I first, and somewhat begrudgingly, tried Charlotte Flywheel in 2013 when my kind friend Sherrard finally wore me down with her unabating invitations. I was reluctant to go to an indoor cycling studio because I had already tried a few so-so spin classes and preferred exercising outdoors. Sherrard assured me I was going to “LOVE” it because of the intensity, competition, and culture.
Flywheel is a fitness class where participants ride on high-end stationary bikes in a nearly pitch-black studio. The only light is a spotlight focused on the leader of the flock who intently coaxes the devotees toward maximal output. The willing power up imaginary mountains and sprint across virtual finish lines to musical arrangements of old and new rock, pop and hip hop classics. The volume is loud but helps with motivation. The energy is palpable.
My first class was during a low (ok, exceptionally low) point in my life, and so I appreciated being incognito in the dark studio. While the enthusiastic instructor coached us and soulful music pulsed loudly, I became intensely focused on physically giving my all. The exertion and sweat cleansed my mind and body. While my quads were burning during the ride, endorphins elevated my spirit. The required intensity forced me to mentally transcend life’s concerns. And without a doubt, the studio provided me with a congregation of authentic and inspirational friends, none of whom cared if the person on the next bike was a sweaty mess. I started to call Flywheel my second “church.”
Since that first ride, Flywheel has become part of my pain quotidien (triple pun intended) for tri training. But Charlotte has many cycling studios, so what’s so different about it?
Here are four key reasons that Flywheel stands out:
(1) The quality of instruction: These coaches are master motivators. They are exceptional at forecasting instructions to riders to adjust the resistance level on the wheel, change exercise positions (sitting or standing while peddling), and motivate riders to dig deep.
I also love the positive energy emitted from the instructors – including a former Panthers player, Charlotte’s fittest fireman, and rock-hard female personal trainers. They’ve collectively created a culture that is positive and uplifting.
Additionally, I love how coaching slogans are analogous to life. Who doesn’t love someone shouting motivational messages like, “Focus on an active recovery. Don’t dwell on the pain; power through and keep moving!” Yep. Just like life.
(2) The torque board/intensity: All bikes have torque meters that show current and total power as well as resistance and RPMs. The meters help riders track their exertion level. The bikes transmit performance info to a torque board mounted in the front of the studio.
Riders chose pseudonyms to use on the torque board. Some can be quite entertaining (Psychle, Fly Mama, FNG, ItsDarkInHere!, Lizaster). My torque name is <3burn.
During a class, riders can measure how they are fairing against others based on total output. The class ostensibly becomes a 45 (or 60) minute race. The only authorized “break” is a one-song upper-body weight-lifting session (while still pedaling) using 6 lbs of weighted bars for a hundredish reps. The aim is to exhaust (and tone) biceps, deltoids, lats, and triceps. (Check it out, Michelle Obama!)
Although riders can opt out of placing their (pseudo) name on the torque board, in my mind, it’s all about the torque.
The board is the key reason the training is so motivational. Riders are held accountable for effort, even if there is no other prize than endorphins (and, truthfully, ego).
The board serves as a forcing mechanism to spark a rider’s internal drive to never slack. But on days when you just aren’t feeling it, you can opt off the board and simply compete with yourself, keeping an eye on your own meter and comparing yourself to your own past performances. Love that. (My husband and I have a standing competition, so even if I ride in the morning and he rides in the evening, we finish the night with a little Type A bike talk.)
After class, you can check your Flywheel iPhone app to see how you fared. Over 22 miles and 800-1000 calories isn’t bad!
(3) Races/Competition. Instructors also use the torque board for 30-, 45-, and 60-second races. During races, the torque board displays current power vs. cumulative output. Once or twice, I’ve felt my quads go numb when I give 100%. My husband and I nearly pass out when we race each other in class. (And, yes, for the record, my husband is stronger than I.) Truthfully, the most beneficial form of fitness training includes short bursts of intense exertion, so as painful as these moments are, they result in a serious boost to metabolism and fitness. As the instructors say,
(4) Fly Peeps. Last but not least: my fly fam. I really admire the drive and commitment of other riders. For example, my friend Lark Elliot who won her age group for North America at the UCI World Cycling Tour (and qualified to compete in world championships) last summer after she spent the winter training at Flywheel.
So why do I fly? As someone who really appreciates intense, competitive, efficient workouts, objective metrics for performance, and a devoted group of fellow riders, it’s hard to beat 45 minutes at Charlotte Flywheel.
Nota Bene: Frequently spotted at Flywheel in Charlotte: Charles Bowman of Bank of America, Mo O’Boyle, anchor from WBTV, Panthers wives, and many friendly moms and dads who share the love of exertion.