Thursday, January 30, 2014


As has been mocked covered extensively in the news this week we don't get a lot of snow around here so when it happens it is a Big Deal.
Our city has pretty much shut down after Tuesday night sleet coated our roads with about an inch or two of ice followed by several inches of snow on top. 

Dan has been working from home while I have watched an embarrassing amount of Game of Thrones and Newsweek.
 In between conference calls Dan joins me to bundle up and play in the snow for 10 minutes here and there since let's be honest-we're Southerners and can't handle this 5 degree weather for longer than 10 minutes at a time.  


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Spinning-A Beginner's Guide

It took me quite some time to work up the nerve to walk into my first spinning class but almost a year later (and now going 3-4 times per week) I'm so glad I finally did.  I had this vision of an incredibly difficult class that would leave me stumbling out of class midway through with shaky legs and a dizzy head.   It turns out though spinning is what you make of it.  You control the resistance and every instructor I've had has said your goal the first class is just to make it through.  If you're not up for something, just spin on a light resistance and catch up with the class on the next song.  

That said, there's a lot of unknown before walking into that first class, so I thought I'd do a post on my experiences in spinning.  I'm no expert and your experiences may be different than mine but this is what I've learned over the past year. 

An instructor's personality (and their playlist) can make or break a class. My favorite instructor has both a great personality and a great playlist.  She makes a point to know the name of everyone in her class each week and for regulars remembers little things going on in their lives and asks about them.  She gets us talking to each other and keeps us entertained throughout class to distract from the grueling workout we've chosen to endure.  Her playlist alternates between classic rock, pop, country and 90s alternative and the songs match perfectly with what we're doing at the time.  There are other instructors that have either a good playlist or a good personality that keep me coming back, but without one of those factors the class is shot.  Obviously everyone's idea of a good playlist/personality is different, so try out different instructors.  There is a core group of about 3-4 of us that go several times a week with different instructors but every instructor seems to have their group of followers, making every class really different. 

Speaking of that playlist, music is crucial to a spinning class.  Throughout a song you'll rotate among a lot of different moves and with a good instructor those moves will feel natural based on what the song is.  Most instructors provide a break between every song where you'll grab a sip of water (BRING WATER), wipe yourself down with a towel (BRING A TOWEL) and they'll give you an overview of what you're doing during the next song.  I do have one instructor that doesn't break between songs but provides a song every now and then that's a break.  
There are three positions utilized in spinning and different instructors call them different things.  My favorite is a simple 1, 2 and 3.  1 is pretty simple-seated (aka "in the seat", "in the saddle").  The way you would sit on any other bike- it's pretty self explanatory.  Position 2 is standing and again pretty simple, the way you would stand on your bike as a kid trying to get up a hill.  It becomes a little easier because you have your body weight helping you push the pedals down.  Position 3 is the hover position and not quite as natural.  You're standing, but hovered over the handlebars.  I see a lot of people lay their arms out across the handlebars and rest their heads in their arms, but really you're not supposed to have weight in your hands.  They're just there to help you balance (this is true of all the positions, but it's much more natural to keep your weight out of your hands when seated or standing).  Your buttocks is supposed to be back far over the seat and, along with the backs of your legs, doing all the work.  Your back is straight.   

One of the main changes you make throughout a spinning class is to the amount of resistance you're using, controlled by a little knob on the bike.  Turn it to the right, things get harder, to the left, things get easier.  Amount of resistance is expressed in terms of percentages, with 10 representing 100% of what you can handle.  Meaning, when you reach a 10 your legs might stop.  Having the resistance off completely is rare because the feel of a flat road is really a resistance of about 2.  Everyone's resistance is different-obviously what is 100% for me is different than what is 100% for Lance Armstrong (with or without pharmaceutical assistance).  Most instructors will tell you a resistance to start off with but then change it in terms of "turns", as in "give me one turn" during which you either wholeheartedly turn that dial or you nudge it a bit and pretend your hand made a full revolution.  It's really all up to you how much you want to push yourself.  During my first few classes I'd be lying if I said there weren't times when I got halfway through a song and realized we still had a lot of increases and snuck that dial back on one of those turn ups. 

