Monday, December 3, 2012

I Went to a Spinning Class. It Was Horrible!

So last Friday it was cold outside in the morning, and I must have been caught in a moment of weakness because my lovely wife managed to convince me that 35 degrees was too cold for a bike ride, so I should just go with her to her gym and join her in a "body pump" class and then a "spin" class.

For years I have routinely picked on people who go to the gym (in general) for spin classes (specifically). But I had the day off, my friend had already told me he didn't want to ride in the cold morning, either, and part of me was eager to "stick it to the (gym) MAN" by sneaking in for a free exercise time at the gym. So I went.

As we walked into the gym and past the check-in desk, I immediately felt that I was mispositioned. Instead of my wife being nesr the desk and me being casually distant and aloof, I found myself between my wife and the check-in desk. My wife had to hand her membership card to the woman at the desk to get it scanned, and I had nothing. So there I was, and as my wife's card was scanned, I looked at a sign there on the counter and muttered, "oh, man, the men's sauna's closed today. Rats!" and walked on past, confident that my wife's card covered the family membership and I was fine.

As I was walking away, I thought I heard some shuffling and movement like the desk attendant was trying to get my attention to ask for my card, but I walked confidently onward and didn't look back.

I was in!

We headed for the spin class room, apparently to lay claim to the stationary bicycles of our choosing to adjust them to our fit, so as to not need to worry about it after the body pump class. Happily, my wife's friend had reserved three bicycles under the overhead fans, and I raised the saddle and adjusted the toe straps and headed off to the body pump class.

The body pump class lasted close to an hour and was fun enough. It was a musical combination of mild weightlifting with a bar, some little bench presses on a step, and some sit ups and push ups followed by light stretching. The highlight for me was one of the songs was a gym-tempo remix of the Great Canadian Musician Bryan Adams' "Summer of 69." It was also nice to learn full-time, half-time, top-half, bottom-half, full press versions of various lifting and body pumping maneuvers.

Then it was finally time for the spin class. I have had conversations with my wife about which is harder, spin class or actually riding a bike, and I have received mixed responses. After we go on a bike ride together, she usually agrees that the actual bike ride is harder, but after her spin class, she claims the spin class is harder. I was curious to experience the spin class.

The general layout of the spinning room was triangular, like a quarter of a circle. The trainer was on a raised platform bike in the one corner of the room, looking out upon a four-row wedge of spinning cycles in formation. Probably 25 or so machines in all. The ceiling was high, at least 15 feet, and there were three ceiling fans hanging down. A couple of large speakers were on the walls and a stereo rack sat next to the trainer's station.

When the appointed time came, the trainer arrived (it was the same one who just body pumped us!) and her first act was to turn off the lights and turn the ceiling fans on low. The only light came in trhrough the handful of small square windows behind us. We started pedaling the spinners and tried to look at the trainer, who in the dark was only visible as a shock of short bleached blond hair and tall white socks. The music turned up and her voice started giving instructions.

The spinning cycle was not what I thought it would be. I have never ridden a fixed-gear bicycle (well, except for the Big Wheel as a little boy), so I was surprised to learn that the spinner was like one of those. When I stopped pedaling, the pedals still moved in conjunction with the wheel. It only took a couple of knee-jolting surprises to learn that if I wanted to stop pedaling I needed to either pop out of the toe clips and straps right fast, or just ease up on the pedaling slowly and gently.

There is no coasting in spin class.

And there was also a twisty knob in easy reach. Lefty loosey, righty tighty to make it easier or harder to pedal. Apparently this was the "gears" the trainer talked about.

For the forty five minutes, she did her job to describe our activities. First we did an easy warmup on a quiet road, which wasn't a road but just us sitting there on stationary bikes in a dark wedge of a room. After a short warmup, she described various things one encounters on a ride, like hills and sprint finishes and such. Unlike real bicycling, there was no traffic lights, stop signs, or barking dogs to chase us, which was nice, I suppose.

We were instructed to get ready for a big hill, which turned out to be "twist the friction knob to make it harder to pedal," and then instructions to stand up for the hill, and then sit down and continue to power up the hill, and then ease up and loosen the knob again. Lots of "let's go to a higher gear," and "shift to a lower gear," but honestly there weren't any gears to shift! It was just tightening and loosening this knob.

There were a few times where we were told to race. Apparently in spin classes "racing" is pedaling as fast as you can. A couple of the women there were pedaling so fast that it looked like the pedals were moving the people! Thighs, shoulders, and bums all bouncing up and down and jiggling. This is probably why the lights were down, to spare any potential embarrassment of fully-lit bum-jiggling resultant from ultra-fast pedaling.

Indeed, poor form was everywhere. Heads were bobbing, bodies leaning back and forth, and one young woman was just moving and shaking around so much she reminded me of the drum-playing Muppet, Animal, fully rocking out.

The trainer talked about the road we were on and the scenery, but really we were just there in the dark room. I pedaled harder and faster as I could, but was disappointed because I never went anywhere. And to add to that, there wasn't any way to measure my effort. The spinners didn't have a speedometer or odometer or anything to indicate how my effort measured up to anything. So as I followed the instruction I just pedaled hard until it burned and did that for a while and then eased up. But I dodn't know how long or hard that effort was. In the dark it was like time was standing still.

The slow ceiling fans were ineffective, just taunting us as they slowly circled us with the false promise of air circulation. We all just got warmer and warmer, and sweatier and sweatier. And since we werent' moving, there wasn't any breeze to cool us off. When I was all done, there was a fair sized puddle of sweat on the floor beneath me. It was satisfying to see my production there manifested in a good-sized puddle of my essence, but then I had to wipe it all up to prevent slipping hazards.

Forty five minutes of constant pedaling. The non-stop part of it was nice. I think it's rare for me to actually pedal for that long without stopping, so that part was enjoyable. I liked the rhythm and cadence and consistency of the effort without interruption. But the lack of true hills and non movement was frustrating.

When it was over, my muscles felt like I had a good bike ride, but the rest of me was disappointed. I didn't see anything or go anywhere.

If "gym people" think spin class is equivalent to riding an actual bike, it's no wonder they don't want to go out and ride actual bikes.

As I walked out, there was a spin cycle next to the door that had an extension cord attached to it. It was one of those electricity-generating spin cycles, and one of the few unused machines during the class. I wish I had seen it earlier and set it up to use during the class. Maybe there was a computer on it to tell me how much electricity I was generating. That would have made the effort more fun, I think. I asked my wife if anybody ever used that one, and she said the people don't use it because it's too hard to operate. I guess that's irony...


  1. Nice story Kenny. Yeah I can't stand stationary bikes either. I've got a set of rollers that I sometimes spin my road bike wheels on but even that I really don't like for all the reasons you mention.

    I have a good gym quality elliptical trainer that I actually use 30-45 min four times a week in the off season. I do enjoy the workout but it can be brutal if I run intervals or crank up the resistance. It's not a bike and gets my upper body into the action. On board electronics monitor watts, calories burned, distance, heartrate based on input physical data so that part of it is pretty cool. I have speakers and an amp and a dvd screen so I can listen to my tunes while I "spin" away.

    It's the cross training aspect that I think is really good about the elliptical. All the cardio of running but no impact. I've been using it for a couple years now and I think that because its not a bike is why I seem to keep using it. Like you when I ride I want to go somewhere and see stuff.