September 28, 2018

What to Expect at Your First Spin Class

Picture this: You’re lounging at home on a Sunday evening…

…planning the week ahead and battling a mild bout of the Sunday scaries. You open up the MIT Recreation app and peruse the class offerings – Body Sculpt, Pilates, Yoga, Cycling. Bam – an instant pang of anxious interest and fear hits you at the sight of Cycling. You’ve never taken a spin class before, but your friends have warned you of the atrocities that ensue. Things like: “My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest!” “I’ve never sweat so much in my life!” “Soreness! For days!” Your mind drifts off to a memory of the beep test in high school, a painful fitness endeavor you hope to never come across again in your life. You shake the memory away. In a moment of resolute courage, you take your shaking finger to your iPhone and press “Sign Up”.

That’s it. You’re in. You’re going to your first spin class. But you still feel anxious and unsettled. How hard is it going to be? Will you fit in? What will the other riders be like? What do you wear? Will the instructor going to scream at me? Well, I’m Lainie, and I’m here to crush those fears. I’m one of the cycling instructors at MIT and I’m going to arm you with information about the reality of what to expect.

First Spin Class

But first, a comical anecdote about my first spin class.

I had always been told that spin classes were intense, aggressive, exhausting. It left me feeling reluctant and skeptical. I saw the masses of lululemon-clad girls attending and didn’t understand the hype. That was until one summer day, two years ago, that I was convinced to try a SoulCycle class with a group of coworkers. I’d never been a big biker, but I ran cross country in college – how hard could it be?

Upon opening the doors of SoulCycle, I was hit by pounding music, a crowd of millennial girls drenched in sweat, and even more anxiety. I grabbed a pair of spin shoes from the front desk, told myself to suck it up and try my best, said a prayer, and strutted into the pitch-black studio. I had no idea how to set up a spin bike, let alone what feeling I should look for.

As the class got started, I was instantly hooked by the music and energy. Everyone was working in sync to a heavy beat. But I was utterly distraught by the pace at which we were biking. How were these girls standing on the pedals, going so fast their feet weren’t even visible? How was this instructor shouting at us and smiling at the same time? The entire scenario mesmerized me, inspired me, and frustrated me simultaneously.

I think every individual in the room could clearly see that I was struggling. It didn’t help that the instructor had learned my name at the beginning of class and called me out specifically for my poor form and inability to execute any choreography whatsoever. I know she was trying to motivate, but by the end I wanted to shout, “Leave me and my horrific form alone, lady! I can’t spin and such is life!”

First Spin Class

Despite a rough start, I was hooked.

Ultimately, the class went by quickly and I was inspired by the collective energy from a group pushing together to the backdrop of music that fired me up. However, I think I nearly sweat myself to the point of dehydration and was sore in places I had never felt before…for days. I left feeling slightly disoriented, but proud! It was that sense of pride and the accomplishment of getting through a tough physical task that continued to draw me back to class. Eventually, the classes got easier. I grew closer with my fellow riders. There was a sense of community that I started to feel, and I acquired some pretty sweet new jams to add to my Spotify playlist.

Fast forward two years, and I now have a spin instructor certification, have worked at a boutique studio in downtown Boston, and I try to pass along my enthusiasm and excitement on the bike every day that I teach at MIT. I never would have guessed this passion would unfold as it has. Spinning is now one of my true pleasures.

First Spin Class

Your first spin class can be a better than mine was.

My first experience riding was uncomfortable and foreign. I can’t promise that your first time cycling won’t feel this way too. What I can promise is that it will get easier and I will do everything I can to make you feel comfortable and set you up appropriately for a successful ride. One of the issues I faced the first time I rode was an uncertainty of how to set up my bike for my body, and how the bike should feel. If you are a new rider, I can assure you that I will help you set up your bike correctly to eliminate or reduce this discomfort early on. There is no “perfect” science to it – it is kind of an acquired feeling and setting – but spinning can be far more difficult on your body if the bike is not appropriately set up.

First Spin Class

Beyond the physical mechanics of the bike, environment is important. It sets the vibe for the class. MIT’s cycling studio has 15 bikes, lending to a more intimate environment than the typical 30-40 bike class. We never go above 120 RPMs in a standing position on the bike, and everything is cued in advance. This gives you, the rider, ample time to prepare and move from position to position. We ride to the beat of the music, making it easy to fall into a rhythm and stay together as a group.

Before we begin each class, I always mention to “modify as necessary.” If a move that is instructed does not feel good, modify it or don’t do it. Speed too fast? Slow it down and do your best. Riding standing up bothering your knees? Stay in the seat. As an instructor, I want you to get the best workout that you can. I want you to do what is necessary to achieve that. My only request is that you try your best.

First Spin Class

Don’t be intimidated. No, really. Don’t be!

Cycling has picked up a reputation of being an intense workout with a deeply loyal following. It can be intimidating to break into – I completely relate to that from my first riding experience. However, I think the dramatic myths associated with it need to be dispelled. Yes, cycling is challenging, but the style and environment at MIT is not a boutique spin shop. There will be overlapping elements of choreography and music choices, but no pitch-black rooms, no screaming instructors*, and no standing runs at 170 RPMs. I feel confident that you will leave your first class feeling accomplished from breaking out of your comfort zone. You will feed refreshed from a good sweat, happy from a good laugh, and inspired to keep coming back. Grab a friend and make it a routine. See you in the saddle!

*I will encourage you, but not shout aggressively at you (I can’t speak for other instructors).