Sunday, September 20, 2009

And now... I spin.

Now, for the past few months, I've been getting a bit bored with my cardio workouts. Even though I've taken up running, and am officially one week away from my first ever road race (the ScotiaBank Toronto Waterfront Marathon... I'm running the 5-k), I have found lately that my cardio sessions, which are about an hour a day, have been mundane. I know this not only from the fact that my mind begins to wander, and I am not fully 'present' in the workout, but also from the fact that my calorie burn and heart rate output hasn't been as high as I would like. So for a while, I tried to vary my cardio sessions, by doing a circuit of 10 minutes of running, elliptical, and stationary bike work, but it was still a bit dull. That said, I had started to disengage a bit with what I was doing.

Then, a few weeks ago, my very dear friend Liza asked me if I wanted to try a spinning class. Spinning (or indoor cycling) is a low-intensity cardio workout done on a high-end stationary bike. I figured this would be great training, because I have set another goal of joining my friend Jonathan on the Friends for Life ride -- a 5-day 600-km bike ride between Toronto and Montreal in July 2010 to raise money for people living with HIV/AIDS. The difference between a spinning class (which lasts about 50 minutes) and simply doing a ride on the bike at the gym however, is that the instructor takes you through a multi-terrain workout of sprinting, hill climbs, all-terrain rides, and interval power rides that push your body through a wide range of work and recovery periods that provide for a pretty incredible workout. As the rider, you control the intensity of your workout, but cranking up your dial -- adding pace, resistance and intensity to your ride, that allows you to be fully in control of where you take your body on any given day. It's a pretty cool experience that really forces you to be connected to what you're doing with you body; to know your strength, your weakness, and most importantly where you can capitalize on the opportunity to push your body that little bit further and burn lots of calories. Now, add into the mix a group of about 10 or so other riders (all of whom have differing skill levels) who are all committed to challenging themselves to take their workout to the next level, and a leader who is part night club DJ, part coach, part instructor, and part beneficiary of the benefits of spinning, and you end up with a pretty cool workout.

So Liza and I went for our first class a few weeks ago, and Andy, the instructor at Legacy Indoor Cycling took the time to make sure we were properly fit on our bikes, and that we fully understood how everything worked. This was reassuring, because another friend had tried a spinning class a few months prior, and ended up with a bruised tailbone and a whole lot of pain. I had heard spinning horror stories -- it hurts, it's hard, it's intense. So, I didn't know what I was necessarily in for. But, given all that I've accomplished in the past 19 months (dropping 170 pounds) and my new mindset that healthy living is business, I was excited about the possibility of this new experience.

Liza and I made it through our first class. Andy told us our goal was to simply keep moving -- don't try to keep up with him, don't try to pace ourselves by the people around us. Liza joked that her goal was to not fall off the bike... deep down inside, that was my goal, too. Andy shared his own experience of how spinning had helped him get into shape and lose weight -- and told me that I would likely find it helpful in the same way. I told him what I had already lost at that point, and to myself said, "...and you ain't seen nothing yet!" But my confidence aside, this was something new, and I was excited by the possibility. The class stared, and I got into the pace of the ride. I experimented with 'the dial' -- the only thing standing between me and realizing my fullest potential. And I was in control of it. The dial controls the resistance on the bike's flywheel, and it's from resistance and pace that one can reap the tremendous benefits of spinning. Even though the goal was simply to finish the class, after a few minutes, I couldn't help but get sucked into the energy of it all.

So we finished the class, walked back to Liza's place and did a bit more stretching to make sure our legs didn't turn to goo. The first class was free, and we chatted about whether or not we would go back. After a while, we concluded that we'd give it another go, and see how it felt.

I went back the next day.
And I've been hooked ever since.

Over the past few weeks, I've been concentrating on improving my technique. Now there's an old addage that equates the simplicity of many things in life being "like riding a bike." It's something that is pretty intuitive, straightforward, and rudimentary, right?. Now, indoor cycling isn't incredibly complex, but it does take some attention to proper technique and tuning your mind to what your body is doing at any point in time, so that you can minimize the potential for strain or injury. And that's been my focus for the past few weeks.

And this morning, I feel like I've got it.

