So you’re telling me you stay in one spot and you get that sweaty? … Really?
by Michelle Lindstrom | Photos supplied by Jordan Law, Spinunity
Spin is an activity and concept most people understand the basic mechanics of. And it is because of that understanding so many people avoid rooms containing more than one stationary bike. But maybe it’s time for a change of heart.
In my exploration of fitness and activity, hopping on a bike was never exercise to me. As a kid – my siblings’ hand-me-down, banana-seat bikes or my own new, pink-and-white 10-speed bike, were how I got to and from friends’ houses. It was how I explored dirt trails and places my parents didn’t know I was exploring. But it wasn’t until meeting my now husband, who in my early 20s was a guy I just seemed to hang out with a lot in Calgary, got me to buy a mountain bike.
He was an avid mountain biker and dabbled in a few races, but even as I joined him riding around Fish Creek, Bragg Creek, Canmore or into British Columbia, biking remained his thing – not mine.
When free time became less “free” as a cat, dog and child entered our lives, keeping my aging, less-forgiving body fit became more of an intentional focus rather than a lucky byproduct of my interest in playing sports.
I tried running with a few friends who were already pretty dedicated to it. I thought it was good and challenging, but wondered when I’d pass the “wall” everyone talked about. I tried yoga and liked it, but found it too pricey to go frequently enough for any real fitness benefit.
I still kept spin off to the side as something I wouldn’t like, so no need to give it a try.
After a multi-year hiatus from biking, my husband got back into it with an additional interest in spin. He talked me into joining him for a two-month, once-a-week, spin class at a rec centre. I agreed only because we signed up for a sprint (short) duathlon race the following summer and I knew the biking part would kill me. I needed some training.
The spin room was pretty standard for what I’ve passed by at other locations. It was full of stationary bikes facing the instructor, whose bike faced the class. The bikes were adjustable in a multitude of ways: the handle bars could move up and down, but also farther away or nearer. The same for the seat, all with the goal of getting you in the most comfortable position with the least strain on your joints, allowing you to ride continuously for 30-60 minutes.
I suggest if you’ve never done a spin class before, get there a bit early and fiddle with the bike to test the adjustment levers. And when the instructor arrives, ask if he or she can help you adjust the settings to fit you properly. You don’t want to cause any knee strain, which can happen if your knee is too far past your toe when pushing the pedal down. You wouldn’t want that avoidable pain to become the reason you decide not to return. Instructors are typically happy to help newbies, so don’t be shy.
My husband told me about the pedals, so I knew what to expect. The top and bottom of each pedal has two different connection options. One side allows you to snap clipless pedal shoes into it, which many riders use for road or mountain bikes. The benefits are that when you’re clipped into the pedal, you’re connected to the bike giving you more power: the power of pushing the pedal down, as per usual, but also the power from that same foot when pulling up as it’s attached to the pedal. Your power is shared between legs with every rotation.
If you don’t have clipless shoes, wearing standard runners is fine. You just use the other side of the pedal, which has a plastic toe-cage to slip your foot into, providing a similar “attached” feeling to the bike for push and pull power.
In the class, we did a combo of 30 mins spin and 30 mins off the bike doing push ups, sit ups, weights and other basic all-over body exercises. It’s not uncommon for spin classes to mix things up, appealing to a broader audience. I was thankful it wasn’t 60 minutes of straight spin because it was hard. I kept looking over at my husband with each drill of “Racing a Train” (meaning we sped up and raced for a length of time) or “Climbing a Hill” (meaning we incrementally added tension to the bike to emulate climbing a hill). My husband was fine but I thought I may die if another hill came our way.
I left that experience of spin feeling similar to how I started: It wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be yet not enjoyable enough to want to do it again. That was my spin experience … or so I thought.
A few years later, my husband decided to dabble with spin again at another location. I gave him the go ahead, but wasn’t going to get babysitters like last time so I could join him. No problem, he was set and I kept up my love, hate relationship with running and wishing I could afford more yoga to stretch out my runner’s hips.
Being close to home, having a studio-specific Groupon and class times that worked with his schedule, my husband was drawn to Spinunity. The reason I mention the name is because this not-yet two-year-old business, shares the same mindset of what New-Normal is about: inclusiveness and sharing ways to improve our mind, body and soul.
My husband had a 10-class punch card and went regularly, telling me afterwards about the intensity, his sore legs, the music they played and how he got our brother-in-law and his father to join him for a few classes. It was something he wanted to share with others but I said, “I’m not good at spin. I don’t want to go.”
