A couple of weeks ago an invite popped into my inbox for a spin class at BOOM Cycle, to test out Altura’s cycling shorts during a high intensity thirty minute session.
Sure thang, I said. I’ve spent all season racing my bike (earning my cat 2 license – did I mention that yet? Oh, just 100 times?!). It'll be 'fun' to try something different, I thought. Oh, how naive I was.
I turned up at BOOM cycle on Friday, sauntered down the steps to the brightly lit reception, donned my shorts and crammed my kit into a locker.
After general mingling, we were led into a small dark room in which lines of spin bikes stood to attention under spotlights, all facing one central bike that no doubt belonged to our instructor.
Cages removed from the pedals (so I could use the ‘Look’ version underneath with my swanky Giro Factress Techlace shoes) I jumped onto the bike, and the class began.
Cue: insanely fast cadence as the pedals responded to my initial acceleration. Riotous orders shouted from our mic-ed up instructor. Club like thumping music, darkness illuminated by flashing spotlights. Short glimpses of my sweaty face in the full length mirror opposite. A feeling of uncontrollable inability to stop until the 30 minutes was up and I carried my legs – one by one like rooted tree trunks – from the room.
And I’ll totally do it again. Here’s what I learnt first time round…
You might wake up with major DOMS - which means a session is TOTALLY worth it
DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – occur when you’ve stressed your muscles, usually in some new way that’s caused tiny tears in the fibres (which will heal as you recover, making you stronger).
During the spin class I felt like I was working fairly hard – but not much more than an average training session. Yet I woke up with DOMS that felt exactly like I’d been squatting heavy weights in the gym the previous day (which coincidentally is exactly what I intend to do this winter). The kind that make you walk downstairs sideways, like a spider, and cause you to slide on to the loo because sitting is just impossible.
During a BOOM cycle class (spin classes will vary depending upon the instructor and style of the class) it seems you spend the majority of the time out the saddle. The high tempo songs were mainly about pedalling in the saddle for eight reps, then out for eight reps - and so on. A bit like riding a horse at trotting pace – up/down/up/down – but pedalling all the time.
I guess I’ve never spent that much time standing on the pedals which is why the effect was so pronounced. I ended up with three days of DOMS, after a 30 minute session. It might be different for you - but personally anything that makes my quads ache that much has got to be a good form of winter training.*
*NB: you can pedal slower or lower the resistance if you want a training session, but don't want to destroy yourself for three days
You should give yourself time to set the bike up
I spent some time before the class grabbing some photos of the studio – and subsequently was the last into the room to claim my bike. ERROR.
You’re going to put your body through a fair amount of stress – so it might be smart to get the set-up as close to your own as possible. It’s never going to be identical, but these machines are pretty adjustable so you can get pretty close.
It's good to start knowing how to adjust the resistance
Spin bikes will vary – but most use a fixed gear – which means the pedals and flywheel are ‘fixed together’. A bit like a track bike, when the flywheel is moving the pedals will turn. You can’t just ‘stop’, you have to slow down your pedalling and when you speed it up you’ll be forced to maintain that cadence until you wind it down.
Initially, I was pretty shocked at the speed with which I was turning the pedals. I couldn’t feel a huge amount of resistance, and it was like I was twiddling a really tiny gear really, really fast. I realised eventually that I had total control of the situation, and only needed to turn the resistance up via the knob in front of me to reach a more maintainable cadence. This said, judging by the state of my legs the following morning it’s probably good it took me a while to find the upward increase knob.
Take a cycling computer if you usually use one
Through any normal indoor training session I’d pretty much always have my Garmin 510 cycling computer on (using indoor mode, ain't no GPS available down here), counting up the minutes and displaying my heart rate. I forgot to take both Garmin and heart rate monitor for this session.
The 30 minute class, I can estimate, was made up of around 10 songs – and each had its own character. Slower tempo warm up and cool down songs, with heavy fast beats when more resistance and faster pedalling where requested. That broke the session up and meant I had no real desire to ‘clock watch’. In a way switching off and just focusing on the 'here and now' was nice. But it might also have been nice to have a vague idea where we were aside from the instructor shouting ‘we’re halfway now!’ and ‘two tracks left!’, and because I’m a geek – what my heart rate was.
There might be dumbells
If you were to draw a cartoon of a cyclist, you’d probably ham up the bulky quads and calfs, and draw noodley arms and bony shoulders to create the ultimate caricature. We cyclists do have a tendency to focus on our lower body and ignore seemingly unnecessary arm strength. The thing is, strong upper body muscles can be super helpful when climbing out the saddle or riding off-road on rough terrain. So it’s kind of handy that one track during the spin class session required us to pedal gently whilst lifting dumbells. It was also nice to give my legs a rest for one song anyway.
Again, not all spin classes will use weights - some might focus really specifically on cycling only drills. But if yours does add in a little iron pumping, I reckon it can only be healthy (as long as you don't fall of the bike... not that I felt at risk of that... at all...).
Take a towel, drink lots and recover
I’ve been to Watt bike sessions before where the room starts to feel like the Sahara desert. At BOOM cycle, the air conditioning was really effective, and I could feel cool air flowing around me all session – which is good. However, pedalling hard and fast without the air flow offered by actual movement always gets you hot and bothered so you’ll sweat a lot and should drink plenty to stay hydrated. A towel to place on your handlebars is essential, as is some sort of recovery drink or bite to eat afterwards.
You need good shorts and a sports bra
The key 'point' to this exercise was to test out Altura's women's Pro Gel waist shorts. At £44.99 I was impressed by the compressive fabric on the legs, high yoga-style waist band and soft 3D molded chamois. At a spin class, you can't choose your saddle (usually!) and you're going to be thudding in and out of it - so you do need a quality pair of cycling shorts such as these.
You're going to get hot, too - so don't wear a jersey (I took mine off as soon as the lights went down). Personally I complete most indoor sessions in shorts and sport bra. A loose fitting, breathable, wicking fabric vest over the top is a good idea if you feel self conscious - or wear bibs that provide more coverage.
You’ll leave feeling a bit ‘Wooo Girl Power!’
Anyone can go to a spin class – man or woman, young or old – but the clientele is largely female. It was pretty awesome to be smashing it out with a group of awesome girls as the lights flashed and the music boomed around us. Before the final effort, our instructor ran round the entire class, High5ing every rider – and there was an unmistakable vibe of ‘we’re in this together’. I’ll definitely be returning to be in it together once again. As soon as my legs are back to normal.
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