I Went To Flywheel For 30 Days And I Got Strong As Hell
It was the summer of 2011 and I was sitting in a gym, tricked into a “complimentary” training session with a personal trainer. You know the one, after signing your life away, an abrasive dude comes over and forces you to agree to a tour of the gym and a subsequent sales pitch about why you need personal training.
The first thing this guy asked me what my goal weight was. Not, "What brought you to our gym?" Just, "How much weight do you want to lose?". Then, he made fun of me when I said that I didn’t want to lose weight. I tried to explain to him that I had spent the previous year working my ass off to lose over 75 pounds and I was trying to find a new gym because I was terrified that I would gain it all back. But he didn't believe me. He told me that we could lose another 20 or so pounds.
It's the story of all of our lives. No matter how much weight you lose, you'll never be skinny enough. And it's bullshit.
Before I became a runner, I was convinced that being active and going to the gym was what unathletic people, like myself, were forced to endure in order to lose weight. And as someone who had already lost a significant amount of weight, I can honestly say that those first few months of physical activity suck. And sticking with it is even harder.
That’s why you need a goal that helps you understand how strong and powerful you already are. Yes, you read that correctly.
Not can be.
Here’s the thing, working towards a goal will never not be a pain the ass.
Life is hard. And after a long day at work paired with whatever hell is going on at home, sometimes putting on a sports bra can feel like climbing Mount Everest.
That’s why you have to find ways to get active that motivate you and make you feel strong and empowered despite the inevitable struggle.
Back in 2014, I was two months out from my second marathon when I developed a painful case of runner’s knee. I’d spent months making sacrifices, running down doubt, and facing my New York City Marathon fears. And right when training got exceptionally tough, being made aware that I may not make it to race day crushed me. Sensing my imminent meltdown, my Physical Therapist suggested that I try indoor cycling. And that’s when I found Flywheel.
In the four years that I’ve been in this crazy world of fitness, I’ve never tried a fitness class that I actually enjoyed. But I f*cking love Flywheel. Why? Because having the stats and numbers on Flywheel’s tech pack helps me set concrete goals. I'm not just trying to convince myself to keep going, I have numbers that I know I can hit and if I'm being honest, I get really competitive. And when you go to Flywheel, you can opt for the Torq board which means that throughout the class, your scores go on television screens.
Scores are separated by men and women and I LIVE for kicking the guy's asses. I LIVE FOR IT. The looks on their faces when they see they are getting their sculpted asses handed to them by a girl who doesn't look like she's as strong as she is is one of the greatest feelings in the world. That alone is motivation for me to push myself as hard as I possibly can.
A few weeks ago, I was having a really bad day so I decided to go spin my heart out at Flywheel. Normally, the more rage or sadness I walk into class with, the higher my score is. After class, a woman who was around my age and had a similar body type to mine came up to me. At first, I assumed that she listened to my podcast or read Run, Selfie, Repeat so I anticipated what she was going to say.
But she totally caught me off guard and we ended up having a conversation that made me want to light sh*t on fire. AND it reminded me how much work is still left to do in changing the way we think strength looks like.
First, she asked me how I was able to get the number I scored in class and I told her that I was a runner; so not only was my endurance already pretty strong but my tolerance to pain and discomfort was high.
But she kept asking me questions and eventually, I just asked her, “Do you mean how do I score the number I score and be my size?” She told me that she didn’t mean to offend me and I told her not to worry, I totally got it.
But then she asked me a question that broke my damn heart. She said, “But what’s your goal weight?”.
I explained to her that I didn’t have one. That one of the reasons why I love Flywheel so much is that it's a weekly reminder that I can be my size (a US size 8/10 and about 160-165 pounds) and score 100 points higher than the tiny fitness model who has ripped arms and a six pack. Because strength comes in all shapes and sizes.
She nodded skeptically and went on her way while I sat there feeling defeated. And that’s when I had an idea: I talk a lot about changing the way we see strength. It’s the fundamental principle behind the #SportsBraSquad and I started thinking about how I could use my Flywheel scores to double down on this backward idea we have that if you don’t look like a fitness model, then you aren’t strong, healthy, in shape, or good enough.
