Five years ago, something was born at Gold’s Gym in Syracuse, NY.
A new kind of training program came on the scene, simply named Advanced Cycling. The class was organized as a weekly long ride on the spin bike, providing cycling enthusiasts, athletes in training and gym rats alike with an opportunity to ride longer than the usual hour-long spin classes on the weekly schedule.
On its face, the program seemed to be little more than an extended workout.
In its soul, it became so much more.
I designed the program to give myself a way to train for Ironman on the spin bike, and answer the call that many had made for years: do a class that’s longer than an hour! I wasn’t the only one that wanted to ride long, but I knew that I had to make the best use of my time to transform those long rides into something more than great music and moving fly wheels. There needed to be purpose behind the pedals. How fast to turn them and with how much intensity? I turned my coaching brain on to develop a program that held to the basic tenets of any successful endurance training program: periodization, building aerobic base, increasing volume slowly, peaks and valleys. This was the just the beginning.
For 16 weeks I would use the spin bike as a training tool for my own race preparation, but also as a way to introduce people to the sport of cycling and the psychology of their inner voice.
The power of the mind comes easily to me, but over the years I’ve realized that for many athletes, this is THE area that they are most confused by. How do you teach yourself to THINK differently? How do you push yourself through things that hurt, and when you’ve mastered that, how do you make yourself have a positive attitude about it? I knew that I wanted to make “the mind” a front-and-center focus in my classes.
I didn’t just want to give people “a good workout,” or a “mind-opening session” on the bike. I wanted to give them the tools to make all of their workouts feel that way. On the bike or not, with company or not, as part of a goal or not.
I wanted to teach them to fish, if you will.
As a cyclist, I loath the fact that “spinning” has become a branded term to describe a cardio workout on a cycling machine in the gym. Spinning is technically a cycling term that references a fast, light turnover on the pedals. It’s the opposite of “hammering” which is typically used to describe slower, more forceful pedal strokes in a bigger gear. (Note to self: Can we have a Hammering class?). In the first year of Advanced Cycling, I’d say that half of the athletes were cyclists looking for a way to get in long workouts on the bike through the winter months. The other half were hardcore gym rats who wanted to take on whatever challenge I (or anyone else in the gym) could throw at them. I was eager to take them on my journey through Ironman training, but also to introduce them to cycling.
And most importantly, to the power of the mind.
I wanted them to learn about “spinning” as a way to truly engage their being through the pedals rather than syncing movement with pop music.
I wasn’t interested in push-ups on the bike, jumps out of the saddle, or hair tossing. I thought to myself, “I want to build the kind of class where all of that excitement and drama is building from within.” I didn’t want hype or gimmicks.
If someone were to look through the glass door during my class, they might not see how much work is actually happening on those bikes. Oftentimes you’ll see a person leaning forward in an aerodynamic position plodding along for long periods of time. You won’t see the work from the door.
But you’d see it in their eyes.
My class has been compared to many things—Soul Cycle, therapy, Jillian Michaels, stand-up comedy, a DJ set, and hell, to name a few. I believe people come to get different things out of it. In a row of five cyclists, I could have an Ironman athlete, someone riding a bike for the first time, a recovering cancer patient, a mother and her son all pedaling along to the same song, under the same coaching.
But they will be on five very different rides.
This, to me, is perfect. This means that people are using fitness as a means to an end. Life is hard, reality sucks, and for most of us every day comes with some sort of challenge or obstacle that tests us. Based on what I’ve seen and heard for the past five years, I’ve come to understand that Advanced Cycling has almost zero to do with getting stronger on the bike. Yes, it WILL make you stronger and is designed to do that, but it’s not the physical strength that people talk to me about when they’ve completed the journey.
It’s the mojo.
The program works because it trains the mind. When your mind is strong, you can do anything. Riding a bike for two hours is just the beginning. Crossing an Ironman finish line is just the beginning. Your first 5K is just the beginning. Surviving a break-up, a death, an illness…is just the beginning.
Mojo isn’t about finish lines. It’s about new beginnings. As we wrap up the first week of this fifth year of the program in this evening’s two-hour Advanced Cycling class, I will look around the room at the faces before me. Some are back from previous years, some are joining us for the first time. If you see us through the glass door, know that you’re looking at a sea of change.
Come April 26, we’ll be crashing out of there with the force of a tsunami ready to take on the world.