Scott Saalman’s latest Herald column.
“TENSION!” the crazed spinning class instructor yells, his code word for turning the yellow resistance knob just below my knees to the right to make it even harder to pedal. I hate this guy. I really do.
Spin class. I don’t belong here. I belong in something easier. Is there a coasting class? That’s the best thing about riding a bike — coasting. You can’t even coast on a spin bike. What madman designed this thing?
Ten seconds later, he shouts it again. “TENSION!” Every time he says this, I get tense. My fellow spinners obey, adding another full turn. I pretend to follow suit, applying a fake twist just in case anyone is monitoring my movement. It’s an Oscar winning performance. That’s the best thing about spin class: We are on the honor system when it comes to increasing . . .
I see a roomful of hands once again go to the resistance knob, they twist clockwise. I do another air twist — fake a grunt for good measure.
The instructor has to yell because of the blood-pumping beats of music bouncing between the walls. It is death metal music, the genre I credit to any group louder than the Eagles. The band’s name is likely Megadeth Spin or Alice in Bike Chains.
“BREATHE!” he shouts, then gives us tips on how to breathe, assigning a certain amount of time to the inhale, then the exhale. I try to focus on his breathing instructions but can’t do it right. I can’t synchronize with the others. I hate group breathing. I inhale, but feel nothing. I fake the exhale since nothing has been inhaled. Apparently I haven’t breathed right in years. How am I even still alive?
“TENSION!” the instructor yells. To his credit, he does twist his own knob every time he tells us to twist ours — he walks the talk like a true leader — yet he never seems fazed by the added resistance, which should now make his legs feel like they are encased in concrete; it only makes him seem more determined; he savors the burn; his legs are a cartoonish blur as he pedals harder and harder, entranced, as if in a personal battle to see who will break first, man or machine, a regular John Henry of the gym. I hate him. Did I tell you this already? His eyes are closed. I should just sneak out. His eyes open as if reading my mind. He’s a demon, I tell you. A madman.
“TENSION!” He grits and growls as he encourages us onward — “PUSH AND PULL, PUSH AND PULL, AYEEEEAH!” The more he gets into the workout, the harder he is to understand, as if he’s speaking in tongues or calling an auction. The front of my shirt is drenched with sweat. I am sweating more than Meat Loaf in concert. The instructor keeps pedaling like a bat out of hell.
In the past, at the gym, I would hear the spin class music blaring from the mysterious spin class room as I messed with some weight machines and the treadmill on the other side of the building, the walls thumping with electronica like the rebirth of Studio 54. I imagined spinners snorting blow, their faces lit up with disco ball glow. It sounded like a dance party in there. Only recently, bored with my own workout, did I dare open myself up for a new challenge. I stepped outside my comfort zone, entered the spin room, thinking, “Once. I’ll just do it once just to say I did it.”
The instructor never seems happy with the status quo. He’s always changing his mind, switching up our body positions, pedal speeds and resistances. It’s like he’s declared jihad on our quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Sometimes, instead of “TENSION!” he shouts for us to “HOVER!” That’s when you barely raise your butt off the bike seat and really lean in on the handlebars. How I hate the hover. You can’t fake a hover. I am very self-conscious when it comes to the hover. I’m not sure I hover right. I just don’t like my butt hovering in that jockey-like position. It’s just asking for trouble. A dog’s dream!
“HOVER!” When he hovers, no part of his body seems to be touching the bike, as if he’s levitating in some Zen-jockey way.
As soon as I get comfortable hovering, he yells for us to “SIT!” Then, as soon as I savor sitting, he demands that we “HOVER!” Then “SIT!” Then “HOVER!” Then “SIT!” Barely three seconds between positions. He obviously is oblivious to the discomfort his indecisiveness is creating for our bodies. No clear-thinking human being would do this to another human being.
“PUSH AND PULL!”
I barter with God to get me through this. Then, miraculously, our 45 minutes are up. We towel off our face sweat, wipe down our bikes, share our indoor cycling survivor smiles. I forget the promises made to God, remaining the wretch I had been before the class. The instructor praises us for our endurance, encourages us to return. I hate him. I can’t wait to see him next week.