Indoor Cycling: A Closer Look

As I mentioned in my previous post, indoor cycling is the newest studio fitness craze that has been sweeping the nation. In video below, you’ll hear from two employees and one rider at Recycle Studio, Boston’s first indoor cycling studio. They discuss their personal passions for the exercise, as well as the physical and mental benefits of the stationary bicycle. Afterwards, check out the article for additional insights and interesting info about the world of “spin.”

Megan Lieberman, 22, has been an indoor cycling addict ever since she took her first class on a whim two years ago. As a transplant from rural Maryland, Lieberman loved biking outdoors and was itching for a safer and more convenient way to get the cycling high in her first big city.

“As soon as I got off the bike, I knew I was hooked,” said Lieberman of her first indoor cycling class. “The camaraderie, community and enthusiasm combined with the sweaty, muscle burning workout was something I had never experienced before, and I wanted more.”

Lieberman works part-time at Recycle Studio, Boston’s first indoor cycling studio and the place where Lieberman’s passion blossomed. As a scheduler, blogger, graphic designer, front-desk employee and occasional teacher, Lieberman is Recycle’s jack-of-all-trades, and she offered to tutor me in Indoor Cycling 101. As I was to learn through my visit, cycling is more than just an exercise fad – it’s a lifestyle.

Indoor cycling uses a special stationary exercise bicycle with a weighted flywheel in a classroom setting. Bike features include a knob that allows you to modify pedaling resistance and multiple adjustment points that allow the bike to fit a range of riders. A typical class involves a single instructor who excitedly leads riders to loud music through sprints, hill climbs and intervals.

Johnny Goldberg invented Spinning in the mid-1980s. Goldberg, a cross-country and ultra-marathon bicycle racer, was hit by a car while training for a race at night. Looking for a safer and more practical way to train that closely mimicked road racing, Goldberg created an indoor cycling workout and improved stationary bike design.

The first Spinning program was officially offered in 1993 at Crunch Gyms in New York. Soon after, Rolling Stone magazine named indoor cycling the “hot” new exercise. Since then, indoor cycling has become a national phenomenon through the spread of trendy SoulCycle health clubs in New York, California and Connecticut. Other cities, like Boston, are beginning to catch on.

According to the Spinning website, one of the major advantages of indoor cycling is that participants can control exactly their level of intensity to suit ability or fitness level but still remain together as a group.

“One thing that we always tell newcomers to the studio is that it really is your workout,” said Lieberman. “No matter how hard the instructor is pushing you, you are ultimately in control of your bike. It really is based on your own motivation and how hard you feel like working that day. If you’re new to cycling, if you’re new to working out, it’s a great way to really ease yourself into it.”

For those newbies, she recommends shorts or clothes that are tight to the legs. Riders can wear sneakers or rent specialized cycling shoes from the front desk for a small fee.

Downstairs, where the classes take place, the room is completely dark, lit only by a few flickering candles surrounding the instructor’s bike and the outer walls.

“It creates a little bit of an intimate feeling, but it also keeps people from feeling judged by the instructor, by the people next to them. You can’t see other people riding in the room, and they can’t see you,” said Lieberman. “It’s all about you connecting with the bike, you getting your workout in.”

Because Recycle Studio only has two locations and employs just a handful of teachers, there is a strong community vibe that I felt as riders were walking in for the 8 a.m. class. Everyone was chatting, and seemed to know each other by name.

Rider Caitlyn Jones, who has been a Recycle regular since it opened three years ago, enjoys the social aspect of belonging to a small studio.

“It’s just a real strong sense of community and support, she said. “It’s kind of like a social sweaty happy hour of sorts.”

Three years ago, a friend practically dragged Jones to a class for her first time. Though resistant at first, Jones found that she loves having somebody else responsible for motivating and inspiring her to work harder.

“I was a runner and a dancer, but when I started doing this three years ago, my body changed completely,” she said. “I think the thing I noticed most besides overall toning is more of a connection with your abs, and being more centered and aligned more than I was before.”

As Jones described it, the physical benefits are plentiful. Riders burn between 400-500 kilocalories in 40 minutes, while also toning the lower body and engaging in excellent cardiovascular exercise. While the physical benefits are obvious (trust me – you’ll feel them after one class), indoor cycling is also great for mental health.

“This is where I come to regroup and rebalance, and I like that it is non-competitive. It’s just a space where you literally disconnect from the rest of the world…and I think that to me that is very therapeutic,” said Jones. “Sometimes we become so consumed in a subculture of losing weight and looking perhaps even unrealistically in a certain way, and I think that here it’s more focused on the mind-body connection than it is just on the aesthetics.”

Recycle Studio teacher Katie Barrett, who has been riding since she first visited Recycle two years ago, commented on the increase in popularity of fitness studios, citing the recent openings of several competing indoor cycling studios in Boston alone, including the Flywheel chain.

“One of the things I’ve noticed that makes people want to come to studios is the idea that you are coming to a place that’s tailored to exactly what you want to do,” Barrett said. “People aren’t looking to go to the gym and run on the treadmill for an hour and a half or lift weights in a big weight room. It’s just a more personal experience, even if you’re paying a little bit more money.”

And that experience is one that teachers and customers alike will dedicate free time to. With a full-time job secured after her graduation from Northeastern University in December, Lieberman still plans to work and ride part-time at Recycle.

“While indoor cycling isn’t for everyone, I don’t think I’ll ever give it up,” said Lieberman. “It’s something that has just become a part of who I am, and I can’t picture my life without it.”

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One thought on “Indoor Cycling: A Closer Look

  1. Pingback: Last steps on your final projects | Reinventing the News • Fall 2013

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