I’m in a dark room, it’s hot, it’s humid, and electronic dance music is thumping through huge speakers. The air is thick with sweat—some of it mine—and I’m breathing in the atmosphere, smelling the mingled bodies. I’m not in a dance club and I’m not at a rock concert: I’m doing push ups on a stationary bicycle.
My girlfriend Taylor suggested the activity because she was sure I would hate it. Everything I’ve heard about spin class, or “spinning,” placed the activity firmly in my this-is-actually-stupid column, already populated with items that are supposed to be really cool and hip but I don’t understand, like “bouldering”, Ironman races, lighting fireworks out of your bum, and so on. Spinning was touted as this vaguely spiritual experience, that the dark room and energy expenditure and heat would produce a type of euphoria, and that most people don’t get it, and you probably won’t either because you’re too practical, but pay your money and try it.
I like to think of myself as the guy who works out in a terrible gym, wearing my dad’s dad’s white knee-high athletic socks, lifting a rusted barbell loaded with peeling metal plates, picking up chains and striking duct-taped punching-bags. You know, a real man’s man. And while I’ve never done those things, I’m certainly not the kind of guy who goes spinning.
Spinning is for the classic Millennials who buy high-tech gear, who wear bike shorts with butt pads, whose sleeveless shirts were purchased like that. These people love the accoutrements. Sitting on a bike suddenly requires special socks, special hats…these folks love buckling stuff on and strapping themselves in and pulling things tight and looking like dorks. Not me. I look cool. Real cool.
I walk in and tell the woman at the front desk, “It’s my first time.” She gives me a pair of damp bike shoes with Velcro straps. Gross. I slip the shoes on, and people pour out of the class before us. They have that thousand-yard stare, looking off into the distance like they all just returned from Vietnam. They’re drenched in sweat. Gross. We walk into the black room and find our bikes in the darkness.
The instructor is a young man, he’s tall, he’s wearing bike shorts and a headset microphone like he’s Beyoncé. Red accent lights glow like we’re in a kilo class nuclear sub in The Hunt for Red October. “Who needs help getting set up?” Listen buddy, I’m pretty sure I can ride a bike, especially if it’s fixed to the ground…so I raise my hand and he nods. He walks over, adjusts a few things, says, “You’re good to go.” I like this guy.
I sit on the bike, clip my shoes in, and start pedaling. Taylor sits next to me, pedaling. The doors close, all the light leaves the room, and we see only the outlines of everyone. The music starts, and he’s got some pretty freakin’ sweet mixes of songs I’ve never heard before and I look at Taylor and say, “Uh oh.”
And she says, “What?”
And I say, “I might like this.”
The instructor starts explaining something about hills and sit-ups and don’t worry about the choreography if you’re new, and I’m thinking this guy really is Beyoncé and of course I’m going to worry about the choreography!
We’re all pedaling together, the music is bumping and I’m loving every minute.
One, two, three, four,
boom, boom, boom, boom,
I’m trying to match my feet to the music, and I turn the tension knob to the right to make it more difficult and that’s too heavy so I turn it back immediately and keep going. He yells something into the microphone and it’s so loud and scratchy I can only make out “HILL!” or “HELL!” Anyway, people all stand up off the seat and start pumping their legs to the music. He yells something else, and people begin push-ups on the handlebar, still pedaling to the beat.
EEEEhhooo! I got this! I’m thinking as I nearly launch myself off the stationary bike. Got too excited! Thank goodness it’s dark. I get back to pedaling and we finish the push-ups and start doing butt-taps. (You tap your butt on the seat and stand up pedal again.) “One, two, three, four, TAP!”
What a journey! We were flying now. We made it past the first hill, which we apparently did a really good job on, and now we were catching our breath before jumping into another hill. Those dang hills! Where were we riding that there were so many hills?! Must have been France! But we were inside a room! Incredible! We pedaled on, and the beats kept coming, the room kept swirling.
This guy was was our leader, pushing us onward. “Reach down, give that tension knob a little twist to the right, make it harder for yourself, and let’s. Get. Ready. SET. GO! The music was building perfectly with his commands, and this song that kept winding up finally had a beat drop that we all nailed. We finished the hill and people began cheering.
We were in this together. We were a unit. A team. And this guy with the headset was our leader. We would have followed him anywhere, even though he was facing us and we weren’t technically moving at all.
There was a moment about thirty-five minutes in, when it was hot, I was sweaty, we were working hard, pedaling in unison, and for about ten seconds I felt the euphoria. Almost an out-of-body experience, where you’re cruising above yourself, the music distorted like you’re listening underwater. We finished the hill and finished the class, and people cheered like we’d just traveled a hundred miles in that tiny room.
I liked this because it was an adventure. I know we didn’t even move, but there’s something special about strangers working together, and something fun about pumping music and moving your body to a beat. So, if you like dancing, you’ll like this. If you like lifting rusty old weights…you still might actually like this. Like anything you make fun of, it’s worth trying.