Friday, July 23, 2010

Tempting the godmongers

So today I go get a fitness assessment.

No, it's not one of those judicial ones to see if I'm fit to stand trial, but thanks for wondering. The community pool in my new town, so tantalizingly located two blocks from my house, is very much a community pool, which is great for a million purposes but not always the best situation for swimming laps. So I joined a big, luxe-looking club that's actually pretty reasonable and almost as conveniently located. In addition to having a nice pool that's almost always available (though curiously has no pace clock; what's up with that?), and the usual weights and treadmills and people-watching opportunities and of course the free and enthusiastically pushed fitness assessment, they've also got some pretty spiffy stationary bikes for their Spinning classes. And you can use them any time there's not a Spinning class going on.

Better yet, those bikes have power meters! A power meter is what you get when you hybridize athletes and nerds, and they're perfect for bikes. Unlike running or especially swimming, bike conditions vary so much that it's not terribly precise to gauge your effort by speed. Doing 6-minute repeats at, say, 24 mph can be somewhat easy or near-impossible depending on wind, hills or road surface. A device that simply measures how much energy you're putting into the drive train ignores all that and just shows you what you're doing measured in watts, which are a little harder to understand than miles per hour but way more consistent.

Anyway, I was delighted. I hate training indoors, but I also know that it offers the kind of controlled conditions that allow for a really precise workout, especially in my new, much more urban, environment. I have a training stand that I can use with my own bike and my own power meter, but there's a certain appeal to sweating all over somebody else's bike in return for your membership fee.

The health club's bikes and power meters still aren't ideal. The one on my bike records the whole workout so I can upload it into my computer and analyze it like a true nerd. These don't. My bike has a normal Q angle (essentially a measure of how far apart my feet are), while the club's bikes are set up more for Clydesdale riding or a gynecological exam. But the funnest part is that the power meters seem to be a little off. They have my output at lactate threshold (more nerdiness; it just means the effort level I can hold without going into oxygen debt) at around 360 watts - about what the pros generated yesterday on their way up the Tourmalet. I appreciate their contributions to my self-delusion, but I think I'll recalibrate.

The fitness assessment ought to wipe out most delusions of competency anyway. Sure, I'm decent at going in a straight line for a long time three different ways, but I bet they're going to test for things like strength and coordination, and I'll be reminded of my first weeks in the dorm at nursing school just about 30 years ago. I was racing bikes then and pretty good at it. My classmates invited me to join them for an aerobics workout, and while I had no interest in that sort of training, I had a strong interest in nursing students dressed to exercise, so I joined them - and found that the two or three muscle groups I used to make a bike go were about the only ones that were all that fit. I could hardly move for two weeks.

I was wondering if I should wear one of my Ironman Finisher t-shirts to today's assessment, but I don't think I will. This whole free assessment, I'm well aware, is a personal-trainer sales pitch as much as anything, so they have a vested interest in finding similarly underused muscles on my frame. Best not to tempt the gods or those who wish to shape me into a Greek one for a fee.


3cross said...

One more thing about spinning bikes is that they usually have 170mm cranks. My guess is that a majority of the bicycles sold these days come with 175mm cranks. When I try to stand a peddle hard on one of those bikes my legs want to keep going down when the crank starts coming up.

Jef Mallett said...

... and with those heavy flywheels, they're pretty insistent on pushing your leg back up! I wonder why the shorter cranks. I'm guessing it's not for cornering clearance.

Anonymous said...

should be nominated for clearest description ever: "...while the club's bikes are set up more for Clydesdale riding or a gynecological exam." Anyone who has ever seen a Clydesdale (or, had the other thing) knows PRECISELY how the bikes are set up... even if they don't know bikes.

Chria said...

The two things I hate about fitness club bikes are the wide Q-factor and the limited seat adjustment. How hard is it to educate people on how to use a quick-release instead of having 1/2" detents? Any good spin instructor would be willing to take a look at a customer's position and take the 2 minutes to help them get it to 98% of ideal anyway. Power on board is a big bonus though, even if it's not accurate, hopefully it's at least consistent.