I enter the room at the local Y. There are about two dozen stationary bikes, and my host (call her H1) has directed me to a bike not used by any of the regulars in this class. She starts adjusting the toe clips, handlebar height, and the seat height and angle on her bike. I start doing the same, asking “How do I know when the bike is adjusted correctly?” Answer: “Whatever feels comfortable to you.” I would like to ask, “Will any position feel comfortable after an hour of riding?”, but I fear the answer to this question so I do not ask. Noticing there are no resistance measurements – only hash marks – on the adjustment knob I ask, ” How do I set resistance to a specific number, say 4?” Answer: “Don’t set the resistance too high, or you’ll get into trouble on the up hills.” I take from this that there is no resistance of “4”, and that I’d better get used to the bike and warm up rather than asking more stupid questions.
Spinning provides, not surprisingly, a number of health benefits. It’s a cardio workout, builds leg muscle, increases endurance, and burns calories at a high rate. The problem with spinning is that these benefits are not enough to motivate me to drop by the gym to ride a stationary bike for an hour by myself. The reason I am here at 5:30 a.m., besides H1’s invitation, is that this is an instructor-led class of half-a-dozen participants. I have heard and read that the shared fitness experience is superior to the solitary one. We shall see.
Instructor Jess arrives, chit chats for a moment, welcomes the newcomer (me), and we’re off. Jess calls out a fast flat, a high tempo ride with low resistance. After a minute she directs us to tap it (the resistance) up a notch to simulate riding into the wind. Jess plays 80’s pop and rock tunes to provide us a background tempo. I try to match my pedaling with hers, mostly successfully. Over the next hour there are five or so routines that Jess leads us through. In the first one following the wind resistance, Jess announces, “Standing climb!”. We stand on the pedals pedaling for a minute before she directs us back to the saddle for a sitting climb. Then she alternates us between standing and saddle, tapping it up a notch each time we alternate, called “jumping”. As a beginner I’m trying not to overdo the resistance, but it’s tricky. A standing climb is almost impossible unless there is substantial resistance to support your body weight. And body weight is supposed to be supported by the feet, not the hands. Another tip on form: pedaling is not just pushing at the top of the stroke, but also pulling at the bottom of the stroke.
After the first routine Jess directs us (finally) to unload the resistance. We continue riding as we will the whole hour, but now at low resistance. My heart is beating fast, my face is red and I am covered in sweat. Jess asks me, “How are you doing?” Thinking that that we have to spend another 50 minutes at this I reply, “I’m…doing…great.” She smiles and says I’m not too convincing, and we continue. From this point on the hour flies by. We go through combinations of sprints, climbs, increasing resistance, and the exertion is pretty intense. Jess is an excellent leader. I find amusingly that she says “tap it up” more loudly than she says “unload”, so I am sometimes unintentionally tricked into a harder ride. Haha. Also Jess might announce that we’re doing a fast flat, so I pick up my pace for the next minute, only to hear her announce afterward, “OK start the fast flat NOW.” These issues are not critical because this is an at-your-own-level workout. And it is a workout.
At the end of the hour I’m spent. Everyone hops off the bikes and stretches their legs and I follow suit. Good thing, because after a short while I feel the workout in the muscles at the front of my thigh. This soreness is a good sign, and it and the cardio and the other benefits would not have been possible without the camaraderie and shared experience of an instructor-led class of like-minded fitness seekers.
I’m tired and sore. But I’ll be back.