So I decided to see how strong I could get if I went to Flywheel 3 days a week for 4 weeks.
It's a challenge fitness editors pursue all the time, right? The only difference is that every time someone else does it, it almost always focuses on weight loss. You know, this article: "I ran for 30 minutes every day for a month and lost 12 pounds!"
But I’m not interested in losing weight. I’m interested in seeing how strong I can get. And the stats that Flywheel and Strava provide are a foolproof way to see just how hard I’m working and if I’m getting stronger.
So how’d it go? Did I get stronger?
TAKE A LOOK!
The Torq board was out for class #4 but going off my tech pack, my heart rate data, and how I felt, I'm guessing I'd walk away with a score of about 160.
BOOM. I AM BEYONCE.
Did I lose any weight? I don't know! I don't weigh myself and I don't care! My clothes fit the exact same way they did on day 1 as they did on day 31. BUT, the numbers speak for themselves and I absolutely got stronger when I set my sights on the goal, showed up, and went for it.
HELL, I BROKE 500 IN A 60 MINUTE FLYWHEEL CLASS! (I almost passed out at the end there and looked insane, BUT IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT.)
Going into my fun month long challenge, I had three goals:
- Make it through an entire arms section.
- Break 500 in a Fly 60 class.
- See how high I can score in a 45 minute Flywheel class. (My high score at the time was 362. Which is weird because, for the past year, I'd scored 362 about a dozen time and never could break past that barrier.)
I made it through the arms section without needing a break ONCE! And I know it's mental because I push through the same pain when I run and ride and give up during arms. Which is frustrating and I really do want to get stronger when it comes to arms (both mentally and physically). So I asked one of my favorite (and most badass) Flywheel instructors, Kate Hickl, what I can do to make it through arms without dying. Here's Kate's advice:
-- Pick the appropriate weight you can work with for the entire arm set. 2, 4 or 6 pounds (both bars). Don't assume you're wasting your time if you only work with a 2-pound bar to start. Get through the whole sequence, feel confident and then the next class, use the 4-pound bar, etc. Progression is key!
-- If any of the movements seem too fast, slow it down to a pace that works for you. Focusing on the muscle block you're working + supporting muscles (including abs/back) will help you build your stamina and endurance.
(Since reading her advice, I've decided not to try to be a hero with both bars and to just focus on 4 pounds. I made it through arms twice without dying. PROGRESS! Build that mental muscle!)
I know indoor cycling can feel really, really intimidating. That same personal trainer I mentioned earlier, during the tour of the gym told me that even though I probably wouldn't be able to make it through an entire spin class at first, it was a great way to lose weight fast. His words instantly put this idea that spinning was terrifying and not for me in my head and I didn't find the courage to give it a shot for WEEKS.
Turns out, spinning is for everyone and it's a really fun way to get a great workout AND build strength!
Still feeling too afraid to try? I asked Kate if she had any advice for first-time indoor cyclists who are feeling nervous or intimidated about their first ride. Her advice?
Get there early, introduce yourself to the teacher and make sure you get a one-on-one set up. Being set up properly is key to maximizing your time on the bike! Make sure you're comfortable and can have a few minutes on the bike before class starts to make any last minute adjustments.
I know when you're feeling nervous or insecure, our impulse is to make ourselves small and invisible. Don't do that! Remember that it's not about how strong and impressive you already are, it's about having the courage to show up for yourself. And showing up is honestly the hardest part.
I've been going to Flywheel for 3 years now and even though I can tell that it helps my running, I didn't really know specifically why. According to Kate,
Flywheel/indoor cycling is a non-impact form of exercise that gives runners a break from high-impact training but still works to strengthen all of the muscles in the legs as well as build cardio endurance (especially with Flywheel being an interval training workout).
If you're a runner looking for an amazing way to cross train or someone who hates the gym, assemble your #BadassLadyGang and GIVE FLYWHEEL A TRY!