Pass by any SoulCycle location as devotees flood the sidewalk post-spin session and you’ll notice a common thread: red faces; sweat-drenched shirts (often bearing the SoulCycle logo); and expressions of exhaustion, determination, or elation — or a combination of all three.
These spin enthusiasts could go to any number of fitness classes, but they choose SoulCycle indoor cycling for its unique blend of booming music, crushing cardio, choreographed bike moves, and, above all, uplifting motivational instructors.
We tapped three over-50 SoulCycle instructors — Janet Fitzgerald (50), Sue Molnar (52), and Mireya D’Angelo (53) — to share their insights on aging, fitness, the mind-body connection, motivation, and finding nirvana as their legs fly at 100 revolutions per minute.
When did you get into fitness?
I’ve always been involved in some kind of sports activity: Running track in high school, tennis in college, swimming. As I got older I continued to do some sort of exercise for my mental and physical health.
Molnar: I was a tomboy growing up, and I played softball and tennis religiously. Then I was a competitive cheerleader in high school and college, and then rode that wave into teaching aerobics and step aerobics once I was out of school. When indoor cycling came around, I transitioned into that. I suppose I’ve been a fitness instructor for 29 years!
Fitzgerald: I started dancing at age 9, and then started teaching dance at age 17. I started teaching fitness at age 22.
What made you decide to join the SoulCycle team?
I was a flight attendant living in Los Angeles, teaching indoor cycling classes on the side. SoulCycle’s co-founders came out West, took my class, and offered me a job; my initial thought was, “I’m never moving back to New York City; I can’t afford to live there.” In my mind, it was an absolute “no way.” I had no idea what SoulCycle was; the company was in its first year of business, so no one had heard of it. But my colleague Laurie Cole was teaching there and had recommended me. I remember Laurie telling me, “This is a special place. You should really think about coming to teach here.” And I’m not sure how (I thank the universe for it daily), but overnight, while talking with my sister, I realized that I could move to New York, keep my job as a flight attendant, teach classes in both New York and Los Angeles, and just work the flights between the two. And that’s what I did in my first couple of years at SoulCycle. Eventually, of course, SoulCycle became my main career, and when United offered an early retirement package to the flight attendants, I was able to take it. I could go on and on about how wildly beneficial SoulCycle has been in my life — physically, mentally, financially, spiritually, musically, and opportunistically. Thank goodness I rejected my first instinct of “no” when offered this job.
D’Angelo: I was in my early 40s, and I was a rider. One of the founders suggested I audition to become an instructor. At that time, I was going through work and life changes and trying to find my next path. I started to teach SoulCycle while continuing my business consulting practice. I describe it as the best (mid-) life discovery one could ever have. I loved and believed in the brand and wanted to play a part in its continued growth and expansion while staying fit.
Fitzgerald: I was SoulCycle co-founder Julie Rice’s first instructor when she lived in L.A. I owned a studio called Body & Soul with three other partners, and Julie selfishly wanted to recruit me so she could take my class! I initially turned down the offer. I then negotiated for part of my job to be training SoulCycle instructors. I developed the entire training curriculum as well as trained and developed the training team for SoulCycle. My department has trained over 300 instructors for SoulCycle in eight years.
How does indoor cycling benefit your body after 50?
I used to run before SoulCycle — not long distances, but 3 to 6 miles about three or four times per week. I started SoulCycle to complement my running. I stopped running because of the toll it was taking on my body. Cycling takes away the bounce and jarring motion and makes working out smoother. In my classes, I’m a stickler for form and proper bike setup, since those both help prevent injury.
Molnar: Cycling fills in the cardiovascular component of my fitness routine, which includes strength training, cardio, and stretching. I read somewhere years ago that the three components of fitness are strength, endurance, and flexibility, and I’ve tried to follow that ever since. And to find a form of cardio that I love is no small thing because, for me, cardio was always so boring and tedious. Trying to force myself to run, stair-climb, or do any other sort of cardio was always a chore. But this! Riding a stationary bike to music that I love, with the encouraging, collective energy of a pack around me? I’ve been doing it almost 20 years, and I still can’t get enough of it.
