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A new spin on exercise is riding its way into Vancouver

Exercise on stationary bikes isn’t new, but boutique-style studios are making the exercise trendy

By Anya Zoledziowski , in , on November 23, 2016 Tags:

Natasha Lowe knew it was a gamble when she quit her corporate job five years to set up Vancouver’s first spin studio.

“People were like, ‘What’s spinning? Are you getting involved in the wool business?'” Lowe said, laughing.

Exercise on stationary bikes isn’t new, but boutique-style studios, featuring dimmed lights, blaring music and spa-like touches, are making the exercise trendy.

But one fitness expert warns that there could be downsides to all that spin.

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Natasha Lowe stands in Cadence Cycling Studio.

Spin-bike classes offer low-impact physical activity that, among other benefits, burn around 500 calories per hour, work out the entire body — not just legs — and improve cardiovascular health.

Boutique-style studios offer attractive amenities in addition to the workout. Equinox gym advertises cold eucalyptus towels for post-spin cool-downs and Cadence offers complimentary coffee for early-morning fitness enthusiasts.

UBC coach has concerns

Boutique spin studios have introduced a ritzy cardio workout to the Vancouver fitness market, but Joe McCullum, a strength and conditioning coach at the University of British Columbia, has concerns about the large class sizes.

“I just don’t like to see people get hurt. In any group setting, you have a higher risk of injury because it’s not possible to give the one-on-one attention needed,” said McCullum.

“To assume that my body and your body should be treated the same is outrageous.”

In addition to his concerns surrounding class quality, McCullum explained boutique-style studios only require their instructors to hold online certifications.

It’s a stark contrast to his past experience at a fitness centre where indoor cycling training was run by Olympic cyclists.

Joe McCullum trains young UBC athletes at the campus gym complex.

‘Criticisms unfounded’

Lowe has heard the criticisms before but argues they are unfounded.

She says she has never met a successful spin instructor who doesn’t have an athletic background.

“We would consider somebody who has done a certification, but has no previous fitness experience to be a complete beginner.” In other words, you have to have a strong fitness background to be eligible to teach.

New instructors at Cadence also have to go through rigorous one-on-one training and teach free practice classes before they are put on the schedule, Lowe said.

Regarding the large class sizes, Lowe said that all group classes, not just spin, offer little personal attention.

At Cadence, extra staff support the instructor in class and help clients with particular needs.

“Our focus is on sharing energy with a group and working collectively,” said Lowe.

Class size influences quality

Emily Gray attends spin class at Trout Lake Fitness Centre two to three times per week.

Trout Lake isn’t a boutique spin studio, but the centre gets instructors from spin studios to teach its classes. This has given Gray a taste of what studio classes offer.

She has noticed  that class size influences her workout quality.

With smaller class sizes the instructors can “tailor [the class] more to what you’re interested in,” she said. “This means that instructors will pay attention to factors like your calorie count, how the class pace is affecting you, and how your bike is set up.

Gray initially started attending classes after a knee injury prevented her from enjoying other forms of exercise.

“I used to run a lot but I find I get at least as good, if not better, cardio [in spin class] and its low impact on the joints,” she said.

“When instructors put on the loud music and shout to get everyone pumped up, it’s fun.”

Better to spin than sit on the couch

The potential benefits of spin classes may ultimately outweigh the risks, said UBC’s Joe McCullum.

“If someone is off the couch now and doing something, it’s great,” he said. “If we’re getting people to do one or two exercise sessions [per week] where they’re sweating, I think it’s got a huge impact.”