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The Physical Therapist on Call for SoulCycle Instructors

Corinne Croce treats instructors like the professional athletes they are.

Deep in the heart of SoulCycle’s headquarters in Greenwich Village, past the front desk with its flickering grapefruit-scented candle, past the gleaming white offices, there’s something of a clubhouse for SoulCycle instructors.

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It’s where Corinne Croce, PT, DPT has set up shop as SoulCycle’s in-house physical therapist. The room is filled with treatment tables, kettle bells, dumbbells, foam rollers, electrostimulation machines, and every other piece of equipment Croce and athletic trainer Dariusz Stankiewicz might need.

SoulCycle instructor Eve Kessner is on the treatment table, and Croce is quizzing her about how her back feels, how her knee feels, whether she’s crosstraining, and how she’s doing in general.

Image:James Devaney/Getty

"Corinne, you’re going to be so proud of me! I quadrupled my water intake," Kessner says, explaining how she’s also been getting back into yoga, and trying barre and the meditation app Headspace.

"Since I've been coming here, I feel like my class has progressed," Kessner told Racked. "My arm series is strengthened, [and] since [Croce has] been suggesting yoga, I feel like what I say to my class is more contemplative than it used to be."

It’s in this room where Croce and Stankiewicz each meet with eight to nine Soul instructors per day, with appointments available all day for full-time instructors who meet the criteria for care. Croce treats aches and pains, but she also works proactively to prevent any problems from happening. Each instructor receives manual therapy, soft tissue work, mobilization, functional movement, and corrective exercise, with personalized treatments and training plans.

"The hour is also a cool area to let yourself relax, and be cool and calm and collected. We chat a lot too. It’s a very fun room," Croce said.

Corinne Croce. Image: SoulCycle

Instructor Lily Miesmer said that the PT program makes her feel valued within the company. "They don’t treat it like a perk as much as a quality of life at SoulCycle. It’s not hierarchical, anyone can come if you’re full-time," she said. "It’s the best part of my week."

Instructor Samantha Jade agreed, saying, "This is what we look forward to. It’s truly the best part of the week."

On a treatment table, instructor Emma Lovewell said she felt like taking a nap, post-therapy. "In class, it’s just so intense. This is the opposite," she said. "Taking care of your body is also a second job."

Full-time SoulCycle instructors can teach many, many sessions a week, including back-to-back classes. Even though they aren’t competing, SoulCycle views its instructors as professional athletes, and as such they provide physical therapy akin to what an NFL linebacker or competitive tennis player would receive.

"They are professional athletes in my opinion, working out their bodies, some of them from 12 to 20 hours a week," Croce told Racked.

"They are professional athletes in my opinion," Croce told Racked.

Croce works part-time with SoulCycle and when she’s not there she runs her own physical therapy practice out of Soho Strength Lab. She’s been a rider for the past five years or so, and that’s how she started treating SoulCycle instructors. One of her favorite teachers, Soul master instructor Rique, had been hurt in a fall, and she reached out to him after class and mentioned she was a physical therapist.

"He had an injury, and I only knew because he came in with a huge brace. When it came off, I just knew he’d start PT. I wanted to talk to him because I think PT is kind of misunderstood in the field," Croce said. "I try to practice a little differently, to move away from that [cookie cutter treatment] and move to more personalized care. I just reached out to him and said, ‘If you need any help finding somebody, I’m more than willing to help you.’"

"A lot of instructors started calling, not that they were injured, but they were seeing him respond really well, which was great. And they wanted to kind of take care of their bodies as a prevention, or if anything was bothering them," Croce said. "So I was working with a bunch of them on the side with whatever free time I had and then Julie [Rice] and Elizabeth [Cutler, the founders of SoulCycle], as wonderful as they are, called me to have a meeting say, ‘Who are you? And why are you magically treating the instructors? Clearly, there’s a need for this.’"

Image: Jonathan Moore/Getty

"Rique ended up getting back on the bike, which is clearly great for business and his own well-being. It's kind of karmic circle, right? We did it organically and it kind of showed, oh wow, this is a missing piece of the puzzle. That’s how it started."