Fitzgerald: Cycling benefits your body the same as it does before 50; it’s the best nonimpact cardiovascular training in the industry. It burns calories, tones muscles, stimulates creativity and focus, and releases toxins. Additionally, it increases circulation, improves bone density, makes your life better because it helps with mental clarity, and decreases stress levels. We all feel better when we feel strong!
How does the mental part of spin help women over 50?
Increased serotonin levels and lower cortisol levels positively affect hormones in all ages, but after 50 hormones become a serious issue. I also think that the extreme sweat can help women adjust to common issues associated with menopause.
D’Angelo: Cycling at SoulCycle allows you to clear your mind, work out issues, and, if you choose to do so, be mindful. Riding the bike in the candlelight, whether you’re pushing up a hill or jogging to a fun dance song, allows you to escape and just be, and then move on to the next thing in your day after your 45 minutes are up.
Molnar: The mental (and, at SoulCycle, spiritual) aspect is just as beneficial as the physical, no matter your age. Personally, a SoulCycle class relieves my stress. It gives me the chance to disconnect my brain from the daily pressure of living in the 21st century. It allows me to immerse myself fully into one of my favorite art forms: music. It gives us all a place where we can process whatever we’re going through in life — whether celebrating something wonderful or grieving something terrible, and everything in between. It’s a place where profound friendships are formed and people show up for each other. I had one rider tell me that she’s a better mother because of the time she spends in my class. In fact, her kids gave me a card for Valentine’s Day that basically said, “Thank you for making our mommy a happier person.” SoulCycle shows people that they’re stronger than they thought they ever were; that they can be athletes after many years of inactivity; that they can surprise themselves with self-care in this way, perhaps giving them a sense of self-esteem they didn’t have before. It certainly gave me self-esteem I’d never possessed before. I think human beings struggle to find the things in life that simply make life worth living. And this activity — SoulCycle — is absolutely one of those things for me.
Do you find the mind-body connection is important to feeling your best?
I suppose one of the things I talk about is self-awareness and how important I feel it is. So being aware of your body would be a big part of that. And when you feel strong, healthy, and fit, your awareness of this feeling brings you joy and a sense of pride, which both feel good, of course. Dr. Seuss had a saying, “It is fun to have fun.” And I like to say in class, “It feels good to feel good.” So when you are not in good shape, when you’re not taking care of your body, when you feel tired or overweight or lazy, it just plain feels bad … and one of the easy ways out of that bad feeling is to ignore your body. Or you talk yourself out of why you feel that way; you absolve yourself of the responsibility for your health and fitness; you make excuses. In that regard, the disconnect between mind and body can be a really negative thing. So it appears I find the mind-body connection important!
Fitzgerald: For me, it has always been about the mind-body connection. It’s the reason I started teaching indoor cycling over 20 years ago. I feel like most riders show up because they’re looking to change their body, but they continue to come back because of the positive mental and emotional effects.
D’Angelo: Absolutely. When something is out of one’s comfort zone or seems difficult, our natural instinct is to say, “I can’t.” In my classes I’ve developed what my riders call “Mireya’s theory of relativity.” When I ask my riders to push during a challenging moment in class, I remind them that this short push is easier than anything they’re doing outside the doors of the studio. For example, it’s easier than the traffic they’re going to encounter on their commute home, the school semester they just completed, meeting the revenue goals their company has set for this quarter, etc. Therefore, it’s all relative and it’s all your state of mind.
What do you do in addition to cycling to keep fit and healthy?
I do a combination of high-intensity workouts, toning classes, and yoga.
Molnar: I have recently gotten back into strength training, which I sidelined after starting to teach for SoulCycle, and which I’m now regretting after losing a large part of my muscle mass over the past 10 years. Weight-bearing exercise is crucial, and I don’t feel healthy or fit without it in my routine. I also think swimming is one of the best things a human can do to stay fit. And I try not to take anything in life too seriously. I laugh a lot, get lots of sleep, spend a ton of time with friends and family, and eat foods I enjoy.
