Itís been about as mild a winter as I can remember, which is great for those of us who love to ride our bikes. Still, even though the roads are mostly clear of snow and ice, it can be a challenge to ride outdoors.
Fortunately there are alternatives if you want to stay in shape and get your exercise fix. Some cyclists turn to running or cross-country skiing, others use a trainer or rollers.
And then thereís spin class.
For years I had resisted taking a spin class. Iím happy riding in my basement, I donít belong to a gym, and I like to choose my music while I work up a sweat.
I do get lonely riding solo in the basement. And sometimes the music I choose can get a little stale. But most of all, I have exlored spinning because I wanted to find out what the excitement was all about.
Thatís why I contacted three local gyms and asked if I could try out a class. Commonwealth Sports Club, Recycle Studio, and Fast: Splits were happy to oblige (full disclosure: all three of them waived their fee for me). Hereís the skinny on how I overcame my resistance and became a fan of the spin.
My first class was with Laura Wilson at the Commonwealth Sports Club. Laura knows what sheís doing: sheís a certified spinning instructor, a personal trainer, and a general fitness instructor. She also has a masterís degree in sports and exercise psychology.
The vibe in Lauraís class was friendly and welcoming, kind of like your favorite Saturday morning group ride. Laura encourages you to go at your own pace. As she sees it, ďYou are in control of how hard you work.Ē
Lauraís class was based on perceived effort using a 1-10 scale (1 being leisurely, 10 being as fast as you can pedal). As she led us through a series of imaginary sprints and recoveries I found myself working harder than I had expected. An hour later I could barely unclip from my bike.
A few days later my legs had recovered enough so that I could head over to Recycle Studio, located in a South End brownstone. Recycle Studio is illuminated by candles, with art on the walls and no clocks to distract you. If anything, it looks more like a yoga studio than a cycling studio.
My instructor that night was Christina Lodde, whoís a certified spinning instructor, a National Dance competition gold medalist, and a Kenpo Karate blue belt.
Before the class began I was a little disappointed that it would only be 45 minutes long. By the time the class over I was grateful it was only 45 minutes. I donít think I could have turned the pedals one more time and it took all that I had to climb up the stairs.
Like Laura, Christina told us to focus on our perceived effort. For someone like me who is dependent upon my heart rate monitor and my power meter, this was a challenge. It was also a great way to really tune in to how I felt instead of relying upon a digital readout to know how I was doing.
My third and final spin class was at Fast: splits in Newton with Karen Smyers. Karen won the 1995 Hawaii Ironman, is a four time World Champion triathlete, and a Pan American Games Gold Medalist.
Karen is also humble, accessible, and a great teacher. As we chatted (as best as I could chat while trying not to faint) Karen noted that I might be using too hard a gear. That brief observation helped me understand why I usually run out of steam half way through a long hard ride.
Karenís class was run like an individualized coaching session. Each of us was on our own bike and tethered to a CompuTrainer, which controls wattage and work load. This allowed for a more precise training session (no 1 to 10 guesstimating). It also kept us honest: thereís just no hiding from the numbers.
All of this might sound intimidating, but trust me, it wasnít. My class was peopled with both newbies and hotshots, all of us pedaling our hearts out while Karen egged us on as she did her best imitation of the devil with a pitchfork.
Three classes, three great instructors, three great spins. Depending upon what youíre looking for and where you live, all three of these instructors get five stars.
As for me, I think I finally get what the excitement is all about.
Jonathan Simmons is an avid cyclist and a recent convert to the pleasures of spinning.