But never say never because eventually, I did give it a try. I took advantage of a one-month unlimited Groupon pass and decided that since I currently have the time, I would go four times a week. That’s more than any other type of class I’ve ever attended on a regular basis and it wasn’t too much to take away from work and kids. Okay, done.
I purposely tried out a few class times – 6 a.m., 9:15 a.m. and noon – to see what the different classes and instructors were like. (I wasn’t able to try out evening classes just because of family commitments, but those are also available.) I know for me, the instructor for any class, physical or academic, has a huge impact on whether I enjoy it or not and if I’ll return.
For fitness, there are so many different approaches to motivate and inspire and some of those methods can be degrading and make me feel worthless. And other times, when I’m already feeling worthless before walking into a class, some instructors have the ability to to change my mindset and make me believe that I can accomplish more than I ever expected.
I sat down with Jordan Law, owner of Spinunity, midway through my month’s experience at her studio, to figure out why in its short lifespan does Spinunity have such a strong following and ability to already win two “Best of YEG Fitness Awards” from YEG Fitness magazine. Also, I wanted someone more experienced to explain what spin is, why people should do it and what the benefits are. Jordan’s husband, Jeff Law, is also an instructor and helps manage the studio.
The entrepreneurial community in Edmonton and area is very supportive, Jordan says, which she credits a lot for her business success. She asked and received advice, explored what other studios offered and confirmed the feeling and experience she wanted clients to have, allowing Spinunity to come to life.
The company started out as Soulspin in March 2014, but ran into a legal name issue when an American spin studio, Soul Cycle, complained about the similarities. Choosing to invest in her new business rather than a lawsuit, Jordan expanded on a common hashtag used after many of her studio’s spin workouts: #Spinunity. It was a natural transition.
“Our three things were spin, community and life,” she says about the rough draft of her business plan. “I’ve done it; I was 20 and joined a gym and I used to go, stick my headphones in and I’d never talk to anyone and I got a mediocre workout and I left. I didn’t really feel a part of something.”
The concept of Spinunity was to create a space where people didn’t want to leave right away if they didn’t have to. There is comfortable seating to have coffee or juice and hang out with friends. Currently, Glow Juicery stocks the fridge with its juice that is sold at the studio, but Jordan says more nutritional options are being considered for the new year.
“Working out and maintaining an active lifestyle isn’t really just about yourself,” Jordan says. “You should be with your family, friends and making it that time to actually spend with each other.”
But she realizes socializing after a workout isn’t everyone’s goal or viable option. “Some people actually just want that hour to escape everything,” she says. “You really get what you want out of it.”
Creating the right environment with enough physical space was key to Jordan as well. “It’s an odd thing to think we wanted to be inclusive but we also wanted people to have space,” she says. But they did it by providing a childcare room, kitchen area, seating space, large change rooms with showers and finally, a large spin room with roughly 30 bikes, a stage for the instructor, and an empty padded floor area for the spin classes that include yoga or strength training.
Jordan’s first experience with spin was about 10 years ago soon after she moved to Edmonton from Ontario. It was a 6 a.m. class in a brightly lit room and a demanding instructor she just did not click with. “For me, that was a great base point: to know that’s not what I wanted to do if I ever were to run a business in spin.”
She has a degree in psychology and works in the health and safety industry helping people share best practices. She didn’t know how to run a business, nor how to lead a spin class. But after reading a Vanity Fair article about the Soul Cycle owners in the States, Jordan was inspired. She checked out if anything similar was available in Alberta roughly three years ago, to find one boutique studio in Calgary. She checked it out and was hooked.
There were dark lights and loud music, allowing you to really immerse yourself and ignore everything else around you, she says. There were also positive instructors. “You don’t need to have people tell you how shitty you are or you’re not working hard enough,” she says. “That’s not a good way to motivate people and make them enjoy what you’re throwing out there.”
For Spinunity instructors, if the applicant has their own trainer certification, Jordan focuses more on personality rather than their spin experience. Current instructors actually include a nurse, yoga instructor and Jeff, who has sales and marketing as his background.
“It’s nice when people come with a spin background but sometimes it’s even better when they come with a fresh mind,” she says. “There’s no expectation and they run with it.”
And so, I have to say, I do like spin. (This feels like the part of Green Eggs and Ham where he admits to liking green eggs and ham with a fox and in a box and … .)
But to explain more about what spin actually is for those who are on the fence and scared to try a spin class, read below and keep an open mind.
The basics of spin as per Jordan Law of Spinunity:
Who can do spin and why should they?
“Spin, the core of it, is a cardiovascular workout. The great part about it is anyone can do it. We get people with sports injuries and physio have recommended it. Typically, if people are coming from and injury, it’s from running a lot of the time.”
