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Spinning out in Banff: Tracy’s First Spin Class

spinI survived Bootcamp on Tuesday, so I figured a little spinning couldn’t be too bad. It sounds innocent enough. I can ride a bike. Sam went earlier in the week and said it would be fun. She showed me how the bikes work. She said it would be just an hour and we might even be able to make it to dinner at Vistas before they closed for the evening.

The class was free with the donation of a canned good. I had my can of sliced peaches in hand and my water bottle all filled. I assured myself I could endure anything for an hour (in fact, if you’ve read about my cycling outings with Sam, you’ll know I can endure for even more than that).

When the instructor said we were about to spin for NINETY minutes, my eyes widened.  I glanced over at Sam. She smiled (not in a mean way, just because what else could she do?). She too had 90 minutes ahead of her when she’d been expecting 60.  It was a bit like our windy day on the short Belmont loop—longer than I’d planned for and I had absolutely no clue what was coming.

I’m glad Sam showed me how to work the bikes (and in fact the instructor also made sure I was clear on what it involved) because it didn’t take me long to realize that my computer wasn’t working properly. It didn’t display cadence, which is the revolutions per minute. If you’ve ever taking a spin class you’ll know that cadence is hugely important.  You need to be able to monitor it to follow the instructions.

I jumped off and moved over to the next bike. It told me my cadence and off I went, spinning away to the music and the instructor’s directions.

Another variable is the level of resistance. There’s a little crank you can reach down and turn, and it makes it either harder or easier to move the pedals (which either keep turning or completely stop—you cannot coast on a spin bike).

You can make it harder by increasing your cadence from, say, an easy 80 to 120.  That is, it’s harder if you pedal faster.  But you can also make it harder by increasing the resistance on the wheel. Obviously it’s harder to maintain a cadence at 80 at a higher resistance than at a lower resistance.

Going super fast—sprinting—is a challenge. But so is going slow.  That’s what you do when you “climb.”    When you’re climbing, you’re sort of grinding it out at a low cadence (55-65, depending on where you are in the climb). If you don’t have enough resistance, then you can’t really maintain a low cadence – your pedaling speed will creep up. So you need to find the sweet spot (it’s not so sweet actually – let’s be more neutral and call it a “balance point”) where you can’t really comfortably maintain a higher cadence than what the instructor has asked of you.

The final variable is your position on the bike. There’s sitting and there’s standing. Standing is harder work in lots of ways. I say in lots of ways because it all depends on resistance and cadence, and also, the seats on these bikes are BRUTAL on the butt.  Oh, how I wished I had my padded bike shorts with me.

So what does a 90-minute spin class involve?  All manner of combinations of steady cadence, sprinting, climbing, sitting, standing for timed intervals. I can’t even get into the details, only to say that it makes you sweat and it makes your legs scream and it makes you very thirsty and short of breath. And, if you’re me, it makes you a little bit light-headed but not enough to bail out on any of the intervals (unlike Bootcamp).

I had a good spin experience, and here’s why:

  •  I liked the range of ages in the room, lots of older people who appeared from the way they moved those pedals to be in super good physical condition.
  • The instructor was really clear and worked us hard. Sam told me after that she’s an excellent instructor and that I could be sure that if I didn’t enjoy her spin class, I might as well forget about ever enjoying spin classes..
  • I felt like I worked hard.
  • It’s possible to slack off a bit without anyone knowing by lightening up on the resistance–this might not be the best thing to do, but I appreciated the option.
  • Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the interval is over.  Knowing that the short bursts of effort are relatively short makes it easier to go all out.
  • I got to practice my pedaling form while stationary.  Sam’s friend Eaton told me I had to extend my heel more at the bottom of my revolution. The spin instructor also told us to extend our heels. The class gave me a chance to pay attention to that instruction. I think my form is improving.
  • Time just FLEW by.  I thought 90 minutes would feel like an eternity, but it didn’t at all.  And we covered 40K during that time! Not bad at all.

It was also good to get away from our work for a bit. We’ve been writing a lot since Saturday. A physically demanding class is a good antidote to that.

Is there more spinning in my future? Yes. Until the thaw comes in the spring and I get the road bike back out, it’s a good way to keep pedaling.

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