My workout regimen consists of working out 6 days each week. On three days, I do a combination of weight training and cardio. On the other three days, I do 60-90 minutes of cardio. And very quickly, indoor cycling has come to take up an important spot in my routine. I've replaced three of my cardio segments with spinning, and am also managing to get in my weightlifting and training runs for my 5k. What I have then, is a wonderful amount of variety in my workouts that not only maintains my interest, but also keeps my body 'guessing' at what I'm going to do next. And it's the physiological uncertainty -- that ability to challenge my physical being, that keeps my metabolism on its toes and burning those all important calories and body fat. In other words, I feel like I'm in control of my body...and that my body is longer in control of me.

And it feels good...really really good.

What has helped my technique in the past few weeks is the opportunity for some concentrated instruction from Andy. On two occasions, I've gone to the spinning class not feeling totally into it, but committed to showing up knowing that if I simply get there and get started, I'll feel better. The first time this happened, there was one other person in the class, and as beginners, Andy spent time helping each of us fine tune our technique.

And the class each of us did the day after was incredible.

Then, this past Friday, I decided to fit in a class before I went out for dinner with friends to celebrate my 36th birthday. I figured that since I was planning to consume lots of decadent things (beer, lamb shank, gnocchi) that I should fire up my metabolism and give my body its best shot at burning what I was about to put into it later that night. So, I got to class a bit early and joined the session that was already underway. I rode for the tail-end of that class, and then eagerly awaited the arrival of other participants to join me for the 6:30 class. And no one else showed up. So there I sat on the saddle, hoping to have a bit of an easy ride (it was my birthday after all, and ironically, it was also Lance Armstrong's), and Andy looked at me, grinned, and said he was going to teach off the bike. Normally he's at the front of the room on his bike, donning his headset and microphone, coaching our team through the ride. But that night, he stood in front of me and took me face to face through a 45-minute class.

And it was awesome.

I cranked through 842 calories in 45 minutes. I had sweat pouring off the end of my nose. My shirt was soaked, my muscles were tight (in a good way), and my legs felt like 'buttah'. I had the opportunity to talk to Andy about where I was 19 months ago, and what got me to where I am today. He shared that his experience was similar in some ways, and I realized at that moment, that once again, I had stumbled serendipitously upon someone who 'got it'. Like Sebastien, the folks at Legacy have a tremendous amount of respect for the individual journey each of their members. I mean, how lucky am I to have come upon a trainer, a gym, and now a spinning studio where I am not pre-judged for who I am, but am instead encouraged to be the best possible person I can be? I really have struck the jackpot on my fitness journey, in so many ways.

Furthermore, one of the beautiful things about spinning is that, as a fitness modality, it designed to meet you where you're at -- physically and emotionally. And the class environment creates the context in which you can take yourself to the very next level... and beyond. The people who are in the class are all there to support one another. We go through rides as a team -- not unlike Lance Armstrong and his riders -- using our collective strengths to get one another through the course. Some riders lead, others follow. Some riders recover while others lead the pack through the next bit of 'terrain'. Some of us grunt (I do that a lot), some of us go "Woot!", and some of us close our eyes and create a picture in our mind's eye of what we're doing.

It's a pretty cool experience.

Today, there were twelve of us in the class... at 9:30 on a Sunday morning. The energy among the riders was palpable. Some participants were first-timers, others were seasoned riders, and some were in that middle space (like me) where we're still figuring out and enjoying every push of the pedal along the way. There are moments when Andy encourages use to crank up the dial. And there are likely many of us who think "I'm not sure I can give it one more turn." But you look across the room, and see one of your team-mates cranking up her dial. Her legs slow at first, but then begin to power through the resistance of the flywheel. And you reach down, turn your own dial, and do the same. And you crank, and you pump, and you ride.

And you feel fantastic.

You can't help but feed from the energy of other people in the room. When you're feeling like you may not have much more to give, there's always someone else -- riding alongside you, or just ahead of the pack who, with a grunt, a 'woot' or a smile, gives you that extra boost you need to keep spinning and take it to the next level. And you get to the end of class, dripping in sweat, smiles on faces, and congratulating one another on a job well done -- something that
sitting alone on a stationary bike at the gym is incapable of providing.

It's pretty spectacular, when you think about it.

I'm hooked. Seriously hooked.

Kia kaha,
Stay strong.