The room is dark, illuminated by a few dim accent lights. Massive screens flash music videos and the throbbing bass of electronic music reverberates. Around the room, faces are dripping wet with sweat that falls and pools on the floor. Bodies move rhythmically to the beat.
The atmosphere is clublike — except there's no dancing, no drinks, save for bottles of water and Gatorade, and across the room, feet are strapped into the pedals of stationary bikes.
Indoor cycling isn't anything new. Started in the early 1990s, it's now a ubiquitous form of group exercise, even at multipurpose gyms like the YMCA and LA Fitness.
Michelle Gobea, owner of Tampa's Soho Cycling, says she has been obsessed with indoor cycling for nearly 20 years. But thanks to the extreme loyalty that stylish, star-studded studios like SoulCycle have inspired, new students are flocking to boutique, cycling-centric studios, including ones across Tampa Bay.
"Now it's becoming a trendy, popular thing," Gobea said. "It's cool to finally have the notoriety."
And its trendiness is matched by its effectiveness. Indoor cycling is known for burning calories. Riders can expect to burn 400 to 600 calories in a 45-minute class. According to Gobea, a typical spin class can cover 14 to 20 miles.
Plus, it's inclusive. Anyone of any age can hop on a bike and ride safely.
"Cycling doesn't impact the joints the way many aerobic exercises, such as running, do," said Steven McDaniels, a personal trainer and director of fitness and athletics at Beacon College in Leesburg.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not just a leg workout, either.
"Cycling's about intervals with your heart rate going up and down," said Amber Clayton, owner of Central Cycling in St. Petersburg. "We see so many success stories — people fitting into smaller sizes, and getting in shape."
Unlike running, which can intimidate people with pre-existing injuries, cycling is a non-weight-bearing form of exercise. It's appropriate for all fitness levels and causes less trauma on the muscles and joints.
That inclusivity is, in part, what's driving those in search of a great workout to cycling.
"When you're running, you have to stay with the group, but in cycling, if you need more or less resistance, you can still make those changes on your own bike and you don't feel left behind," Clayton said. "Everyone finishes together."
But why try an indoor class when you've got a perfectly good bicycle in the garage?
"You're not subject to the elements," said Annie Bernstein, vice president of operations and marketing for Ciclo Management, which recently launched CycleBar in South Tampa. "There's no sun or heat. There are no traffic or bike safety concerns."
Working on a stationary bike means instructors are able to incorporate different movements into their sequences beyond sprints and hill climbs, including tap backs and the use of light arm weights while pedaling.
"Indoors, you can close your eyes," Bernstein said. "If you're woozy or tired, you can meditate through it, get caught up in the music and lose yourself while working out."
And while each studio is nuanced in its offerings, across the board the emphasis is placed on community-building rather than competition.
"People can come in and share that experience together," Clayton said. "Sometimes everyone lets out a scream. You just feel good doing something you can enjoy."
Some studios even advertise happy hour mixers and brunch rides.
What should a first-time rider expect? Everyone has to start somewhere. It's a good idea to arrive a few minutes early and to get acquainted with the equipment. And expect to get sweaty.
"Grab more than one towel," Soho Cycling studio manager Francisco Hernandez said. "You want that extra one."
Don't be intimidated by more experienced riders. Before the ride begins, you'll need to adjust the bicycle according to your height. Your instructor will walk you through the different positions you might be asked to cycle from, whether that's seated or standing on the pedals of the bike.
"Know your own fitness level," CycleBar South Tampa studio manager Katie Breathitt said. "Don't push beyond your own limits."
As with any workout, it's also important to stay hydrated.
And as Soho's Hernandez said, "Prepare to have a good time."
Contact Lyndsey McKenna at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472. Follow @lyndseymck.