Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spin Class Isn't Just for Girls Anymore

I think spin class is for girls.  

Or, at least I used to.

I was a firm non-believer.  Spin classes were for overweight wannabes, soccer moms, or the super athletic, spandex wearing gym rats that never do anything outdoors.  Spin classes had nothing to do with actual cycling. 

As a cycle snob, I didn’t think spin class could do anything for me.

I tried a spin class a few years back with a group of Soldiers.  I walked into the room thinking the class would be a waste of time.  I made sure that during the class I didn’t enjoy myself at all.  The seat was uncomfortable and I never felt like I was actually pushing myself during the workout.  I left feeling unchallenged and unsatisfied.  I was also not a cyclist back then, and laughed at guys wearing spandex/lycra and goofy jerseys riding around town or down the highway.  I was a runner and you would never catch me on a bike like that.

More than a year later Char and I made a decision to try something new.  We wanted a new hobby that we could both share and learn together.  It had to be healthy and get us out of the house.  She was a strong swimmer and I was struggling to keep above water.  I was a strong runner and she could never keep up on my long runs.  Our strengths and weaknesses kept us apart during our workouts.  Cycling was neutral territory as neither of us had ridden in years since we were kids.  Oh, I played around on a mountain bike in college and let her borrow it a couple of times.  But, otherwise, we were totally new to the cycling experience.

We bought new bikes and some inexpensive starter gear and started riding on the weekends.

As we developed as cyclists, and I began riding farther and faster during the weekends, the idea of a spin class still didn’t appeal to me.  I just didn’t see how it could do anything to improve my cycling.  I thought the only way to get better at something was to do that thing over and over until you improved.

Over time I became a more accomplished cyclist and began devoting more of my time to researching the sport and ways to improve my own performance.  There is a lot of literature that promotes using spin classes to develop stronger rhythm or cadence and fast twitch muscle fiber.  I loved riding in the mountains but had trouble with the longer hill climbs and began to realize that I was missing something in my workouts.

A few months ago I read a Facebook post by someone who I knew had become quite an accomplished cyclist.  Their weekly Saturday spin class instructor had put them through a grueling 4-hour workout.  4 hours?  That’s right about how long it took me to do my first 60-mile ride.  I couldn’t imagine being in a spin class for that long, but it gave me pause when I considered what that kind of intensity could do for my own fitness level. 

Then I found myself here in the desert on my pseudo vacation and without my bike to ride.  The borrowed mountain bike I used during the Tri the Deid Triathlon just wasn’t cutting it for my workouts.  The stationery bikes in the gym just couldn’t approximate the feel and posture of riding a real bike.  The Death Ride Tour was and still is approaching and I needed a way to prepare for it.  I wasn’t sure if spin bikes would really approximate the feeling of a road bike but it was the closest that I could come to the real thing. 

My first spin class was almost an accident.  I was doing a weight workout followed by cardio on the bike with a battle buddy.  All the regular bikes were full so we went into the spin room to use theirs.  As we were pedaling a spin class showed up and started warming up.  As the instructor started giving instructions, we shyly got off our bikes, and slinked out of the room.  But just those five minutes convinced me to come back. 

The next week I showed up for my first spin class.  The instructor was upbeat and very detailed in his instructions.  He took the first few minutes to ensure everyone had fitted their bikes correctly with regards to seat and handlebar height.  That alone made me more comfortable with the class and made for a much more effective workout.  Instead of fighting with the discomfort of the bike I was able to follow along with the different phases of the workout undistracted.  We did an assortment of intense intervals of hill climbing and sprints.  I left the spin class both exhausted and very excited about the workout I had just endured.  It was the closest feeling to cycling that I had experienced in months and I was determined to make it a part of my regular weekly workout plan.

The Spin Bike Room

Since then I’ve tried to hit at least two classes a week in conjunction with a weight-training workout.  The results have been telling in both my swimming and running.  The spin classes have been an incredible cardio and leg muscle workout and have helped to
shave more than two minutes off my 500-yard swim time, and 12 minutes off my Half Marathon.

Only time will tell how my cycling has improved once I get back to the States, but for now I’m confident and excited to continue to make spin class part of my regular routine.

The true test will be in two months when I take on the DeathRide Tour V in the mountains of Southern Colorado.  Until then I will keep spinning and cycling every week.