The group dynamic of a spin class pushes participants to perform harder than they would alone in the gym. (Courtesy photo)

Spinway to Heaven

We grew up mastering stairs that went nowhere, ellipticaling on gym pterodactyls, encouraged by recorded fitness gurus and suburban yogis.

Now, we spin. Spinning classes have grown to millions of sessions in the U.S. each year. The bikes, too, have progressed — from first recording our pedal rates, then our heart rates and finally our soul cycles. The group dynamic pushed us to perform harder than we would do alone in the gym. The instructors drew us in. The fad became a craze.

The latest version of spin’s evolution is the Peloton: a high-tech carbon-fiber bike, fitted with a huge iPad-like screen that sits in your garage or living room. The Peloton accesses the best-of-the-best-crowd-rated instructors: those who have optimized the perfect engagement style, the right encouragement at the right moment. They keep their riders spinning up virtual hills and in and out of Tabata interval training cycles, all the while appealing to the competitive spirit in beginners and pros alike.

Peloton bikes — and those that will follow — completely changed the fitness game. We no longer have to leave our house, hurry to class, wait in line, use other people’s sweaty seats and handlebars and breathe their dirty air. We don’t have to wait for our preferred instructor or class type. We are always in the front row.

And since we have to walk right past our beckoning bike to get out the door in the morning (or to cocktail hour at night), our ability to make excuses has simply evaporated. We now have the very best instructors, the perfect classes, the virtual scenic rides and even the calming, cool-down stretch classes on demand, every hour, in our living space.

Spinning on a bike is an exercise that almost everyone can do. Arthritic joints feel better with spinning. Even back pain is often reduced by the increased blood flow, muscle use and elevated circulating testosterone that spinning produces. The lack of impact, combined with gentle resistance, provides the right amount of muscle stimulation to heal most injuries.

Without a coach, though, it’s hard to push yourself past your current fitness level on a spin bike in order to build strength, endurance and cardiovascular conditioning. The addition of the screen — which shows the metrics of your heart rate, resistance, cadence and output — provides objective data on which to progressively build a program of improvement. And the live or recorded coach, who cajoles and winks at just the right times, helps push us onward when we would otherwise pause.

Spinning is not the only exercise required for true overall fitness. To achieve this, we must train in all 10 of the fitness criteria identified by Glassman and others: cardiovascular, strength, stamina, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.

But it sure is a fun way to get part-way there. If heaven on earth is being fit until the day you drop, spin your way to heaven.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.

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