The room was dark, a fan was blowing on me from the corner, I was slightly uncomfortable on my seat, I was focusing on the upbeat music the instructor had chosen, and in my mind I was pedaling along an uphill road that I had once biked along in Cape Town, South Africa. Except that I was on a stationary bike in Charleston, South Carolina. Soon I was sweating profusely and by the end of my first spinning class I was drenched, sore in places I didn’t think possible, and my legs were shaking from being pushed like they had never been pushed before.
That was seven years ago. I’m grateful to have taken spinning classes before because I know from personal experience what an incredible work-out a well taught spinning class is and that the harder you’re willing to try, the better the class can be. In college I might have taken a couple dozen spinning classes which was great for when I needed to get in a good sweat, but not enough to get me totally hooked. Though I enjoyed the spinning classes I took in Charleston, since graduating from college I have focused my energy mostly on running.
My gym offers spinning classes, but they tend to fill up quickly and I’ve found the rush to get to a bike a little intimidating so I’ve shied away from trying to get in. In recent cross-training, however, I’ve been using a stationary bike on the “XCountry” setting so that the resistance is set for me and I’m guaranteed to have to push a little harder than if I were adjusting it myself. Each morning on the bike I think a little more about starting to spin in a class again so that I can be pushed a little harder and also to learn proper form.
Recently I had an opportunity to take a spinning class taught by Jan Graves, the mother of a girlfriend of mine at the new Naval Academy Sports Complex. My friend is training for a triathlon and had some of the same questions as me about form and pace on the bike and invited me to join her for her mom’s next class. I’ve taken Yoga with Jan before and already knew the positive and encouraging energy she spreads to her students, so the chance to spin with her was not one I wanted to pass up.
Though I am not a member of the Sports Complex or in any way affiliated with the Naval Academy, it was easy enough to be a one-time attendee of the class and I would encourage anyone local, or even visiting Annapolis, to at least visit the Complex (it’s too incredible to be called a gym) and pay the $11 one-time fee if not become a full-fledged member. In addition to the typical gym amenities, there are many brand-new tennis courts, an ice skating rink, a golf center, and much more that I didn’t even see.
Like any spinning class, this one was small with maybe a dozen bikes in the room. The lights were dimmed and I appreciated that it wasn’t pitch black. There were several newbies in the room and Jan coached us through setting up the height of our seats as well as how far it should be from the handlebars and then talked us through adjusting the handlebars. Soon we were all pedaling along to fun Irish music to get warmed up. The riders in the class ranged from other instructors to expert riders to first-timers but Jan put us all at ease, made the class fun and interactive, and provided various levels of each movement so everyone was getting the best possible spin for their fitness level.
I was sweating almost instantly but because of Jan’s energy (and her awesome music selection) I was encouraged to focus on working hard rather than how how little I knew about spinning. And amid all my sweat, I still managed to learn some techniques. I have written before about the important role the core plays in overall fitness and spinning is no exception. You must rely on your core quite a bit for proper form and posture while spinning; the handlebars are only for support when riding out of your seat and you are only to lightly rest the outside edge of your hand on the bars to avoid straining the wrists. Good spinning info to know.
We pumped our legs, made circles, worked on pulling our feet out of the mud (a great analogy to explain how to move the pedals), pulled in the stomach, kept the shoulders down, and sang along to Van Morrison. By the end of sprints, long, slow climbs, out-of-the-seat riding, and hard flat stretches, I was once again feeling like I had worked muscles I didn’t know existed and my legs were happily shaking from an intense spinning class.
Maybe this time I’ll get hooked.
Jan teaches Yoga at various gyms around Annapolis but also downtown at City Dock during the summer and at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for those of you who prefer Yoga with a view. Her schedule also includes various cycling classes. If you are feeling even the slightest off balance, Jan’s courses are a great start to aligning your body, mind, and spirit.