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.”

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!

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!

Tips for Your First Half Marathon: Race Day

Today could not be more appropriate to provide my second installment of tips for running your first half marathon. This post will focus on race day preparation, and just hours ago, Geoffrey Mutai and Priscah Jeptoo, both of Kenya, crossed the finish line in Central Park to win the New York City Marathon. For additional features and coverage of the five-borough race, check out the New York Times and Runner’s World. The New York Times also created a Run Well training tool, where you can fill in your information and receive personal training schedules from around the web.

Photograph of the New York City Marathon in 2009, taken by Rebecca Wilson. | Republished with Creative Commons license.

Photograph of the New York City Marathon in 2009, taken by Rebecca Wilson. Republished with Creative Commons license.

But anyway, let’s get to the race day tips for your first 13.1:

  1. Have everything laid out the night before, including your clothes, breakfast and other race day essentials. If you are using an mp3 player, make sure it’s charged and your playlist is ready.
  2. Wake up early enough to ingest plenty of water and allow time to digest. You can find what works for you by treating your long run mornings as if they were race day.
  3. Don’t eat or wear anything different. Again, by now you should know what works for you because of your long run preparation. A good rule of thumb is to dress as if it were 15 degrees warmer than it is. However, wear plenty of layers to stay warm up to the gun.
  4. Take some time to mentally prepare. Envision yourself crossing the finish line feeling healthy and proud.
  5. Get to the race location early. Calculate how much time you’ll need to pick up your packet/bib and check your baggage, and add plenty of time for bathroom lines.
  6. Line up properly. Situating yourself in the wrong starting corral could lead to a race run too quickly, too early.
  7. Break up the half marathon by setting small milestones. The marathon for me was a mental battle, and I won by seeing the race as a series of three 4-mile runs, which was more doable in my eyes than thirteen 1-mile runs.
  8. Be your own cheerleader. I found it helpful to talk to myself, often acting as my own personal trainer. “Come on, what’s three more miles? Twenty-five minutes and I get a cheeseburger!”
  9. Create your own “pacer.” I find that I run better when I’m competing with others, so I picked out two to three people that were running at my pace, and even a few seconds faster, to push me to stay strong.
  10. Remember why you’re running. If it’s for a charity, or just to accomplish a personal goal, you chose to do this. Most importantly, HAVE FUN.

What do you guys think? I hope this advice make race day seem less intimidating. Stay tuned for a final installment of post-race tips, which focus on what to do immediately after and in the days following your first half marathon.

Fitspo: Inspiring or Appalling?

Last year, controversy surrounded thinsporation, or “thinspo” for short – a social media movement that promoted a skinny lifestyle through “inspirational,” but often contentious, images. Many photos were often self-admittedly pro-anorexia, and sites like Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram began banning these unhealthy posts.

More recently, the attention has shifted to fitsporation, or “fitspo” – words and images intended to inspire others to live active and healthy lifestyles. Maria Kang, a business owner and mother of three, posted a photo of herself looking very fit along with her children and the text, “What’s your excuse?” The photo has recently gone viral, and in the more than 30,000 comments on the picture, Kang receives an onslaught of criticism, claiming she is “fat-shaming.” Others come to her defense, holding that Kang’s post was simply an attempt to encourage other busy moms that fitness can fit into their lifestyle.

Kang recently issued an apology (sort of), and defended herself against critics.

I tend to side with Kang’s supporters, with the belief that she did not intend to offend anyone, but instead wanted to prove to doubters that fitness and family can coexist. What do you think? Should Kang and those like her be more cautious about the images and text they use to inspire others?

Lucy Light Forest

Have you Boston people checked this out yet? Lucy, a women’s fitness apparel retailer, along with Boston’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, installed a gorgeous display of 10,000 motion-sensitive LED lights along a quarter-mile portion of the Esplanade. Aside from the beauty to accompany your sunset or sunrise workout routines, Lucy is hosting free 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. fitness classes at the Hatch Shell near the lights through October 13. I’ll admit that I have never shopped at Lucy, but this creative and fun marketing strategy has me thinking twice.

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According to their website:

The Lucy Light Forest is an interactive light and sound experience created to celebrate movement and the women who love it. The forest is a bit larger than a football field and consists of more than 10,000 solar powered LED lights. Amber hues of light and complementary tones of sound are activated by movement through the forest along the DCR’s Charles River Esplanade.

For more information about the brand and this cool initiative, check out this article from the Boston Business Journal. Now get out there and run!

SIX DAYS OUT – Monday Motivation

It’s official: the B.A.A. Half Marathon – and my longest ever road race – is less than a week away. After a four-month intermediate training program, where my overly-disciplined self rarely missed a workout, I can honestly say that it cannot come soon enough.

My official bib I recently received in the mail - with my name on it!

My official bib I recently received in the mail – with my name on it!

I’m currently in the process of tapering, with a six-miler today and a few shorter runs and speed workouts throughout the week. With my goal finally in sight, I should be eager to cruise through these final workouts, but I know I won’t feel satisfied until I cross that finish line, hopefully in under two hours. This Monday’s motivational tip comes from Runner’s World to help get my most important fitness week started off positively.

Note: I recommend Nike Running’s app for an easy and motivational fitness log. I’ll discuss further in an upcoming post.

Have you ever found yourself in a fitness slump, or feeling burnt out, as I have over the past few weeks? How did you pull out of it?