Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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Pedal your way to a healthier heart

Published Spring 1999 in Healthy Answers magazine

"It's the last 10 minutes of your ride. There's a nice breeze, and you're beside a lake. I'm at the top of the next hill waiting for you with lots of water!" The positive-sounding man is Ray Vinson, group fitness manager at the Pro Sports Club in Bellevue, Washington. He's motivating me and 30-some others through a Spinning class, an indoor cycling program that's the latest craze in indoor workouts.

While Spinning involves a stationary bike, it's not your regular-sit-and-
read-a-magazine-while-racking-up-rpms kind of exercise. I'm cruising on a customized Spinner bike and getting a complete cardiovascular workout. Correctly done, the average person burns 500 calories in a 40 minute Spinning session. "It makes people feel athletic, as opposed to running on a treadmill," says Vinson, who holds a master's degree in exercise physiology.

Spinning was created 12 years ago by cyclist John Goldberg, better known by the catchy moniker Johnny G. He invented the customized stationary bike, based on his own road bike while training for the 1987 "Race across America." Now, more than 100,000 people regularly attend Spinning classes in the United Sates.

Vinson, who tours nationally to train new Spinning teachers, says that the exercise is hot in Los Angeles and -- believe it or not -- Idaho. "They can't make the bikes quick enough back East," he says.

Admittedly, I am nervous walking into this class. Like many gym-goers, I've toiled away on stationary bikes and stair-climbing machines, but I wasn't sure I could handle more than a half-hour of high-intensity cycling. However, Vinson reassures me, "We're big on 'no competition, go at your own pace.'"

After a 10-minute warm up, we move into the heart-rate-accelerating portion of the class. We start off with almost no resistance, working up to the "hill-climbing" finale. Throughout the class, Vinson prompts us to check our heart-rate and to modify our activity level in order to stay in the desired range.

I find that part of Spinning's appeal lies in a mind-body connection. At one point, Vinson invites us to close our eyes and create a Zen-like inner bike path. I find I vastly prefer Spinning to dance-oriented aerobics and I push myself much harder than I would if left alone on a stationary bike.

After the workout, my glutes felt nicely toned and taut, and I don't doubt the exercise's ability to burn calories. In fact, Vinson talks of clients losing 50-60 pounds in a span of five or six months. "And that's doing it once or twice a week," he says. Vinson recommends Spinning no more than three times a week.

Along with the cardiovascular benefits, Spinning tones the lower body without overdeveloping the quadriceps. "It's a very good non-traumatic form of exercise," says Dr. Mark Wagner, M.D., of The Sports Medicine Clinic in Seattle. "It's non-stressful to the joints. As long as bikes are set up appropriately, it has a very low-incident of injury to the knee." He recommends Spinning for "anyone with knee injuries, such as cartilage tears, and those who can't run or do weight-bearing activity."

Vinson, who had his knee reconstructed, was drawn to the program because of its low-impact appeal. Watching him speed along on his Spinner, you'd never know he had experienced any sort of injury.

To find the nearest gym or fitness center near you that offers Spinning, call 1-800-847-SPIN.

—Sharon Knolle

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