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Leave your heart (but find your Soul) in San Francisco

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You know what I love most about working out?

Just when you think you’ve got it figured out (i.e. this fall’s marathon PR), something else comes along, kicks your butt and knocks you back into reality.

Or, in my case, the lowest resistance on the spin bike.

That’s how I found myself last week, getting my first taste of sweet torture at the brand-spanking-new Union Street SoulCycle studio here in San Francisco.

The spin-class-meets-full-body-workout has developed a cult-like following after launching in NYC a few years back, and it promises to deliver an experience like no other.

In layman’s terms, that means you’re looking at a 45-minute mix of cardio, yoga, high-energy music and inspirational coaching from instructors intent on improving both your body and your spirit.

My indoctrination into “the pack” (SoulCycle speak) started off innocently enough; I arrived a few minutes early to scope out the studio, complete with brightly-lit and well-stocked changing rooms, showers and lockers. The staff was friendly and helpful, especially with newcomers who are unfamiliar with the SoulCycle process, which goes a little something like this…

Step 1: Reserve your class. Registration opens each Monday at noon for the week following. Classes are known to fill quickly, so come hell or high water, you can bet Soul aficionados will be in close proximity to an internet connection during lunch breaks on those days.

Step 2: Get your gear. It gets mighty steamy mid-class (plus, loose pants and a fast-spinning wheel don’t mix), so ditch baggy clothing in favor of tights and tanks. Rent cycling shoes for $3, but don’t worry about bringing towels or seat cushions; SoulCycle supplies both.

Step 3: Set up your bike. Even if you’ve taken spin classes before, do yourself a favor and ask for assistance on your maiden SoulCycle voyage. The instructor, Jenny, was more than happy to help, and even gave me my numbers so I’m locked and loaded for next time.

Step 4: Observe the etiquette. To preserve the “soul sanctuary,” SoulCycle has a few simple requests. You can read more about ‘em here, but they’re basically about using common sense and having respect for fellow riders when in close quarters.

Step 5: Find your soul. And you’re off! Give in to the “power of the pack,” and you’re in for an inspiring, energizing, full-body burn.

The class itself began with a bang; once all riders were clipped into their bikes, the candles were lit, the music went up, the lights went down, and our legs began pumping in unison to the beat.

Jenny, our instructor, explained that it’s a workout like no other — one that has brought professional athletes and Ironmen down to their knees — but I was determined to withhold judgment. After all, I can run for four hours straight, so 45 minutes in the saddle is a piece of cake, right?

Wrong.

Not 10 minutes into class, I was drenched in sweat and gasping for breath. Legs spinning, arms burning, it was a non-stop 45 minutes of give-it-all-you’ve-got effort, made possible by continual words of encouragement from Jenny, a constant beat and the collective energy of the pack around me.

While I usually prefer solo workout routines, I couldn’t help by get inspired by the infectious energy of the pack. It’s not as much a transcendental experience as it is a ”cardio sanctuary” of sorts where riders can come to clear their heads, transform their bodies and maybe even atone for recent sins of the flesh (in my case, Sift cupcakes and holiday candy).

The only downside? Classes are pricey at $30 a pop (although first-timers can go for $20; call the studio for details). But if you’re looking to jump-start a new workout routine or, like me, trying to supplement your ongoing regimen, it’s a great every-so-often option.

My final advice: Check your ego at the door, start slowly and build after you’ve got a grasp of the basics of cycling, and bring a positive attitude.

You just might enjoy a new spin on things.

For more information or to find a location near you, visit Soul-Cycle.com.

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