I’ve always hated the treadmill. If you’re going to run, shouldn’t you be running somewhere? The thought of being on a stationary machine logging “imaginary” miles has never appealed to me.
You would think I’d feel the same way about the stationary bike. But turns out I love it.
It started when I was a junior in college, when my boyfriend at the time registered for a Spinning class that would give him credits toward graduation. The class was taught by one of the university athletic directors and was held at a rundown gym near the campus.
My first thought was, “You can get college credit for working out? Score!” My second thought was, “What the heck is Spinning?”
Said boyfriend would return from the twice-a-week class completely drenched in sweat and high off endorphins. I was intrigued.
The following semester, I registered for the same course. All we were told was to bring a towel and a water bottle. Easy enough, I thought.
When I walked into the gym and was pointed toward the Spinning room, I was surprised to see 20 stationary bikes set up in a circle around the room, with the instructor’s bike in the middle (this is the only gym I’ve seen with that kind of Spinning setup, but it’s not that rare).
First, we were told how to adjust the bike based on our sizes. The instructor helped me set my seat at hip level and my handlebars around the same height. Because I have short legs, I ride with the seat moved slightly forward. I learned quickly that it’s crucial to always have your bike set up properly. You can very easily injure your knees or lower back if you’re not riding in the correct position.
The teacher then explained the resistance knob to us. On each bike there’s a dial you turn to simulate pedaling uphill or on a flat road. It’s similar to changing gears on a regular bike.
Finally, before the music started, we were instructed on the different riding positions we would use. There’s the basic sitting position with your hands resting on the handlebars (position one); then there’s standing with your hands placed gently in front of your body (position two); and there’s the standing climb position (position three) during which you’re out of the bike seat with heavy resistance, your butt hovering over the bike saddle and your hands on the front part of the handlebars. Each position engages different leg and core muscles.
During that first class, the teacher said we’d spin for 15 minutes. “That’s it?” I thought. I wanted a workout, not 15 minutes of boring instruction.
The teacher dimmed the lights — many instructors turn them off completely — and turned on the music. We were led through a warm-up on the bike, during which we pedaled at a medium pace with light resistance. We were told never to ride with zero resistance and to always feel like we were moving the bike and not the other way around.
We did some upper body stretches while simultaneously pedaling our legs — no small feat, I quickly learned. I was surprised at how much core strength was required in order to maintain proper alignment.
After the warm-up, we got into the good stuff. Every so often we were told to increase the resistance on the bike. At first I was skeptical — she told us that we were “at the bottom of a hill,” but all I could see was a dark room. I went with it anyway.
We also practiced sprints — short bouts of pedaling as fast as possible — and jumps, which had us rapidly shifting between seated and standing positions.
By the end of 15 minutes, my legs were begging for mercy and I realized 15 minutes of Spin was all I needed. I was winded and completely dripping in sweat.
I looked forward to the Spin classes and was disappointed when the semester was over. Spinning did wonders for my endurance and helped build leg strength in my quads and hamstrings. It’s one heck of a cardio workout.
More importantly, Spinning is fun! When the class ended, I joined a local gym that offered the classes so I could keep it up. Now I spin up to three times a week at Crunch Gym.
I love that the workout feels so hardcore. I’m always sweating within the first quarter of class (most of the classes I take are 45 minutes long), and the duration of class gives me plenty of time to warm up, push as hard as possible and cool down.
I’m confident that anyone can Spin, even if you don’t know how to ride a bike. Learning to trust the bike takes some time, but I have never seen someone fall off a bike, tip a bike over or magically set a bike into motion before.
One thing I always tell beginning Spinners is that it hurts — and I’m not just talking about your legs. If you’re not used to sitting on a bike seat, expect some soreness the following day, similar to what you’d feel after riding a horse. But your body will eventually get used to sitting on the seat. You can also buy gel seat covers or padded bike shorts for maximum comfort.
If you’re a first-timer, be sure to get to class early so you can have the instructor help you set up your bike. You’ll want to sit close enough to the front of the room that you can see the teacher, but may also want to be a few rows back in order to observe the riders in front of you.
Don’t be fooled by large class sizes, though: Spinning is not a team activity. When you’re told to turn up the resistance, you have complete control over how hard or easy you make the adjustment. No one else is in charge of your legs. On days I feel amazing, I crank the knob up so that I feel like I’m pedaling through quick sand. But when I’m tired, I make tiny turns.
At the end of each Spin class, I may be sitting in the same place I started, but I’m definitely still getting somewhere.
Alison is a NYC resident, running addict and self-proclaimed gym rat. She has completed three half-marathons and will run her fourth next weekend in Washington, D.C. She is hoping to run her first full marathon this fall with the help of a regular yoga practice to keep her bendy. Read more about Alison's training, her reviews of local fitness classes and her daily attempts at finding balance in this hectic city at her blog, Ali On The Run.