Gym vs. Boutique Studio Indoor Cycling: Which Is Better?

So you're ready to start indoor cycling — or you're already an avid cyclist, wondering what it's like "on the other side." Have you been a strict gym-cyclist? Or are you a boutique studio addict? To see how the classes stacked up, I put them toe to toe (literally) with my superscientific "control group" shoes so I'd have a level playing field (for reference, I've been wearing these Pearl Izumis that look like regular tennis shoes — the SPD clip I bought works for both SoulCycle and Equinox bikes). I went a few times (OK, maybe more than a few) to each class to get a big picture, talked with trainers, and took notes.

First let me just say, they are both excellent workouts! And on a personal level, I love each for different reasons. Although they're quite different for technically being the "same" exercise, they both offer great perks. What it comes down to is the type of workout that works for your personality or mood.


(. . . and most boutique studio cycling!) The SoulCycle format can be seen at many studios across the country — the dance party vibe, riding to the beat, and a sense of community. It's a friendly format for beginners, and it helps many new riders and those new to fitness get comfortable with movement. If you haven't tried it yet, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you like dancing?
  • Are you more rhythmically motivated? Do music and rhythm play a big part for your mood and experience during a workout?
  • Are you not super competitive?
  • Do you love working out with friends? Do you love social fitness?
  • Are you looking to fitness as a form of therapy?
  • Do you value the overall experience more than knowing the exact amount of calories burned?

If you answered yes to most of these, you'll love boutique studio cycling like you'll find at SoulCycle, Cyc, or Flywheel. For me, music and rhythm play a huge part in my workout — anything that is timed to a beat feels very natural (more fun, less like exercise!). These classes also feel as much of a social event as they do a workout . . . "let's go to Soul together" is as common as "let's grab a coffee" these days. And lastly, part of what I — and so many others — love about these classes is the "therapy" aspect. Instructors typically give lots of motivational talks throughout class, especially at the end. Words of wisdom, life advice, and empowering mantras are all part of the package. One of my favorite SoulCycle-referencing adages that I hear so often is "cheaper than my therapist."

Cost: $25-$40 per class (note: many of these studios do not offer a traditional membership)


(. . . and many cycling or Spin classes you'll find at the gym!) While Equinox offers a variety of formats (including a very competitive class that feels more like a video game), its standard cycling class is a more traditional cycling class that focuses on resistance, form, speed, intervals, and strength. Very often, cycling classes at a gym better mimic what it's like to ride outside on a real bike.

  • Is dance something you save for outside the gym?
  • Are you NOT very rhythmically inclined?
  • Do you enjoy a little competition when it comes to your workout?
  • Are you more focused in the gym?
  • Is getting healthy and strong (or losing weight) your top priority?
  • Are quantifiable fitness goals important to you?

If you answered yes to the above, you may be more inclined to the gym. The Equinox class lets you set up quantifiable goals: What was your resistance? RPMs? Power output? Calories burned? All of it is available in a screen on your bike, and your stats sync with your Equinox app. It's an athletic class that focuses on helping you achieve — and crush — your fitness goals. Similarly inspiring, but in a very different way than a studio class, the traditional Spin classes help motivate you past the point of fatigue and breathlessness, offering a rider encouragement in regard to fitness. The "general life therapy" is more found in the studio class than in the gym. And the music in these classes is still really awesome — the playlists are fresh, modern, and high-energy . . . but you're definitely not cycling to the beat. The emphasis is on interval training, climbing hills, and endurance rides — no dance to be found (those of you who really don't like dance, this is definitely your class).

Cost: Included in monthly gym membership, varies per location

My best recommendation? Do both. Mix it up! There aren't really drawbacks to either class, and in my opinion, all movement is good. I get a rigorous, sweaty, endorphin-boosting cardio workout from both classes; I leave both places feeling energized, motivated, and like I just did something great for my body. I'm a bit more dance oriented, so I love going to Soul when I feel like moving to the beat (which is often). When I feel like I need a heart-pounding, limit-pushing workout to focus on training goals, I head to Equinox and cycle it out in the gym.