“I see you baby, stay at the top!” yells Robin Arzon as I crank up my resistance and start pedaling faster. I’ve been taking her 45-minute online cycling classes using the Peloton app on a bike in my gym’s spin room when there’s no class going on, and despite the 45 empty bikes surrounding me, I feel like I’m hanging in a pack with Lance Armstrong on one of his Tour de France training rides.
I’m focused. I’m determined. And I’m motivated to show Robin I can push hard when she says so — despite the fact Robin has no idea who I am, what I look like or that I’m even streaming a spin class she taught two Saturdays ago.
Yet something amazing is happening: I’m getting stronger, and it’s making me even more excited to get on my road bike to see how the fruits of my indoor cycling class labor is going to pay off outside.
Fast forward a few months, and I’ve got my answer. Here’s how taking online spinning classes in the offseason helped me on my road bike this spring and summer:
I STAYED FITTER THAN USUAL IN THE OFFSEASON
I live in Boulder, Colorado, land of too many winter sport options to count. While you’ll find me cross-country skiing or snowshoe running when it’s too cold or snowy to get on my bike, I never put my road bike on a trainer or took spin classes — and my bike fitness suffered. Sure, my cardiovascular health never dipped too much thanks to my hours on the Nordic track and love of trudging through feet of snow. But as any road cyclist will tell you, too much time out of the saddle doesn’t do great things when you’re back in it on those first few rides come spring.
Yet after sneaking in at least a couple spin classes each week all winter, I couldn’t believe how easy my first outdoor ride felt. I was able to hold a solid pace on the flats and didn’t grunt once on the hills. In fact, I felt so strong I found myself riding more than usual — and even asking cyclist friends who are stronger and faster than me if I could try to hang on their next ride.
I BECAME A BEAST ON HILLS
I’ll never forget my first bike ride in Colorado after my move from New York City. A friend took me up a pretty steep hill and my breathlessness, weakness and need to unclip my shoes and walk my bike to the top had me feeling like I was having a heart attack at age 28. Despite 11 years of altitude adjustment, I still find climbing at more than 5,400 feet above sea level challenging — which is why I tend to avoid rides with big hills until late summer or early fall, when I feel like my bike fitness level is high enough to not have another walk-to-the-top embarrassment.
Though after a few months of online spin classes, which almost always involve some resistance-induced “hills,” I can’t believe how strong I’m feeling on my outdoor climbs. My quads and glutes know exactly how to kick into action to help me power up inclines, and I’m even noticing I’ve replaced my usual hill mantra (“right, left, right, left” as I focus on just one pedal stroke and then another) with something more empowering (“You’ve so got this!”). Now, that same hill that threatened to take me down at 28 feels like cake-walk at nearly 40.
I CHANNELED PEP TALKS IN TIMES OF NEED
While my indoor cycling habit has largely meant that I feel strong on my road bike, there are days when I feel less than stellar. On those rides, I’ve found something magical happens: Out of nowhere, Robin’s voice will pipe up somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind saying something like, “You’ve got this, hustler!” or “I see you baby, stay at the top!” When that happens, I flash back to my time sweating it out on the spin bike — and I find I’ve got a little more in my tank than I previously thought.
I FELL BACK IN LOVE WITH MY ROAD BIKE
I think one of the reasons I stuck to my online spin class regimen during the offseason (and still sneak a class in here and there now that I’m riding more regularly outside) is that I find them really fun. The music, combined with amazing trainers makes the time fly, and the efficient sweat sessions leave me feeling accomplished.
However, no matter how engaged I am on these indoor rides or how many calories I blast, this fact remains: I’m not actually going anywhere. What’s more, my view of Peloton’s trainers (albeit beautiful and inspiringly buff) is pretty one-note. Which is why, on my first road ride this year, I had a greater appreciation than ever before of the 27 miles of ground I covered and the amazing Colorado landscape I was looking at while I did.