‘This is not about burning calories, this is not about being the thinnest or the strongest person in the room, this is about being the best person you can be while you’re here’
I’ve been going to spin classes for one year and two months and that, on Sunday, was the first time I had ever heard anyone, let alone an instructor, even mention the words ‘burning calories’. Nothing about Psycle has really been what I expected. I thought the instructors would be mean. I thought I would be encouraged to push myself to keep up with the fittest people in the class. I thought I would be made to feel bad for being fat. I thought the instructors’ motivational chat would focus on how many calories you could burn. I thought the male instructors would be especially unkind. I thought I would leave halfway through my first class and never go back.
Let’s take it back to my first class. A couple of people had recommended I try Psycle when I posted on Facebook asking for ideas for exercise to try after not working out at all for more than two years. There was an introductory offer so I thought it was worth a go. I was extremely intimidated and nervous and told myself that all I had to do was not leave my first class before the end. I didn’t have to go back. I just had to see one class through. And I did! It was horrible, I was so unfit and felt out of breath by the end of the warmup track. I felt close to death. I thought about the indignity of dying in a spin class. But… it was kind of fun, too. It was dark, the music was loud, no one was paying attention to what anyone else was doing. I struggled so much with the first class, and yet I went back and back and back. I knew that a part of me had really enjoyed it, even if it was hard. And I can’t only do things that are easy, and more to the point, what exercise is going to be easy when a) you’re fat and b) you haven’t exercised for two years?
It was cool to look back a couple of months down the line and be able to see that from getting out of breath in the first track, I was able to participate fully in the first track, then the second, then the third… until I could basically do the whole class. It was important, though, to acknowledge that ‘basically’ doing the whole class was, realistically, as good as I was ever going to get. I would look around at these very athletic people in my classes who clearly spent a good amount of their time on exercise/fitness/health/whatever and remember that I’m a fat size 20 woman who exercises 2-3 times a week for about 45 minutes. I’m doing great just by turning up and taking part, and there’s no point comparing myself to people whose main motivator in life is physical fitness. If the class is aimed at people who are basically as fit as the instructor, then I’m never going to be the ‘best’ person in the class, all I can do is show up and give my best. Sometimes I go and I’m on my period, or I’m just getting over a cold, or I’m tired, or I’m in a bad mood, and I know I’m not giving it 100% and instead of beating myself up, I think ‘did you sweat? Yes. Did you have fun? Yes. So what’s the beef?’
No one at Psycle has ever given me shit or patronised me for being fat. Not one instructor, not one receptionist, not one customer. And believe me, I’ve been on high alert for it. References to burning fat, changing your shape etc are so entirely absent from instructors’ spiel that it’s really noticeable, and I’m assuming it’s some kind of company policy because body shape and fat loss are so ingrained in exercise culture. Instead, every class focuses on how great it’ll make you feel. And you do feel great. Knowing how nebulously euphoric I feel after a class is why I keep going. I mean, I enjoy all the benefits of being fitter (like running up the stairs in the tube rather than taking the escalator sometimes) but it’s that heart-floating feeling that makes me want to work out.
I am the fattest person in my class 99% of the time, and I’m ok with that. It would be nice to have fat comrades with me, but it would be so much harder if the environment wasn’t so completely neutral towards my body. I do understand, though, that a room of very thin, toned, athletic women in Ivy Park and LuluLemon isn’t the most welcoming environment if you’re already anxious about fitness spaces.
The downside: it’s incredibly expensive. Like, embarrassingly expensive. But I’ve tried to do other exercise and I don’t enjoy it. I took out a (much cheaper) gym membership and within the first month it became apparent it was not going to work for me. It just wasn’t fun like spinning was, and what’s the point in exercising if it’s not fun? I do this because it’s fun, not because I feel like I should exercise. I’ve just learned to ration myself and go to one class a week, factor it into my monthly expenditure and go after work instead of socialising.
If you’re in London and interested in trying Psycle rather than spinning in general, then my favourite instructors are Kaya, A.D., Kevin, Alana and Joe, and if you’re anything other than 100% up for this I would caution against going to Lemon’s classes as her ‘thing’ is to have the heating up high which, in my opinion, is vile torture. Everyone has their own style, so it’s a question of trying different people out and figuring who best reflects what you’re looking for in terms of music, composition of the classes, timetable etc.