Last week, I wrote about the 6 week challenge I’m doing with my spinning studio that is a good, challenging blend of all the fitness things — working out, sleeping, hydration, thinking more mindfully about the things I’m putting in my mouth. In my little burst of “trying new things” as part of this challenge, I noticed a new class on the Torq schedule: a High Intensity Interval Training (+!) class.
Normally, I find most spinning classes aggressive enough for me, and I’m all about the intuitive movement these days, as I wrote about last week. But I was looking for something to fit into a window of time for working out last Friday morning, and this fit my weird logic: “I don’t love spinning first thing in the morning — it takes so long for me to wake up — but it’s only 30 minutes! How bad could it be? Then I’ll be done working out for the day!” Also, I like Marawan as a teacher — he’s not shouty — so I got myself to an 840 class last Friday.
Because it’s a new class (and maybe because of all of the explosive language in the description), there were only four of us in the first class. I had had a terrible sleep — still jet lagged and insomniac from my trip to Australia — and I had a busy day before I had to travel four hours the next morning for a family funeral. I arrived a bit of a worn out rag, and gave all sorts of qualifiers to my Clear Intention Not to Work Hard. Marawan was just gently encouraging — do what you can.
The class was… highly intense. But in a really doable way. I won’t say the 30 minutes “flew by,” but I was deeply engaged the entire time. Marawan took us through a simple series of 3 patterns of about 12 minutes each, each marked by harder, more intense, intensest, briefly return to a hard baseline again again for a version of “recovery”, repeat. We use torq sticks at this studio to increase and decrease the weight on the bikes quickly — moving the torq stick to the middle of the gear is similar to 1.5 full turns on the flywheel, to the right is like 3, then you can fling it back to your baseline quickly. For part of the class, we used the monitor at the front of class to track our wattage output (total class average energy).
It was simple… and it did all of the things HIIT is supposed to do — pushes you hard with pockets of near-recovery, pushes you hard again, then you’re done, sweaty and pleased with yourself. (A lot of people are HIIT evangelists, but there is a fair bit of argument among exercise researchers about whether it’s really “superior” for anything other than efficiency — but it’s definitely a way to get a really good workout quickly).
That class really stood out in a super busy week as my most intense, focused workout — I managed a quick run here, an exhausted trip to the gym there, a few self-guided yoga workouts. But it was a week of a lot of driving and facilitating huge groups into the evening, and on Thursday night, I skipped my planned yoga class in favour of lying in bed, eating popcorn for dinner and watching netflix. (See: honouring what my body needs).
When Friday morning rolled around again, I had to really persuade myself to get out of bed and show up for class. I am often daunted by knowing my workout is going to be intense, no option. I try to fool myself into thinking “I can just take it easy.” I know that in this class, there’s no room to coast — not in the structure of the actual class or the fact that there are so few of us. I can’t hide behind the pole on bike 18, my preferred spot.
Yesterday, Marawan had us all (five of us this time) line up in the middle row and he sat in the middle, riding with us. A really simple sequence: three long climbs, with a tone going off every minute to increase the weight on the wheel by half to a full turn. Within each series, sequences of hard, harder, intense, brief recovery, always to the baseline of the gradually increasing weight. Between the three long climbs — 12 minutes, 10 and 7 — a minute of actual recovery. (The pic is me in one of those moments). In the last sequence, Marawan came around and had each of us work to our absolute highest output for 10 seconds as he encouraged us.
I was exhausted when I got on the bike, and energized when I got off. I found the recovery I’d given my body by taking two rest days in a row, and felt… strong. I was still well worn out, but in the best, internally glowing way. I felt… human again.
I’m probably not going to do this more than once a week — but doing something this intense reaffirms for me that I’m engaged in a long-term project of fitness and health — and even when I’m mostly tooling around in lighter workouts, there’s a warrior inside me. Marawan is the best kind of teacher — light touch, firm effort, kind. And I got a blue star for nailing my first week of the 6 week challenge.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto.