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.”

Advertisements

Tips for Your First Half Marathon: Post-Race

Photo by Phil Roeder | Republished with Creative Commons license

Photo by Phil Roeder | Republished with Creative Commons license

It’s about time that I post my final installment of tips for running your first half marathon. So far, I’ve covered what to keep in mind before the race, as well as on race day, but work is not done once you cross that finish line. So once you receive your finishers’ metal, what’s next?

  1. As tempting as it may be to sit down after you finish, don’t! (I may be guilty of this following the B.A.A. Half…) Instead, walk around to keep the blood flowing and help prevent leg cramps or fainting.
  2. Stretch. Once you’ve caught your breath, find an open space to stretch and flush out lactic acid. Here are some good stretches for runners.
  3. Rehydrate. According to Active, a good rule of thumb is to drink one quart of fluid for every half-hour of running.
  4. Refuel. Most road races provide some kind of post-race nourishment, from bagels to protein bars to fruit. A balanced post-race snack includes carbs, protein and some fat about 30 to 60 minutes after the race to start replenishing your glycogen storage.
  5. Avoid the temptation of a hot shower. A cold shower directed at the legs or ice massage with an ice pack constricts blood vessels and muscle tissue and prevents blood from pooling in your legs, says Active.
  6. Celebrate! Go ahead, brag on social media and call all your supporters. You did it. However, practice moderation, as alcohol inhibits the re-hydration process.
  7. The day after the race (or maybe even for a few days) avoid any fitness. Instead, use a foam roller to tend sore muscles, and do plenty of stretching.
  8. Reflect. What can you learn from this experience, and what can you do differently next time?
  9. Start to slowly return to your normal workout schedule. Cross training is a great way to ease back into things without giving your legs a pounding.
  10. Sign up for your next race. Well okay, maybe not just yet. But many runners tend to feel some post-race blues after such a climactic event, so having an idea of your next running goal will help you overcome this.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-series. Let me know if you would like to see more in the future, as I never seem to be short on advice!

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.

Indie Coffee Shop Offers Healthy, Local Ingredients

Coffee shops in any city are a dime a dozen, especially in Boston where Dunkin’ Donuts are located on every half-block. Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I occasionally stop into different cafes to pick up a green tea or a healthy mid-day snack. When I moved into my new apartment in the Fenway area, I noticed Neighborhoods Cafe in the midst of a quaint restaurant strip down the street.

Founded by Boston locals, Neighborhoods management strives to incorporate other local food products, people, farms and other small businesses. Their website also features a different entrepreneur and cause each month, furthering their community engagement. The shop is only about a year old, but the staff feel more like family. Employee Noah Hodge said that:

The friendship that the owner and the managers have with the people that work here, it’s just a lot more personal, and that translates to the customers’ experiences.

And that experience just gets better with a look at the healthy menu options. All tea is Numi brand, which is organic fair trade certified. I highly recommend the Jasmine Green. The coffees are direct trade, from George Howell Coffee and Vermont Coffee Company. As for the crepes, Neighborhoods offers signature recipes, as well as a list of ingredients to create your own. My personal seasonal favorite is The Tudor. They also sell baked goods, with offerings that are gluten-free, raw, vegan, kosher, soy-free, and more, to satisfy every customer’s health habits. Check out the cafe for a guilt-free pick-me-up.

coffeesign

Address: 96 Peterborough Street, Boston, MA 02215

Closest MBTA stop: Fenway, on the Green Line (D train)

Hours: Mon – Fri: 6am – 10pm | Sat: 7am – 10pm | Sun: 7am – 9pm

Lululemon in the News…Again.

Photograph by Jason Michael | Republished with Creative Commons license

Photograph by Jason Michael | Republished with Creative Commons license

Fitness junkies worldwide pay big bucks to rock the stylized “A” that is synonymous with lululemon on their athletic wear. However, this year lululemon’s logo may be recognizable for all the wrong reasons. Most recently, founder Chip Wilson appeared on Bloomberg Television’s Street Smart and added to the public relations headache by saying:

“Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work” in Lululemon’s pants. … “It’s about the rubbing through the thighs,” and “how much pressure is there.”

NPR was one of the first to break this story yesterday, and a simple Google search will reveal that many outlets have jumped on the brand for implying that if you lack a thigh gap, lululemon pants aren’t for you. Is this what Wilson really meant? We can’t be sure, but he does seem to stick his foot in his mouth quite often.

These comments came as a response to one of lululemon’s previous PR nightmares, where customers complained of pilling and torn seams. But we can’t forget earlier this year, when insiders reported that lululemon stores consciously hide its larger sizes, and kicking off the controversy was the recall of its see-through yoga pants in March.

While I have admitted in previous posts to loving certain lululemon products, I cannot support the founder’s comments and the brand’s recent news presence that seem to intentionally shame plus-sized customers. And after looking at the pattern of occurrence, it seems as if this poor attitude is a larger issue of company culture, and not just that of the founder. It’s sad that such a large population of women are being marginalized, when in an ideal world everyone would be encouraged to wear clothes that make them feel good and that encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle.

What do you guys think about the intense criticism of lululemon in the news this year, and specifically this week?

And on a slightly unrelated note, if you’re still interested in reading more, check out the New York Timesrecent article on body image in Venezuela.

Blog I’m Loving: Well+Good NYC

So much reading, so little time. Photo taken by Sam Javanrouh | Republished with Creative Commons license

So much reading, so little time.
Photo taken by Sam Javanrouh | Republished with Creative Commons license

Since the start of Sneakers and Skyscrapers, I’ve been searching for a go-to site for information and inspiration on fitness happenings and city living. About a month ago, I stumbled across Well+Good NYC, an editorial website that explores the New York City wellness scene. While I tend to focus on city living in general, and not specifically in NYC, almost every trend they discuss is applicable.

Well + Good NYC has five areas of focus: Good Sweat (fitness), Good Looks (beauty), Good Escapes (healthy retreats), Good Advice (expert opinions) and Good Food (nutrition). Since its launch in 2010, Well + Good NYC has focused on providing accessible and affordable content for a healthy, urban lifestyle. Few other sites blend the topics so seamlessly. Additionally, the site is partnered with Self, Prevention and Huffington Post Healthy Living, which only bolsters its reputation and resources.

However, because I added this site to my list of daily reading, I have noticed that it doesn’t update as frequently as I would like. The site posts anywhere from zero to five new stories per day, and I often find myself wanting to read more. On the other hand, a site like FitSugar provides similar news content but updates almost every hour, though their posts can sometimes stray from my focus. Additionally, Well + Good NYC stories tend to read more like a magazine and often include click-through lists. While I enjoy this quick access to summarized information, I occasionally enjoy reading long-form fitness journalism like that which can be found on The New York Times Well Blog. This blog includes a wide range of health and wellness stories, written to include quotes from experts and unbiased reporting.

Well + Good NYC’s posts include coupons or free fitness deals to local gyms or seasonal products, which encourages the audience to explore the city wellness scene. I’m also engaged by the fact that the founders and contributors are all women like myself – busy, active, and passionate about staying healthy. I am drawn to the fact that the writers on the other side of Well + Good NYC understand my drivers, as well as my barriers, to pursuing a healthy urban lifestyle.

November Project

November Project, a free grassroots morning workout tribe, has attracted hundreds of members in the Boston area and across the nation. I’ve been a returning member for several months, and love the energy that the founders and participants generate at 6:30 a.m. This video takes a look at Boston’s Wednesday morning stairs workout at Harvard Stadium.

The tribe meets every around Boston Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6:30 a.m. Newcomers are more than welcome, so I suggest you check it out. The movement has also begun to expand nationwide.

UPDATE: November Project recently landed a spot on the COVER of Runner’s World magazine. Check it out!