Now, onto a little of what you'll actually be doing during class.  If you're like me you're wondering what exactly there is to do on a stationary bike stuck inside a gym for an hour that people actually enjoy.  I didn't know what to expect-are we going to sprint for an hour? I'll die.  Are we going to visualize rolling hills and beautiful mountains?  No thanks.  
It turns out there is quite a lot you can do on a bike.  The following make up the bulk of classes I've been to, done in different orders and combinations so every class is different and you're never doing too much of the same thing.

These are pretty simple and make up a decent portion of the class.  The instructor will guide you through gradual increases, changing positions throughout to adjust to the added weight.   

Periodically throughout those resistance increases you'll be asked to "attack", which means to pick up your speed-not to a full sprint but to a point that would be difficult to maintain throughout the whole song.  These can happen at any point with any resistance and in any position, but usually correspond with an exciting part of a song.  

Go all out.  Your legs will feel like jello immediately following a sprint and it takes awhile to get control back to fully slow down.  You need to get the resistance just right for a sprint-if it's too high you won't go fast but if it's too low your booty will bounce all over the seat, so that's not good.  It's hard but will only last for 10-20 seconds at a time.  

This is alternating between sitting and standing.  Usually we'll start out doing these in 8 counts (8 sitting, 8 standing, repeat) then move to 4 and finally 2.  I still have trouble keeping up with the 2 counts as you're moving from sitting to standing very quickly while trying to get in a good rhythm with rotating your legs on the pedals to do this smoothly.  Nobody's going to point and laugh at you if you stick to 4 counts while the rest of the class does 2.  

Crazy Jumps
Okay, so your gym might not do these because I'm pretty sure my favorite instructor just made these up but they've really caught on at my gym and other instructors are doing them too.  It's the same as jumps, but with the 3rd position added in.  So you go from seated to standing to hover to standing to seated, then repeat, again in counts of 8, 4 then 2.   It's weirdly fun and one of my favorite parts.  Start a trend at your gym!

Oh, isolations.  My least favorite part of spinning.  These are usually done standing, but I've seen it done in a hover position too.  For this you only move from the waist down while keeping your upper body perfectly still.  It's much harder than you'd think and usually only done for about 20 seconds at a time.  Those 20 seconds feel like 2 minutes and your legs are burning as you wait to hear the glorious words "bounce it out", meaning you can return you a more natural way of riding that bike.  Some show offs even do these quickly, backwards and without hands.  

These are pretty cool, but I only have one instructor that does them regularly.  For this you start pedaling with just one leg while the other just kind of rotates with the pedal but all your weight is in the other leg.  You gradually speed up until you're going as fast as that one leg will let you go before both legs take over at the top.  Then you switch legs so the previous ride along leg has the task of taking over the pedal and slowing it down.  Repeat with the other leg starting first.  

Oh, one last thing...

The Dirty Secret
At first your bum will hurt.  A lot.  They make pads to go over the seats so they're softer but I don't think they're worth it in the end.  My gym keeps some in a bag and people from class who have tried them say they didn't really help.  What does help is time (ah, such is life).  Every class it'll hurt a little less, then only in the beginning and finally it will stop hurting.  When I first started taking class I thought I must be doing something wrong.  Then I started catching whispers from other people in the class about the progress they'd made with their buttocks hurting less and less before finally one brave instructor announced to the class that yes, it's painful at first but eventually you take enough classes and it no longer hurts.  Admittedly, that terrified me at first.  Why does it stop hurting?? Do you lose feeling?  Am I permanently damaging my lady parts?!  I've done some research on spinning classes, particularly if it's safe during pregnancy (spoiler alert: it is) and it turns out you're not doing permanent damage.  It's just one of those things that you get used to and it stops being a problem.  In the beginning you'll just really appreciate positions 2 and 3 :-) 

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