Let's Talk About SoulActivate, the New HIIT Workout at SoulCycle

 Photo: SoulCycle

Photo: SoulCycle

SoulCycle unveiled a new workout last month for all you over-achievers ready to take your cycling workouts beyond the 45-minute Soul or 60-minute Soul Survivor rides. The class is called SoulActivate, and it's a 60-minute session ($32 per class) that blends SoulCycle staples like tapbacks and tempo riding with (slightly) heavier weights and high intensity intervals. 

A rep for the brand tells Rockyt, "Since day one, SoulCycle has been focused on innovation, and offering the best possible experience for their community. SoulActivate is an athletic-based workout designed for consistent riders. The class incorporates high-intensity interval training and strength—all by using the bike to your advantage." According to the company, SoulActivate riders "are burning 150-300 more calories on average and increasing their peak fitness levels, due to strategic variation in heart rate."

Okay, SoulCycle is putting its spin on a HIIT class. But what does that mean? I've tried it twice, so let's dish. (Spoiler alert: I like it.)

The first time I clipped in for SoulActivate, the workout was still in preview mode. Local instructors were inviting friends and regulars for free community classes to practice teaching the new format. I hopped into San Francisco senior instructor Heather Anderson's class to try it out.

 Photo: SoulCycle

Photo: SoulCycle

I started  taking Anderson's classes before she even joined the SF Soul Squad, and she remains one of my favorite instructors in the city, so I was excited to experience her take on a different kind of Soul workout. The class started with standard-for-Soul fast-tempo bike-dancing, then segued into arms with heavier weights—up to 10 pounds instead of the standard fivers—before pivoting into high intensity interval training. For the intervals, Anderson encouraged riders to add a lot of resistance and push to failure for short bursts, both in a Tabata format, (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off), and a longer interval series, (20 seconds on, one minute off). The consensus among the regulars at the end was it was the hardest Soul class anyone had ever taken.

A week later, I clipped in again for the official SoulActivate premiere with Chris Layda. While the music and the affirmations were different, the workout was largely the same. Same layout, same intervals, and even the same explanation of recovery time, (e.g., Elite athletes need rest, with an example involving Michael Phelps after a race). Layda added in a helpful explanation regarding intensity and effort levels: riders shouldn't be able to take back-to-back SoulActivate classes. According to Layda, if you have enough energy at the end to double, you didn't push yourself hard enough. 

Again, after the class, riders seemed to agree that it was the most challenging Soul class yet.

I'll agree with the claim that SoulActivate is the toughest SoulCycle class, and I enjoy it, but it's not the hardest cycling class in San Francisco. Compared to the standard Bay Area dance-party-on-a-bike workout—which, let's be honest, is made up of studios trying to copy SoulCycle—SoulActivate easily trounces the competition. But my experience is that studios like Pelo and 17th Street Athletic Club* offer more difficult cycling classes. That's because those studios don't bother with dancing or choreography—just resistance and speed, usually offered in a calorie-torching, interval training format. It's the difference between programming for clients who want to sweat and have fun during class, and clients who want to train like cyclists. That's not to suggest that either one is wrong, only that the latter is harder.

 Photo: SoulCycle

Photo: SoulCycle

The positives? SoulActivate is a difficult class, the energy in the studio is incredible, and Soul offers a significantly posher client experience than its competition. (Le Labo shower products, FTW, amirite?) 

So who should be taking this class and how frequently should you try it? SoulCycle recommends the format to riders who have taken 10 or more classes. A rep says, "SoulActivate is designed to be added into riders’ weekly routines to achieve intended results." In other words, don't think of it as graduating from standard Soul to all-Activate, all-the-time; instead, view it as a supplement. 

If you're a Soul regular and you want a more difficult class, get yourself into SoulActivate. If you like Soul, but have moved on to tougher workouts, Activate is a reason to return home. For now, there are a limited number of SoulActivate slots on the Bay Area Soul schedules, (about two per studio each week), but they're worth checking out.

*Full-disclosure. I teach TRX and Strength Conditioning at 17th Street Athletic Club. I wound up there because I've been taking cycling classes with the owners, Shannon and Marissa, for years. I've never finished one of their classes without temporarily hating them for torturing me.