15 February 2010

Spinning: it's not so bad

Despite fearing the worst, Amy Henderson tries out a spinning class at the gym and finds it really is an addictive way to start the day.

For months I put off going to a spinning class. It was something to do with how red-faced, sweaty and exhausted everyone looked coming out of the class. That, and the fact that it looks like a very modern form of torture.

But I am on a mission to get as fit as I possibly can, and spinning classes are reputed to be a fast-track to fitness. So I went.

I got off to a bit of a rocky start though – booking classes with the intention of tricking myself into going and then chickening out at the last minute. I’m ashamed to say that this went on for about three weeks as I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Then one day I took the bold step of telling my editor I would do it for a month and write about it. Now there was no turning back. It was on the schedule in black and white with a very real deadline to it. And so it started.

I decided Monday was as good a day as any to begin my month of torture and dragged myself out of bed at an ungodly hour to be at the gym for 6am. Oddly enough, once I had come to terms with the fact that there was no backing out, I found myself looking forward to it.

All the shiny, happy people - a spinning class in motion.
(Image courtesy of Virgin Active)

Preparation is key to a pleasant ride
I arrived at the first class all bright-eyed and eager, and was the only one to put my hand up when the instructor asked if it was anyone's first time. And I'm glad I did because those bikes are a bit confusing to set up.

One would think you'd just get on it and start pedalling. Alas no, it appears bikes have not been that simple to use for a long time. You have to adjust the seat so your leg, when extended, is only slightly bent. Then you've got to set the handle bars higher than the seat so you're not all hunched over and leaning too far forward.

That takes a while to get right, and if your posture is wrong, believe me, you will feel it half-way through the class when your back aches or you get cramps. It really is better to set it all up properly at the beginning.

Then the class began. After five minutes my face was red. Ten minutes in I was breathless and my throat was burning. Yet I was determined not to give in and 40 minutes later I was unbelievably chuffed with myself for not only finishing the class – but enjoying it. Loving it, actually.

No-one was more surprised than me, but I am now addicted to it. Don't get me wrong, those first 15 minutes are still a killer, but once you push past that it's worth it.

What is spinning?
Spinning is an intense cardio workout on a stationary bike. In a spinning class all the bikes face the instructor who plays a variety of music designed to motivate you to pedal fast or slower, according to the beat, while talking you through visualisations of an outdoor cycling workout: he/she will describe various settings you are supposedly cycling through as you adjust your resistance and pedal accordingly. For example: " Adjust your resistance to eight as we go up a hill, you're almost at the top…"

If you can still talk in a spinning class, you're not doing it right. Image courtesy Virgin Active.

Yet while you can follow the instructor, one of the best things about spinning is that you are in control when it comes to your pace, and if you feel the need, you can reduce the speed or resistance and go at your own pace until you feel able to catch up again.

An all-over workout
Since this is essentially a cardio-based activity with a strong focus on interval training, your thighs will get a great workout and it's one of the most effective ways to burn kilojoules at the gym.

However, if you do become addicted to spinning, it's important to ensure you also include some other workouts to balance out your fitness levels and ensure you get an all-over body workout.

A few tips for anyone who is contemplating taking a class: First and foremost, and I learned this the hard way; make sure you have proper cycling attire. Most importantly make sure you invest in a good pair of cycling shorts - those seats are really not made for comfort…

Secondly, try out a few classes with different instructors to find out which one 'suits' you. Different instructors have different techniques, music, and attitudes, and if you don't like how they run a class you're not likely to be motivated to push yourself and get the best workout you can.

Thirdly, please remember to take a towel and water with you. And use them. Some people are very sweaty - if you are in the first class of the day have a little consideration and wipe up after yourself.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking to get fit and has access to a gym. Although since it is a very intense cardio workout, it's wise to get the all-clear from your doctor before starting.

(Amy Henderson, Health24, updated February 2010)

Read more:
Off to a spinning start
The best home gym


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