A non-cyclist’s guide to spinning, part 1

In a previous post, I talked about going to spin class after trying (and failing) to find easier ways to stay in shape while tennis elbow prevents me from playing my favorite sport. It’s true, spinning produces endorphins, those amazing neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals that decrease sensations of pain and increase feelings of well-being, often referred to as the “runner’s high.”

But it’s not just the endorphins that keep me coming back to spin class. There are a number of other reasons spinning works for me.

Spinning burns serious amounts of calories

Since I don’t run  (bad knees), there’s no other exercise I do that provides me a comparable workout. I love the fact that, on days when I go to spin class, I don’t worry about having dessert or an extra glass of wine — I earned it!

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Spinning doesn’t require a ton of physical coordination

Yes, there are fine points of weight distribution and balance, but face it: you’re pedaling a stationary bike. You can’t fall over, can’t run into a tree or a ditch. You fix your feet to the pedals with clips on your bike shoes, or by putting your toes into cages that hold them in place — you’re not going anywhere. So much less embarrassing than having to lunge and kick and spin, all on the count of four that repeats before you figure out how to do it properly.

There’s a spin class at Uforia in Palo Alto called Revolutions that incorporates dance moves to give a full-body workout while riding the bike. You lift some weights and do pushups on the handlebars. Some people prefer it or find it more efficient and/or fun, I suppose. For me, however, dancing on a stationery bike is not spinning.

Spinning is measurable

The spin bike has a little computer that tells you your cadence (revolutions per minute) and, if you wear a heart rate monitor band, it also gives you your heart rate in beats per minute. It keeps track of total exercise time and calories burned. Plus, if you’re really into stats, you can get highs/lows/averages. For a data lover such as myself, this is fantastic.

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Spinning is individualized

The spin bike resistance knob is not calibrated, so you tighten or loosen it according to your perception of how much effort you need to exert to maintain a given pace, etc. A newbie such as myself probably gets a great workout with much less resistance than a seasoned veteran. The great thing about it is, though, that calculating a number for resistance level would require backing it out from the other data on the bike’s computer, which you can’t do easily in your head while pedaling 80+ rpms.

Since there’s no sure way to know how much harder others are working than I am, I can focus on my own workout — something I can’t seem to do in other activities, including yoga — which is supposed to be all about your own practice and not comparing yourself to other people. But we saw how well that worked for me in yoga class (not).

A guide to spinning terminology

As a non-cyclist, I’m still getting used to our instructor’s admonitions to “make this your hill,” meaning that each person has to decide for himself how much effort to exert. I’m learning other cycling terms and their spinning equivalents also.  For example, “flat road,” generally means you need to pedal really fast at a low resistance. “Out of the saddle,” means stand up to pedal, whereas “3-2-1 jump” is a more sophisticated variation, involving standing up and sitting down to mimic a cyclist going over a jump on real terrain — we don’t do this much, which is good, since it’s difficult to do properly and is somewhat controversial in the world of indoor cycling.

One of my favorite spinning terms is “thirty second recovery.” The meaning of that one should be obvious. Although lately, we’ve been having to “take our recovery on the hill,” which essentially means we can lighten the resistance up a bit, but we’d better not sit down, and getting up to refill our water bottle is out of the question, unless we care to be singled out in front of the group. Before we know it, we’re “climbing” again, this time with our “hands all the way up,” which means at the farthest-out position on the handlebars.

Chalk it up to endorphins, but “hands up” makes me think of a roller coaster. Maybe spinning is as zany as a roller coaster. Both use a tremendous amount of force and leave you right back where you started. Although I haven’t yet attended a spin class where people were screaming — it could happen any day now.

SpinningGuidePt1.1_sfgadv_eltoro_PhotobyEricGies

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