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How to Navigate a Spin Studio

As a spin instructor, I spend a strange amount of time perched on a pedestal, watching people of all ages, shapes, and sizes simulate outdoor bike rides. In actuality, all of these people, myself included, hunch over stationary bikes with the acknowledged intention of going absolutely nowhere. We are all hamsters running in their wheels, children walking up the down escalator, dogs chasing the same tennis ball throw after throw.

Why do we spin? It’s simple: because we love being part of an exercise culture.

After taking my mom to her first spin class in January of 2013, I became aware of how exclusive and cult-like the spin culture is. Newcomers, almost always intimidated, sport looks of sheer terror when they step inside the studio. Their inner voices naggingly ask: What if I get too hot? What if I fall off my bike? What if I can’t go as fast as everyone else? What will people think if I have to get up and leave?  Luckily for my mom, her amazing spin instructor of a daughter gave her a quick briefing days before the class. She knew what to expect…at least she thought she knew. “The music will be blaringly loud and people will be yelling, singing, and what is going to seem like angrily shouting,” I told her. “It is going to get very hot, so make sure you have a water with you and don’t be ashamed to back off or stop if you need to.”

We arrived at the Fitness Edge gym located less than ten miles from my parent’s house. My mom walked into the studio ready to try something new, and curious to see what her daughter does three times a week as a spin instructor. The music started and the lights dimmed – we were off! An hour later, her white tank top drenched in sweat and her perfectly coiffed hair deflated by the studio’s humidity, my mom decided spin just wasn’t her thing. Her water bottle was untouched and her towel had fallen to the floor in surrender. While everyone else was working up a steep climb, my mom was on her own downhill. She got her workout in, but it was just that: her own workout. She didn’t understand the culture and resisted the community. I guess an affinity for spin just isn’t genetic.

However, I truly believe that my mom would love spin if she gave it a few more chances. And if she studied the inner workings of a spin studio (as I have been doing for the past three years), she would fully understand how the sport works.  So I’ve compiled a list of my personal tips for spin newbies. Before you adventure off to the nearest spin studio, there are just a few things you should know.

Always Bring a Towel

If you walk into a spin class without a towel, then you are going to be in for a wet and slippery hour of biking. The ritzier studios, like Soul Cycle in NYC, will provide you with soft, supple, state-of-the-art sweat absorbers. Your average gym, however, will expect the seasoned spinners to bring their own sweat rags. I can tell a newbie from a pro solely based on whether or not they bring a towel. Most people bring a hand towel, small enough to stuff in a gym bag but large enough to dry off the arms, neck, and face. Every now and then a guy will walk in with a full-size bath towel. Yes, it seems like overkill, but you are going to be thankful that he brought that beach towel. It will block the puddle of sweat that forms at the base of his bike before it makes its way toward you, your bike, and the clean sweatshirt you placed neatly on the floor.

And even if you think you don’t sweat, you’re going to want to bring a towel anyways. The more you look the part and feel like a member of the spin community, the more likely you are to put all of your energy into the ride. Half the battle of becoming a member of spin culture is convincing everyone around you that you are legit.


Those Aren’t Bike Shorts

Don’t wear anything except spandex to a spin class. Let’s just say that spandex and the bike seat are friends and, well, the bike just doesn’t get along with any other kind of athletic material. I’ve never met anyone who voluntarily embraces chafing, so just go with the spandex. Baggy Nike running shorts won’t do either. No one wants a surprise peak up those shorts when you are moving from position one (think casual bike ride along a beach) to position three (you are competitively racing in the Tour de France alongside a roided out Lance Armstrong).

You’d think wearing exercise clothing to an exercise class would be common sense. Let me tell you that not everyone’s brains are wired that way. At the same gym I took my mom to for her first spin class, I witnessed a spinning anomaly. The gym is located in Westport, CT – a classic, New England coastal town. Yes, people are into sailing and many people are total beach bums. However, a coastal location does not warrant workout chinos. You read that right…chinos. A seventy-year-old man showed up ready to ride in his J-Crew best, complete with Sperry topsiders. I wouldn’t recommend this, but at that age you can do whatever you want. Who am I to hold you back?

Front or Back?

With any group fitness class, you are going to find yourself having an inner struggle over where you should sit. I find that new people either choose the back or the front. The bikes in the middle of the room are avoided at all costs. Some choose the front because they want to be up close to the instructor, able to mimic all the motions and ask any questions without yelling across the room. Others select the back because they hope to remain unnoticed. They don’t want anyone seeing them struggle to breathe as they climb up the hill or sprint for a minute without stopping.

My advice? Sit in the middle! It really is the best of both worlds and I’m not saying that to be cliché. You’re hidden amidst the crowd and the middle usually gets the best air circulation.

Scream and Shout

Spin class is a party, or as much of a party as a workout class can be. We encourage everyone to sing along to the songs they know, cheer on their fellow cyclists, and yell through their frustration on the toughest of hills. Don’t be afraid to vocally express your energy! It is what makes the class fun and sets you apart from the timidly shy newbies.

My all-time favorite spin class was when an older man next to me belted out all of the lyrics to Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” He knew every single word and actually sounded pretty decent given the fact that he was huffing and puffing while he sang. And I’ll never forget the group of four BC hockey players sitting in the front row of one of my classes who loudly sang “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” in unison. They clearly had fun and turned the smelly, old spin room into an hour-long party.

The Exit Walk

You were riding a bike for an hour, which means your butt is bound to feel a little weird? Sore? Uncomfortable? However, you weren’t horseback riding or endlessly doing squats, so try to walk normally. Shake out your legs as soon as you dismount from the bike. Follow the sequence of stretches and start your forward motion gingerly. You want to leave the room feeling strong and empowered, not weak and creaky. Work your post-exercise, endorphin-happy strut and leave the mechanic cowboy stroll to old western movies.

Maybe I should have given my mom a better briefing about spin culture. She showed up in her ribbed, white tank top (to avoid any sweat marks), but I failed to mention the importance of spandex. I carefully selected us seats in the middle of the studio, but never explained to her the importance of a towel. Not that she would have used one because she supposedly doesn’t sweat. I think she effectively mastered the exit walk, as I begged her not to make a scene. While she had fun for the hour, I don’t think she’ll be going back. Anne Hathaway tells her gym teacher in The Princess Diaries, “You’re an athletic girl. I’m more of a horseback-riding, wall-climbing, yoga-doing type of girl.” My mom is an outdoorsy, power-walking, lawn-mowing, tennis-playing kind of girl. Biking on a fake road to nowhere just wasn’t her thing.


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Kelsey Damassa is in her senior year at Boston College, majoring in Communications and English. She is a native of Connecticut and frequents New York City like it is her job. On campus, she is the Campus Correspondent for the Boston College branch of Her Campus. She also teaches group fitness classes at the campus gym (both Spinning and Pump It Up!) and is an avid runner. She has run five half-marathons as well as the Boston Marathon. In her free time, Kelsey loves to bake (cupcakes anyone?), watch Disney movies, exercise, read any kind of novel with a Starbucks latte in hand, and watch endless episodes of "Friends" or "30 Rock."
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