Can the adrenaline-fused indoor cycling class Spinning inject some life into the fitness routine of a 40-something runner? Come along for the ride.
It was 2010, I was 47 years old, and my body was starting to complain—loudly—about my usual running routine. Unwilling to give up exercise completely, I started looking around for a new challenge, and decided to give Spinning a second chance.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Spinning (a.k.a., indoor cycling) is a group exercise class, with a challenging ride on a stationary bike, guided by a certified instructor and set to music. The first time I’d tried it, 10 years earlier, I found it daunting and draining. Sure, it was a great cardiovascular workout and a serious way to build muscle strength and endurance, too. But it seemed like everyone in the room was trying to outdo each other by pedaling faster, sweating more, or grunting louder than the person next to them. No thanks! That just wasn’t my style. Plus, the heavy-metal music in those classes was a turn-off. So I stuck with running instead, until a neck injury forced me to cut back.
The cardio machines at my new gym had become my go-to routine, but they didn’t present much variety. So after I noticed that the cycling instructors at my current gym played more dance, alternative, or Top 40 music in their Spinning classes and seemed more welcoming, I convinced my gym buddy to try a class with me.
From day one, I absolutely loved it! To me, Spinning felt like the perfect blend of an exhilarating run and dancing on a bike, especially when I liked the music. It’s a great way to crank up your heart rate and breathing rate and use leg and core muscles you long ago forgot you had. During a class, I would get into a zone as I pushed my own physical and mental limits, cranking up the pace or resistance well past the point where I thought I couldn’t take any more. One glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I’d notice that faraway look in my eyes: That’s when I knew I’d entered that liminal state between being conscious of what was going on in the room and being in my own private Idaho of mind-clearing, body-grooving bliss. After 45 minutes, I’d emerge from the cycling studio drenched, as if I’d taken a shower in my clothes, but feeling high as the space shuttle.
I started with two classes a week and gradually upped it to four classes a week. My then-14-year-old son accused me of being an addict, calling Spinning my “healthy heroin.” I can’t say he was wrong. By then, I was even having dreams of cycling to nowhere, listening to my favorite tunes. To me, indoor cycling felt like an ideal (non-impact!) form of free-flowing movement and body expression, and I discovered a physical strength and mental fortitude I didn’t know I had. When the instructors would challenge us to add more resistance or pick up the pace, I wouldn’t flinch. Class after class, I wanted to dig deep and see what I was capable of, to reach some new personal best.
Granted, there were times when I felt like crying or puking because I was pushing myself so hard and it was absolutely exhausting. And early on there were times when I was so sore the next day that I thought I’d never do it again. But somehow I kept going back for more. I learned not to be afraid of the resistance, to push through it, and over the months I kept getting stronger. Now, I routinely max out the gears and I have developed greater stamina along with powerful leg and lung strength.
As a former dancer, I had good form, and apparently my energy and enthusiasm for Spinning were noticeable. Last year, the group exercise director at my gym encouraged me to get certified to teach Spinning, and my first official class as an instructor was in September. At age 49, I now have a second career (to writing). I teach three to four classes a week, ranging from 45 minutes to an hour each, and I truly love it. My son, husband and stepbrother have even joined me for some of my classes. Newcomers are always amazed at what an incredible workout it is, and the advanced cyclists (including some triathletes) enjoy pushing themselves as much as I do. One of the great things about Spinning is that while it’s group exercise, it’s also very much a solo activity: You can adjust any ride to accommodate your needs, physical limitations or energy level. Ultimately, it always is “your ride.”
Besides leading the classes, I love mapping out the arc and progression of the rides and choreographing them to music. This off-the-bike preparation has a very calming effect on me, one that takes me into a rejuvenating zone of creativity. On so many levels, pedaling nowhere fast has become a passionate pursuit, one that has proven to be incredibly gratifying for me.