It’s dark and someone at the front of the room is screaming at you. You’re pedaling as fast as you can as sweat pours down your face.
You aren’t having a nightmare. In fact, you signed up for this. And if you believe the hype, you’ll soon be addicted to the rush of the spin class: a craze that has grown in the fitness world for years and shows no signs of slowing down.
As spin classes continue to grow in popularity and more studios pop up around the Chicago area, regular athletes and newcomers alike are trying the high-intensity workout and sticking with it.
“It is addicting because it gets your endorphins and happy juices flowing and it just makes you feel so good that you keep coming back for more,” Jennifer Solberg, co-owner of Spynergy Cycling Studio in Winnetka for more than 15 years, says.
While studios differ slightly, the general idea is the same: set up lines of bikes with an instructor in the front encouraging riders who pedal, jump and twist to the beat of loudly pulsating music for an energetic and exhausting workout.
“There’s nothing like keeping pace with the beat,” Patty Norcross, co-owner of Cycle Cross in Park Ridge, says. “It almost feels like you are in a nightclub dancing.”
Norcross has done marathons, triathlons and half Ironman races, but says no matter what she trained for, spin classes have always been a part of her regimen.
“Everyone can do it. It has a lower impact on your joints,” Norcross says. “Being a runner, as I’ve gotten older I’ve had to cut down on my long runs because of my joints, but with cycling I’ve never had any issues.”
Cycle Cross has a large screen taking up one of its walls that guides riders through 140 different destinations from the hills of Europe to the roads of New York during class. From seeing the snow in the mountains to watching the sunrise in the plains, Norcross says the screen makes time pass faster as riders pedal through real life scenery.
“I’ve always worked out because mentally it gave me strength,” Norcross says. “You put your body through a strenuous workout and it releases a lot of pent up energy and calms you down. You can get that in a quick spin class.”
And the physical benefits aren’t bad either. Norcross leads 10 classes a week.
“I basically can eat anything I want, which is pretty nice,” she says.
Kevin Teborek opened his studio, E-Town Cycle, in Evanston in June, which join the intensity of spin with a number of other workouts.
His classes include one that combines 40 minutes of spinning with 20 minutes of yoga, one that splits an hour between the spin bike and CrossFit, and a two-hour class where riders race to get to 50 miles as fast as they can.
“It’s a really nice hybrid of things,” he says. “We want to work the entire body. Diversification is huge. We can’t just live off one thing.”
Though spinning takes place in a group setting, studio owners say it is still a personal experience. Each rider controls the resistance is on his or her bike, so while it may look like two people next to one another get the same workout, they likely have differences.
“Everyone is feeding off each other,” Solberg said. “Being part of the group motivates you to push yourself.”
Solberg admits that spinning may intimidate newcomers who think they can’t keep up with the class, but she encourages everyone to try it.
“You can make it easy or you can make it hard,” Solberg says, “which means this is something everyone can do.”
Some studios pit riders against riders for a more competitive atmosphere. At Flywheel Chicago’s Gold Coast and Old Town studios, nearly 50 riders try to pedal their way to the top of the leader board during each class.
“It’s a really challenging experience, but it’s as challenging as the rider sets out for it to be,” Donna Cennamano, master instructor, says. “It adds that extra spark, that extra motivation to have a good, fun competition amongst each other.”
Flywheel is an international chain of more than 30 studios where spin classes are choreographed to the music and tech savvy tablets on each bike record and store the rider’s metrics, whether they opt in or out of the competition.
It’s also a great way to keep in shape during Chicago’s prolonged winter season when only the bravest runners and cyclists venture outdoors, Cennamano says.
While the exercise benefits the body and mind, most spinning enthusiasts say the craze is popular because of what happens when people get off their bikes.
“It’s more about the people. You are making new friends and sharing an hour together in a kind of intimate space. People start breaking down all the walls they’ve put up and it becomes very empowering,” Teborek says.
Nowhere is that more evident than at SoulCycle’s locations in the Loop and Old Town.
At $30 a class, SoulCycle costs more than many other spinning options in the city, but participating means you get to be part of the community that everyone from Oprah to Lady Gaga has embraced.
“What SoulCycle has managed to pinpoint is that it’s not just about the workout. You go to see friends, hang out, share a common experience and also to work out and feel good,” Chicago instructor Anthony McClain says. “We try to cultivate an experience that we’re all in this together. It’s not just about sweating. It’s a lifestyle.”
The “sanctuary,” as SoulCycle calls its studios, have anywhere between 40 and 70 bikes in a room lit by a few candles near the instructor’s bike.
“For people who are new you don’t feel like everyone is looking at you,” McClain says. “But, also when the lights are down and I ask you to focus on the sound of my voice you can close your eyes, feel your body and appreciate the moment.”
While spinning has been in the spotlight for a while now, frequent riders say the craze isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“People think it’s going to be a trend or a fad, but feeling good isn’t a fad,” McClain says. “Feeling good doesn’t go out of style.”