They’re loud and intense, but spin classes can pay off

I was sweating hard. Like real hard.

My side ached. My legs were tired.

"We have to be at least halfway done," I mentally pleaded. I dared to look at the clock and partway shut down when I saw that I was only three minutes into a 60-minute class.

My eyebrows crinkled with disbelief as I realized that I was still only in the warm-up. 

No joke. That was what I was thinking at 6:33 p.m. on March 21. I was taking my first indoor cycling class in my commitment to try a new form of exercise. Usually, I stick to weights and treadmills. But I wanted to choose something that I have never been good at. 

Indoor cycling classes can be intimidating. Loud music and an instructor screaming to go faster and harder can put many people off. Why would anyone take such a class?

If you ever have talked to an avid cyclist, you know why they are hooked. They love to bike crazy distances and enjoy a difficult class when the weather forces them indoors. 

Can anyone get hooked? Why would anyone sweat puddles over a stationary bike while being yelled at? What’s the motivation for cyclists? Can I become one? I decided to commit a month to spin classes. My goal was two to three classes per week for four weeks.

I walked into The Cycling Studio on Fort Apache Road and the owners were there to help anyone who was new. That being me, I gladly accepted because I was more or less clueless.

They adjusted my handlebars and seat to the proper heights and told me about the resistance knob that doubled as the emergency stop button. With my feet attached to the pedals with straps, it was nice to know that I still had some control. But I was still a little curious and afraid why I might need an emergency stop button.

Class members adjusted their bikes and filled water bottles. Some chatted about the last class while others discussed weekend rides on the Red Rock Loop. 

I felt like a kid at his first boy-girl party.

"Look confident even though you don’t know what you’re doing," my head advised. Despite my efforts to look cool, having the owners set up my bike gave me away.

But I made new friends fast. Those around me were informative. I welcomed advice about making it through the class. 

One by one, class members started to pedal as they finished their bike setup and positioned workout towels on their handlebars. The instructor greeted the regulars and introduced himself to the newcomers. He switched on big fans in the corners of the room and dimmed the lights as class started.

My first class was a shock to say the least. "I am going to die," and "Why am I here?" were my constant thoughts. My goals were to stay on the bike and not give up and walk out in the middle of class.

Talk about having to be mentally tough. My legs were on fire and were screaming to stop. The resistance on the bike was almost nonexistent and my legs went only one speed, no matter how hard I pedaled. They gave us active rests throughout class, but any movement felt like too much. I even went through an entire water bottle. That’s something I rarely do during a workout.

The instructor called out cues for the class, but for me they were in vain. My goal was to just stay on the bike. "Out of your saddle!" the cycle/drill instructor shouted into a microphone.

"Yeah, right," I thought, "I’m just gonna try to hold my cookies down." It seemed as if we were always supposed to be turning the bike resistance up, never down.

The second class was much the same as the first. I waved to my new friends from last class and when the lights went dim we were off. Knowing what to expect increased my confidence. I even made it to four minutes before I first looked at the clock.

I stayed on the bike and was able to concentrate on form. Being a trainer has made me a stickler for form. Choosing a bike directly in front of a mirror I was able to see all my form faults. I even followed some resistance cues from the instructor and tried a few out-of-saddle sprints.

By the end, my energy was still spent and my leg muscles ached from movements they still were not used to. 

By the third class I had my rhythm down. It was a weekend ride and the instructor was different than the one who taught my first two classes. We did sprints, seated climbs and out-of-saddle drills.

I was able to keep up with most of the cues and start working more on increasing the resistance.

This weekend instructor even had a different method of teaching. Starting a weekend with an intense cardio workout is definitely new for me. I was tired and awake all at the same time. It was great!

Soon I was taking cues and upping the resistance with the rest of the class. My legs would carry me through a class without burning. I talked with the other regulars during setup and didn’t dread attending class because it would be difficult. I began to hope it would be challenging.

Over the course of my one-month plan, I took many classes with a variety of instructors. They all had different ways of teaching. I learned new things from each of them. One instructor had a way of explaining how to monitor my heart rate by how I was breathing. Another made comments about my form and how to improve it by not just pushing with my feet but by pulling as well. That cut my energy expenditure in half. 

Each instructor had a workout plan. They didn’t just throw in a play list of top hits and make stuff up. There was a structure of climbs, sprints and aerobic conditioning. As a trainer, that made me feel better knowing that I wasn’t just on a bike spinning nowhere fast.

Most instructors pick music that goes with the workout they have planned. It needs to be high-energy music to keep everyone motivated. The heavy beats help you time pedal strokes while climbing and sprinting. It keeps you from slacking off during the hard parts.

The right song can make your blood rise with determination. Words like "difficult" and "hard" don’t exist anymore and concepts like "personal best" have new meaning. 

I was curious what kind of results I would achieve during my first month of indoor cycling. Before starting my experiment, I took measurements of weight, body fat and circumference. I wasn’t on any supplements except for a multivitamin and branch chain amino acids for recovery. My food intake didn’t vary ether. I kept eating like ordinary. I wanted to see what the classes would do for me without any other variables interfering with my test.

I lost 2 percent body fat. That’s a little more than 4 pounds. I leaned out everywhere with most of the loss coming from my upper back and stomach. My legs became more defined in the calves and quads. Others noticed before I did, quite the ego boost. My weight did go up with some added muscle but my waist got smaller. Not a bad trade-off.

Now when people ask me why I attend cycling classes, I tell them that the results are too good not to go.

As you progress, you will notice yourself getting better. It’s not a race with the person next to you; it’s a competition against yourself from last class. Is your form better? Is your resistance challenging? Is your recovery time between bouts faster? Have you made the class your own? Do you take every cue from the instructor?

Cycling class is like a sweet release. When the lights dim and the music builds, life’s problems seem to drip from my mind like the sweat falling to the floor.

"Month seven trying to close on a short-sale." Drip. "R-J fitness column deadlines." Not during this hour. Drip. "Work." Not till tomorrow. Drip. "Baby on the way." She’s not here yet. Drip. A puddle of problems, concerns and stress forms on the ground because they have no place on me. By working on myself I can take on life with revived determination.

I am alone in a full class. As I look in the mirror, I see my legs travel up and down in perfect blurred form. I struggle to keep my resistance as high as I can stand while planning my recovery from the current bout. I’m better than last time because I have earned it.

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