Fitzgerald: I work with a trainer twice a week and go to yoga at least twice a week. Plus infrared saunas are amazing!
What do you say to women who feel it’s hard to stay motivated to exercise after 50?
I totally feel them, get it, and at most times agree. Here’s the thing, however: Everything that is wonderful, joyous, or difficult in this life takes commitment and resilience. There are different levels for both — commitment and resilience — and they depend on your mood. That said, as we age, we’ve got to keep moving. Staying active gives you the resilience, strength, and health necessary to enjoy your friends, family, food, and drink, as well as deal with any of the difficulties life throws your way.
Molnar: The first thing I’d say is, “I feel you, sisters!” It seemed to come naturally to me in my 20s, 30s, and 40s — which, for that last decade, I’m only now realizing this! Wow, did I take that for granted or what? For the first time in my life, in my 50s, it has become challenging for me to self-motivate. And I actually don’t feel good in my body just yet. However, having SoulCycle in my routine is a lifesaver. It’s so much a part of my daily lifestyle that I don’t have to motivate myself to do it; it’s just a part of who I am. The mutual support and community aspect helps tremendously. I would encourage getting involved in any sort of activity that holds you accountable, whether to a trainer, a friend, or a classroom of other people. I’m not so good at being accountable to myself, but when others are involved, there is no question for me that I’ll show up and give it my all.
Fitzgerald: It needs to feel fun! You can reframe the word “workout”” and try using words like practice or train. SoulCycle is so fun because it’s like a dance class in a dark club environment where you can feel free and lose yourself! If you don’t have a SoulCycle in your area, try a dance class and build a community so that it feels more like going to see your friends and less about something you have to do. And if dance isn’t your thing, then take up a sport like tennis or an activity with a community aspect — this is the key: to have community! I also arrange to meet a friend at yoga class. That’s a way keep motivated: make fitness play dates.
Have SoulCycle members ever asked you about fitness in relation to aging?
The thing that most of us talk about is taking care of our joints, which is a hot topic, because SoulCycle features choreographed moves on the bike. My advice to my riders is to always stay aware of your body and its limits, as well as to always stay safe. I like to be aware of the fine line between pushing yourself athletically and pushing yourself over the line into injury. The older we get, the smarter we have to be about where that line is. It’s just a fact of life.
Fitzgerald: I teach classes with riders age 11 to 75, and I feel like most of the questions are body-related rather than centered around age. Questions about coming back from injuries or pregnancy, but they usually comment on how riding makes them feel younger and more youthful too!
What’s your advice for women who have never set foot in a spin class but are considering it?
Go to a class! Introduce yourself to the front desk staff and the instructor. Sit in the back and just ride. Before you know it, you’ll be able to do the class correctly and, if necessary, you can modify it. There are so many milestones after your first class and after every class; celebrate each and every one. Finishing class is a huge success. In fact, riding half of a song on tempo is a big deal — never mind if you can hold that speed the entire class. Be proud and be loud.
Fitzgerald: Try a bunch of instructors to find the music, voice, and message that best resonate with what makes you happy. Sit in the back so you don’t feel intimidated; this way, you can just do you until you build some confidence and strength. Celebrate your courage for showing up and doing your best, and don’t compare yourself to others. Just do you and don’t be afraid to work at your own pace to honor your body.
Molnar: I would highly recommend talking to the front desk staff of the studio you want to try (or going on the website to see which instructor matches your vibe), so that you walk into a welcoming, safe environment where you can feel comfortable. We’re all intimidated trying new things. We think — incorrectly — that we’ll stick out as “new.” We think, I look like I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not strong enough, cool enough, or thin enough. I’m not wearing the right clothes. The list goes on. One of the great things about being over 50 (for me) is adopting the attitude of “Oh, screw that!” I’m not going to let what others think of me dictate what I will or won’t do for myself. Hopefully, other 50-somethings feel the same way.