SoulCycle: My Humiliating Introduction To The Spinning Craze

I thought spinning was just a gentle activity girls did. Little did I know it's actually the most intense exercise on earth, and I was about to find out the hard way.
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I thought spinning was just a gentle activity girls did. Little did I know it's actually the most intense exercise on earth, and I was about to find out the hard way.

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My friend Bari had been asking me to go spinning with her for weeks. Come on, she’d say over brunch, you’ll love it.  

I was unconvinced. I thought spinning was something just girls did. And besides, it wasn’t like I needed the exercise; playing football three times a week gave me more than enough of that. But last Sunday I found myself in Williamsburg, Bari waving a free SoulCycle pass in my face, and my well of excuses all drunk dry.

When we signed in there was only one bike left, the one next to the studio door. I put my name on it and was asked by the receptionist to sign a waiver, something I thought you only did if you were going swimming with sharks or attending a party at Justin Bieber’s house. This was when I felt my first tinge of apprehension. Could I get hurt doing this?  

The receptionist asked what size sneaker I take. I told her twelve.  She responded by placing a pair of shoes on the counter like they do down the bowling alley.  On the soles of the shoes there were lots of complicated metal grooves.  I scooped them up and followed Bari through to the locker room.

I’m used to a changing room full of guys: banter and bravado rallying around the room like a hot potato, recaps of the previous evening’s exploits, the smell of Right Guard, but this was different.  It smelled like almonds and the talk was of things pleasant: compliments on manicures, promotions at work, cute nephews, that sort of stuff. It was disorientating because the noise of the shoes with the metal grooves made the same clinking sound on the tiled floor that football boots do.

After I’d changed into my spin shoes Bari handed me a bottle of Smartwater and led me to the studio. It was a large, dimly lit room with no windows and about seventy exercise bikes. Painted on the walls were inspirational words like: “Warrior”, “Legend”, “Athlete”, and “Emergency Exit”.  Clusters of Lululemon clad women peddled gently in warm-up mode, their ponytails swinging behind them as they chatted. This is gonna be easy, I thought.

Bari adjusted the saddle height to better suit my lanky six-foot-one frame and ordered me on. Then she locked my feet into the pedals, securing them tightly so that I couldn’t move. Your weights are behind you, she said. Then she walked off and got on her bike down the front.

Weights?

From there the room filled quickly until every bike had a rider.  A skinny blonde girl came and got on the bike next to me and began her warm-up.  I nodded hello and she nodded back with a smirk, like she knew something I didn’t.

Suddenly a heavily tattooed man wearing eyeliner and a bandana exploded into the room and jumped onto the stage.  He looked more like a member of Guns N’ Roses than a fitness guru. Are you ready? he screamed, mounting his bike. The response wasn’t to his liking so he asked again, louder this time.  The girls cried that yes, they were indeed ready.

Here we go!!!

The angry noise of Rage Against The Machine filled the room and all the girls began moving in perfect synchronization, rising and falling in unison to the beat of the music, following the instructor’s every command with flawless execution.

I tried in vain to join in, catch up, get the rhythm, but I couldn’t.  I discovered the top half of my body was incapable of effective communication with the bottom half and evidently there was a language barrier between my limbs.  My career as a musician was paying no dividends whatsoever; I was hopelessly out of time with the pack, the runt of the litter, the stupid kid at the back of the class.

Exhausted after a couple of minutes, I began to wonder how I’d get through the session.  Then I realized I had no idea how long a session was.  Thirty minutes?  Doable.  Forty-five?  A struggle.  An hour?  Somebody call an ambulance.

After about five minutes I began to feel a tightness in my thighs.  How was this possible?  I’m no Olympian, but I would categorize myself as relatively fit in that I’m not fat and I partake in regular exercise.

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Next the instructor barked that we were going up an imaginary hill.  Turn the dial twice, he yelled.  The blonde girl next to me reached down and rotated her knob clockwise.  I did the same.  My legs didn’t like it though, so I slyly turned it back one full rotation.  The blonde girl saw me do it and although I can’t be certain, I’m sure she smirked again.

It was around this time that I began to feel nauseated.  The room was dark, hot, and loud, and appeared to be, for want of a better word, spinning.  It was the same sensation as when you want to leave a nightclub because you’ve had one too many but you can’t find your friends so you just keep walking around looking for them.  I took a couple of sips of water and that made me feel a little better, but I remained hopelessly off the pace.

Somewhere around the thirty-minute mark that song by Ludacris “Move Bitch” came on.  Move bitch, get out the way.  Get out the way bitch, get out the way.  Round and round it went, some of the girls singing along, all of them bouncing up and down to the beat.  And then I realized, they were singing at me because I was slowing the class down.  Move bitch, get out the way.  Get out the way bitch, get out the way.  

I no longer cared what blondie thought of me, so when the instructor told us to increase the incline again I simply pretended that I didn’t hear him.  And then a frightening thought occurred to me – we hadn’t used the weights yet.  As if reading my mind the instructor then told us to grab the weights and pump them up and down as we rode.  This exercise greedily sapped at what little gas was left in my tank.  Now I was grateful for the dimmed lights and loud music so the girls couldn’t see my profuse sweating or hear my pathetic panting.

After we were done with the weights the instructor hollered, to my immense relief, that we were almost done, final five, people, he screamed, we must push ourselves to the limit.  The girls began to pedal furiously, increasing their inclines as they went.  My prayers for a second wind went unanswered, perhaps because it was a Sunday and God was busy working at church, I don’t know, but it never came, and I was ready for this to be over.

After the final song played out the class was instructed to dismount and engage in a group warm down. Here I was dealt one final hand of humiliation when I was unable to detach my feet from the harness.  After struggling for a few minutes I decided to just unvelcro the shoes and slip my feet out, leaving the footwear attached to the pedals.  Blondie smirked again as I ungracefully alighted, staggered around, and then groaned my way through the stretches.

As we walked outside into the blinding sunlight, my calves cramping and my thighs jelly, Bari looked at me, smiled, and said, I told you you’d love it.