Before I began taking a seat up front and centre as a spin instructor, I spent many years sat on the bike hidden at the far back of the room. Through my experience on both sides of the studio, I want to share with you why, if you have never stepped into a spin class, you might just be missing out on a life-affirming, mood-lifting secret weapon - spindorphins.
plural noun: spindorphins
1. a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system during a spin class, which have an exhilarating feel-good impact on your mood.
2. a euphoric feeling that persists even after you leave the saddle.
*not actually featured in the dictionary
I fell in love with spin because of its inclusivity. You may not be fit enough to run, but you can sit on a bike. You may not be able to do burpees, but whatever your fitness level, you can sit on a bike. Furthermore, the 60+ ‘silver riders’ who join my classes attest to the familiar adage that ‘you’re never too old to ride a bike’.
Spindorphins aren’t exclusive VIP rewards for the super fit; your best effort (whatever that looks like) will unlock the power of spindorphins, because they reward the persisters, the early risers, the tryers, those who had a bad day and showed up anyway. That is why you should never let your current fitness ability deny you of the opportunity to saddle up and chase the spindorphin high. Because here’s the thing; coming together in movement is not meant to highlight differences in abilities and set the fittest apart from the first timers. Coming together in movement is how we dissolve the boundaries that divide us. Once we are on the bike, we remove the multiple hats we wear in our lives as mothers, bosses, partners, key workers - and just move. Better yet, move like no one is watching, because let me assure you, if that’s your fear, no one is.
“Imagine combining therapy, with epic tunes and an endorphin rush.”
Movement to music is a tonic for the soul. Have you ever felt a surge of energy or fleeting feeling of being able to take on anything when your favourite song plays? Neurologist Oliver Sachs wrote, “when we listen to music, we listen with our muscles”. In a spin class, the music is more than just background noise; it’s a rhythm to connect you to your movement, a melody to bring your mind to the present moment, a lyric to inspire you. And it is all meant to move you.
In Kelly McGonigal’s brilliant book, ‘Joy of Movement’ she describes how “the brain responds to music it enjoys with a powerful adrenaline, dopamine and endorphin rush, all of which energize effort and alleviate pain”. This is why you can feel fatigued and close to your limit, but then a certain song will suddenly drown out the screaming lactic in your legs and fire you up for a sprint finish you didn’t know you had in you! I see it in every class. There is no better feeling than catching a glimpse of those moments, when people surprise themselves with their own strength.
What sets the spin experience apart from other music pumping, heart-pounding group fitness classes, is the collective synchronisation of movement. We sprint together, we rise out of the saddle together and take on mountains together. McGonigal (Joy of Movement) shares how scientists have proven that there are positive physiological changes that occur when a group of people (even strangers!) move together, in the same formation, at high intensity. It seems that our biology is tuned to recognise and respond to synchronised movement – our DNA literally compels us to connect through movement and become part of something bigger than ourselves. The riders either side of you are not your competition, but part of your collective power. McGonigal calls it ‘collective joy’ – in case you missed the title, I call it spindorphins! Despite the rise of Pelotons and home workouts, I have no doubt that people will return to places where they can move together – it is our first nature to do so.
“I’ve never tried spin because I am so unfit and I’ve heard it’s really hardcore”.
When I get asked “is spin beginner friendly?” or “isn’t it really hardcore?” my answer is always the same; it’s as hard as you make it. You create your own atmosphere of growth using the resistance dial right at your fingertips. The instructor makes suggestions and you make decisions on speed, resistance and intensity. You don’t need to fear being out of your depth in a class, as you set the challenge for yourself. Then you continue to raise the bar for yourself each time you get on the bike, because no one shows up for easy.
The key to unlocking the greatest, life-affirming level of spindorphins, is when you eventually realise that it’s always about something bigger than the bike; it becomes our training ground for life. We shift our mindset from avoiding hard things, to embracing them, head on. We load resistance, endure discomfort and literally create mountains for ourselves to overcome. The simple act of climbing inspires will, determination and staying power. When we are on the bike, just like in life, we have a choice; we practice taking the easy path, or we practice overcoming resistance and whatever we practice more is what we master. Our psyche remembers these physical demonstrations of resilience and grit, so when we face struggles in relationships, work or personal pursuits, we feel more empowered and mentally equipped to put the necessary work in to endure these challenges.
During the final track of the class, I often ask everyone to remind themselves WHY they showed up. What are you here to prove to yourself? How do you want to feel when you leave the room? How hard are you willing to work for it? That is the fuel that extinguishes fatigue every single time.
If lockdown has left you craving connection beyond screens and living rooms, there’s a new spin studio in town, with an open invitation to come and try the spindorphin high*. An invitation to step in and become part of something bigger than your calorie count. An invitation to let yourself be moved.
See you on the bike…
*Please be warned that side effects may include; a euphorically great mood, becoming totally hooked, becoming a morning person, buying spin shoes, listening to every song and wondering how good it would sound on a spin bike.