Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Spin Yourself Thin

Burning fat can be fun

Don’t think you can just waltz into a studio and join a spin class. First of all, you have to book yourself a bike well in advance (especially in peak periods). And second, you might find it a heck of a lot tougher than you thought.

The good news is that you can’t spin without making some major adjustments to your belly line. It’s not unusual to see puddles of sweat growing under your bicycle. If, like me, you think that being a cyclist will make spinning even easier, think again.

Be a little cautious in your first class. A spin bike is different from an ordinary bike in that the pedals keep moving after you stop peddling. This can mean, if you develop a touch of cramp (not as far fetched as you might think) in your legs, and or otherwise want to slow down, it’s not easy.

Remember your feet are almost always strapped to the pedals, and since the pace varies constantly, you can sometimes find the bike taking your legs to places that sometimes feel too tired to reach.

You also need to set your bike according to your preferences. Spend some time doing this. In my very first class the handlebar was so far away I got rapped on the knuckles for sukkeling in the class: “C’mon bike number 3, get with the program.”

Some instructors get you to do some amazing acrobatics on the bike. From riding (standing up) without holding onto the handlebar (requires excellent core stability and a lightweight body), to very slow pedaling, in a standing position, where the knees are bent and the thighs are kept still. This also quickly turns the hamstrings and quads into acid filled sponges.

I’m a power cyclist. I push the gears. I’ve got good endurance. Spinning exercises a different set of tissues. It’s far more cardiovascular, it’s fast and breathless and it’ll kick your heart rate a lot higher than you might think.

While the cardiovascular element is important, people who spin exclusively (as a form of cycle training) will do fantastically well for about the first hour of a cycle race, maybe two, and then crumble, especially on long steep hills. That’s because spinning doesn’t really improve endurance or power, just a bit of stamina and aerobic capacity.

That said, spinning is a lot of fun, and if you think sitting on a chair and making your legs do the talking is boring, think again. The bodies that take their positions are sculpted and slim, and there’s a great energy when the instructor gets you going. Plus your legs will do plenty of talking once you’ve done a few classes.

Interestingly, the settings on the bike (levels of effort) depend entirely on the rider. The instructor might say, “Ok, we’re going to level 5.” Well, there’s no dial or lever that marks the levels, just one knob and you turn it a little higher to make the exercise progressively harder. This means the workout is tailor-made (by you and the instructor).

Make sure to take a bottle filled with fluids (the bikes have bottle carriers), a sweat towel and stretch carefully afterwards.

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