Spinning

A fest for adrenalin junkies

How long can you sit still and do nothing but perhaps move your fingertips in the finest of movements?

For the last year (thanks to a change in my role at work) I have largely sat at my desk, tapping away at the keyboard, responding to a mountain of emails and paperwork for 12 hours a day, and often at weekends. Literally not moving for hours at a time. Unsurprisingly, the pounds have piled on me. Now, thanks to my self-care pledge, and my last blog entry when I made a commitment to stepping outside of my comfort zone; today, I did exactly that, by entering the spinning zone.

I love my work – and as many academics will testify – it can be deeply engrossing. Time disappears when you are doing something stimulating and interesting. The work is addictive. My good intentions to leave work on time and get to the gym repeatedly get side-lined. I am getting ready to leave when a thought pops into my head, a small detail niggling me. ‘I’ll do just a few minutes more…’ I think. Before I know it, three hours have lapsed, leaving it too late to get to the gym. Working such gargantuan hours has naturally led to weight gain, to the point where I now have the embarrassment of observing colleagues literally stop talking and gaze in wonderment at my ever-expanding midriff.

A few lazy laps in the slow lane is not enough. I need to take more drastic action to shift that belly fat. Thankfully, I have been inspired by a couple of colleagues at work, who seem to have been steadily shrinking.

‘What’s going on?’ I ask them. ‘You guys are melting away.’

‘Bootcamp!’ they reply in unison.

‘Bootcamp?’

‘Yes – you have no idea how much fun it is…’ one of them adds. She looks as if she has lost a third of her usual size. ‘…that – oh and you know how much I like a drink? Well, I’m now restricting wine to weekends only.’ A rather vivid description of a ‘bootcamp’ follows, which sounds like a cross between an army assault course and school PE circuit training. Um, well out of my comfort zone.

‘Oh – and then there’s the spinning,’ the other slips in. This phenomenon I have heard of. That’s group cycling, isn’t it?

I have terrible balance, and so don’t get on well with bikes – well, I can’t get on them at all, actually.

They’re both looking at me in a funny way.

‘She’s gone blue,’ one says to the other, making no attempt to hide her laughter. Then to me: ‘You should try it; you’ll leave feeling great!’ They walk away, chattering to each other.

Now that I think about it, not only do they look great, they seem so much more energised and bubblier. They don’t have that chronically haggard and tired look that many academics have – sort of like a trapped animal that hasn’t seen daylight in a few years. No, these guys are positively glowing.

I am so unfit, that bootcamp would probably kill me. But cycling, where I can control my own pace? What have a i got to lose? I wonder, apart from my dignity?

I dig out a pair of leggings and a t-shirt, and even find my old trainers. I think the last time I broke into a sweat over this thing called exercise was when I did aerobics back in 1985, with an instructor who wore a grey leotard, creamy tights and matching grey leg warmers. The thought of perspiring makes me cringe. But the pledge is on and its either me or the spare Michelin Special tyre where my waist should be. I grab a towel and a bottle of water.

‘Be careful!’ My partner yells, as I head out the front door, ‘don’t have a heart attack!’

For once in my life, I arrive early. I decide to check out the chamber of horrors. Its basically a room full of super-athletic looking bikes. A few bikes have things scattered on them – a towel, or a bag. Some people have already been in the room, to bag their bikes! That is taking it all rather seriously.

I spot a bike in the far corner, and decide to plump for it. As I’m trying to figure out how to mount the saddle, the instructor arrives. I’ll call her Alison. It’s a relief to see that she looks toned and healthy but not ultra-skinny. She smiles, and shows me how to adjust the settings.

People have been trickling in and by now the room is surprisingly full. Mainly women, but there are a few men, and a wide age-span, from young athletic types to several people who look like they may be retired. I try getting the hang of the pedals, as Alison does her pre-talk. I go through my checklist: OK instructor: tick. Nice mix of people: tick. Bike that I can get onto: tick. I think it might just be OK.

‘I will not have a heart attack…’ I tell myself…. ‘I will not have a heart attack.’

