At Happy Hour Fitness in Berkeley, where I take spinning class once a week, I’m the only spinner who regularly rides a bicycle -- both for commuting, because I don’t have a car, and recreation, because I love riding around the East Bay hills. Most of the people in my class don’t even have a bicycle, or if they do, prefer to spin indoors on a faux cycle that goes nowhere.
At the same time, most cyclists I know wouldn’t be caught dead in a spinning class unless it’s raining, which it doesn’t seem to do anymore in California.
But cyclists could really benefit from spinning class, as I have during the past year I’ve been attending Xabier Zapata’s rigorous 40-minute workout. Here are the ways my outdoor cycling has improved as a result of spinning at Happy Hour Fitness:
- Smoother. My cadence is not only smoother but faster. That’s because Xabi’s linguistically incomprehensible but emotionally explicit exhortations and the rapid beat of his tunes make me accelerate at speeds I would never do on my own unless riding down a steep hill with a tailwind at my back. And because all the stationary bikes face a mirror, I notice whether one leg is lagging on the downbeat and so I can and do correct my form. Also, Xabi pays attention to form, so if you shake your hips too much or tighten your shoulders, he’ll call you out and tell you to relax, keep your core still, and focus all your energy on your legs.
- Safer. Because we often ride standing up for the duration of what often seems like an endless tune, I can now easily ride up Berkeley hills standing up the entire time with my brain on automatic. That frees my real brain to be on lookout for cars, garbage trucks, deer, potholes, and the other dangers that riding on the open road is heir to. The result is that spinning has made me a safer rider because I can pay full attention to the road and less to my formerly aching body.
- Stamina. Although spinning class rarely lasts more than 40 minutes, because it’s so intense, I break out in a Niagara Falls of sweat within the first 10 minutes. As a result, it’s increased my endurance for my weekend outdoor ride from two to three hours, because two hours doesn’t seem enough anymore. Earlier this year, I climbed Mt. Diablo – a peak that’s over 3,000 feet and 10 miles of climbing – and not a single mile was as challenging as the first 10 minutes of one of Xabi’s classes.
- Slimmer. Oh yes, there’s the caloric output as well: Xabi claims one can lose 500 calories for a session of spinning. He might be right, as I’ve lost a few pounds in the past year and haven’t changed my diet. Just looking around at the other spinners, I notice most of them have lost weight too, or if they were slim to begin with, they haven’t gained anything. And as any cyclist knows, the lighter you are, the easier it is to go up hills.
- Sanity. Knowing I can get past the first 10 minutes of class and actually go faster and harder transfers over to my work as well. No matter how difficult a challenge I might face in trying to accomplish a task, I know that I will not give up. Surviving a spinning class provides me a measure of sanity….at least for a day.
In addition, the spinning classes offer 15 minutes of core strengthening and arm exercises after the spins. Core and arms are considered insignificant body parts by many cyclists – including myself – but strengthening the abdomen and back allows one to channel more energy into the legs.
Finally – and this has to do with motivation to exercise – the camaraderie of my fellow spinners draws me to the class week after week. It’s almost like being addicted to a TV series like Breaking Bad, where I have to find out how the mother whose daughter just left for his first year of college is holding up this week or what happened to the woman whose crew team raced in Italy this summer. Not to mention the exuberant charm of Xabi Zapata, who like the perhaps related Zapatistas of Oaxaca, Mexico, could lead a fitness revolution of his own.