• Wed, Jan 22 - 11:30 am ET

11 Reasons Why Soul Cycle Is Definitely A Cult

Soul Cycle CultIf you haven’t heard about Soul Cycle, it’s the high end gymnasium that rebranded sweaty old spin classes as hot-fun-sexy-parties. It’s also probably a cult.

Though I have never personally shelled out the $35-$70 (or so) for a Soul Cycle class, I’ve heard about them from friends who enter skeptical and leave more than willing to proselytize. I’ve read extensively about the elitist spin-gym on the internet (even though their website is suspiciously under construction).

Soul Cycle’ are essentially typical spinning classes, but they cram more Lululemon-wearing types into a room and turn out the lights. The gym is wildly expensive, very exclusive and beloved by celebrities and the wealthy, not unlike Scientology.

I used a checklist of Cult Characteristics as defined by the American Family Foundation to determine that Soul Cycle is indeed a cult. Let’s see which of the 14 characteristics of a cult apply to Soul Cycle:

1) The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.

Check! Soul Cycle classes are lead by enthusiastic instructors who use charisma and yelling to motivate the members of the class.

 2) The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

Check! Many exercise classes offer special deals and benefits to those who recruit new members. I wouldn’t be surprised if Soul Cycle did the same.

3)The group is preoccupied with making money.

Check! I mean, it’s a business and depending on the location, prices can get absurdly high.

 4) Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Check! Leave your bad attitude at home and don’t you dare distract any of the other cyclers while class is in session.

5) Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

Check! Soul Cycle classes are held in the dark, illuminated only by candlelight. The instructors render participants unable to think because they blare dub-step and pop music which conveniently also create a party-like atmosphere and drown out the sounds of screaming.

6) The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).

Check! A friend told me that you’re supposed to dedicate your effort in the class to something abstract. They encourage you to buy their special clip in spin shoes and if you don’t have them, you must rent them for a hefty price.

7)The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).

Check! Not only is Soul Cycle deliberately branded as very exclusive and fancy (aka elitist), but often times instructors will wrap up a session by bombing cyclers with praise for accomplishing something for the day, as if they are superior because they sat down and stood up on stationary bikes for an hour.

8) The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.

Check! Soul Cycle cult members insist that it’s just not like other spin classes. It’s different and if you try, you’ll never look back.

9) The group’s leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations).

Check! I’m pretty sure they make you sign a waiver before you get on one of their bikes renouncing your right to sue if you get injured even if it’s totally Soul Cycle’s fault.

10)  The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group (for example: collecting money for bogus charities).

This one doesn’t check out.

11)The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.

Check! The instructor spouts motivation that will make participants feel lazy if they don’t put in all of their effort. You’re also encouraged to take classes consistently or you’ll be guilted for not being committed enough.

12) Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.

Nah, Soul Cycle doesn’t do this.

13)  Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.

Check! They sell very expensive packages of classes: the more you buy, the better the deal and the more you buy, the more time you’re spending at the Soul Cycle location.

14) Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Nah. You can still live like a normal person outside of the Soul Cycle studio.

So, I’ve tallied up the numbers and Soul Cycle has 11 out of the 14 characteristics of a cult.

It’s a freakin’ cult. 

Image via Getty

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  • CMJ

    Are the bikes really that close? If I am paying $35 bucks for a spin class I don’t want to be in the armpit the person next to me.

    • Joanna Rafael

      You will be in their armpit and you will have a smile on your face!

  • Lindsey Conklin

    Okay. So i did one soul cycle class because i love to exercise (even though its triple my monthly gym membership) and a-i loved it, b-it definitely is a cult. ive heard they also kick people out of class if they arent performing up to snuff. but it was an amazing workout and i totally get how people are hooked. also, upon leaving, i ran into alec baldwin

    • Joanna Rafael

      I love to exercise too! Tell me, Alec Baldwin’s eyes, just how blue are they?

    • christina

      avid soulcycler here..obsessed! it is kind of cult-ish, but they def. don’t kick people out of class (at least not in the 80+ classes i’ve attended). everyone is usually really nice.

  • stelb

    I’ve never had a bad experience at a Soul Cycle. I’ve always left feeling like I got an amazing workout, and am energized for the day, not like I was brainwashed, shamed, or anything else negative. It’s all about individual perception. Also, the shoes at the studio I go to are included in the class price, as well as a bottle of water.

    • Joanna Rafael

      Right on, glad it works for you.

  • alp10

    You lost me at “Though I have never personally….” Also, if you had bothered to do about 30 seconds of internet research, you would have learned that the website is down because they are rolling out a new one.

    • Joanna Rafael

      Ridiculing outsiders seems like another sign that it’s a cult.

      Also I called the website being down “suspicious” facetiously.

    • alp10

      Oh, I have no need to ridicule you. Your poorly researched, jumping-to-conclusions “article” speaks for yourself. As someone who does regularly take classes at SoulCycle, let me give you my perspective: yes, it’s crazy expensive and celebrity-obsessed. Yes, its genius marketing department cultivates an aura of exclusivity. Yes, it is a business that (gasp) is trying to make as much $$ as possible and recruit new business. Yes, you need to sign a waiver before you take a class (but as noted above, that is not unusual for gyms, ski resorts, and other places where you engage in physical activity that runs the risk of injury). Yes, instructors challenge you to work your hardest, stay committed, and discourage distractions such as talking or texting during class (but honestly, given the prices they are charging you, wouldn’t you want them to do this?). Yes, I strongly suspect that there is some “behind the scenes” manipulation like keeping the studio crazy warm so you sweat a lot, and telling you they put the bikes close together so you “ride as a pack” (which may or may not have something to do with the fact they are trying to maximize the $ they make per class). So why do I go? Because, as a fortysomething working mother of two, it’s really hard to find the motivation to work out. With SoulCycle, I sign up for a bike online, get a really fun workout, and can be in and out of there in under an hour. Could I get that kind of workout somewhere else? Honestly, I could. But SoulCycle works for me. Judge if you must.

    • Joanna Rafael

      Dude, this was a light-hearted post making fun of Soul Cycle. You shouldn’t feel guilty about doing something you love and can afford to do. I thought it would be fun to compare it to a Cult and the heartfelt and aggressive responses do nothing but prove my point.

  • Anakela

    “Though I have never personally…”
    “I wouldn’t be surprised if Soul Cycle…”
    “A friend told me…”
    “I’m pretty sure they make you…”

    LOL. Do you have *any* actual factual first-hand statements in this piece? Or, wait, am I completely not getting this website? This is supposed to be a real article, right, and not like a The Onion article?

    I ride at SoulCycle, so, here, I’ll help you out with a couple of these:

    #6: *their* special clip in shoes are road bike shoes with look delta clips. You can buy them on any cycling website, or at any sporting good store. I bought my special clip in shoes off of eBay. How fancy and elitist I am! And the hefty shoe rental price is either $3 or else free at the UWS location; if you’re going to use a quantifier like hefty I personally think you should also list what hefty is.

    #9: Yes, I signed a waiver before my first class at SoulCycle. I’ve also signed a waiver at another indoor cycling studio that I take classes at (oooh, how dare my cult let me take classes at other cycling studios! So much for #8.), and I have also signed a waiver at every yoga studio, gym, fitness studio, and HIIT studio I have ever worked out at.

    • Joanna Rafael

      Yikes, you seem pretty aggressive. Perhaps a session at soul cycle will help you lighten up?

    • Joanna Rafael

      But it is cool that Soul Cycle is something you’re passionate about.