The Best Way to Start Your Week: A Love Letter to My Sunday Morning Spinning Class

This Sunday marks somewhat of an end of an era for me. I’ve been teaching a Sunday morning indoor cycling class at XSport Fitness in Alexandria since the summer of 2010 – it started as a class I participated in, which then convinced me to become a Spinning instructor – and it was also the first class I ever team taught, eventually becoming the very first cycling class I could call my own.

It’s been quite a journey. Like every format I’ve ever taught, I spent those first couple of classes still kind of trying to figure it out (any instructor who will tell you otherwise is either an enigma, or lying). Before too long, I truly found my style – those of you who have checked out my playlists know I organize my classes into 3 “building blocks,” which typically start relatively tame, and four to five songs later, straddle the line somewhere between brutal and miserable. But nothing was truly as amazing as when I realized that I had built a core group of awesome people who joined me every Sunday morning.

When I was asked to change my Sunday schedule, I didn’t think too much about it, but once I had committed to the move (yes, I’m still teaching a Sunday double, but moving cycle to Thursday nights at 5:45 … you didn’t think you’d get rid of me that easy, did you?), it sunk in: I was giving up my very first cycling class. So much has happened on those Sunday mornings. It was actually a Sunday morning when I was taking a class, shortly after my certification class, and before I was officially on the schedule, that I taught my very first song (I vividly remember the morning Dylan looked at me, and told me to pull my bike out and teach a song – Usher’s “OMG.” So yeah, if you’ve been wondering where my style of harder than necessary meets somewhat crazy comes from, you can thank Dylan). I’ve seen people succeed in their fitness journeys – some go from “uh, I have no idea how to set this bike up” to Spinning junkies. In many ways, I think I’ve grown, too – not only as a cycling instructor, but as a person.

As today’s headline suggests, I view this is somewhat of a love letter to my Sunday morning Spinning class. Whether they realize it or not, they have meant the world to me. They stuck by me in the beginning, and didn’t run away when I determined my style to be “kinda evil.” They kept joining me, even when I’m sure some of them were a little tired of weeks filled with Katy Perry and David Guetta and “Moves Like Jagger.” Heck … they even started requesting, and getting excited, on weeks we would end with Sting (“Desert Rose.” It’s like yoga on a bike. It’s an incredible way to end a class – four minute climb, all about clearing your mind, thinking about what you’ve accomplished throughout class and getting your week off to a great start. You bet that’s the last song on tomorrow’s playlist).

So, to my Sunday morning cyclists: you have been my savior. Your energy was infectious on the mornings I was exhausted (because a few of those Sundays, I was teaching on maybe four hours of sleep). Your questions and suggestions pushed me to become a better, more knowledgeable instructor. Your kindness and your dedication always put a smile on my face, even on days I was feeling sad or lonely or hurt (my smile may hide it, but there have been more than a few). You’ve been my inspiration, you’ve been my therapy, and yes, you’ve been my reason to get out of bed early on Sunday mornings. For that, I’m forever grateful.

That said, I want to end the same way I do every class I teach: thank you so much for joining me, because I truly do appreciate it. Though we will no longer be spending our Sunday mornings together (unless you decide to swap cycle for Piloxing, starting July 22 at 9:30 a.m. … or take up Pilates, which moves to 10:30 a.m. starting July 8 … or you want to start cycling at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday nights … hint, hint), you will always have a special place in my heart.

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On “Favorite” Machines and “My” Spot

Last night, as I made my way up to the cardio floor of my gym – Tuesday is running day – I found myself hoping it wouldn’t be a battle to get a “good” treadmill (one of the ones with the little fans built into them, hopefully with a working tv). I was in luck – my favorite treadmill at the end of the aisle was open. Or so I thought.

Just as I had settled in and was about to put my earphones in, one of the personal trainers walked over to the side of the machine. “Do you mind if we use this one? We’re working on a circuit.” In my mind: “Yes, I mind, there are at least a dozen other machines open.” Out of my mouth (along with a pained look and an eye sweep around the floor), “Uh … I guess so.” He clearly read my face, because he followed up with “This is your favorite, isn’t it?” “Yes,” I replied, pointing to the fan/vent combo directly above the machine, “that’s why.” Since I like to keep the peace, and I know there have been times my former trainers have booted someone off of something so we could use it, I moved halfway down the aisle. It was about two down from a fan, one down from a vent, and ESPN came in kinda fuzzy. But I sucked it up and did my 6.5 miles.

It got me thinking about how territorial we become about our “favorite” machines or “spots” in a class. I can tell you right now what all of mine are (as far as cardio is concerned, it’s the aforementioned end treadmill with the fan/vent combo, the end Precor elliptical in front of the window with the vent facing directly downward, and anything on the end of an aisle if I can help it; before I started teaching, in a cardio class, it was always the front row, to the left of the instructor, or in a Pilates or yoga class, front row, on the end – in fact, despite almost never having time to take classes outside of my own, I found myself in my same “regular” spot when I took a couple Piloxing classes when I was at home during the week of Christmas). And I know I’m not alone on it – in fact, I’ve gone as far as calling out regulars in my classes when they’re in a different place than their “normal” spot.