Suddenly there is a burst of ultra-loud fast music and everything kicks off. Everyone in the room is peddling as if their life depended on it. I realise my bike is right next to the speaker, and my left ear is throbbing already with the pounding of drums and high-pitched sirens.

I focus on my feet, pushing down, against the pedals, ignoring my pounding head, trying to use the rhythm to get me moving. I’m not sure why the woman singing has to shout ‘whooo, whooo, whooo’ so much and wonder if this is what young people are dancing to these days… but hey, I’m pedalling! And when I think I’ve had enough, I look at the clock on the opposite wall… That’s two whole minutes into session, only 43 more to go…

‘Turn it up – EIGHT TURNS.’ Alison shouts. Everyone turns the knob by the handle bars. I copy them and find that this significantly increases the tension, making every push on the pedals harder. Before my body has a chance to complain, Alison yells at us to get ready to stand. A whole room full of people instantly rise, like meerkats, standing on their pedals, whilst simultaneously cycling.

I hoist myself up, and find that after a fashion, I can do it. It’s much easier than on a real bike, where my terrible sense of balance would have had me on the floor by now. I can feel it in my legs, but I pedal on.

”TURN IT UP’ Alison is describing the cycle ride we’re on… three steep hills… are we ready for hill number one? The siren is back… followed by the ‘whoo, whoo, whoo’.

By the time we approach the summit of the second hill, I am feeling distinctly queasy. My head feels like it will explode and there are weird things happening in my chest. A memory comes to mind, of that aerobics instructor, with her grey leg warmers…. I am in the class, really going for it, trying to synchronise my arms and legs in time with the music. Can’t remember the tune now. But I look up to spot her looking directly at me. When she’s sure she has my attention, she mouths something to me. I can’t quite catch what it is. She carries on waving her arms up and down. ‘Slo-w …do-o-wn.’ She mouths.

It was then I realised that even though the music was super-fast, that I didn’t have to go exactly in it’s rhythm. Hey ho – a timely reminder for me on my pedals. Yes, I decide it was excellent advice, then and that some things are timeless. Like, maybe I should slow down now.

Before I can turn down the dial, the next ‘whoo, whoo…’ somehow metamorphosises into ‘Doooo noo-ot have a hea-rt att-a-ck!’

‘GET READY TO ROLL DOWN THAT SECOND HILL…’ Alison yells, ‘ PUSH IT ALL THE WAY DOWN…’

Excellent advice.

‘Fifteen seconds…’ She takes a gulp of water. I decide to do the same. I realise I am dripping in sweat…

I could carry on, but you get the picture – basically, there is lots of hard pedalling for 45 minutes, and no chance to get bored. For great comfort, I recommend a bike well away from the speakers. For me, it was helpful to have sight of the clock, so that I could monitor every moment, knowing exactly how many more minutes there were to endure.

I must confess, that at one point, I found myself standing up, pedalling furiously, and feeling absolutely amazing. There was indeed an incredible amount of adrenaline pumping through me. I glanced at the clock and was surprised to see that our time was nearly up.

My gym has an average of three different spinning classes a day – so I’m guessing it would be fairly easy to find one to suit you. As Alison pointed out, the class is entirely about exercising your legs. So, I guess it would be helpful to supplement it with some upper body exercises.

I still feel great and could easily get used to super-high doses of adrenaline pulsing through me on a regular basis. I never understood before how addictive exercise can be – but after today’s class, I get it. I guess there’s worse things than being an adrenaline junkie – and I have a very long way to go before I need to worry about that!

Invitation for feedback

What activities give you an adrenaline rush? (Keep it clean)

Interested in exploring more…?

Research on Spinning:

It’s good to see there is some research out there on the efficacy of spinning.

This 2016 study found that spinning works for middle-aged and older peeps.

If you’re not sure you can make it to a formal class, or prefer to do your exercise in the comfort of your home, you’ll find this 2015 study interesting – they compared people spinning at home versus in a class and found that results and benefits were similar!

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