“It’s just like dancing!”
This is, verbatim, what a friend told me before my first spinning class – otherwise known as an opportunity to go into a dark room and ride a stationary bike extremely hard for 45 minutes at least, to music (if you are especially batshit you might do those ones where you pretend to race other people in the class, in which case a) this fun and relatable af blog is not for you and b) seek help).
The object of a spin class is to ride along to the beat of whatever music is playing, while sometimes doing basic choreography like rising from the seat or performing an upper-body press-up using the handlebars. It is a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout that involves the whole body – most classes also include a section with arm weights – and it is, put mildly, fucking knackering.
Aside from the actual workout, though, spin classes have a whole cult surrounding them, part training routines, part self-improvement seminars (arguably a trend started by the Vatican of spinning, SoulCycle). Much of this is down to spin instructors, who lie somewhere between ‘military commander yelling at you to GET YOUR BUM DOWN ON THAT SEAT AND SMASH EHHHHHT’ and ‘young megachurch pastor who wears Supreme assuring you that you are enough,’ and run the class with a sort of relentless encouragement that nobody else in your life has ever shown you, while wearing a Britney mic.
On the day of that first class, I did find that spinning was just like dancing, if dancing were less ‘a pleasant, energy-expelling activity’ and more ‘something that makes me fear I will go down like a sack of spuds upon alighting the bike.’ I also found that, as a big old sub, I really liked it. As I went to more classes, I found that part of the enjoyment of spinning is its predictability: you can count the songs (eleven or so, usually), and you can pretty much map out what you’re going to be doing – and more importantly feeling – to each track. Behold:
FIRST SONG: PANIC
So, once you have got over the frankly mountainous personal hump of actually getting your special cleats snapped into the bike pedal (every time the same: frantically struggling for a few seconds, panic rising in your chest that the class will start before you manage to ‘clip in,’ then accidentally clipping in as your foot flails about in alarm), an Action Man of a guy called something like Chip in a ripped vest and leggings starts shouting the following in the voice of an Australian bingo caller:
SO GUYS…..HERE YOU ARE…..FOR THE NEXT 45 MINUTES…..IT’S JUST YOU…THIS BIKE….AND THESE FOUR WALLS. YOU’RE GOING TO DIG DEEP…..YOU’RE GONNA LEAVE ALL THE SHIT [almost imperceptible pause while the room is left to soak up this cool swearing] OUTSIDE THIS ROOM BEHIND THAT DOOR. YOU’RE GONNA FOCUS ON YOU. YOU’RE GONNA PUSH YOURSELF. YOU’RE GONNA. FUCK. SHIT. UP.
WE’RE RIDING THAT BEAT BABY, IT’S 1,2,1,2.
At which point you are encouraged to move your legs on the beat (which happens to be faster than you believed humanly possible) in manner of a hamster which has just volunteered to run on a wheel for 45 minutes straight, like a fucking idiot.
THIRD SONG: HUBRIS
This is usually the first ‘heavy’ track of the session, which means you turn up the resistance on the bike and pretend to be a World’s Strongest Man contestant pulling a wagon out of some mud til you shit yourself or whatever. If you’re unfit like me, it feels good to slow down after the intense cardio of the first couple of tracks, so this is where I usually peak, stomping on the pedals like that baby from the news and getting much too gassed on myself for someone who struggles to walk up two flights of stairs in one go.
Important note: sometimes if you are lucky, this song also constitutes a foray into rock music territory – once my instructor played Hole and I went “yessss” very quietly to myself.
FIFTH SONG: GIVING UP
I say this in specific relation to The Weights Track, which is basically the bit of the workout where you slow your legs from the speed of Roadrunner to a slightly less intense pace, and pick up a pair of hand weights to do bicep curls, shoulder presses, and other mild forms of torture. As a weakling, this is the part where I always falter, dropping the weights long before the allotted time, as Chip yells something empowering about perseverance. “Yes, you can,” he moans gutturally. “No I fucking can’t,” I think, furiously and silently. “Don’t you dare try to inspire me, you prick.”
SIXTH SONG: SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS
The arms track usually signifies the halfway point of the workout, which means that by track six, Chip is shouting something down the Britney mic – while now doing a lap of the studio for some reason?? – about how it’s time to GIVE IT YOUR ALL. YOUR ALL essentially means “some quite complicated and fast-paced bike choreography” involving sticking your bum out a lot that you struggle to pick up. This would be fine if you didn’t book into the class late and therefore end up at the very front because that was where the only bike left was.
EIGHTH SONG: SECOND WIND
Usually, by this point, you have sweated so much that you have ceased to actually be recognisable in any meaningful way, which is actually quite liberating. You catch sight of yourself in the mirror at the front of the studio, looking like Roz from Monsters Inc. and it weirdly just gets you going. You….want…to try??? You like….exercise??? 999 police hello???????
TENTH SONG: DISBELIEF THAT YOU HAVE ACTUALLY GOT THIS FAR; WHATEVER YOU FEEL WHEN YOU'RE CYCLING IN TIME TO AN ELLIE GOULDING SONG
For the second last track (always a slow one, usually Ellie Goulding but sometimes also that horrendous male acoustic cover of “Fast Car,” or the other one of “Into You” that somehow sounds the same???), it’s time to reflect on what we have achieved. Chip is back on the mic:
OK GUYS…..SO WE’RE ALMOST DONE. WE’RE ALMOST THERE. YOU DID IT. AND YOU SHOULD BE SO PROUD…..BECAUSE YOU CAME HERE. THIS WAS YOUR TIME, YOU GOT ON THIS BIKE AND YOU RODE. IT WAS TOUGH, IT WAS FUCKING SWEATY [knowing laugh] BUT YOU GOT HERE. SO WHATEVER CHALLENGES YOU MIGHT BE FACING IN THE WORLD OUTSIDE…..JUST REMEMBER THAT, OK? YOU ARE STRONG………YOU ARE….POWERFUL.
Essentially Chip uses this bit of the class to say platitudes about hard work to a room of people who are panting so hard it could actually almost be described as retching. Perhaps, just perhaps, you will be able to recall these sentiments when someone is sexist to you at work.
ELEVENTH SONG: JUST WHO EVEN KNOWS AT THIS POINT
The last song of any spin class is a transcendent experience. The instructor usually gets you to ride the bike as fast as you can, screaming like they are about to be the victim of a grisly crime in a horror film. Recently, I was in a class where the song for this final stage was a mash up of “Spice Up Your Life,” “Rhythm is a Dancer,” “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics and “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie and I genuinely believed that my brain was shutting down.
Then you somehow slither off the bike, give Chip a high five on the way out, and for some reason after all that, you book another class on your phone on your way home??? I cannot explain it, but It Happened To Me.