The Addictive Pain of Spinning

When I was about 22 years old, I don’t think anyone would have described me as fit. I was a member of my local LA Fitness, but that usually involved maybe 30 minutes on a cross trainer once a week and the occasional Body Pump class to the strains of Car Wash (the Christina Aguilera version. This was 2004 after all).

But then one day, my gym buddy suggested we try a spin class. I was young and optimistic back then, so I said “Sure! What’s the worst that could happen?” It looked like quite good fun with the disco style lighting and easy on the eye instructor, plus it was just cycling right? At this point in my life I was getting the park and ride bus to work and probably hadn’t been on a bike for a good 6 years but you know what they say about learning to ride a bike…

Oh how wrong I was.

About 3 minutes into the class I knew I was in trouble. The instructor was like some kind of hyperactive giant toddler with rage issues who liked to go up to individuals in the class and scream at them in a faux American accent to “PUSH! PUSH!” like the worst birthing partner ever. The music was insanely loud but maybe it was trying to drown out the sound of my sobs. At about the 10 minute mark I was desperately trying to find a way to sneak out of the class unnoticed, but I knew that my legs were not going to support any attempts to extract myself from the devil machinery. I was stuck with it. And I hated every last miserable second of it. When I finally stumbled from the bike, sore in parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed, I vowed to NEVER spin again.

This vow held firm for 13 years (yes I’m 35 – you may gasp if you’re so inclined) until I joined Elyte Fitness to find new ways to stay active during my very stubborn bout of tendonitis. My husband basically made me promise that I would do some form of cardio, as I think he was genuinely concerned that I might eat his soul if I didn’t do something to replace running. So I reluctantly turned up for one of Elyte’s incredibly popular spin classes, and again I hated every last miserable second of it.

I’m hooked.

Now let me explain. This isn’t a self-flagellation kind of deal. It’s just that an insanely tough spin session has the ability to give me the same high I get from a good run. Yes it hurts. Yes you’ll be sweatier than any human has any right to be. Yes you would throw your water bottle at the instructor whenever they tell you to add a gear on if only you had enough strength to lift the bloody thing. It hurts. A lot. But man alive has it kept me fit.

When I started running again I was genuinely concerned that my 5k times would have taken a huge battering. But somehow I’ve managed to come back just over the 21 minute mark, only ever so slightly slower than I’d been before. I’m gobsmacked.

Plus spin at Elyte is nothing like my experience from the early noughties. All of the instructors at Elyte (of which there are many, which means you get a lot of variety in teaching styles which keeps things interesting) are so very good at what they do. There’s no insane shouting that makes you feel like a fitness failure. Instead there’s encouragement to push yourself as you follow the Spivi interactive software they use in the studio. This adds a competitive edge as you cycle through simulations of snowy or sunny landscapes and try to edge out your classmates. It’s a welcome distraction from the pain in your legs. Plus if you’re really lucky, this will all be done to the soothing sounds of a Disney soundtrack…

Now I just have to deal with the fact that every time I go to a class my husband says “but I thought you hated spin?”

I do. It’s just that I love to hate it.

 

 

This Girl Can – With or Without Makeup

To celebrate the inaugural Women’s Sport Week, I’m going to focus my posts this week on women in sport and the topics around this, starting with my thoughts on the “This Girl Can” campaign by Sport England and other partner organisations that launched back in January.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, the campaign focussed around a National TV advert that showed women of all ages, cultures, shapes and sizes giving it their all in sport. Take a look:

When it launched, I remember getting into a debate with someone on Twitter who asked “why does it have to be about how women look?” I suspect it was images like this that prompted her question:

This Girl Can 2   This Girl Can 1

And you know what? I got her point. I can see that she was trying to point out that how you look shouldn’t matter in sport, that it shouldn’t even be mentioned in this campaign – after all, would this be mentioned if the campaign were aimed at men? In a dream world, makeup and appearance wouldn’t be one of the (to be fair, many) focus points of “This Girl Can”. But the problem is, 40% of girls feel self-conscious about their bodies during PE, and 26% say they “hate the way that they look when they exercise/ play sport”. These are horrible statistics, and the fact is that too many of our girls are dropping out of sport once they leave school, and concerns with how they look is a key part of this.

This Girl Can 3

“This Girl Can” can only really tackle the problem as it stands now. If girls and women are not exercising because of concerns about how they look, then this needs to be addressed in the campaign, and their fears need to be allayed. They need to know that exercise is not synonymous with looking “bad” or “silly”. You can sweat with lipstick on if that’s what floats your boat, or you can go utterly beetroot after a run like me. How you look simply doesn’t matter, so you should do what makes you feel comfortable.

A report by the Commons Health Select Committee showed that two thirds of women do not exercise for fear of being the one “struggling at the back”. I find this to be another terrifying statistic, especially as I know that whether you’re standing at the front or the back of your Zumba or Circuits class, or whether you struggle to clap on the beat or you’re only lifting 1kg dumbbells, no one is going to care. They’re all too busy getting off on that endorphin high and wiping the sweat out of their own eyes. The fact that you’re there means you’re giving it a go, and no one worth knowing is going to judge you for that.

The thing I’ll be interested in come January 2016, is seeing what percentage of women are now taking part in sport. With more and more female sporting role models elbowing their way into male-dominated sports media and campaigns like “This Girl Can” and “Women’s Sport Week” being launched, I hope that more women will make sport as natural a part of their day as cleaning their teeth, and not give a tiny rat’s arse how they look doing it. Then maybe in five years’ time we can have campaigns with no mention of how a woman looks, because we’ll be so used to their sweaty red faces that it won’t even occur to us to mention it.

And just on a final note don’t tell me that these women right here don’t inspire you to give it a go and not once consider how you look doing it. I know they do me, sweat and all.

This Girl Can 4   This Girl Can 5