It’s funny to think about, though, because especially as far as classes are concerned, people get upset when someone (usually a person new to the class) takes “their” spot. I hate to admit it, but I definitely remember times in the past where I spent a class scowling at a person in “my” spot – once or twice maybe even getting a little too close (hey, if I accidently hit them, it’s their fault for taking my spot!) But really … how is a person supposed to know? It’s not like you can put a “reserved” sign in the middle of the floor – though I guess this is why people rush to a Spinning class and put down towels, then disappear for 20 minutes (in fact, my gym has a policy against this in the January/February timeframe – and with good reason). You can’t blame someone for simply claiming a space or machine that appears to be available.

So, do you have a “favorite” machine or spot in a class? And what do you think or how do you deal with it when someone pushes you out of “your” space?

What Your Group X Instructor Wishes You Knew

A lot has changed since I taught my first class, way back in 2007. It’s amazing how much you can pick up throughout the years – and I don’t mean the three or four other certifications I’ve added to my repertoire. It’s the little tips, ideas and observations you gather along the way – and many of them don’t come from continuing education … they are the lessons you learn from the people who frequent your class week after week.

That said, I absolutely love being a group fitness instructor. It is one of the most rewarding jobs I could ever imagine having. But we instructors definitely have our secrets – things you may not see during class, or know about us. Here are a few of the most common things we wish you knew:

  • There’s a lot of prep work before our time together. I took Pilates classes at least twice a week for four years before I started teaching them. I ran Piloxing choreography for months before I was comfortable enough to show it to anyone other than myself in the mirror. I’m constantly searching for new Spinning music, and I spend time every week crafting, shuffling and reworking my playlists so they have the right flow. I’m constantly researching answers to your questions, looking for more efficient ways to explain or cue an exercise.
  • I’m not always happy/healthy/perky/awake … or whatever you think I am. I am definitely not perfect. I’ve taught Spinning classes on three hours of sleep. I’ve smiled and joked through a class the day my grandfather passed away. I feel fat sometimes. I recently spent six weeks teaching on a stress reaction in my left foot (a precursor to a stress fracture, for those of you who are wondering … and no, I had never heard of it until I saw the x-rays, and yes, I would have cried had my doctor cut me off instead of telling me to cut back on the barefoot training). As the instructor said at my Piloxing certification, we have to give 150% just to get our classes to give 80%. It’s truer than you know.
  • That said … all those eyes can be a little intimidating. Being in front of 15, 25, sometimes 35 or more people is an invitation to be scrutinized. I’m going to miss a cue once in a while. I’m going to say something stupid. I have terrible balance, so I’m probably going to teeter at some point. I may joke about it … but trust me, it’s because I’m beating myself up over it.
  • Leave the phone at home. I vividly remember teaching a Spinning class during which a girl –right in front of me, nonetheless – sat and texted the entire class. First, you’re distracting yourself from what you should be doing (breathing, focusing on form, pushing yourself), and secondly, you’re a distraction to the people around you, as well. Unless you are a doctor on-call, or your wife is about to give birth any second, there is no reason why you can’t turn the technology for one hour. I leave my cell in the car – my gym time is my me (or class) time.
  • Drink up. I carry a 32 oz. water bottle pretty much everywhere. I go through at least three of them when I’m at work, and usually another one (or more) at the gym. By the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
  • I don’t want your germs. I’m sure the people around you don’t, either. If you’re sick – and especially if it’s something contagious, like the flu – stay home and recover. Pushing too hard when you’re under the weather will just delay getting you back to 100%.
  • Follow my lead. Why go to a class if you’re just going to do your own thing? Not only is it a distraction to the people who want to be doing what I’m doing, you could actually end up hurting yourself. There’s a reason I give modifications and options – so that every fitness level can get the level of difficulty they’re looking for. You shouldn’t be doing crunches while the rest of us are throwing punches and trying not to trip over you.
  • BREATHE! The more oxygen you have circulating through your body, the easier your exercise will feel. Never, ever hold your breath, because you could pass out – and though I am required to be certified in CPR, but I pray I never have to use it.
  • If you have a question, ask me! I love when people come up to me with questions – it tells me that not only did they like my class, they were paying attention and genuinely want to get stronger. I may not always know the answer, but if I don’t, I’ll look into it – or at least try to steer you in the right direction.

So keep these tips in mind, and keeping sharing your ideas and suggestions with me! Knowing what my classes like, what works for them, and what they don’t like is what keeps them coming back for more – even after I send them  home achy and covered in sweat.