I approach my workouts as a chore, like doing the laundry. When you hit middle age, not exercising is not an option — at least not if you cringe when see the widow’s humps on little old ladies and swear you won’t let yourself look like that as you age.
So you stretch and you sweat and you check the clock on the gym wall, hoping you’re not spending too much of your day on this nonsense. But sometimes you get lucky and find a fitness outlet that you not only enjoy, but actually even look forward to.
I discovered Spinning in the ’90s, about the same time that I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It was a great fitness alternative to the treadmill when the joints on my hands and feet swelled up and I could barely walk. I got on my stationary bike and followed the instructor up and down imaginary hills, making like Lance Armstrong (before we found out he was doping, of course).
Spinning is more of a team sport than most gym workouts. Some instructors try to make classes think they’re a peloton (that’s what they call bicycling racing teams), racing against each other.
And sometimes it’s a disco party. When I started freelancing, I discovered the Friday 10:30 a.m. spinning class at my local gym. Lisa, the instructor, is not one of those skinny, twentysomething-looking types. Wwe’ve never exchanged IDs, but based on her references to the disco era, the fact that she liked her roll-on lip gloss in cherry (my favorite is bubble gum), she wasn’t allowed to wear sequined tube tops because she’d spill out of them, (I couldn’t wear them because I had nothing to hold them up), I’d say she’s another fortysomething like me.
And the music, oh yeah. No house, no electronica. It’s all real tunes, made with real instruments: Donna Summer, Michael Jackson (when he had his original face). You can really roll up a hill to Stevie Wonder singing “Superstition” or Earth, Wind & Fire’s rendition of “Brick House.” Yeah, she’s a brick house, alright — “she’s mighty, mighty, just letting it all hang out.”
There’s a running joke in the class about a young girl who complained about “that 60’s music.” Kids these days, they’ve never heard a song without auto-tune or a drum machine. What do they know?
Like many gym instructors, Lisa is a singer and dancer. In fact, she rarely gets on the bike; instead, she’s all around the room, singing and dancing while she checks on her class. I learned about twerking there, long before Miley Cyrus made it a thing.
And sometimes, even the students join in. One day a couple of summer ago, Antonio jumped off his bike in the front row, mid-class, and got down to the music, earning a round of applause.
That’s what makes gym classes worth doing. It’s more than the exercise for the body, it’s getting out of your usual space. It’s a fix of community for a freelancer who works alone all day. I’ve solved many logistics problems and outlined quite a few difficult articles on my bike. Maybe it’s the extra blood flowing to the brain, or just stopping and getting out of my head for 45 minutes of pure physical exertion. It’s great that my core is stronger and I can run up stairs without getting winded, but I like what it does for my head, too.
Sadly, my work schedule hasn’t allowed me to go the Friday Spinning Disco Party for a couple of months now. I’ve had to catch classes when I can; I found an instructor on evenings that likes to play retro rock, which is almost as good. And I got lucky a few weeks ago when Lisa subbing in my Saturday morning class.
And recently, I discovered Pilates. It’s good exercise, but much more laid back. No disco, no dancing. But we can work on that.