Jon is an indoor cycling enthusiast in Durham, North Carolina…and this month’s guest contributor!
You might remember Jon from an earlier post, last summer:
SPINNING is for Everyone
The tree canopies are yellow and orange, the temperature has dropped into the 40s, and Home Depot features Christmas trees at the entrance to the store. You know what that means – Spin Season!
I call myself a fair-weather triathlete. Here’s a picture of my wife and me competing in our last Ironman:
I do compete in triathlons (quite successfully, too!), but this photo was taken during our trip to California last summer. Guess who did all of the pedaling?
The TRI training year
My fair-weather triathlon training schedule is approximately the following:
Those five winter months (November – March) spent on the trainer are critical to my success during triathlon season. I meet a lot of people who hate exercising in the winter. It’s easy to be motivated by warm weather, and also easy to be discouraged by cold temperatures and sunless evenings. My advice for the winter months: try indoor cycling. It’s brutally efficient, mentally stimulating, and heck – all you have to do is sit there and follow instructions.
From my perspective, indoor cycling has different appeals for different types of people. My local gym (Duke University, where I’m a graduate student), has about 12 different instructors who span a wide range of styles. I encourage everyone to test our different teachers to find the best fit. After 3 years of attending classes, I can share the following observations about teaching styles: Instructors fall along what I call the “spinning-cycling” spectrum, where “spinners” are teachers who have more of an indoor style, and “cyclists” rely on more traditional cycling sets. Furthermore, instructors’ choice of music falls along the “rock-dance” spectrum, with rock music at one end and dance music at the other. I made a super-official graph to show you what I mean:
“Spinners” are instructors who take advantage of the fact that stationary bikes are – well, stationary. For example, Celine is an instructor at Duke who likes to do choreographed dance moves on the bike. During these sets Celine will ask the class to rock from side-to-side, to the beat of the music. The side-to-side movement also has a forward component, so the rider is doing sort of a pushup on the handle bars with each oscillation. I’m not convinced there is much physical benefit to dance sets, but the choreography has a powerful motivating effect. It’s especially fun to sit in the back of the dimly lit room and watch the crowd of riders sway from side-to-side, in sync with the beat of the pounding music.
Another classic “spinner” set is the well-known Tabata exercise, in which the rider alternates between 20 seconds of intensity and 10 seconds rest. I’ve had instructors do Tabata both seated and standing. My personal preference is to sit for the high intensity 20 seconds, and then stand for the 10-second recovery. The benefits of Tabata (or any short-interval high intensity set) are indisputable, but as with the dance moves, it isn’t something you would ever do on a real bicycle.
“Cyclists”, on the other hand, are what I call instructors who craft sets more aligned to realistic cycling activity. My favorite such instructor at Duke is a man named Gary. Gary loves long (2-3 minute) intervals. Gary often leads grueling ladder sets such as: 3-minute moderate seated climb; 2-minute heavy seated climb; 3-minute standing climb; 2-minute heavy seated climb; 3-minute moderate seated climb. The downside to these sets is that they are undeniably boring, and require internal motivation to do rigorously (it’s much easier to slack off on a long ladder set than it is on a Tabata!). However, the advantage to the realistic sets is that they translate directly to performance on the pavement. For me, this is a priority.
In addition to the spinner-cyclist spectrum, I believe there is one other metric that sets spin instructors apart: the playlist. Any Spin fanatic will tell you that the playlist is not only the most important part of the class, but often the reason people keep coming back. “How will I learn about all the new music if I don’t go to Spin class?”
If music is so important, then what kind of music should be played? I find that indoor cycling DJ choices fall along a spectrum with rock music on one end and dance music at the other. In my experience, common rock choices are both classic (Aerosmith, Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd) and contemporary (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, Cake). Rock songs are attractive because of their familiarity, and also because the lyrics are generally meaningful.
Dance music, on the other hand, is used more as a tempo-setter. The songs themselves are less nuanced, but the perpetual low-end bass stimulates the adrenal gland (my non-medical opinion). For me, dance music has a more powerful effect compared to rock. I like to totally zone-out and focus on my breathing during a cycling class, and so it helps me to have repetitive music with few lyrics. Thus, I prefer dance tracks.
It is truly a pleasure to share some of my indoor cycling experiences with For The Ride Inside. What kind of classes do YOU like?
A special thanks to Steve, and to all of his readers. Keep it up…it’s a long time until Spring! 😉