As a Spinning® instructor with over a decade of experience, I can recognize just about every type of student. There's the off-season outdoor cyclist, the Spinning® addict, the cardio junkie, the lifter trying to lean out, and the older adult who likes the low-impact nature of the class, just to name a few. There's also the student that is new to you, but a regular in another instructor's class. It's from this last group that I have most often received the unsolicited comment, "Your class is more like riding outside."
Initially, I was offended by this comment. Not because I didn't want to emulate an outdoor ride; quite the contrary. It bothered me because it seemed like the comment was somewhat backhanded.
It is safe to say that even within the Spinning® community, many instructors have a different style. Some are more vocal than others, some use more visualization, and some like to stick to one genre of music. And some have lapsed from the fundamentals...insisting on using hand weights, extremes of high and no resistance, and excessive movement on the bikes.
If a student's only experience on an indoor bike relies on an instructor who rides without a profile, transitioning to a more organized format will understandably be different. And if they find benefit in a style of class that includes quick jumps while performing bicep curls with a 2 pound hand weight, I am likely not the instructor for them.
I feel like this format of class has spawned from the overstimulated public's desire to cram more "work" into less time. I say "work" because when you perform two actions simultaneously, both movements will inevitably produce not only less output, but less quality work. We all know that doing 30 bicep curls with a weight comparable to your toothbrush isn't going to do a darn thing**. But you're moving more muscles, trying to balance, and the instructor is getting you fired up. That must be good, right? I mean, seriously. When was the last time you saw a cyclist out on the road, attacking a hill while concurrently shoulder pressing?
Do I think that the folks who labeled my style as more "outdoor" meant it as a little jab? Probably not. But it saddens me to think that participants have such a short attention span these days that they have to overload their senses in an attempt to "get a good workout".
I recently read a quote from ultra marathoner Eric Orton. "Athleticism is awareness." For many gym-goers today, the days of intention, focus, purpose, and coachability are long gone. Today's exercisers toss awareness aside, choosing to embrace the fast-food approach to fitness. They drive up, order something that catches their eye, and simultaneously stuff their face, apply makeup, and discipline little Johnny. 30 seconds later, they are hungry for something new. Mindfulness not only applies to eating, but movement, as well.
To truly tune into each action, in all of its simplicity, is a challenge that even lifelong athletes face. I once heard a co-worker describe getting into the zone as "losing yourself". On the contrary, one should be fully invested and mindful of numerous little things: posture, balance, cadence, resistance/load, breathing rhythm, heart rate/intensity, as well as the cues coming from the instructor.
A good instructor use cues and examples to help guide the ride and encourage participants to master particular skills (see above). If you are unsure of a ride's purpose, feel free to ask your instructor to talk about that day's goal.
Before I lose those of you who think that this article is only for the "pros", the superfit, the athletes, the folks who live to train - WAIT! Is it wrong to let loose and have fun while squeezing in a workout? No way, Jose (insert your name here). Do I think that you should be dancing on the bike while your instructor twerks around the studio? Sorry, Charlie. I have to draw the line somewhere. I simply want to dispel the idea that focus = boring.
Our daily lives are inundated with screens, music, alerts, and action. Peeling away these unnecessary layers of distraction during a workout helps us get back to the power of simplicity. Setting and achieving small goals during a ride, such as finding a breathing rhythm that allows you to maintain a particular heart rate, demonstrates the satisfaction in having control. YOU have the power...not your boss, your kids, or your electronics. And let's face it. Successes, no matter how small, feel great. And feeling great is definitely fun!
**It is this professional's opinion that extremely light weights certainly have a place, such as with rehab or deconditioned clients.
For the general public, the rewards of light weights are minimal, at best. Using hand weights while Spinning® increases your risk of injury.