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What I learned when I said ‘yes’ to spin class

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We’ve all seen the memes, driven past the workout studios and heard the words “I actually can’t tonight, I have spin class.” We’ve seen the cult-like Instagram posts of upper middle-class moms smiling on indoor bikes and heard of programs like Soul Cycle and FlyWheel. These are the things I think of when I hear “spinning.”

For years, friends have begged me to go to their indoor biking classes with them. In fact, I had one friend bribe me by saying she had met Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen, in a class. She should’ve just told me she’d met Brady himself, and then I probably would’ve considered attending.

Either way, as a runner, I like my two feet on the ground and prefer to not have my bony rear end rubbing up against an uncomfortable, barely-cushioned bike seat. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that paying $35 for an hour of “wooing,” upbeat music and a teacher screaming at you to “push up the resistance,” is the ultimate workout for some people, but for me, I would rather run my next half marathon over hot coals and glass than do that.

However, there comes a day in every skeptic’s life where she must open her eyes to broader horizons… or she just happens upon a Huffington Post article titled “8 Reasons to Learn to Love Spin Class.” I had remembered my friends gushing about their cycle workout the night before, and realized that it would be impossible for me to jog outside that day because of snow. I read through the article with as much of an open mind as my stubborn self could handle. As I looked through the list, I noticed there were a lot of things I actually couldn’t achieve on my runs: the team spirit; getting lost pedaling to killer music, etc.

The team spirit was a big one for me because, as a runner, having a motivational partner is something I miss out on a lot in my daily workouts (It’s a rare occasion for someone to agree to trot through the snow in three degree New England weather with me). I figured, it might be nice to be in a class where everyone around me feels the same burn in their legs as I do. I also started to think about how weak my running playlist had become lately, and figured I could at the least get some good “pump up” songs from a spin class. So, it was decided: I would wake up the next morning at 6 a.m., try not to shatter my alarm clock, and attend a 7 a.m. class with Patty at the Rec. Center here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

As I walked into the large cycling room — half asleep and looking no better than the grim reaper’s cousin might — a man cheerily turned to me and said “Wow, lots of people here, this is new!” He continued to tell me there were usually only 10-15 people in the class, but I looked around and found that 30-35 people had come that day. Great, more people to watch me either sob, throw up, or both, all on the bike.

Before Patty the instructor walked in, I was expecting what I had seen in every TV depiction of a spin class: Regina George’s mother stomping in and barking out orders, dressed head to toe in an outfit that likely costs more than my car. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by Patty who, sporting a huge smile, proclaimed herself “the world’s biggest couch potato” and gave us all kudos, and towels, for being in class so early. Before we started, Patty continued with her witty banter to lighten the mood, and I found myself actually mustering up the energy to belly laugh at 7:05 a.m.

Then we got on the bikes.

The second we started pedaling, my butt went numb, but that was to be expected. What I wasn’t expecting was how quickly I started sweating and gasping for air. I felt like every time she said “up your resistance” my legs were going to fall off, and here I was thinking I was some hot-shot runner with quadriceps of gold. As we kept turning, turning, turning up the resistance, I looked around the room to distract myself from the burn. On one side of me was a man no younger than 60, and on the other side, a girl’s face had turned fire engine red; if they could get through this, so could I.

I kept pedaling.

The class, which that day was focused on strength, continued with intervals of “getting out of the saddle” (standing on the bike), and increasing the resistance. Patty said at one point, “I know you hate me right now,” and pushed us to increase our resistance some more. Despite our obvious temptation to stop, my neighbors and I kept pedaling.

I’m happy I kept riding, despite my inability to breathe comfortably, because spinning has proven to have quite the array of health benefits. Not only does the intense workout burn calories, but it also improves cardio vascular health, keeps pressure off your knees and joints and builds muscle strength. Patty, who has taught spin at UMass for six years, says, “I have known people who have lost as much as 150 pounds through spinning.” She adds that the most important part about spin is “to stay motivated” and to remember that “the class is all about how much you’re willing to push yourself.”

Now, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to taking the elevator up two floors in the library the next day, and parking illegally at Blue Wall because I couldn’t fathom the walk from the parking garage to my classes. However, it was that kind of pain in my legs and newly-muscled derrière that actually felt good. I couldn’t remember the last time I had finished a workout feeling that “good sore” sensation. Apologies to you who don’t understand that feeling, because I must sound like a masochist right now.

Either way, Patty’s class showed me that all spinning classes are completely different; every instructor, every environment and every workout is going to significantly differ from class to class. I happened to luck out with a funny and supportive instructor who made my workout uplifting (and a stand-up comedy show), but I know not all classes are like that. For those of you who are interested in paying $35 for a class filled with flashing disco balls, remixed Madonna songs, and women working out in pearls, I’m sure there’s a spin class somewhere in the world for you — try L.A. I think I’ll stick with Patty and the other instructors at the Rec. Center whose classes offer intense, yet motivating workouts.

On that note, see you the week before spring break, spin.

Email Lauren Woods at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @lauuwoods. 

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What I learned when I said ‘yes’ to spin class