Fad Fitness: Learning to Fly

Week 3: Our writer improves, but sees he's got a long ride ahead

If Flywheel’s learning curve might more aptly be described as a “learning hill,” then, three weeks into this experiment, that incline is leveling and my pedal strokes are becoming more nimble.

I ended last week’s entry on a hope to climb past my statistical plateau (to mix my geological metaphors) and more classes might do it, I’d said.

But I didn’t have to wait that long. Hours after going to press last week, I checked in at the Flatiron gym for 45 minutes with instructor John Wellmann and maybe seven other riders—4:30pm on a Thursday isn’t the most popular time to workout for Flywheel’s white collar clientele. (If there was any doubt about this, the instructions on every locker literally “dare” you to put away your Blackberry.)

This workout was different. Wellmann has that lean musculature you see on marathoners, and, indeed, his bio says he was once a distance runner. There was very little theater to his style compared to other instructors I’ve had. The pitch of his voice wasn’t hitting those sharp peaks meant to cut through the music and he wasn’t hup-hupping to the beat or raising his arms in calorie-burning ecstasy. It was just a high-intensity ride that kicked off with Madonna’s “Vogue” and never let up.

Wellmann focused on keeping the numbers up, with less third position—standing, front of the handlebars—and a whole lot more of second—standing, back of handlebars. In second, you can sustain higher speeds than in third, with the added difficulty of holding your core in a vertical line.

I was blowing past all my benchmarks—Wait, my total power is at 100, and we’re only 15 minutes in?!—and finished with 271 total power, which creamed my previous high of 232. More on the meaning of these numbers next week…

With my newfound confidence, I enrolled in instructor Grant Belton’s Saturday “endurance” ride.

As it turned out, much of the difference between a regular session and an endurance one is the absence of weights in the latter. Sure, we were hitting higher targets with our torq, and had more and longer steep hills than I can accurately recount, but the real zinger was not dialing my legs down for a spell so I could torture a different part of my body.

In a regular session, the weights seem easy enough: One two-pound bar and one four-pounder. Since I wait tables for the better part of my living, I like to flatter myself that the holding-things-aloft part of my body’s machinery is in good shape. Well, it ain’t.

In my very first class I thought, suuure, 6-pound curls, no biggie. OK, actually—ow!—this really burns, crap!, ow ow ow. Oh, crap, I have to hold my arms straight out for 30 seconds? No, I—just—can’t.

Next class I tried doing only four pounds… aaand the next I was down to only two.

The problem here isn’t only weight. It’s that you’re sitting on a small triangle while your legs are pedaling 20 miles per hour, and your entire body is screaming, “Put those things down! You’re about to fall over and clunk your melon on the next guy’s bike!” In other words, your whole body is engaged in the task of holding six pounds (or four, or two) parallel to the ground.

And as torturous as that part of the workout is, man, I sure missed it when climbing my 15th hill in that Saturday endurance class.

And the results? 284!

But what’s this? No victory lap for me.

At the very top of the men’s TorqBoard, guys are hitting 400, even 415. This is a far cry from the advice I’d gotten from Steven Little early on, to simply try to keep up with the instructor. These guys were burning well over a thousand calories in 45 minutes and, clearly, had to have been cranking their torq well above target, and riding 30 or 40mph, to boot.



About the Project: The Active Times' Fad Fitness Challenge is a six-week-long project in which five hapless writers will immerse themselves in five popular fitness programs—CrossFit, Insanity, Barre, Flywheel and Kettlebell classes—for the dual purposes of getting in shape and evaluating them for our readers. We guinea pigs will bust our butts, burn calories and discover muscles we'd long since mothballed and, if all goes well, emerge into the New Year with a well-rounded perspective of the top fitness fads. Check back every weekday from now until the New Year to come along for the ride without breaking a sweat. Click here to check out the rest of the programs.