed down through a generation of “Pilates Elders” and it still practiced in New York today.

 Master Instructor Stacey Griffith teaches a packed studio photo by SoulCycle

Master Instructor Stacey Griffith teaches a packed studio photo by SoulCycle

Flash forward to 2006 when SoulCycle was founded by Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice; two business-minded women who were looking to get more out of their workout routine. Neither of them being trained in any fitness capacity, they enlisted the help of some of the top trainers in New York City to help them find a way to break out of the mundane workout trap. They developed the SoulCycle method, which gives indoor cycling a rock-and-roll makeover. The cycling class is held in a dark room, music cranked at max volume like a nightclub but made a sacred space with candles lit. The instructor sits on a podium at the front of the room as a trainer, a guru and DJ- providing the riders with inspirational tunes for a whole 45 mins. Almost 10 years later, this single company has revolutionized the boutique fitness scene in New York City and has set a high standard for hospitality and management.

It’s obvious these two things should have nothing to do with one another, and why you ask would they ever meet?

That’s where I come in.

            Having a background in dance, movement and yoga, it was a no-brainer to work at a fitness facility for my day job. I was lucky enough to have worked for SoulCycle and Uptown Pilatesa classical Pilates the same time. Meaning- without realizing it, my workouts between the two studios became a cross-training match made in heaven.

Here’s the thing. Pilates and SoulCycle classes are not that different.

They both are asking you to engage a specific muscle group: the core
The way a SoulCycle bike is built, it requires the rider to elongate the spine, hovering the hips over the saddle, chest up, hands light, it engages the abdomen, with a slight tuck in the lower back. Now think of this position on your bike, flip it over onto your back...and you have the leg series of a classical Pilates class.

They both use breath to engage and connect the body
Breath connects your flow in a workout and that speaks to both forms. During class, muscles are engaged and oxygen is the only thing in the moment that will help you physically (and mentally) continue. Both classes link breath to movement, whether you are on a mad sprint down a hill or holding your muscles taut while pumping your arms frantically for the hundred. In addition to the physical connection of breath and body, I might add that both the Pilates and the SoulCycle method are all about bringing your Mind/Body into a deeper connection to the spirit. While people may scoff and snort at the idea of a workout being a spiritual engagement, many fitness junkies are able to have a higher level experience. Chemicals in our bodies react, endorphins are firing and the breath allows us to ride the highs and lows of a great workout, be it on a Mat or on a Bike.

Springs & Chains
Both classes use equipment to help accomplish a full-body workout. What you might not have realized is that the SoulBike uses resistance just like a tower/reformer machine. The only difference is that in a SoulCycle class, you push against the resistance to climb steeper hills to build strong muscle memory. In Pilates, you use that resistance against your own bodyweight to build length in your muscle memory. **Also both use a system of High Repetition, Low Weight in their arm series.


Similar, Not the Same
Obviously there are things in a SoulCycle class that we cannot get out of a Pilates class and vice versa. SoulCycle is a contemporary, high-energy room where you are encouraged to push yourself to the limit. You surround yourself with a “pack”, you get lost in a dark room, you dance. Physically I describe a SoulCycle class like being shot out of a cannon (hence the bullet); it’s compact, fast and intense. As a result the muscles in the body tend to shorten, stay tight for long periods without proper stretching, as so many riders like to hop off their bike immediately once the ride is over and continue on their New York hustle.

With Pilates, you are encouraged to slow down and focus on the mind/body connection. It’s a series of exercises that are meant to make you look and feel taller by the end of it. It’s a healthy combination of flexibility and strength (aka a thick rubber band). Although it looks intimidating, the machinery is pretty fun and there to help you gain a stronger center. The lights are on, there is no hiding in the back row, you are encouraged to sit up, pay attention and listen to specific verbal cues. That being said, with all the lights on and a small class size, you are required to be honest but tough with yourself. At the end of the class, you are guaranteed to walk away energized and connected.

It goes without saying that one of the top perks of working at both of these the free class. I got to experience a variety of instructors and styles- to be perfectly honest, I’m a lot more “Soul” than “cycle” and the reformer still makes me a little nervous. It’s impossible to deny the obvious appeal to both- any fitness routine that brings you closer to your body, gives you strength or makes you happy is a step in the right direction. However, utilizing these two together could score you a spot in fitness nirvana.

Coral Elizabeth Smith is a New York City transplant from Merritt Island, Florida. She graduated in 2012 from SCAD with a B.F.A. in performing arts with a minor in dance. A yogi for seven years, a dancer for sixteen years, she has found her happy place working at fitness facilities for her day job. She also works as a writer/actor and an arts administrative assistant.