Fletch, Jack Parlabane, that bloke from the Dragon Tattoo book… Some of the best literary characters I can think of are investigative reporters, and this week I felt it was only right that I did some investigating of my own.
Given that I spend most of my time either training, or thinking about training, I thought I had come across most types of exercise, but this week I found a brand new one at the ‘Healthclub’ in the hotel I had been sheltering in for the last few weeks.
After heading down to check out the gym, I notices some strange looking bikes by the pool: kind of like spin bikes but even more stripped down, just a steel frame, handlebars and some funny looking pedals which resembled giant flip flops. Next thing I knew some guy started throwing them in the pool with the sort of abandon rock stars reserve for hotel room TVs, and I realised they were special pool bikes. Forgetting my normal workout, I spent the next half hour transfixed as a small group proceeded to go through a spin class of sorts, whilst in the water. Now my gym does plenty of aqua aerobics, aqua Zumba, etc, and whilst none of that appeals to me, this seemed to combine two of my favourite things – spinning & swimming – so had to be worth a go.
The next day, after a slight confusion trying to explain to the boss that I wanted to join the class (seemed a reasonable request to me) I was told it was £8, which seemed a bit steep, but as a true investigative reporter I still went ahead. It eventually transpired it I could go free as a hotel guest which was even better, and could have saved me a 15 minute conversation, but there you go. So shortly after I found myself in the water and on my bike, as part of a group of six. Our poolside based coach looked slightly Eastern European, and as it later turned out may well have been schooled in water torture by the KGB…
From the outside it looked really easy, but is was a bit like watching ducks, casual on the surface but pedalling like mad underneath. It was the strangest feeling, as the harder you pedalled, the more water resistance there was so the tougher it became. Definitely no free wheeling here. It turns out to be a fantastic work out, as within minutes your legs were burning from the resistance, but cooled down by the water. The reason for the massive pedals also became obvious as this too added to the resistance and made it harder to push through the water.
It did not take long to realise what I was wearing was not ideal for the class, and the blame lay with my swim shorts. Now I always wear shorts when pool training, firstly as they just look better on blokes of any age, and secondly as whilst they create some extra resistance, this helps me out in wetsuit swims as I can to glide through the water more smoothly – some people actually buy special ‘drag shorts’ or even underwater parachutes to increase this effect. On the bike though they were a nightmare, with the pockets filling with air bubbles and trying to lift me off the seat, the sides slowing down my legs whilst pedalling and even the drawstring getting in the way.
Later on, whilst scouring the web for some uncopyrighted pictures to show what the whole thing looked like, I found most of the Google images seemed to involve young ladies in skimpy bikinis riding the water bikes. Now I am sure the only reason for this is to help advise what sort of outfit to wear in the classes. I will leave you to make up your own mind…
Anyway, the format was just like a normal spin class, right down to some of the tracks which may have been unofficially lifted from Les Mills: Warm up; Interval Training 30 sprint / 30 rest x 3 moving to 40/30 seconds and up to 50/30 by the end. Obviously I took this bit far too seriously, trying to ride at ridiculous speeds to outpace my co-riders, all but one of whom seemed to be first timers and looked like they had also vastly underestimated the difficulty of the class, much to the apparent delight of the coach.
In between sprints we did various other stretches and the water allowed for some things that would simply not be possible (for me anyway) on the surface. Switch lunges – the bane of Bodyattack – were a favourite alongside a variation on dips, turning the bike sideways and pushing up on the bars with straight arms, then raising your knees out of the water (a move sometimes known as windscreen wipers), or holding them straight ahead of you whilst doing a scissor type movement. In both cases, the higher you came out of the water, the harder they were to do without the buoyancy of the water, but the better for you. The coach seemed to have no such problems doing these on the side of the pool though, and trying to keep up with him bouncing away like a tigger was pretty tough.
By the end of the 45 minute class I was pretty knackered, but being in the water things did not feel too bad, until I did my usual jump out of the pool and realised my jelly legs were not quite ready to support me and nearly ended up back on the bottom! It did feel like a really good workout, particularly for the quads and core, and whilst not something I would do all the time, seems a decent addition to a training plan. I will have to share my investigative reporting with my local gym to see about adding it to our timetable…