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finding your “Raaarrrr!”

July 6, 2011

I really thought I’d finally found a form of exercise that I could do without falling down or running into anything. But the other day, as I navigated my way to my bike for spinning class, I hit another person’s moving bike wheel with my knee. The visual was pretty gory: the red burn on top scabbed over; the bruise underneath featured yellow and purple on top of a base green.

When I first started dating my husband, I was an NYC rollerblader – and I mean NYC streets. No central park loop for me. After a particularly nasty slip on a puddle of oil, I was pleased to discover that he found the hematoma on my ass to be sexy. The first time he took me mountain biking and I got a chainring tattoo, he thought that was hot too. I think when I broke my wrist my first time snowboarding (noticing a trend here?) he felt more pity than awe, but he was still impressed that I had tried snowboarding. In that spirit, I decided to treat my spinning injury as a sure sign that I’m a badass.

Ever since my most recent accident, which broke my heel bone and put me on crutches for four months, I’ve taken particular joy in what I’ll call the “Raaarrrr!” moments of exercise. Though I’m still in pain every day and I cannot do some of the things I love (rollerblading, for instance), I am now in better shape than I was when I fell (in a totally non-badass way, doing nothing cool at all) down a flight of stairs. Spinning is one of the things I’ve found that I can do with minimal discomfort, and it sure is a great cardiovascular workout. The teachers tend to be even more enthusiastic than group fitness teachers I’ve had before, and their enthusiasm and energy inspires me to push myself to the “Raaarrrr!” moment: that moment when you know you’re gonna make it to the end of an interval, when you’re putting everything you’ve got into it and you realize you’ve actually got more than you thought. It’s the feeling of victory over your own limitations that makes you want to sound off, whether it’s just a loud “Yeah!” or an actual roar.

But how do you find your ” Raaarrrr” capacity? I’ve been spinning on a Groupon at Kinetic Cycling in Brentwood, and their bikes give you very precise feedback on your RPMs, your watts expended, and your calories burned. The levels of resistance on the bikes are finely tuned and allow you to go up or down by just a little or a lot. I spend most of a class there between 9 and 15, for example. Yesterday I took a class at RealRyder (thank you LivingSocial), and their bikes are very different. You can move them side-to-side as if you were turning, which works the core and upper body, and simply turning a knob changes the resistance level. The knob contains no numbers or settings; you just turn it as much as you need/want.

One of the teachers at Kinetic (now retired) encouraged us to set our levels similarly, by listening to and asking questions of our bodies instead of simply aiming for numbers on the display. She would say, for example, “find a level that you feel you could sustain for an hour,” and then ask you return to this same level in between more difficult intervals of “a level you can sustain for two minutes.” This way of working out really appeals to me. So many of us do not know how to listen to our bodies, to understand what our own physical sensations can tell us about ourselves, and so much of our lives can be improved by developing that capacity. Our ability to respond to stress, to manage sitting at a desk all day without developing muscle imbalances, our enjoyment of sex, and our ability to work out effectively, for example, are all products of being able to understand our bodies’ needs and accept our physical feelings with no judgments. How can you tell when, for example, you are about to hit your “Raaarrrr!” moment and when are you about to overheat or fatigue yourself to the point of injury? This is something you can learn to feel. The RealRyder bikes encourage you to to create a challenging workout using your own sense of how hard you are working and of how hard you are capable of working as you go, helping develop this very skill.

I did find, though, that I missed seeing that calories-burned readout at the end of the workout. I don’t count the calories I eat (not a good idea for an obsessive brain like mine), so the number of calories I burn isn’t valuable to me as a weight loss tool. But to be told, just as I’m pushing myself through the very last and hardest interval of the class, that after 45 minutes of kicking my own ass I have burned more than 500 calories? Now that’s a “Raaarrrr!” moment.

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