Spinning for Fitness Leaves 'Em Dripping
Saturday, February 28, 9:15 a.m.: 10 people are mounted on stationary indoor bikes at Momentum Fitness, pedalling furiously as the instructor coaches them on. "Come on, ride!" she hollers while music blares in the background. "Stay with me; go, go, go, go, go!" By 9:45, the pedal pushers aren't just sweating; hair soaked and skin glistening, they look as if they've just strolled through a car wash. That's normal for this 45-minute group-exercise class known as Spinning.
On this particular day, the West Side gym and personal-training studio is holding a Spinning extravaganza, donating proceeds from classes to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon. But drop by any other time during the week, or go to other fitness facilities around town, and you'll encounter a similar scene, people willingly and joyously cycling on the spot with all the grit of Tour de France wannabes. And although it might appear to be just for hard-core jocks, Spinning appeals to people of all levels and abilities.
Spinning isn't new, but it's just as hot now--if not more so--as when Venice, Californiaí‚ based endurance athlete Johnny Goldberg (who goes by simply "Johnny G" in the industry) introduced it to the world in 1987. At the time, he was looking for a way to augment his training regimen for competitive road cycling. He and business partner John Baudhuin started Mad Dogg Athletics and designed a stationary bike with a chain-driven flywheel and a resistance knob that allows users to adjust and control the intensity. With their feet strapped into pedals, riders follow an instructor who faces the class in programs like hills and valleys (pushing hard against high resistance, then swooshing swiftly on low resistance), endurance training, or racing. In 1992, the pair trademarked the term spinning, and the workout has been going strong ever since.
According to the Web site for the Boston-based International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, which represents more than 6,500 health clubs around the world, about two million Americans participated in group-cycling classes in 2002, a 72-percent increase from 1998. The site also states that three-quarters of gyms and health clubs in the U.S. offer this type of workout.
Because of the trademark, only facilities that install official Johnny G equipment and whose instructors have been trained through his program get to use the Spinning title; other gyms use similar high-performance bikes and offer comparable classes under names like Revs or plain old indoor-cycling.
Many devotees, triathletes among them, have a goal similar to Goldberg's original one--they take their cycling seriously--but don't want to hit the streets during wet Vancouver winters. Some participants aren't necessarily avid cyclists but want a solid cardiovascular workout, while others require exercise that's easy on their joints.
"It gets your heart rate up," says Nikki Layton, co-owner of Momentum Fitness. "You can really push yourself. You have a resistance dial on your own bike, so you can turn it up or turn it down yourself. It's noncompetitive with other people in the class. The guy sitting next to you might be training for an Ironman, and he can't see where your resistance is set."
Maureen Wilson, owner of downtown's Sweat Co. Workout Studios, says Spinning appeals to all types. One of her regulars is a woman with osteoarthritis. "She can't jump or stand, but she gets a great workout and sits the whole time," Wilson says in a phone interview. "For guys, it appeals because there's no choreography. You control your own intensity. You can pull back if you need to. And it's fun; there's the charge of the music."
There, participants wear headphones so they can clearly hear the pulsing, motivating music and the cues and encouragement of the instructor without being distracted by other sounds in the gym. They also use heart-rate monitors so they can keep track of their own exertion and stay at the right pace.
"People do get scared because it can be very intense," Wilson says. "But Spinning is supposed to be for everyone. It's challenging, yet the instructor is trained to keep an eye on you. It's very efficient. I don't like to talk about burning calories, but holy--this is the one if you're into cardio."
Regular cardiovascular exercise decreases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, boosts energy, and helps fend off depression, among other benefits.
For neophytes, Spinning can appear intimidating. Layton's advice for newbies? Pace yourself. "When you turn up the resistance, it can be very subtle. Don't feel you have to crank that knob. People want to go hard, especially in their first couple of workouts. But you don't want to go so hard that you never want to do it again. You need to learn how quickly your body recovers."
According to Goldberg's Spinning Web site (www.spinning.com/), signs of a "high-quality" program include attentive instructors, a good sound system, smooth bikes that don't squeak, the use of heart-rate monitors, and variety.
Setting up the bike properly is crucial for safety and comfort. If the seat is too low, there may be strain on the knees. There should be a five-degree bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Riders' arms should reach the handlebars comfortably, and their elbows should be slightly bent.
Having a sore derriere is one of the commonest complaints; ways to avoid this are to wear padded bike shorts or to purchase a gel seat cover. "Your butt gets a little sore," Wilson says, adding quietly: "Never wear underwear. You don't want any extra lines or it will cut your skin."
Goldberg also suggests bringing a big bottle of water and a towel, wearing stiff-soled shoes and breathable clothing, and letting the instructor know about any chronic injuries. He discourages riding when you're feeling tense, and he also shares tips on how to avoid overtraining. Insomnia, muscle soreness, joint stiffness, and a sore throat indicate you should take it easy. Your body needs rest to recover from stress.
On the other hand, physical activity is a great way to deal with stress. In some cases, spinning your wheels can be a good thing.