I Worked Out With Cult-Followed SoulCycle Instructor Stacey Griffith

And I totally drank the Kool-Aid.

Photo by Flickr user Shinya Suzuki

Photo by Flickr user Shinya Suzuki

SoulCycle is often described as a cult. And not for no reason: Devotees to the indoor-cycling studio attend classes religiously, brand themselves in SoulCycle gear, and are constantly trying to convert their friends and family.

And this isn’t a bad thing — a cult-like following is a trademark of a successful fitness company. And where there are cults, there are leaders. For Philly’s recently shuttered Lithe Method, also oft-described as a cult-like fitness brand, there’s Lauren Boggi. For SoulCycle, there are a few faces that one could associate with leading the pack: There are the founders, Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, the CEO, Melanie Whelan, and there’s Stacey Griffith, senior master instructor and the second hire at SoulCycle, who’s been written up for her motivational style of teaching in outlets ranging from the New York Times to Vanity Fair (which actually called her “cult trainer Stacey Griffith”) to People. She has arguably the biggest following of these names (her Instagram boasts nearly 57,000 followers), and she really walks the walk — she tells me she teaches somewhere around 900 SoulCycle classes a year. Her classes, a favorite for celebrities, are instant sell-outs.

My point: If SoulCycle is a cult, Griffith is definitely one of the leaders. And this past Wednesday, I found myself sweatily sipping on the Stacey G Kool-Aid in a 4 p.m. class led by Griffith at SoulCycle Rittenhouse.

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Griffith, who is based in New York City, is known for her talent of motivating riders — both on and off their bikes — and she recently penned a motivational memoir, dubbed Two Turns From Zero (yes, that’s a term you’d hear in a SoulCycle class), documenting her journey from drug-addicted indoor cycling instructor to a sober, uber-successful SoulCycle senior master instructor. She’s promoting the book, which explains her pit-stop in Philly.

I’m not going to lie: I was pretty nervous about taking her class. Kelly Ripa apparently frequents her classes. And have you SEEN Kelly Ripa? Just looking at her biceps makes my biceps sore. But I set my fears aside and found myself waiting for Griffith to enter the dark studio classroom at Rittenhouse’s SoulCycle studio at around 3:50 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. As I waited, I overheard multiple women in the class — many of them decked out in the appropriate SOUL-emblazoned attire — say they’d lied to their bosses about where they were going. Others talked about what they were doing when the class opened up online, and how they’d scrambled to get a spot, the same way people talk about getting tickets to Adele’s last tour. When Griffith made her entrance, cheers enveloped the room.

I’ve walked out of a SoulCycle classes and thought, Eh, that wasn’t so hard, but when I walked out of Griffith’s class 45 minutes later, my face the color of a “Stop” sign, that was not what I was thinking. What I was thinking was, Whoa — she is the Tony Robbins of exercise. I was also thinking, Water. PLEASE. 

When I say she’s the Tony Robbins — AKA life coach extraordinaire — of exercise, what I mean is that Griffith seems to have the power to make otherwise seemingly normal people totally immerse themselves in an experience and behave as though they’ve mayyyybe temporarily lost their minds (Um, have you ever seen people dancing at Tony Robbins’s seminars? Or Oprah fire-walking with his encouragement?), all while making them feel like they can do anything they want to do. Even 1,000 sit-ups in a 45-minute class, which she told us we were going to do at the beginning of class on Wednesday. (Whether or not we hit this goal, I don’t know. But the point is, we all believed, with Griffith’s encouragement, that we totally could.)

To give you an overview of just how, um, immersed in the experience I was: Midway through Griffith’s class, I found myself shamelessly belting out the lyrics to Justin Bieber’s Purpose. This also occurred with a Bruno Mars song. I did that “Wooooooo!” thing all by my damn self. And I swung my towel around my head with a big-ass grin on my face. And I did I mention that I was doing endless on-the-bike push-ups and tap backs and arm-raise moves I don’t know the name of throughout this all? Because I was — but it was like the workout, while killer, was only a piece of the equation. At the end of class, Griffith read an excerpt from her book and then repeated the idea that, if she’d gotten to where she is now, we could all do whatever we want to do in life. Yes, that might sound cheesy now, but that did not stop me from nearly going hoarse screaming with approval in the moment.

When I got home, the first thing I did was open her book up only to find that, in the book, she says she’s flattered when people liken her to Tony Robbins. I looked up to my fiancé, pointing at the page, and shrieked, “I SAID THAT!!!!!! SHE’S THE TONY ROBBINS OF FITNESS! I SAID THAT AND SHE SAID THAT!” He stared at me like I’d temporarily lost my mind. It’s up for debate. I told you guys: I was drunk on the Stacey G Kool-Aid.

But, like with any leader who has this intoxicating power of making people feel like they you can do things they wouldn’t be able to do without that person’s encouragement, the question is, How do you carry that feeling of “I can do WHATEVER I WANT!” out of the classroom with you? I posed this question to Griffith, who says she actually recorded and transcribed over 100 of her SoulCycle classes to create the blueprint for her book, part memoir, part guide to creating your own goals and reaching them. She said, “I think that’s most people’s problem. Like, ‘How do I be motivated?’ Motivation is a total messaging practice. It’s a way that you speak to yourself. It’s how you take on your thoughts and use them as a spark to light the fire of your day.”

Yeah, I wanted more too, which is why I am now 80 pages deep into her book (and have let it slide that she says something about once speaking in tongues). After all, she’s clearly got the whole motivation thing down and you better believe I’m going to do what I can to get some of that to rub off onto my life.

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