West Hollywood SoulCycle: The fitness cult sweeping the USA

The music is pumping and so are my legs, working harder than ever before in an effort to keep up with the taut, fit young thighs whizzing in unison around me. As the beat intensifies, so does the message of empowerment, delivered with the fervour of a Southern Baptist preacher by West Hollywood SoulCycle's instructor-to-the-stars Angela Manuel-Davis.

"Shake the doubt off, WeHo!" Angela hollers, punching the air as the class lets out a collective whoop. "I want the doubt to roll off onto the floor. We're not doubting our gifts and talents, we're not doubting our dreams, not doubting our strengths. Do not doubt the calling of your life  – say yes to it! Receive it, you're free! Out of the saddle!"

Sometimes called 'the church of the bike' and even lampooned as a cult on the Netflix comedy, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, SoulCycle turns the notion of a boring 45-minute gym class on its head, reinventing it as an experience rather than just exercise. Part nightclub, part yoga, part cardio party – and yes, part church – it's designed to stimulate body, mind and soul, motivating participants to find inner as well as physical strength.

Starting in New York City in 2006, SoulCycle has swept across the US, with 41 locations and 50,000 riders each week. Nowhere does it seem more natural and appropriate than in the narcissistic heart of the nation, West Hollywood.

I have joined a group of first-timers at WeHo's SoulCycle studio, tucked into a sunny courtyard just off the Sunset Strip. It's a mid-morning session, but it's full of young and beautiful aspiring actor-types, chatting excitedly as they don the special clip-on shoes (available for rent for $3). One of my group recognises a Real Housewife amongst the clientele, but really, any one of those toned abs could belong to a celebrity, with Lady Gaga, Jennifer Garner and Jake Gyllenhaal all famous devotees.

The kind receptionist has had the foresight to place our group at the back of the class, where we have prime viewing of waving butts without being judged ourselves. Even before the class begins, I'm struggling. Shoes snapped onto the pedals, I'm trapped and unable to recover my water bottle and towel that have fallen on the floor.

As the music begins and the wheels start to spin, the newbies are encouraged with a cheer, welcomed to "the first day of the rest of our lives".

Fifty-five bikes are packed into the tiny, candlelit room, soft-purple fluoros casting a glow. On a platform at the front of the room are two lead cyclists: one, a visiting instructor from New York, is so ripped, I can't take my eyes off her as her legs rotate 100 times faster than mine. 

Leading the choreography, Angela Manuel-Davis strides before the class, offering motivational messages reflecting her chosen soundtrack, a mash-up of upbeat dance mixes such as Michael Jackson's Rock with You, OutKast's Sorry Miss Jackson and Tove Lo's Stay High. As the music builds, Angela barks out instructions, pushing us physically and encouraging us to keep up the momentum. As well as pedalling, we work out the upper body, swaying left and right to the beat, doing push-ups on the handlebars, and "tapping it back"  (moving our rear ends back and forth). It's a killer on the core, tough on already burning thighs, and the sweat drips off me in the humid, clammy environment.


A former professional track-and-field star, Angela is somewhat of a celebrity herself, having toured with Oprah on her "The Life You Want Weekend Tour" and featured in magazines as a fitness guru. With a mantra of "too blessed to be stressed", her classes book out in 14 seconds (yes, seconds!), with a 45-person waiting list each week. And I can easily see the appeal – her approach is positive, empowering and never judgmental.

"My philosophy when I'm teaching is that fitness and faith equals your freedom," she later tells me. "There's something that happens when you're physically vulnerable, you spiritually open up. And when that happens, I have an opportunity to affirm and encourage, and that's the exchange that's happening."

Ah-ha, physically vulnerable,  that's me. But as I limp over to the nearby juice bar after class to rehydrate on a fresh kale juice, I'm already planning my next SoulCycle session, when my thighs stop hurting, that is. I'm a convert.




A 45-minute SoulCycle class costs US$34  ($43) ($25 introductory class); soul-cycle.com.


Virgin Australia flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to LA; virginaustralia.com.


The celebrity theme continues at the infamous Sunset Marquis, where rooms range from  $385 to  $12,800 for the presidential suite; sunsetmarquis.com

The writer was a guest of Visit West Hollywood.

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