Fad Fitness: Converting Fat into Fab

Week 4: Losing weight, toning up and a caloric math lesson

Let’s talk about my body.

I’m 5 feet, 8 inches, 156 pounds, and have a slightly squishy midsection that seems to be the final resting place of all my body fat. There have been changes, ever so slight, to my shape, since this Flywheel business began.

For starters, I’ve lost five pounds. My weight’s been hovering just over 155 for a couple weeks now, but it was 161 four weeks ago, and liked to linger a bit higher on weeks when I wasn’t working much. Now my Levi’s, with their 32” waist, no longer dig into my belly when I bend over.

There is also a vertical column protruding from my middle-jelly all the way to my rib cage.

“My abs go this high?,” I thought, once I’d noticed the change. It seems that turning your core into Emergency Balance Command Post Alpha for 45 minutes at a clip, three times a week, actually gives you definition.

My chronic upper back pain has improved, too, but it’s hard to say whether physical therapy or strengthening my core through Flywheel is the cause. I’ll chalk it up to both.

The real change is in my thighs. I wish I’d taken measurements beforehand, but these babies are starting to feel like pistons—pistons that really hurt when I walk up stairs. I’ve even discovered a new source of amusement in making my quads dance without moving my legs. “And up and down and up and down…”

But, back to my weight, what Flywheel really seems to be about is burning calories. Calories burned, indirectly measured through Flywheel’s “power” reading, is really at the heart of the experience. At least once I’ve heard an instructor explicitly use weight loss as encouragement:

“Don’t drop below 90 [rpm]! This is where you start to feel the fat just melting away!”

Appropriately enough for a generation raised on video games and spectator sports, Flywheel keeps you focused on your personal calorie bonfire with a barrage of numbers: the bike’s meter, the “torq board” and your cumulative stats, collected on Flywheel’s website.

As I said before, the meter tracks four things: your RPM, your “torq,” your “current power” and your “total power,” which is effectively your day's score.

The torq, as a reminder, is a measure of resistance. The higher the torq, the steeper the hill. Throughout a workout you’ll range from the low teens, corresponding to downhill, all the way up to 40+, which is as steep an uphill as you’ll get.

In my hours spent staring at this device, I’ve determined that the “current power” equals the torq times RPM, divided by 100. Math alert:

This means that for a torq of 20 and RPM of 100, your current power will be 20; for a torq of 30, RPM 60, it will be 18.

What does this mean, increasingly bored reader?

Based on my stats, I averaged about 15 power units throughout my last class, which translates to a “total power” of 264—I can see you yawning there in the back, but stay with me—and approximately 717 to 792 calories burned.

That is, you multiply your “total power” by three to get your ballpark caloric burn.

So, if you want to hit 300 for a class, which seems to be the line dividing the serious riders from beginners like me, your current power needs to hover around 17 for the duration.

This means cranking up the torq past the shouted targets while keeping your legs flying at the suggested RPM. Think of it as exercise poker:

“I’ll take your 30 torq and raise you five.”

Your move, buddy.


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.