It is 8:30 a.m. on a Wednesday and the music is booming from the darkened spin class room at Premier Fitness. Just as the thumping drums kick in and the tempo cranks up on Adam Lambert's song "Ghost Town," instructor Laura Culver begins calling out commands.
"Up a gear. ... On your feet!"
On cue, those in class adjust a lever on their stationary cycles to increase the resistance and rise off their seats. They are experiencing the equivalent of climbing a hill.
Moments later, Culver, whose two long braids are slightly bouncing on her shoulders, belts out new instructions over the music. "Down to sprint level! Let's go. Sprint!" This time, the participants increase their cadences.
Against the back wall, 65-year-old Jim Shadden is pedaling away. Shadden, who is retired from the military and a career in the health department, takes a spin class six days a week. And he loves it.
Shadden says that after other forms of exercising began to take a toll on his knees, he shifted to spinning to continue the high-intensity cardiovascular workouts that he craves.
Spinning is one of the most popular exercise classes at Premier Fitness in Tyler, Texas, said Grace Seuss, one of the owners. Premier offers about a dozen classes each week. Some meet as early as 5:30 a.m.
Spinning attract a wide variety of people – especially those who are intimidated by group classes that incorporate dance type moves – who want to burn a lot of calories in a relatively short amount of time with minimum impact on their joints.
Spinners who work hard burn about 600 calories during an hour-long class. Health experts say spinning strengthens the lower body, especially glutes, thighs and calves; improves cardiovascular health; lowers cholesterol and blood pressure; and reduces stress.
"I've always loved working out," Culver said before class. "I did run a lot and then I started taking a (spin) class. It was such a great workout and something different."
Culver, who is fit and enthusiastic, was hooked from the beginning. To become a certified instructor, she had to learn about cycle and rider safety, rider positions, cycling biomechanics and coaching. On this morning, she seems to be equal parts club disc jockey, motivational speaker and personal trainer.
Culver varies the tempo during class by mixing intervals of simulated climbing with sprints and keeps it fun by providing encouragement and music that enhances moments of both heart-racing, high intensity and cooling down.
Karen Conner has been spinning for more than 10 years. She loves Culver's class. "Just look at her," Conner says of the smiling Culver looking on. "She's very upbeat and a good motivator and the music is good."
Conner and Culver agree that a big selling point of spinning is the ability of participants to secretly modify a session to fit their needs. In spin class there is no falling behind.
A lever on the cycle allows the rider to adjust the tension (effort required to pedal) and a monitor mounted on the handle bars lets only the rider know exactly the speed (revolutions per minute) of pedaling.
"You make it your own workout depending on your fitness level," Culver said. "You tailor it to fit your needs."
Conner, one of the older participants, does that all the time.
"I have bad knees so making modifications is one of the keys. I can't do a lot of resistance (on the bike) and go fast at the same time so I just lower the resistance."
Conner says taking part in a group class and spinning to the music makes her feel like she can conquer the world.
"No matter what my attitude is coming into class, I know I'm going to get a great workout. And I know I'm going to leave feeling better."
Cushion your seat: If you find the seat uncomfortable consider wearing padded bike shorts or a gel-filled seat cover.
Stay hydrated: You'll need to replenish fluids during and after class, so bring a water bottle. A bottle with a pull top will allow you to take sips while you ride.
Pace yourself: No matter how high-energy and enthusiastic the class is, go at your own pace and fitness level.
Check out different classes: Instructors have different styles (from encouraging to no-nonsense), different music choices and different approaches to a workout. Shop around until you find the class that is just right for you.