“It’s low impact but you still get that intense cardio workout. You could go to a gym and ride a bike but the difference is you’ve got that person motivating you and pushing you to really challenge your limits.”
“It’s perfect for everybody. You don’t even need to know how to ride a bike. You just need to know how to put one foot in front of the other and everything else just comes.”
Can spin be my only fitness focus?
“It always has to be a combination with something else. My vision was the three prongs: nutrition, your community/what you have around you for support and then, physical health/mental well-being.”
“We had clients come up to us saying, ‘I spin five times a week and I’m not seeing any changes and I don’t feel like it’s helping me.’ But it’s only one part of it. Nutrition is the biggest factor.”
“We don’t really advertise our nutrition outside of the studio but because we know what you’re doing – you’re working out four to five times a week – so let’s talk about how you eat. Do you eat before you workout? Do you replenish yourself after? We focus on that to ensure they’re getting the best nutrition advice to go along with their intensity of workouts.”
“You can spin every day but if you don’t pay attention to what you’re eating, it doesn’t make a difference at all. That is huge. The great thing about spin is that it’s a great mental release and you get a great physical release. Sweating just feels so good, but you need to be able to know what to put into your body afterwards.”
On the bike console – what do all the numbers mean and which ones should we care about?
“When instructors shout out those numbers (“You should be at 110 rpm right now,” for example – rpm = revolutions per minute.), it’s where you’re at and being comfortable where you’re at. But if I told you, ‘Oh ya, it’s good if you’re at 90 rpm, you’re never going to try harder.”
“Watts is your perfect balance between tension and speed. Your body weight is a good example of how heavy your watts should be when you’re in that middle stage: 60 per cent of effort. When you’re all out, it can be as high as you want it to be. That’s your goal.”
If you aren’t looking at the numbers and just trying to keep going … then what?
“Some people just don’t care about the numbers and so we base our method and workout to music so it goes to the beat.”
“When I shout out that 110 or 120 rpm, it’s always because the beat matches that. If people want to turn down the tension (which is controlled manually by the rider, don’t worry, no instructor forces you to ride through certain levels of tension) and really get into that rhythm, you’re still going to work out just as hard. At least you’ve got that connection.”
What should people get out of spin?
“Whatever they want. We don’t set any expectations. I don’t want people to feel like they’re not getting what we’re giving because it really is such an open hat.”
“We really want people to feel good about themselves and it has nothing to do with how you look or what you’re wearing. It’s about, ‘Hey, I’m going to give it a shot.’ And a lot of people are going to say, ‘Man, that was really hard!’ But you should say that. You don’t want to walk out of studio and say, ‘That was so easy,’ because when you think about life, it’s all about learning, growing and trying new things.”
“It is what you make it. If you come in with a positive and open mind, then you’re going to absorb what that person and environment’s giving you. If you have reservations or preconceived notions, you have to let them go. Even for me, I could have had that spin experience 10 years ago and never gone back because of that one guy at 6 a.m. with the fluorescent lights on. It just wasn’t a good experience but be able to see that it changes and evolves.”
What’s the hardest thing about spin?
“The bike seat. It’s true. Everyone says, ‘My ass hurts!’ ”
“When people think about spin before they come, they worry about the intensity and that they won’t be able to keep up. People just don’t think that they can do it. But when they leave here, the issues are just, ‘Damn that was really hard but I really want to keep coming back,’ or some people simply don’t like it and they don’t like the vibe and it’s not for everyone. It is an intense experience. You don’t go in there and lay on the floor for 10 mins before you start and 20 mins after.”
How many times should people try spin before they make a true judgement?
“It is that interaction with the instructor so some people aren’t going to like the music or who the instructor is, so I say if you don’t like this one person then try another class. Always try one or two other classes. It’s just an hour and it’s just one experience out of many, so it depends on a lot of things. If you were just trying out spin to see if you like it and you don’t, then fine, you’re not going to like it. To really feel like you have a hold on things and you really understand the tension and riding to music and all that, for me, it’s got to be two to three times for sure.”
“It’s takes a little while to feel comfortable to feel in your zone, it could have been the instructor, the music they were playing – if you didn’t make a connection to the music, you’re not going to dig it.”
From an instructor’s point of view
“I still get butterflies every time (before a class). I don’t think that will ever change. I think everyone has an innate sense of ‘I hope people like me’ in their mind, so when you’re giving them something, you hope they enjoy it.”
“We always push this for instructors: it’s not your workout, it’s everybody else’s.”
“Oftentimes, you don’t even know what to expect. You set up your music and you know what you’ll do to it, but sometimes the environment and people in the class take it to a whole other level, too.”