I fell in love with indoor cycling five minutes into my first class in 1995. In the early days of Spinning I took two or three classes a week.  I loved the speed, the sweat, and the music.  Plus, it met my extrovert needs for camaraderie without worrying about a group crash  that sometimes occurs on the road.   My attendance is more sporadic these days, but I remain a big fan of this high intensity cardio workout.

My health club recently acquired new bikes which track RPMs (revolutions per minute), wattage, time, distance and calories burned.  I guess this is akin to the rollout of upgrades on the  iphone.  This is the “2.0” of indoor cycling.  They’ve taken it to the next level by adding computerized performance measures designed to make the classes more effective.  Plus, I’m sure it adds a selling feature for the club (“Only at Equinox…generation 2.0 of the latest in indoor cycling”), while also generating more profit for the manufacturer.  Everybody wins, right?

Do I sound skeptical? Indeed I am!

I took my first “monitored” class the other evening.  I did not like it! I found it distracting and disembodying.  I don’t want to know my power output (wattage). I just want to ride my bike, enjoy the power of my body, and sweat.

It used to be we’d monitor our intensity based on a simple 1-10 scale.  A flat road was somewhere from 3-5.  At 6 you began a slight incline.  At 8 and higher you rode a steep hill.  RPMs were guesstimates at best, but everyone seemed to get a good sweat going and enjoy the ride.  And, best of all, we felt better afterward!  There’s nothing like a good spin to release stress and re-boot my mood at the end of the day.

But now, you don’t even need to attach your head to your body to know how your ride is going. The monitor does it all for you.  Just follow the little numbers on the screen and you can be completely disengaged from how your body feels, what your legs are doing, or even if you’re still breathing.  Isn’t technology great!

The instructor did a fine job introducing the monitor, telling us where to look and what it meant.  But I didn’t want to use the “wattage” number to gauge my workout.  I spent the past twenty years learning to listen to my body.  Why would I give that precious commodity up for the supposed benefit afforded by technological advances in fitness?

The spinning bike was the only cardio device available at my club that didn’t have numbers monitoring my progress.  I liked that.  I paid for that.

Now the great numbers game has taken over the spinning experience as well.  What’s next?  A pedometer that will measure the number of calories burned while climbing trees, skipping stones across a river or building forts in the backyard?  Hey – great idea!  We can attach them to children and give them extra treats when they burn enough calories.  Now that’s a great way to motivate people to move isn’t it?

Do I sound cynical? Sorry.  I don’t want to be critical.  But we don’t need more devices to track progress, or programs to tell us how to move or what we should or shouldn’t eat.  What we need is to listen to the wisdom of our own bodies.

I am greatly concerned about the national health crisis–especially the startling rise in obesity among children. But if teaching people to track numbers—be it on exercise equipment or on nutritional labels—replaces teaching them to listen to their own bodies, we’re on a fast track to even poorer health and higher rates of obesity in the future.

I say throw out the monitors and teach people how to sense and track their own progress through body awareness. It is a natural “monitoring” device that can be accessed by people all over the world, anytime, anyplace. Best of all, it’s free!

But keep it quiet!  If the word gets out that people are practicing body awareness some smart Steve Jobs type will invent an upgrade and try to sell it to us.