I know what you’re thinking, “The Zen of spin class? What’s Zen about riding a bike while your legs are spinning at 100 RPMs? And how can this exertion possibly quiet your mind?” Oh contraire. Sometimes it’s the act of the exercise, not the accomplishment of finishing that can quiet your mind. And yes, this includes the heart-pumping cardio activity of spinning.
When I first began my spin journey, I’ll be honest; I thought I was going to die. If not for the shoe clips keeping me firmly attached to the bike like super glue, I would have flown over the handlebars. But after a weeks-long recovery, back in the saddle I got – and I’ve never looked back.
Most people experience good and bad days with new exercise routines. Once you hit your groove, however, there’s a certain satisfaction that helps quiet the mind and keep you coming back for more. While many relate the Zen concept with a more meditative exercise like yoga, it’s just as easy to get lost in your thoughts with spinning, especially in a dark, air-conditioned studio when your heart is racing and sweat is pouring down your face.
7 Ways to Quiet the Mind While Your Legs are Screaming During a Spin Class
Get in the zone – for many, the act of being Zen simply means to be present and in the moment. Whether you’re in the warm up portion of class or climbing a treacherous, steep hill, get your mind in the zone and focus on breathing, pedal strokes and the music. No matter how many classes I’ve taken, I never seem to get in the zone until after the warm-up but once I’m there, class flies by and is over before I feel the urge to unclip and quit.
Ride the beat of the music – every spin instructor designs his or her class differently, whether it’s with their music choices or ride patterns. The hardest part of the ride for me are steep hills. As much as I try and challenge myself, and pull up on the pedals instead of push down, I don’t always catch up to the instructor’s recommended resistance level. But when I stay on the beat of the music, I get lost in the ride and always finish strong.
Go at your own pace – there’s always one rider in a spin class that out-paces the rest like they’re competing in the Tour de France. Ignore them! This is your ride; don’t concentrate on anyone else but you. If you need to start slow and build up, fine. Just make sure with each class you’re challenging yourself to do just a little better than you did before. There’s nothing more Zen than self-improvement.
Turn up the “Torq” – I take all my spin classes at Flywheel Sports. While similar to other indoor cycling studios around the country, one distinction is the bike tech-pack showing resistance or Torq. Throughout class, instructors call out recommended Torq settings for each segment of the ride. Obviously, the higher the Torq the harder you’re working, so how can this act possibly quiet your mind? This is where getting in the zone and going at your own pace helps. Like self-improvement, knowing you’re getting stronger with each ride is an amazingly Zen-like feeling.
Set a personal goal – The goal for my first spin class was to finish the ride. I almost didn’t make it. True story. Now I set personal goals beyond just finishing the class. Earlier I mentioned the Torq on Flywheel’s bike tech-pack. RPMs, current (how hard you’re working) and total power scores (average of all metrics) are also shown.
For my first ride I posted a total power score of 163 (ranking last in class — not a proud moment) – but I finished the class! I’m happy to report over the past two years I’ve significantly improved and have smashed that initial low total score. Today, while most of my total power scores range anywhere from 285-295 (ranking in the top 10), I have entered the 300s several times and on a recent 60-minute ride, got a total power score of 405 (ranking 2nd in class!). I was very tired on that day.
Don’t forget to breathe – sometimes it’s easy to forget to breathe while exercising. You’re so busy concentrating on proper form, following instructions, and just getting through the class that breathing becomes an afterthought. Practicing good breathing techniques is key to any workout routine, especially in a spin class. Most spin instructors recommend inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. I’m still trying to master this pattern as it feels like patting my head and rubbing my stomach. Regardless of how you breathe, just remember to do it – you’ll put less strain on your heart and of course, minimize the chance of passing out. What’s more Zen than that?
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Have fun! – Who says exercise can’t be fun? Well, a lot people say this but it’s because their workout of choice is probably not that much fun. One of my favorite spin instructors always encourages us to smile and sing along during our ride. She swears this trick makes you go faster and get stronger. While I don’t truly buy in to this theory, especially during long, steep hills, I do like to have fun in class and as such, leave all my worries and stress behind – even if it’s only in a 45 minute spin class.
Bottom line — applying the concept of Zen to anything you do is easy, especially rigorous exercise, so long as you free your mind and show up.
Please share your Zen exercise routines in the comments below!