READING, PA – While fads in fitness come and go, revolutions are infrequent in the health industry. But when Valhalla Health and Fitness Club owner Erick Hardwick noticed some of his indoor cycling members were leaving his Exeter Township gym to drive all the way to New York City and the Philadelphia suburbs to work out, he couldn’t help but wonder what made those spin classes so alluring that members were willing to drive that far to spend $30-$50 on a class that he offered for no additional charge in his gym.
“Spin classes have been pretty stagnant since they were introduced to group fitness classes over the course of the past 30 years or so,” he says, sitting in his newly-renovated cycling studio. “Members sat on a bike in the dark and listened to music as an instructor guided them to increase and decrease tension to simulate an outdoor ride. It was a great workout, but it could get stale pretty quickly for some people who weren’t dedicated to the format.”
Stephanie Karstien, a cycle instructor at Valhalla, was one of the first members to trek to New York City to check out the rise of this new style of spinning. Arriving at Soul Cycle in Manhattan, she was greeted with booming dance club music, members crammed elbow-to-elbow in the small and sweaty room, and an experience unlike anything she had taught previously. While the Soul Cycle instructor still guided the class through increasing and decreasing the tension on their bikes, she introduced different hand positions, pushups on the handlebars while cycling in beat to the music, and tapbacks, a move where members work their core by pushing their bodies back towards the saddle. “Soul Cycle essentially introduced an element of dancing on the bike,” Karstien, now Valhalla’s group fitness director, says of the experience. “It brought fun moves, loud club music and excitement to a somewhat tedious workout, making it something that members want to come to rather than have to go to. Plus, the energy is through the roof. It’s not uncommon to burn 500-700 calories during a 45-minute class.”
Bringing elements of Soul Cycle to her Valhalla classes, Karstien noticed a dramatic uptick in the attendance and popularity of her classes. And when Hardwick noticed that members who attended more traditional spin classes were driving to Soul Cycle and Soul Cycle-like classes in the Philadelphia suburbs on occasion, he decided the time was right to encourage his instructors to make a change. Under training from Karstien, she guided her instructors to change the formats of their classes from traditional spin to incorporate the elements and the spirit of Soul Cycle.
Meanwhile, Hardwick, who acquired Valhalla after its downsizing in 2014, knew to fulfill his vision of growing his studio to offer multiple classes a day would require the purchase of new magnetic-resistance bikes and the renovation of his cycle studio, including new mirrors, a new sound system and new lighting. Additionally, it came with the difficult business decision that he would have to separate out the use of the cycling studio from the Valhalla membership. “Unfortunately, the rise of boutique style cycle studios are not supported, nor successful, with a traditional gym membership. To grow our schedule and make the studio a success, we must be able to eventually offer multiple classes a day, and you can’t do that with a gym-only membership. This studio must be open to the public and offer multiple ways to take a class, including dropping in for a single visit, buying a 10-pack of individual classes or a monthly membership separate from the main gym.” This membership separation from Valhalla, which goes into effect on Saturday, May 6, culminated in Hardwick rebranding the studio with the name ValkyRide, in a nod to the Viking heritage of Valhalla.
ValkyRide will open to the public this Saturday, May 6th, with a grand opening celebration on Saturday, May 13 from 7 a.m. to noon. Jennifer Breton, Valhalla’s marketing director, is excited for the celebration and to help give back to the community. “We’ve partnered with the Exeter Relay for Life to donate a portion of our our proceeds of the day to them. Exeter businesses have been so generous with donating prizes to raffle off, and we know it’s going to be a great morning filled with fun, fitness, food and prizes.” Karstien packed the morning’s schedule with five different 45-minute classes for people to take to experience the difference of a ValkyRide over a traditional spin class. “We’re encouraging people to bring a group of friends and make teams just like they do for a Saturday morning 5k,” she says. “And for people who really like a fitness challenge, they might even try to take more than one class that morning.”
To register for the grand opening or any other ValkyRide classes, please visit www.valkyride.com, or smart phone users can download the MindBody or Valhalla Health Club app for free in their smart phone’s app store. Individual classes are available for $15, with current Valhalla members receiving a 35% discount throughout May, and a 25% discount thereafter. Plus, all participants in the grand opening celebration will also receive a coupon for a free ValkyRide to use anytime over the summer.
ValkyRide is located at 4401 Perkiomen Ave in Exeter Township. It’s located in the Exeter Fieldhouse Welcome Center, next to Hillcrest Tennis, which is all situated behind Panera Bread and Boscov’s Outlet Center.