Spinning Goes to the Movies at ImaxShift

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Jaclyn Cohen, a sales director for a wedding dress and footwear designer, had no desire to join her peers in the spinning fad.

She will go to the gym, she will run outside and she will even lift weights, but indoor cycling was too much to ask. “I’ve passed all these sweaty little rooms where people are spinning at the speed of light,” said Ms. Cohen, 29, “and I’ve always had really no interest in being part of that.”

Then she heard about a fitness studio in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, ImaxShift, that opened in May. It offers spinning classes, but they take place in front of a 40-foot-wide by 24-foot-high Imax screen. So, though the cycles are stationary, riders feel as though they are pedaling up a mountain in the Swiss Alps, for instance, or, when the music changes, that they are headed toward a distant planet somewhere far off in the galaxy.

The videos are timed to the workout, in order to make spinning movements feel more natural. One segment places you on a roller coaster track, with an instructor directing you to speed up as you go “downhill,” just as you would in real life — if, of course, you were inclined to ride a bicycle on a roller coaster track.

Ms. Cohen, familiar with Imax movies after years of visiting science museums, decided this was something she would be willing to try.

She attended a class in the fall, and felt it had gone well.

“Your legs are burning and you are sweating, but you are focused on this beautiful scene in front of you that you are so enraptured by,” she said. It helped that she found herself cycling through scenes of places she had visited in person. “You are transported to another world, driving through the streets of Paris or going up a hill in Dubai.”

Other boutique gyms are trying to improve on the successful spin-class model by incorporating an element that is notably missing at SoulCycle franchises: nature.

Row House, a fitness studio with three locations across New York City and another scheduled to open soon in Dumbo near ImaxShift, has participants row in a room covered with artistic representations and pictures of water. That, along with many coaches who have crew or other rowing experience, is meant to make participants feel more like they are engaging in the real-life activity.

At ImaxShift, it’s all about the enormous screen and surround-sound system. The studio does not simply license the Imax technology; it was designed by Imax, which has a team that applies the technology to new uses. Imax has made its cameras available to filmmakers — they were used in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — and has made immersive theaters for private homes. This is the first application outside of a pure entertainment context.

It is no coincidence ImaxShift’s space, at 127 Plymouth Street, is a heavy-duty industrial site: torpedoes were made in the building during World War I. “We put a lot of effort into soundproofing,” said Mark Weinberger, ImaxShift’s chief operating officer. “We made the walls really thick.”

And the classes are loud (ear plugs are available for those who want them). Otherwise, it’s a lot like going to a movie theater. The studio is kept dark, with the focus on the giant screen. Instructors speak only to offer motivation or give directions, like, “When I say go, pedal as fast as you can to that planet.” A class lasts 45 minutes and costs $34, about double what it costs to see “Doctor Strange” on an Imax screen in Manhattan.

Approximately 4,000 riders have pedaled at ImaxShift since it opened, according to the company. As at other spinning classes in New York City, the clientele skews toward women.

Melissa Oring, who lives in the Financial District and works for a hedge fund, travels to Dumbo four or five times a week for the classes.

“I like that it is different all the time,” said Ms. Oring, 32. “I do the music video ride on Mondays — that’s really awesome. They also have the themed rides like the outer-space one or the ’90s pop rock one coming up.”

Bryan Marcovici, chief executive of ImaxShift, naturally sees his innovation as a necessary improvement. “Man isn’t made to sit in a dark room and pedal nowhere,” he said. “It’s a weird concept.”

For some, it’s weird that the bike is indoors in the first place. Why go through the trouble of creating simulated experiences, these people say, when you can simply go outside and get the real deal?

“I would say it’s obviously much more enjoyable to be outdoors and in nature instead of seeing it on a screen,” said Jimmy Wilson, who works at Rapha bike shop in TriBeCa and rides to Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey regularly. “There are woods and streams and nice hills,” he said. “It’s right across the bridge.”

Of course, there is little chance of getting into an accident in a theater. “This environment pushes you to be better and keep going,” Ms. Cohen said. “On the street you are like, la, la, la, la, please don’t get hit by a cab.”