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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Hubway Bike Sharing: A Visual Examination

Photo by Tim Sackton | Republished with Creative Commons license

Photo by Tim Sackton | Republished with Creative Commons license

I recently started using Metro Boston’s Hubway bike sharing system to get around the city when my destination is too far to walk, but too inconvenient to wait for the T or splurge for a cab. For a 24-hour bike pass, it only costs $6 (as long as you spend <30 minutes in between stations), which is only a few dollars more than the T, and even doubles as a workout!

There are some really interesting maps to allow bikers to make the most of their Hubway experience, by visualizing bike availability and common bike traffic patterns. Hubway created a map on their website that includes all the information riders need to know in order to plan their trip, such as where bikes and docks are available. The one feature I wish this map had, though, was a place where I could enter an address and find the nearest Hubway stations. Bostonography, a website for interesting visual representations of life and land in Greater Boston, dedicated a project to mapping Hubway availability. While the maps can be a bit confusing, the authors draw important conclusions, including observations about gaps in coverage, overnight access, daytime accessibility and availability in high employment areas.

Hubway also partnered with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to host the Hubway Data Visualization Challenge, which resulted in some awesome visualizations, animations, maps and info graphics about the more than 500,000 bike trips in one year. Even if these maps don’t help you get from Point A to Point B more efficiently, they’re really interesting and make me excited to be part of such a progressive bike sharing movement.

I would highly recommend checking these maps out and giving Hubway a try. However, helmets are not provided at the stations, and beginner city bikers often aren’t familiar with biking laws – so just be safe.

Recycle Studio: Profile Coming Soon

Photo taken by Nottingham Trent University | Republished with Creative Commons license

Photo taken by Nottingham Trent University. | Republished with Creative Commons license.

When I lived in New York City from January to July of this year, I couldn’t escape the SoulCycle craze. It seemed like everyone was heading to or talking about these indoor cycling studios. I never really caught on, maybe because the following appeared to be almost cult-like, and more of a trend than a way to stay fit. Not to mention, a SINGLE CLASS starts at $34. However, indoor cycling was on my radar, and I have been on the lookout for an opportunity to explore it more without breaking the bank.

Megan Lieberman, a Northeastern University senior, is heavily involved in Recycle Studio, an indoor cycling studio with two Boston locations. She has played many roles since the studio opened several years ago, from running their blog to teaching classes. I’d love to learn more from her, as well as her coworkers, about the Recycle’s history and the spin craze that’s really caught on in the past couple of years. I’d also like to explore the kind of commitment it takes to run a fitness studio. I plan on attending a class for myself, and also speaking with participants on why they chose to spin, and specifically at Recycle. I look forward to providing you with some insight into the world of indoor cycling, as well as a look at what it’s like to be a part of a small (but expanding) fitness studio.

If you have any suggestions, or anything you’d like me to specifically address, please let me know in the comments section.