On the job: Marvin Foster Jr. of SoulCycle
We talked to the spinning instructor about how he remembers 60 riders’ names at a time, music’s huge role in the gig and the craziest thing that’s ever happened in a class
Tue Oct 22 2013
Photograph courtesy SoulCycle
Marvin Foster Jr of SoulCycle
Though lots can be said of SoulCycle's hefty price tag and cultish devotees, it's indisputable that the indoor-cycling classes provide a good workout; now, imagine if your job was to lead nine of those calorie-burning sessions every week. Such is the life of Marvin Foster Jr., an employee of the burgeoning fitness empire who holds the hyphenate title of instructor–recruiter–training officer.
The 32-year-old Williamsburg resident has an extensive background in fitness and dance. Though he'd never considered spinning, he was recruited by SoulCycle's cofounder Julie Rice and was a convert after just one class. "I thought it was interesting that you can do really safe, strong, amazing choreography on the bike in such a functional way," Foster recalls.
Indeed, SoulCycle is a lot more than pedaling a two-wheeler: It's a full-body workout incorporating arm weights and core strengthening in a candlelit room to deafening music and peppy, motivational coaches who instruct you to "Find your inner badass!", among other things. "We try to integrate a lot of intentions and mantras across the class, in a very nonrobotic way," says Foster. "We stay super present and have a conversation with our riders, versus a huge imaginary wall between teacher and students."
Still feeling Jell-O–legged the day after taking one of Foster's high-energy classes, we asked him what it's like to work at the trendy boutique-fitness company—here's what he had to say.
Time Out New York: Can you explain the idea behind SoulCycle?
Marvin Foster Jr.: SoulCycle was founded by Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler. They both moved to New York City, and they wanted to come up with an idea where people could have that cardio-aerobic workout and combine it the mind-body aspect. They just met over lunch and thought about this idea—how cool would it be to have a studio where people could come and have a class that's based on community, on supporting each other and working as a pack? They set up their first studio on the Upper West Side, recruited amazing talent from both California and New York City, and it developed into this huge phenomenon that's happening now.
Time Out New York: What made you want to join the company?
Marvin Foster Jr.: One of my good friends, who's a master instructor here, was always telling me about SoulCycle. I had never even been on a bike before; I didn't even think I'd fit on a bike, I thought I was so tall that it would look like I was riding a tricycle. Two months after I moved back to NYC, I received a letter from Julie Rice. A lot of things we do in SoulCycle are to the beat of the music, so I think she was looking for dancers that have a sense of rhythm. She invited me to a meeting, and immediately I was really attracted to the culture around the office. It seemed like a family, and [is] super supportive for staff and instructors. I tried my friend's class and immediately I was like, "Okay—I get it." You immediately feel the ambience of the class when you walk in with the lights really low and the candles lit.
Time Out New York: What is your role within the company?
Marvin Foster Jr.: At first I just started as an instructor. I have experience doing educational training and instructor development all over the world, so as SoulCycle started to grow at a rapid rate around 2012, I would always put it out there that I was interested in becoming a part of the training team. Six months after that, myself as well as a few other training officers started to shadow the eight-week training program. We started creating a whole other department and team, working on recruiting talent to find fitness superstars.
Time Out New York: What are the qualities you look for in a person when recruiting?
Marvin Foster Jr.: In New York City, more so than money, it's about people's time. I feel that SoulCycle has really reshaped the whole pay-per-class industry. Before, fitness classes were mainly an ancillary service of a gym; it came with a membership. In our company, the riders come per class and are paying for the experience. So when I am looking for an instructor, I really want them to have that X factor and realize right away that it's not about them—it's about the riders. If you can have someone up there that's relatable, that can be kind of like your best friend, but that's also going to motivate you and inspire you to be a better version of yourself.… I try to seek that quality out.
Time Out New York: Where do you look for new recruits?
Marvin Foster Jr.: I never really give my secrets out, but I'll just say that I have kind of a third eye all around the city. A lot of times people will contact me. I have my secret hands in around the city. And, we get online submissions through our Careers page on SoulCycle.com; we hold auditions every month.
Time Out New York: What might typical day might be like for you?
Marvin Foster Jr.: I'm constantly inspired by music. I follow a lot of DJs and music blogs on Twitter, and I'm basically downloading anywhere from 10 to 20 songs every day throughout the day. I usually come to the corporate office in the West Village to work with the training team. We work together on giving different resources to our instructors, whether it's on nutrition, vocal coaching, how to take care of your body—how to recover after [a class], how to prepare before. Every day is really different, but it really consists of music, classes, and working at the office and being a support system for the trainees.
Time Out New York: How often do you teach?
Marvin Foster Jr.: I teach nine classes a week. I usually teach one to two a day, no more than two a day. We have some people that are superhuman and they teach two to three a day. Sunday is my day—I have one day of complete rest. I do nothing. I literally stay in my apartment in Brooklyn and just have me time.
Time Out New York: How do you remember your students' names?
Marvin Foster Jr.: We have some riders that will follow us around the city—I will teach a morning class in the West Village and that evening I teach a class on East 63rd Street, and I’ll have a handful of people that come to both classes. In those circumstances I just go up to them and ask them their name. Usually after a couple classes I have it down. I did the math once, and if you're teaching ten classes a week or so, you see 500 people or more per week.
Time Out New York: What's the most exciting or coolest thing about your job?
Marvin Foster Jr.: I'm kind of like a fitness DJ. We create this little world where every day is completely different and that's awesome. Also, I get to see 60 people per class. When you're constantly surrounded by so many different types of energy, that can be very inspiring; the people that live in NYC have the most interesting stories, so every day you're reminded about the love, the passion, the people here in this city. I get to meet some of the coolest people and rock it out with them in a room in the dark with awesome music that I get to choose.
Time Out New York: What are the challenges of the job?
Marvin Foster Jr.: As an instructor in any modality but specifically in indoor cycling, we are managers of the room. So one of the challenges is making sure that everyone gets from point A to point B in a safe and successful way; that they feel awesome when they walk out the door. You're constantly multitasking; you have to make sure the temperature’s okay, if the volume's all right, are you being heard, is everyone on the right foot, does everyone have enough water? Probably the biggest challenge is creating the ultimate playlist. You put so much thought into the structure and the anatomical flow in the class—the playlist is everything, specifically in my class. You can get into a creative block, but I just look at my students, at what's going on in the city, and usually one song can create inspiration for the entire nine-song playlist.
Time Out New York: What's the craziest thing that's ever happened in a class?
Marvin Foster Jr.: Me and another instructor taught a New Year's Eve ride for this past New Year's. We timed it so we ended about five minutes before midnight, and queued it on the computer so you could hear the ball dropping from Times Square. At midnight, we popped champagne and celebrated in the studio together. People were off their bikes, they were dancing, we were celebrating, there was glitter and confetti. It was a really emotional but awesome night.
Locations and schedules vary; visit soul-cycle.com for details. Single class $34, ten classes $320.
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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)