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How One Man Stayed Sane at Spin Class

Making peace with the absurdity of indoor cycling was the only way to keep me off my couch.
By |
Michael Witte

About a half-hour into class, around the time my thigh muscles began to feel as if they were evacuating my legs, the spin instructor shouted something that made me unreasonably angry.

“There is a reason why your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror!”

Group fitness classes are rife with these motivational platitudes. We are biking to nowhere, clipped into pedals, but urged to “leave what happened today outside.” We get reminded that “we’ve come too far to give up on ourselves” and that “we control what we get out of today.” They’re usually meant to lightly empower you, to gently nudge you to stay on beat or up the resistance. Sometimes they work, other times you roll your eyes. But this one broke the fourth wall.

I couldn’t escape the vision of sitting in the driver’s seat, squinting through a windshield. It was too specific and too dumb. And as my rage flared, I noticed the miasma of neon-drenched sweat, club-ready subwoofers, an EDM remix of a Migos track that sounded like someone dropping a dumbbell onto concrete over and over. Think acid flashback, but also with physical pain. And, remember, you paid for this experience.

And yet, cycling classes just like this one got me into an exercise routine for the first time since playing high school football. I turned 31 last year, which I guess is the triggering age for some deep-ish thinking about why some habits form and others don’t. Exercise hadn’t stuck. Looking for ways to cut some hours out of late Friday nights, I began joining my then fiancée (now wife!) at some of these classes on Saturday mornings.

I’ve never subscribed to Malcolm Gladwell’s argument for running in silence—that it should be a time of solace and consideration, free of headphones. I need music that makes my brain rattle. That way I can’t hear my grotesque gasps for air. I also need a program, something I’m supposed to show up for. I have finished the theoretically life-changing Couch to 5K app three times and simply stopped running, meaning that I’ve completed 5K to Couch at least as many times. I think of it as a wash, but it’s probably worse.

Spintrepreneurs have discovered a business model that clearly appeals to the fitness-obsessed as well as eager schlubs like me. In Dallas, there are national chains (CycleBar, Flywheel, SoulCycle), regional chains (Zyn22), and local one-offs (Class Studios, Vital Fitness Studio, TerlinGO). There are more than enough studios to stuff into a ClassPass or StudioHop subscription package—which saves you quite a bit of money compared to the pricey in-house memberships—even though some experts question the effectiveness of today’s extreme spin choreography. Throwing your ass beyond the seat to the beat of a song’s hook may not do anything for your muscles or improve your balance. And you’ll never be able to convince me that bending at my side on a bike actually strengthens my obliques.

But this is all something you set aside, awaiting the rush of endorphins to collide with the sense of achievement and maybe a Jeezy song. That’s a hard combination to find anywhere. Seeking to re-create it has even gotten me to go more often to the neighborhood Y.

I’m no longer angry with that bozo platitude. It is the cost of doing business—the cost of postponing what used to be an inevitable return to the couch.

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