My adventures in exercise-land

Opinion: Columns

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By Alan Brouilette

As part of my never-ending quest to become marginally adequate at something, I have begun taking spin classes. First of all, the name is misleading. There is no spinning, as I think of the term. "Spin" is the name given by fitness people to the act of riding a stationary bike while an attractive person in spandex yells at you over boots-and-pants music played at the volume of a modestly-sized airplane. 

There's a lot to get used to with spin. I have written about Pilates before, some of which is at least familiar. Spin is new. I have used stationary bikes before — my family had the same rarely-touched stationary bike masquerading as a coatrack that every other family had in the early 1980s — but I am new to "interval training," which involves going hard for a brief period, then "resting" for an equally brief period while your heart rate returns to normal. Except it isn't really resting, and your heart does not return to a normal rate. Here is how it works if you are me: You ride along for a few minutes, then the drums start pounding and the instructor shouts "crank up that resistance and PUSH IT"! This is the first point I get worried because there are a number of dials and levers and buttons on this contraption, and everyone else is familiar with them and changes speeds and resistances and seat adjustments effortlessly, whereas I am always worried I'm going to touch the button and, rather than increasing the effort required to pedal it, cause the bike to fall apart like the Bluesmobile.

I have a general fear of screwing up in exercise situations. I don't want to try most classes. Restorative Yoga looks sleepy and like most of the exercise would be rolling my eyes. I am not in the Water Aerobics age bracket. I am both unsuited to and uninterested in the classes with names like "Body Blast," as it seems like they ought to just name it "Suffer." Zumba looks fun, but I am fearful of being YouTube Famous. ("Excuse me, sir, but are you 'Fainting Zumba Guy'? Two million views? I knew it! Hey, guys, it is him!") 

I liked weight training, but I am getting a shade old for it. At least, that's what my doctor said when I asked her why both elbows and both shoulders hurt so much all the time. (I'd been hoping for a reason that could be treated, or at least wasn't so depressing.) I sorta liked running, but I mostly did that while I was living in Florida, where the weather isn't quite so wretched. I love Pilates, which is starting to love me back just a little, but doesn't have cardio. So: Spin.

So far, it's pretty good. My legs are sore a lot, which is fine, even nice — I like when I have earned soreness — but I did have to ask the teacher a delicate question about what parts were supposed to hurt in the good way and what parts were getting maybe a little mashed in a way where I wasn't sure it was the kind of pain that built character or burned fat. So I asked, discreetly and apologetically. 

Turns out, to my great and amused surprise, that you kinda do build muscle from sitting on that hideously uncomfortable seat. I forget the name of the muscle she identified — the taint major or crotcheceps or something — but it does in fact toughen up after a couple months so you can sit on the seat for longer periods without feeling like you're straddling a picket fence that turned out to be one half inch taller than you thought it was going to be.

Why evolution chose to bless us with a muscle that toughens after a couple of months sitting on such an unpleasant piece of plastic I do not know, and while this family newspaper is probably not the place to speculate, I suppose they can just cut me off if they find tasteless my guess that the original reason we evolved that particular flex was to

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