I've never been a gym person, but laws of exercise have a way of bending around persistent friends. One of my dearest friends in Luxembourg is a spinning instructor. Heidi is a hard core athlete but uber encouraging and has excellent taste in music. It was inevitable.
Now a year later, I am a spinning veteran. I know this to be true because I come early to claim “my bike” which is front and center next to several of my American expat friends. I don’t yet have clip in cycling shoes, but that too is inevitable.
Two bikes down from us is another regular, a French man who looks exactly like Liberace and wears a paisley scarf while spinning. It’s worth going just for that.
Everyone talks about being “aspirational.” I have an Instagram feed full of aspirational photos (follow Nike, National Geographic, and a few amazing travel photographers and you’ll know what I mean.) I have a smartphone that professes to take me anywhere I want to go (just preferably not outside Luxembourg.) I stumble on aspirational quotes all over the place. All these things I try to will into my psyche for safe keeping but mostly it’s a mental exercise. But one of the things I like about spinning is that for those 60 minutes I’m sitting atop that stationary bike, I feel myself BEING aspirational.
At the beginning of class, I always seem to notice what’s not perfect (and also kind of dreadful) about the reflection I see in the mirror. I won’t go into the details. You get it. But by the time the sweat is dripping and we’re climbing our umpteenth hill, I see something else in the mirror. I see myself being strong. It happens every time.
I was reflecting this week on my Year of Spinning. I had this lovely thought (okay a few of them in succession) …
Spinning is a lot like life. In spinning, there are warm-ups, sprints, climbs, steady cadences, and cool downs. All out sprints (thank goodness) usually only last for short intervals. No one- not even Heidi-can sprint for the full 60 minutes. With every arduous climb, there’s a downhill to enjoy and while you don’t know it at the time, your legs are stronger for the next one. No good spinning teacher would leave them out. Dancing and singing while spinning is always a good idea. It’s harder on the climbs, easier on the “jumps” and steady cadences.
Then there are your feet. Clip in cycling shoes are best but any old pair of tennis shoes will do. The key is that your shoes must be strapped in tight. You can't get leverage or spin efficiently if your straps are loose. I’ve learned this the hard way. Likewise, we are locked in – bound - to the foundations, families, and bodies we were given. Accepting our collective of givens ground us like a strap, but the type of shoe we wear says nothing about how fast and far we might go.
Your hands have a role to play but maybe not the ones you thought. They are there to guide and balance. Engaging them to grip the handlebars when the pedaling gets hard only wastes energy and brings tension to your upper body. It's a good thing to remember when we get our control freak on, perhaps most especially where other people we love and want the best for are involved. They have to saddle up to their own bikes, which you hope to God is in sight of yours. Also re: death grip, I'd prefer the work my hands be left open for better business.
During warm-ups, Heidi always has us stretch our arms up and encourages us to make space in our core. She brings up our posture frequently as we spin. My belief is that we wired for worship - to put our hands up in the air. Whether it’s God or Happiness or Big Ideas, we all worship something. I also believe that our core – that big cavernous space some of us call our soul – requires engagement and constant attention. Core fitness makes everything we do easier, but it’s also easy to forget about it when you’re pedaling as fast as you can. We need reminders.
The thing about spinning is that it’s ultimately up to the person to determine their own level of exertion. You get out what you put in. Having someone to push you helps but really only you know when you are phoning it in. You control the resistance on your bike, just like we choose in our attitudes, to make the pedaling as easy or difficult as we want. And constant adjustment is normal.
During cool down or sun down, we all get the chance to rest. That’s when you, and only you, know if you’ve given a perfect effort.