I tried an outdoor spin class during a pandemic and this is what it was like

Like many of my fellow global citizens whose world was turned upside down back in March, the loss of being able to exercise whenever I wanted to in the way I wanted to was one of the aspects I truly struggled with daily.

I never considered myself to be a workout nut but about six years ago I started exercising religiously at least four times a week and though I thought I was doing it to keep my body in shape, it really became an essential component of my mental health.

If I didn’t attend a spin class or go to the gym and run I was honestly a less pleasant person to be around. All that stress and bent up energy would just remain under my veins putting me on edge. So, in other words, I need that release in order to be a pleasant (as well as functioning) human being.

Running only did so much

Like thousands of other New Yorkers I decided I WOULD BE A RUNNER NOW. And though it was great to be outside and by the water, it was crowded as everyone else decided to do the same (which made social distancing hard.) Our very cold and dark March and April didn’t make it easier.

Also, I had forgotten that running is, you know, awful. It hurts your body, it’s boring, there’s always someone faster than you and unlike all my workout classes it has no social component, or a cute juice bar nearby and the music selection is subpar (because I am not a good DJ.)

In April I got sick with COVID-19 so I took a few weeks off from exercise since walking from my couch to the kitchen required every ounce of energy I had. But by May I was climbing my way back which is why I was so grateful to get the new SoulCycle At-Home bike. As someone who used to spin at least three times a week my body was completely void of that energy release.

Though the bike didn’t quite have the same organized chaos of a crowded, sweaty spin class it was pretty darn close. Plus, a dark room full of sweaty people is pretty much the last place anyone wants to be during a pandemic so I needed to accept that riding solo in my living room with a great instructor on video would be my new normal.

However, when I heard that they would be doing outdoor SoulCycle classes at the Water Mill studio in the Hamptons I was definitely intrigued, but still a little scared. But as luck would have it, a friend rented a house there and generously invited me for a weekend and it seemed that I couldn’t not go to my favorite workout.

This is what an outdoor spin class is like

The class was held under a tent outside with bikes at The Barn studio in Water Mill. It definitely felt less cramped than a studio class which I definitely didn’t hate. Everyone wore their masks to the tent and there was a temperature check beforehand and many hand sanitizing stations.

The company has also published its new cleaning practices (thorough disinfection of all surfaces, bikes, weights, shoes, and the staff wore masks and gloves the whole time. Soulcycle also upgraded to PECO air-purification tech, which satisfies FDA performance criteria for use in helping to destroy the COVID-19 virus.)

A big component of Soulcycle is the music and I knew we would be wearing headphones (silent disco style.) I thought this would be really weird and disappointing but honestly, once I got mine to work (took a few switches) it really didn’t feel different. I could here eloquent instructor Janet Fitzgerald’s calming and motivating words as well as her absolutely brilliant playlist (heavily featuring Stevie Nicks.)

It was a very hot day (high 80s) so she probably pushed us a little less harder than she would in an air-conditioned studio (she also regularly reminded us to drink our Flow Water and listen to our bodies.) But that same energy you receive from a room full of people working out in synchrony was there and perhaps an even greater sense of camaraderie.

Though a few riders kept their masks on during the actual ride, the majority did not and I personally felt safe but, of course, that may not be the case for everyone. Yes, we were sweaty but unlike in a regular class in a studio, you weren’t immediately surrounded by bodies when you got off the bike.

But how safe is working out outdoors in a group?

But was I kidding myself? Are you actually safer outside? Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland, and an infectious disease physician, told Today.com, “Doing group exercise activities outdoors is going to be much more safe than doing (it) indoors. That could be much more conducive to social distancing and putting in measures that might make it less likely to see transmission.”

The problem is, a higher cardio workout the more likely a faster rate of transmission. The breathing heavily that comes from that is the danger spot.  A recent study out of South Korea compared the spread of COVID-19 at 12 different sports facilities. It found that infection spread much faster in high-intensity fitness dance classes with as many as 22 students. However, a yoga or pilates classes, that had no more than 8 students, recorded zero spread.

But with the instructor not having to talk extra loud and everyone having earphones there was less shouting and wooing over all (though there were a few perfectly placed polite pandemic woos.) The key is really making sure your workout area is far apart from someone else’s which SoulCycle is absolutely implementing.

SoulCycle is now offering classes in three other Hamptons locations (Bridgehampton, Montauk, and Southhampton) and has plans to expand the outdoor sessions to other cities in the U.S. as well. With gyms and studios still being very dangerous for the spread of COVID-19 working out outside (weather permitting) may be in store for all of us.