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CindySays: Up in years or out of shape, you can still spin

By Cindy Boggs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,

I'd like to know if someone who is over the hill and semiactive could get through a spinning class in one piece. Everything I hear about it intimidates me, like it is a killer class that leaves you sore and dripping with sweat. I need something that will make me work, and I like the idea of a class situation, but am not into torturous workouts. Would you recommend? -- Janet

Dear Janet,

The answer is a firm yes. You can definitely do it. Unfortunately for spinning, it seems as if the only thing we hear is how strenuous it is and that you need to be some kind of superstar athlete to get through it. While this can be one person's experience in a spin class, the intensity lies in the hands of the spinner. I really believe it is these misconceptions that keep many from jumping on a bike and giving it a try.

Spinning is a group cycling experience that builds a foundation of muscular and cardiovascular endurance on specially designed stationary bikes. A spin coach motivates you with great music and cues you when to increase or decrease resistance.

Typically, there will be pace changes -- for example, standing up on hill climbs followed by recovery spins -- that makes this an interval training class. Interval training conditions your heart and lungs faster than any other type of aerobic class, but when done on land, it can be difficult or even detrimental for someone who has age-related joint pain. This is why spinning, in an interval format, can be a beneficial rather than a killer class for you.

Benefits of taking a spin are:

Cardiovascular health

Spinning is both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, pulling energy from your reserves and building up your muscular endurance over an extended period of time. Heart health is an obvious benefit, but as you work harder, you'll also learn breath control, which can increase the capacity and efficiency of your lungs.

Reduced pain from activity

If you dislike most aerobic classes because it makes your knees, hips or ankles hurt, spinning can be a great low-impact alternative. You will burn lots of calories, about 600 to 800 per hour, depending on intensity, and as you lose weight, you will decrease the pressure and alleviate pain to your joints.

You're in complete control

The beauty of a spinning class is that you dictate the amount of resistance and your speed throughout the entire class. There is a resistance knob within easy reach, and you turn it to dial the intensity (how hard it is to pedal) up or down. No one in the class can tell the level you set, allowing you to go at your own pace. This also means you are free to adjust the intensity from day to day -- if you're feeling really strong one day, you can dial up the resistance; if you're not feeling it, you can dial it down.

No experience necessary

Because there are no complicated moves to learn, you really need no experience. In fact, you don't even have to know how to ride a bike. Instructors (also referred to as coaches) go over the fundamentals of spinning to beginners and explain how to set your seat and handlebar height. Regardless of your fitness level, this can be the perfect place to get your heart, lungs and legs in shape.

A positive spin

Spin class puts people elbow to elbow in a class situation and gives you the opportunity to feed off of the energy of other riders when you fatigue and feel as if you want to quit. Together with others, the upbeat music and motivational coaching will help you climb hills, race like crazy or ease up for a leisurely recovery.

While it won't kill you, it will make you sweat and push you farther than you thought possible. Give it a try. I guarantee it doesn't have to be torturous, and you'll come out of it stronger and more confident.

Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindysays@aol.com. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.


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