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Bike your way to better health in 2014

POSTED: December 30, 2013 4:59 p.m.

"You will exercise at least 30 minutes a day," the doctor said following a physical exam last month.

Then she added those dreaded words. "Women your age" have to exercise or else gain weight.

I never expected to hear those two sentences spoken to me at my age. I’m only 35. I didn’t think I would hear "women my age" and "must exercise" until I was 40, maybe. Apparently, I was wrong.

So when I realized it was my turn to try out a new exercise class offered in the Hall County community, I thought the timing was perfect. I decided to try something new and hopefully discover an exercise regime to fulfill my requirements of exercising "at least 30 minutes a day."

I have been tempted to try the new exercise trend "spinning," which is a high-intensity, low-impact class at the J.A. Walters YMCA in Gainesville.

Participants ride a stationary bicycle to music with guidance from an instructor. And the class is offered a few of times a week, including the Caffeinated Rock-n-Spin course from 8:30-9:30 a.m. every Thursday.

When I arrived, I was greeted by group fitness instructor Audrey Allison. She explained "spinning," or riding the bicycle at a specific speed along with adding or subtracting the resistance, is an excellent cardiovascular workout. I thought the class definitely fit my doctor’s prescription of aerobic exercise.

Allison said the class is good for newcomers and veterans. "Challengers" can push themselves harder by pedaling faster or adding resistance. As a newcomer, she gave me different advice.

"You can do your own thing," she said. "When I tell you to add resistance, you don’t have to."

Then she added one caveat.

"Just don’t stop spinning," she said. "Just release the resistance and keep your legs moving."

With the assurance I could go at my own pace, I was ready to start.

But first, Allison, a hairdresser by trade, set up a bike for me. She explained my legs needed to be a little bent when I was sitting on the bike. The handlebars also needed to be at a comfortable position for me to ride while sitting, standing on the pedals and "hovering."

Hovering is when your forearms and elbows are on the handlebars and parallel with the seat, causing your back to be straight. When you lean forward, your butt "hovers" above your seat.

Once on the bike, I started pedaling and Allison showed me the rpms, or revolutions per minute. I was pedaling at a speed of 55 rpms. Not bad I thought. Little did I know that was slow compared to others.

When the class began, Allison turned off the lights and turned on a small lamp on the floor. She said the darker room allows people to feel more comfortable about riding, because they won’t be self-conscious about how they look.

Brad Vance, a four-year class veteran, had a different perspective.

"It’s where you don’t see big butts bouncing in the seat," he said, smiling.

In the beginning, Allison had the class speed up to 80 rpms. I couldn’t do that at first. So I figured keeping my speed at 70 rpms was a good target.

I did pretty well to start, but when Allison had us "hover" my rpms dropped. So I decided not to keep the pace of 70 unless I was sitting. That allowed me to focus on the movements, pedaling and breathing.

The class rpms ranged from 70 to 90. Allison had the everyone add or take away resistance as the session progressed. She also had the class do "intervals" where spinners stood and pedaled, sat "back in the saddle," "hovered" and then sat again. Of course, it was all done to loud rock ’n’ roll.

I found if I paced myself in time with the music’s beat, it was easier to keep up with the class. That was until about 40 minutes in when Allison had us "push." I was able to push my speed for a few minutes, but then I backed off because my knees and thighs were starting to ache.

"You should be breathless now," Allison said following the brief session.

I thought "I was breathless before. Man, I’m so out of shape."

But I continued. Then during our 4-minute free ride, I pedaled as fast I as could, getting my speed up to 120 rpms at one point. I could only keep that speed for a minute or so. But it was still pretty good I thought.

After we slowed our speeds, Allison had us dismount and stretch our legs and knees.

When I dismounted, I could feel my feet and calves, but my thighs felt like Jell-O — you know part liquid, part solid and a lot wobbly.

Nonetheless, one of my classmates said I did "pretty good for my first time." I didn’t think so, but the important part was I exercised. I think my doctor would be happy.


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