(This post has a soundtrack. Click here or go to mixcloud.com and search George Chaker. Click any of the spinning mixes and play it while you read).
Spinning that feels like a dance party. That’s George, at Torq ride. I’ve been spinning, off and on, for about 18 years, and I recently discovered George. He’s a DJ and a fitness guy and probably my favourite spinning instructor I’ve ever had. He has just the right blend of presence, push and trust in the class. George starts out moving fast and it just gets faster. No pauses, very little recovery of any kind. But I do it and leave the class feeling incredible. Here’s what happens in my head when I’m in one of George’s classes:
I like the dark… that music is fantastic … RPMs not at 85, go harder, find the beat of the music, push harder, those watts are climbing…135… 149… 187… 201… reach harder… 210 … 201… 202… this is crazy but my body is keeping up… are my knees okay? The guy next to me is keeping time by beating his hand on his handlebars… he’s so into it… up out of the saddle — form… 3 position, core, form… music …pedal harder… 35 km/hr… 241 watts… 30 second push… 335 watts… tension off, keep pedalling, stay at 85…That guy next to me is moaning… how is it george pushes us like this. … this was a terrible class to forget to grab a towel — my hands are slipping off the bars… use your shirt… everything is slidey… everything feels strong and breathless.. 5 more minutes… one more push… 334… oof… that guy is moaning again…push push push omg that felt so good
50 minutes pass and I’m working in the hardest zone possible for the whole time. I hop off the bike, stretch, dripping sweat. I wash my hands, leave the studio and check my phone, clicking my email to get my performance numbers.
That’s a good spinning class, 50 minutes that feel like a dance party, where you actually sing out loud with the ironic dance mix of You are my Sunshine at the end of the class.
I had a class this week that was the opposite. I won’t name the teacher, but the music was mediocre and played too loudly, and she kept shouting instructions over the music that I could never actually make out. Here’s what I was thinking in her class:
I hate it when the teacher frames the class as “you’re going to hate me” — I want to be on a team with the teacher, not set up to hate my own sense of movement. Why is she pressuring us to hit these watts right out of the gate — this is actually hurting my knees. She’s a much bigger person than I am — does she think someone my size can actually do that? That music is so loud it hurts my ears. What the hell is she shouting now? How long is this push supposed to be? Or is this a sprint? Where is the torq stick supposed to be? How much longer in this stupid class? Shit we’re only 15% done. I’ll just click the stage button so I can’t actually see how much time has elapsed… that music is so loud it’s actually damaging my hearing… fuck, what would happen if I just stopped right now… how much longer… can I still count this as a workout if I stop after 30 minutes… were we supposed to end that segment with the end of that song? She’s not really keeping track. Oof my knees hurt, why is my foot all twitchy? Fuck 5 more minutes, I can hang on.
Here’s the thing: on the numbers, I actually hit similar levels in her class as George’s. But the experience of being in George’s class leaves me euphoric, completely present to the ecstasy of driving music and moving my body in unison with 25 other sweating, pushing people in the dark. We’re together, and strong. I believe I can do anything and I push for it. It doesn’t feel like an “exercise class” — it feels like deeply grappling with my strength and a deep pleasure and what’s possible.
And so, I go back. And I get stronger.
Spinning doesn’t need to be a spiritual experience. I have some deep skepticism about things like Soul Cycle, which claims to “change lives,” not just bodies. Torq is inspiration-lite, the sandwich board outside the only real “messaging.”
But every instructor has a philosophy that seeps through. The ones that don’t work for me? Now you can go to brunch and have a mimosa with a clear conscience… This will make up for going out for St. Patrick’s day… You’re going to hate me…
The ones that work? Like George, they’re about strength and being in your body. Use this class to get out the stuff that’s bugging you. Find your own road and dig just a little deeper. We’re all doing this together — you can push each other just a little harder.
Some instructors let you dig deeper than others. And in a week where I’m in my head way too much, where I am in charge of too many things, putting myself on a bike and letting George create the soundscape and rhythm for my life for an hour takes me somewhere important.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a regular contributor to the blog. (Look for her the second Friday of every month). She lives in Toronto, where she is a strategic change consultant and educator working mostly in healthcare spaces. She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.