Working Out

S pinning isn’t a ride in the park. You pedal a weighted flywheel, grunting, sweating, gasping. Blasts of high-energy music pump up your adrenaline. You push as hard as you can, moving nowhere, while someone at the front of the room drills you to go harder. For some, it might sound like a preview of hell. For others, it’s a place of release, even healing.

Jenn Kuehn, founder of SHiFT Cycling, wants her studio to be a place to develop not just physical fitness but also mental wellness. “When some people are anxious they stress, or they eat, or use other coping mechanisms,” Kuehn says. SHiFT’s trick is to institute a coping mechanism that’s actually good for you.

Kuehn has had spinners dealing with final exams, medical issues, divorce. One woman recovering from a miscarriage told Kuehn she cried on her bike every day she came in, and it helped her work through the loss. Another woman, Johnna Sullivan, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, found the combination of humidity and intense exercise helps manage her lung issues. No longer constantly on steroids, Sullivan now works at SHiFT and cycles regularly.

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Hopkins School - Open House on October 18, 2015

Spinning in general offers cathartic, mind-clearing, pothole- and traffic-free workouts. SHiFT offers a bit more. Each stationary bike is equipped with a sensor that tracks your metrics as you cycle. The machine crunches your calories, power, RPM and distance, then spits it onto leader boards at the front of the class in real time, creating the feeling of being in a bike race in a room the size of a yoga studio. After the class, your stats are emailed to you, and you can track your progress over time via the SHiFT’s website.

If a leader board isn’t enough motivation, Kuehn has more of it painted on the walls of her studio. As you walk through the front door, the left wall bucks you up: “You got this.” “If you don’t challenge yourself, you can’t change yourself.” “Remember why you started this journey in the first place.” From the back room comes the sound of a woman’s voice shouting, “Work! Work! Work! Work! Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!”

At the counter, you’ll get the same class of positive, high-energy treatment from Kuehn, only at lower volume. Kuehn’s attitude and work ethic have propelled her through a variety of driven gigs. A collegiate soccer player for Keene State, she later worked as a kitchen manager at J. Alexander’s before taking a job as a director of sales at business administration giant ADP. But the office job sapped her fitness routine away, and she soon found herself unhappy.

When she started telling people about the plan to start her own cycling studio, “People thought I was crazy.” But she responded to her cynics with an iron will: “Watch me.”

The first SHiFT Cycling opened in Guilford in April 2014. With characteristic zeal, Kuehn set out to expand the studio to New Haven and believed she could do it in just a year. “Every day I woke up, brushed my teeth, looked myself in the mirror and said, ‘New Haven.’” Then she met her deadline. The second SHiFT studio opened on Crown Street last April.

A can-do attitude can be infectious, and not just in spin class. Following Kuehn’s general lead, her 11-year-old son Karsten came home from middle school one day with an operating agreement drawn up between him and three friends. The four now run the Bunker Boys Fishing Co., catching bunker fish and selling them as bait. Karsten’s in charge of sales and marketing, and is currently putting a website together.

Kuehn’s ambitions are commensurately bigger, looking to make a shift on Crown Street. She’s only weeks away from opening her next venture, right next-door: Mpwr House, a gym set to offer TRX Suspension Training, barre workouts, yoga and various bootcamps. “I want to take Crown Street and make it a fitness Mecca,” she says.

If it all works out, New Haven will be getting a serious workout.

SHiFT Cycling
199 Crown St, New Haven (map)
(203) 745-3260

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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