Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spinning out of Control

Sitting in the dark studio I am staring at my silhouette in the mirrored wall in front of me. I can feel the fans blowing over the class, drying sweat on my arms and neck before it can even bead. I am breathing hard through my mouth, I think the phrase is huffing and puffing, but I don’t remember the last time I was so out of breath. I feel like a kid racing for the neighborhood title. I know the people on either side of me can clearly hear and I can’t do anything about it, I am at the mercy of my legs, of my lungs. I am at the mercy of Spin.

I always thought that spin was just a biking class with a name upgrade. I’ve been on stationary bikes before, pedaling away watching TV or reading--I even broke a sweat a few times. It was something that I did to cross train when the cold weather was too biting to be outside or when all the treadmills were taken. I am an avid biker in general, commuting to work and running errands on my bike, it’s a great way to be active, but spin is not a ride in the park.

The first time I went it was an early morning class and I found my friend waiting with 2 bikes snagged in the back row. As we chatted and waited for class to start, I started pedaling and thought, “This isn’t so bad.” It was dark when the instructor cranked the music up and we began. I was pedaling to the beat, getting into the hip-hop, the cadence carrying me foot over foot. The instructor was yelling over the music, guiding the new-comers on how spin works. We will stand up and sit down, hover over our seats, sprint in intervals etc…then she tells us that we adjust our resistance with the knob in the middle of the bike. This was new to me. The knob tightens around the wheel making pedaling easier or harder as you tighten or loosen it. I swallowed nervously. It’s just a stationary bike I told myself, but it was too late. I was spinning.

I follow instructions through the first track and on track two am told to turn resistance up three turns. Ok, my legs were feeling that. Then we were told to turn it up 8 notches. Eight from where I am right now? Or five more equaling eight? I give it a try, and only make it three turns. Fifteen min into the class I am taking a break. I don’t mean that I am leaning back moving my legs in active rest and taking a sip of my water. I mean I have stopped moving my legs and am contemplating not if, but when, the room will close in on me and take me to a peaceful dark place. I am the only one taking a break. Others are standing up and sitting down in time to a thumping Usher– Christina- Timberland soundtrack, it looks like a stadium doing the wave, bodies up and down in unison. I am wiping my forehead with the towel and take the resistance down to nearly nothing so I can begin to pedal again.

I didn’t go back for quite a while, I said things like “people who go to spin are crazy”. I admitted like a 12 step program that I was powerless to the bike, to me spin was unmanageable. I couldn’t believe that I struggled as much as I did. At the beginning of class the instructors stress that it is your work out and you should go at your own pace. I had an expectation for myself that as an athletic gal, I should be able to buck up and really bring my A game. Maybe I just wasn’t able to push myself on the bike the way I could in other exercise areas or maybe I didn’t really know what challenging myself looked like.

When I finally went back to spin, I took it a bit slower. By the third, fourth, fifth time I was really enjoying it. This past week I turned the resistance up the full 8 and embraced a real challenge. And you know what? I found I could go farther and harder than I thought I could. I think the key to challenging yourself is to take baby steps. A wise group fitness instructor once said “little by little one walks far.” In my book that means: full turn or half turn, half mile or 10 mile, challenge your limits and then go a bit farther. Think you don’t have the will power to turn that knob once more or pedal for another minute let alone 45? Set small goals for yourself, multiple times in one workout if you need to. Your capacity for success will surprise you.

Have a game plan too. Plan to push your self harder during the middle 20 minutes of class, resolve not to sit down during the last 4 songs or up the resistance two extra turns on Tuesdays. If you attempt it and it’s too much of a challenge go back to your regular zone, no harm done. But you will often surprise yourself and soon learn all that you can really accomplish.

I have a regular class I go to now and chant with strangers while I embrace the burn, the sweat, the breathing in time to the music in the dark room—it’s like an illicit encounter. Me and my limits getting intimate. I challenge you to spin at least a few times, just enough to let it break you, and take you back to square one. Listen to the little voice inside, the voice in the dark room telling you to turn the resistance up and sprint!

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