Resistance is Futile—Join the Spinning Movement


The twist of a resistance knob turns simple exercise bikes into weapons of mass exhaustion, but the effort is worth it for those looking to shape up. (Alex Palomino/The Observer)

Published: October 22, 2009

The name of the class is spinning. The name of the game is resistance.

I enter a small room filled with stationary bikes. I mount the bike and feel like the tallest person in the room. The moment I slip my feet into the stirrups, they start to plunge forward and rotate. I think to myself, “This will be easy. Just like biking in the park or the fitness center.”

The instructor goes around the room, adjusting people’s seats. I begin to wonder why there needs to be modifications to the equipment. Isn’t it as easy as getting on the bike and moving your feet around, one revolution after the next?

Then the instructor approaches the front of the room with a fierce determination in his eyes. That’s when I know that it isn’t going to be a simple coasting ride in the park. No. We are going to have to push. Our legs are going to wobble on the way out.

The music starts bump, bump, bumping its way into the room and into our heads. In the first few minutes we warm up with speed pedaling. It is as if I am churning butter or whipping cream with my rapidly revolving legs. The instructor reminds us to breathe, and I relax. I think, “Oh yes. Breathing. Just like yoga.”

Then he calls out the words that jolt the whole class, “Turn up your resistance!”

I turn the little red knob below the handlebars to the right several times. I feel like I am pedaling through cold caramel. I can feel every muscle fiber in my quadriceps stretching beyond their capacity. There is no moving forward or backward. There is only the bike pushing back and the reflection of my face in the mirror, drowning in sweat as my stubborn bike forces me to imagine that I am outside, pedaling up a hill.

“Stand up in the saddle,” the instructor dictates. Rear ends rise from their saddles and people begin to fly. There are no feet on the ground. Feet stomp stubborn pedals, and hands white-knuckle handlebars. We are on a ride, and we are unstoppable.

I take a moment to glance around the room. Several newcomers are suffering through the workout and look like they are working harder than I am to make it up the imaginary hill. Then there are the Lulu-lemon-clad, iron-legged gym-rats that spin on high resistance as if they are jogging in the park. Having taken a class or two before, I am in pretty good shape compared to the newbies. But it is as if these power-pedalers are taking me by the ponytail and wiping the floor with my face.

The class goes back and forth, from whipping cream to cold caramel to defying gravity. Now all I can see in front of me is the instructor’s bulging biceps and my face in the mirror, drowning in sweat and pulsing with the energy of resistance.

“Last hill!” the instructor calls out.

I turn that red dial all the way to the right, and my legs quake between revolutions. I hunch over the handlebars and push with all my might.

Finally, the instructor calls out, “Cool down time!”

I turn that red dial all the way to the left and begin to coast, like I had imagined I would at the beginning of the class. It is like being in Central Park, and even better. I feel an immediate rush of relief as my body recovers from the workout that turned my legs into pulled taffy.

We get off our bikes to stretch and I remember what solid ground feels like.

This is different though. I walk out feeling elated. I feel like I am walking on air.

My legs wobbled and my steps were crooked, but walking out of that room was a victory. I had climbed hills and bike-pedaled wildly down twisted paths without even leaving a three-foot radius.

As I walked out of the West Side YMCA doors, I thought about how spinning compares to my yoga practice and other workouts I’ve done. I didn’t have the range of motion like I did in Bikram yoga, but I did enjoy the intensity of the class. I felt like I was moving toward a destination during the spinning, which is similar to how I feel when I do Bikram yoga. Spinning was different from Tae Kwon Do and intenSati in that I controlled how hard I had to work with the little red resistance knob on the bike. Since I am used to sports that don’t involve much equipment, the reliance on the stationary bike was the part of the class that was constraining for me and also the part of the workout that I had to adjust to the most.

The next day, I climbed the four flights of stairs to class and it felt easy. Those stairs weren’t pushing back the way the pedals did. Every step up felt like a little victory.

I decided that the resistance was worth the workout. I know that I will go back again. The delightful delirium I felt after the class was worth the fervent pedaling and unrelenting resistance.