I Tried It: Spinning
I went to spinning class because I was bored. And my butt and thighs were, too. For the past 15 years, I've been an avid runner. Day or night, hot or cold, I laced up my sneakers and hit the road. But my typical 3- to 4-mile run had begun to dry up; I was no longer seeing physical results. In hopes of rejuvenating my shape and my routine, I strolled into a Spinning class at my local gym. ("Spinning" is an exercise program that's done on a stationary bike. Different gyms might have other names for similar programs.) I didn't think I would like it as much as running—I just wanted to burn off my afternoon bag of Skittles. But four weeks later, I can tell you: This class works.
At first, I had apprehensions. I hadn't ridden a bike since I was 10 years old. Second, I worried biking would make my legs more muscular. Standing at 4 feet 11 inches, I have little room for anything to look bigger. And third, cyclists typically wear tight spandex biking shorts. You know, the ones with the padding in the butt? No thanks! Instead, I opted for conservative below-the-knee workout pants supported by my own junk-in-the-trunk padding.
At the start of class, the instructor cranked up her playlist and flipped off the lights. (This is normal; the class does not include a nap. The upside: Other people can't really see you.) We began with steady pedaling and upper-body stretching. Then it got down to business—fast.
Within the first five minutes, the instructor began yelling for us to increase the resistance on the pedals. Resistance is controlled by a knob in the center of the bike and is meant to mimic different terrains—hills or flat roads. Turn to the left, and it's smooth sailing; turn to the right, and get ready to feel the burn. My advice: Don't feel like you have to add resistance every time, and ease up if it becomes too difficult. Your goal: Maintain enough resistance to never bob up and down in the seat, which is not only uncomfortable but also sabotages your workout. One instructor advised imagining a bowl of water on your head throughout the ride. This was a great tip—it helped me keep my core muscles tight and gauge my resistance properly.
So far, so good. The next challenge came when we began climbing—adding resistance to mimic pedaling up a hill. In standing climbs, you are able to use your full body weight to generate speed. Think of a road cyclist: She rises out of the saddle to propel herself up a steep incline. In seated climbs you have only the strength of your quads and hamstrings to push the load. Sometimes you're moving at the speed of one pedal stroke per second—really slow. I'll be honest; climbs burn like you-know-what. I didn't need Shakira to remind me that my hips don't lie; I could feel it. My lower body was screaming. I vowed to remember this pain and never eat candy again.
Thankfully, we soon moved on to something I enjoyed—jumps. Jumps are quick intervals of alternating between sitting and standing. They mimic floor squats and help increase your power and intensity for future rides. That's nice and all, but what they really do is trim your butt and thighs better than a brand new pair of Spanx. Get the most out of the move by slowly rising to standing and lowering back to sitting—even if you see others bouncing up and down. Moving too quickly can stress your joints and tire you too fast.
As the class came to an end, we cooled down with slow pedaling and light stretching. Stretching was essential; my derrière felt abused by the saddle, and my legs were the consistency of gelatin.
So, did Spinning reinvigorate my routine? Yes. Somewhere between the music, resistance, and speed work, I realized I was having fun. There had been little time to become bored, and a whole lot of time to burn calories.
After a month of classes, I started to notice a few things. My ankles and calves, which tend to feel swollen after a long day of sitting at my desk, now feel lighter. My jeans are loose around my thighs. (If that doesn't make this class a miracle worker, I don't know what does.) Turns out, it's a myth that cycling makes your legs bigger. In moderation (two to three times a week), cycling can slim, tone, and firm your hips, butt, and legs.
Bottom line: I'm hooked. You should give it a spin, too.