IMAX isn’t just for Hollywood blockbusters anymore. A new breed of indoor cycling class is offering that same total immersion experience. From that larger-than-life screen to incredible surround sound, IMAXShift is bringing that at-the-movies escape to your workout — and it’s happening now in Brooklyn.
“The fitness market has been migrating toward technology integration for a while, starting with little TVs on equipment and then iPod playlists that let you curate a musical journey through a class,” says Bryan Marcovici, the chief executive of IMAXShift. “With IMAX, we wanted to change the game. It’s not just about bringing a bigger screen and better sound but tying those elements together to create a cohesive package for the rider to hear it, see it and do it.”
The boutique fitness studio, which opened this May in an industrial building where torpedoes were made during World War I, features a room full of 50 Schwinn stationary bikes lined up — much like theater seats — in front of a 40-foot-wide by 24-foot-tall curving screen. Because IMAX is all about that bass, the space is equipped with a 7.1-channel surround-sound system that includes two huge subwoofers built right into the floor. To avoid blocking the breathtaking view on screen, the instructor (so far, there are six on the roster) is set off to the left at the front of the room.
On the November evening that I set out to test ride this $34 class (which includes borrowed spin shoes), instructor Rachel Kent visited me a few times in the way back, offering smart advice, like to sit upright to engage more muscles, not just my legs. As an avid road cyclist, I’m used to leaning forward to become more aerodynamic, but Kent kindly reminded me I didn’t have to worry about drag here — there’s no wind in the studio. It was a “duh” moment but one I needed to hear, and, ultimately, it allowed me to exert more power. Shockingly, this is the first time someone’s told me this, and I’ve been taking spin classes — including all the hottest ones in NYC — for more than a decade.
There’s no doubt IMAXShift takes visualization to the next level. We’ve all been told to imagine ourselves biking over a mountain in class before, but here we actually get to see what we’re meant to conquer. Cresting a hilltop wasn’t my only accomplishment while on this round-the-world ride. I also got to visit some of Earth’s most beautiful landscapes, like the pyramids in Egypt and the snowcaps of the Swiss Alps, as well as major cities, like my hometown (the Big Apple) and Tokyo. In between those are fly-over sceneries, which are visually aligned with music and only last a few minutes each.
“Every week, we’re building the library of these song-visual components, and we have a huge catalog now for our instructors to choose from,” Marcovici says. Makes sense — they need enough options to keep those nearly five dozen 45-minute classes a week fresh. IMAXShift is currently exploring building out their themed rides that aren’t just music-driven. “The themed classes won’t be solely about an artist, like Beyonce, or a type of music but also a visual experience, like a cosmic ride,” he explains.
One of my favorite visual cues, however, might have been what IMAXShift refers to as “hyper-drive.” To me it looked like a video game that mimicked an undulating cycling path where the downhills and uphills were fast and frequent, like in a roller coaster. This is when my instincts as a cyclist really kicked in, motivating me to naturally “shift gears” (or turn the resistance knob left or right) to match the elevation gains and losses on screen. If I wanted to check in on my actual speed or cadence, I could push a button to light up my individual console, above my handlebars. Normally, I’m obsessed with the numbers (I love staring at my Garmin on my road bike), but in this moment, I found it easier and more appealing to let go of the details.
“The IMAXShift ride is about the journey,” Marcovici says. “When you’re looking up at the screen and your back is straight, it opens up your chest more and puts you in a better physical position to work out versus looking down [at the console] the whole time. When you give people something to focus on that’s bigger and outside of themselves, then they are not just lost in a dark box counting the minutes. They are able to release themselves.”
Getting rid of the mirrors (the décor du jour for most spin studios) was another way I could get out of my head. I didn’t miss seeing my reflection at all, nor did I long for that 10-minute weight-lifting sesh, a staple in many boutique spin studios. It always felt like a cheat to me — an opportunity to catch my breath while pedaling lightly and wielding silly 2-pound dumbbells. I prefer getting an entire 45-minute workout on the bike than just 35 minutes with a “break.”
Another improvement that I enjoyed at IMAXShift was the sound. At first, I was nervous I might need earplugs to buffer all those built-in speakers around the room. Between the big screen and the loud sound, I was sure I would suffer from sensory overload. But I was happy to hear, literally, during class without wincing or yearning to protect my sensitive eardrums. It was nice to leave a spin class without feeling like I had just attended a (front row) concert for once.
After the 45-minute session, I received an immediate email from IMAXShift with my ride summary, including these unexpected stats: Apparently, I had burned 550 calories and pedaled close to 10 miles at an average speed of 14 miles per hour. Whenever I’ve burned that much in the past, I usually feel the burn, busting my butt the whole time. But not this class. While I was definitely sweating and breathing heavy throughout, I didn’t realize how much effort I had really put in. It was a pleasant surprise that instantly made me want to return.
If you’re waiting for this special spin studio to come to your hood, it could be a while. This Brooklyn location is the pilot program, so there’s a good chance that more like it will pop up elsewhere, but it’s too soon to tell. In the meantime, consider these five workout tips from IMAXShift instructors to get a more immersive experience out of your own local spin class.
Take five to get ready. Whenever you’re relying on your fitness equipment to make or break your workout, it’s important to not arrive right when class starts. Give yourself five extra minutes to set up your bike, grab water and a towel, and sort out shoe issues. This will help “ensure that you’re heading into your ride with the least amount of stress,” says Bree Branker, a master instructor and the director of creative integration.
Embrace the right mindset. “Leave your ‘day’ in your locker,” says Jesse Alexander, a master instructor and creative director. “Your job, commute, bills, the daily grind stuff will all be there after class. In the meantime, take a cleansing deep breath in, exhale and enjoy yourself. Prepare yourself mentally for an awesome ride, and you will be in a better headspace to handle everything — and anything — when you leave.”
Put on a good pair of shoes. Make sure your cycling kicks, whether you’re bringing your own or borrowing a pair from the studio, are the correct size and offer the best support. “They should feel snug with no allowance for the foot to shift side-to-side or front-to-back, but also without causing your toes to curl,” Branker says.
Relax your grip. That white-knuckled death grip on the handlebars is not doing you any favors. Instead ease it up to get more of a full-body workout. “Relaxing your grip will release tension in your entire upper body, allowing you to focus on the muscles, like your core, that you should be engaging,” Branker says.
Roll with it. After you put in all that work, don’t just hit the showers. Now is the time to hit the floor and foam roll those tender muscles. “Not only will you recover faster, but this will prevent your hip flexors from getting too tight, which can also affect your future rides,” says instructor Emma Belluomo.
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