Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Right Round

We all knew this day was coming, but for the past couple of weeks, I've had to move my dreaded cardio work-outs indoors.  For awhile, it was the holidays and I just didn't have (make) time, then I tried to use the machines.  I was so very very bored.  I made jammin' playlists and I tried reading the latest greatest funniest book and still, after 25 minutes it felt like 3 hours.  I couldn't make myself break a sweat.  It was a struggle to keep my heart rate at 140.

I wanted to go back to yoga but my favorite guru isn't there; she has taught me well so I can do most of my yoga at home, and what I NEED is cardio.  I've taken Zumba and cardio kick-boxing.  Unfortunately, I have terrible rhythm and even worse fluidity to my "dance moves".  I expel more effort trying to figure out how to keep up with the instructor and not bump into the beautifully coordinated people next to me than working out.  I left tired, but mostly emotionally and mentally.  My DH told me I should give the spin cycle class a try.  He did them for about 2 years, twice a week, about a decade ago and was in great shape. 

Just walking past made me nervous.  These people are NUTS.  There is a huge glass wall.  The class is normally at capacity with not an empty seat in the room.  The bikes are tiny and streamlined with these rock hard even tinier little seats and there are red-faced people nearly elbow to elbow.  The music is loud, the playlist sounds like my 6th grader made it, and everyone is literally dripping sweat on the ground.  I was pretty sure it was a voluntary entrance to Hades.

After a couple more pathetic attempts at cardio on my own, I walked into the class very early to get a far corner spot.  I don't want to get too ahead of myself, but I've taken it 7 times now and I think I love it.  There are all sorts of reasons why it works for me-- and not just as confirmation or validation that I am truly nuts.

One is that it takes absolutely no skill.  I don't need to focus, I just need to pedal.  Nobody can see how hard I am actually working.  I could have my bike on 7 while they all  have it on 17 and nobody really cares.  It is helpful to have rhythm but not essential   There are some hard-core people up-front who are able to stay on the bike and pedal to the rhythm of whatever Flo Rida song is pumping but there are maybe 3 of those in the whole class.  The time goes by quickly.  The first 15 minutes, when it is cold, seem to take forever and I'm quite sure I can't make it, but then I get into the groove and it all goes fine.  The music selection is actually better than I thought.  Most instructors use pop but intersperse U2 (thankfully not Vertigo--wouldn't that be kind of funny?), some old CCR, and even the Doobie Brothers.  It is a pretty solid mix.  I did have one instructor call Adele a "hill-climbing song" and proceeded to hum into his mic while we were "climbing".  I will not be returning to his particular class.

Extra Spin Cycle Class Advice:

HR Monitor:  Spin cycles really get your heart rate up.  If you are like me and have heart disease, you MUST get a heart rate monitor.  The first class I took, I couldn't believe how easy it was to get into my cardio zone.  Admittedly, usually I am not working at my max.  I can just sort of feel when my heart rate goes up.  When I am biking, I just keep it in a harder gear so that I am always working and hope that is enough.   In my first class, I started to get a little dizzy so I counted my pulse and I was at 175.  That should not really happen.  After that, I wore my HR monitor and realized that whenever he says, "out of the saddle" and I stand up to pedal, I get to 165 and maintain in no time.  If I'm not careful, I can get to 175 without even thinking about it.  Unfortunately, my trusty old polar has a strong signal and since these bikes are so close in proximity, the 4 people around me also fear they are about to have a heart attack.  On a positive note, since my HR has become "public knowledge", it does give me even more incentive to keep it consistent and then not slack off.

Seat Positioning:  It takes a class or two to figure out the perfect positioning.  My first class, I was miserably off.  The instructor will help if you get there early but there is still personal preference.  The seat is generally about hip high.  Some people like near level handle bars, others like raised "comfort style" handle bars, and the seat moves forward also.  In the end, I asked this girl who was awesome and about my height what she set hers at; it has been perfect ever since.  The seat has zero cushion.  Some people bring a little squishy seat cover; others wear bike shorts.  Personally, I am fine.  I'm not sure why (maybe I have buns of steel) but the seat doesn't bother me.  I kind of wish it did because I think those bike shorts with a short skirt are cute and I'd love an excuse to need them.

Walking Out:  You will not be the first person or the last person who has left a spin class.  That first class I ever took was the worst.  Honestly, 10 people walked out.  I later learned that many people just like those  bikes and use them for a warm up for their regular workout.  The class is just kind of fluid.  That said, try to stick with it.  If you feel like you are dying, just take it down a notch.  It isn't impossible.  The first class is by far the hardest.  If you make it through the first class, you can make it through again.

Getting "Out of the Saddle":  My first time, I couldn't figure out how to stand up without hitting my tush every time I pedaled.  The second time, after adjusting my seat, it was better but it killed my quads.  By the forth class, I looked forward to getting out of the saddle.  There is no pressure to get out of the saddle.  Not everyone does.  Some people can't because of knee or ankle issues, others just don't like it.  Just do what you can.  Nobody in the class, including the instructor, really cares what you are doing.

The Trip Counter:   So I was really proud of myself and walked around telling everyone that I rode 20 miles in an hour, basically into Lake Michigan from my house, because that is what the trip meter read.  I'd like to publicly confess:  that is not entirely true.  The trip meter calculates 1 trip as every 200 revolutions of the pedals; that means that it could be 20 miles or 20 kilometers or anything in between.  it doesn't take into account the "gear".  In this case, going further is not always better.  The harder you are working on the pedals, the fewer revolutions you will have, so a 60 minute work-out, going 16 on the trip counter is actually often better than a 60 minute at 20 on the trip counter.  I'm sure that made no sense.

Sweating:  I am not a huge fan of sweating but in this class, it just happens and it actually feels kind of good.  You will not be the only person to accidentally sweat through the saddle of your shorts but either way, I would consider some extra deodorant for the comfort of those around you and some "wicking" fabric so there isn't that chaffing "I just wet my pants" look/feel.  I also prefer to have the tops of my legs covered.  I realized quickly that I find it really gross when my shorts ride up and my skin touches the seat.  I only wore regular shorts once before realizing that I would rather be hot.  Bermudas or capris or longer bike shorts are the most comfortable.  On a side note, bring lots of water.  You will need it.

Shoes:  People sometimes wear bike shoes but they aren't necessary.  I just wear my normal Merrell barefoot shoes and it is fine.

My Trek is sporting a sweet new wicker bike basket from Christmas
- made the 60 degree joyride in January even better
The Clientele:   Okay, so in this case, first impressions are sometimes right on.  In my experience, the people in spin classes are a little nuts.  For whatever reason, this doesn't have the camaraderie of other classes.  The instructor does not introduce himself.  Nobody really talks to anyone else.  It is sort of an individual sport that we all happen to be doing within arms reach of each other.  In some ways, that is a relief.  The instructors are also the kind of people who bike the Rockies with their vacation time.  They always act as if this is off season training for "the real thing" when the weather breaks... and somehow I don't think we are on the same page with what the "real thing" is.  

In conclusion, I wish that all of us weren't just wasting energy while spinning like hamsters on those bikes; we should at least be producing electricity but I do leave feeling strong and healthy.  My blood really gets pumping and it is actually kind of fun-- maybe even addictive.  A great way to get real cardio in the winter-- but not today!  Because it is 60 degrees! in Chicago! in January! and everyone should be outside embracing the weather break.

PS - and now some unsolicited peddling (that was an admittedly terrible pun, yet I don't remove it):  My cousin Ryan Niven (top pic) is a REALLY talented photographer, not a self-taught hack like me ;0) -- check out his website or FB Page...  

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