Two and half years later, SoulCycle’s physical therapy program continues to grow.

Croce works on continuing education programs and seminars for instructors, covering everything from nutrition to proper bike setup to "The Science of SoulCycle," which breaks down the anatomical process on what happens to your body from the first song to the last song. She rides as often as she can.

"It's kind of karmic circle, right?"

"I know the ride. Of course, somebody in my field could do it without being a rider, but you really don’t understand what’s going on in class and what’s happening to their bodies, and what they need more than the average person. It is indoor cycling like other things but it has it’s own special way of riding, what they do in the classroom. That’s not in the textbook, that’s not on the Internet, it’s very specific to SoulCycle-type of science. That’s been really fun to create, and explore, and build more knowledge on," Croce said.

The main issue indoor cycling instructors — SoulCycle instructors included — have to deal with is the repetitive motion of pedaling, pedaling, pedaling to nowhere for hours a week. "With a bicycle, it doesn’t matter if you’re a SoulCycle instructor or out in the road, your hips are only moving front and back," Croce said. "So it’s a sport where there’s no lateral motion, just by nature of what cycling is, so that’s something we see a lot. And that’s something that can manifest in lots of ways, knee pain, ankle pain, back pain."

Croce treats the source of pain and not the pain itself, which means she is assessing and treating the entire chain: spine, hip, knee, and ankle. She and Stankiewicz work on training plans for instructors, since cross training, especially strength training, and stability work and lateral movements are very important.

While the potential for injuries from indoor cycling isn’t unique to SoulCycle, this investment in a physical therapy program for instructors makes the brand something of a trailblazer. Reps from Flywheel and Cyc told Racked that both cycling studios do not have a similar program at this time, and Equinox declined to comment.

"Is it necessary? Probably not. But is it very, very nice? Well definitely."

But is preventative physical therapy something that full-time indoor cycling instructors need to do their jobs? "Is it necessary? Probably not. But is it very, very nice? Well definitely," USC instructor of clinical physical therapy Aimee M. Diaz, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC told Racked.

"If you figure, someone is teaching 15 classes a week, they’re teaching two to three classes per day. That’s a lot of repetitive movement in the same position," she said. "So if you think about being on an [indoor cycling] bike, the injuries that we see with cyclists and with [indoor cycling] is more back related and hip related. What can happen is if you are on it for three hours a day, is that you get some muscle imbalances. Some areas are stretched out, some other areas are tight."

"If that happens, then you can be prone to injuries. It really depends on what the instructor is doing in their off time. Are they crosstraining or are they only doing [indoor cycling] as their exercise? If they’re crosstraining then, they may be using those other muscles in other ways to balance themselves out. If they’re only teaching, then certainly that can lead to overuse exercise." Physical Therapists agree cross-training is important for SoulCycle riders. Having cycling as one's only form of exercise can lead to muscle imbalances and injury.

Croce said that the SoulCycle physical therapy program is working well. "They don't have major injuries. They have repetitive things that come with the territory of any sport." She also believes that those injuries can be prevented with the right care.

Image: Alexander Tamargo/Getty

There are some surprising things that Croce sees in her SoulCycle practice. "I see things that you wouldn’t think of, like vocal stress because their chest gets really tight or their hips get really tight. Things where the average person might say, ‘Corinne, you’re treating their voice? You’re a physical therapist,'" she said. "You’re speaking in a microphone so you’re not using your diaphragm. So those are really fun because you’re helping in an area where nobody thinks you can help."

The SoulCycle physical therapy program is still expanding. Croce and Stankiewicz are traveling to different markets to meet with Soul instructors and set up individualized plans. The hope is to next open a similar facility on the West Coast, and in all markets in the future.

"It’s evolving all the time. I think the goal is to just keep growing it and growing it. I learn all the time what works," said Croce. "If you keep an instructor going strong, if you keep them in their career longer, the company stays strong. It’s a very important aspect of it that so many people miss, but they seem to have, like everything else, a special thought process on it."

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