“This class is not a substitute for therapy.”
That’s the last sentence in the online description of Cycle Circle, a new fitness class at the YWCA in Uptown that emphasizes movement-based community building.
Cycle Circle is a low-intensity spin class where instead of gasping for breath, participants pedal and discuss topics ranging from work-life balance to building support networks to practical advice.
The class was developed by Tyler Barrett, a YWCA trainer with a master’s degree in psychotherapy, who wanted to bring his academic research on the benefits of combining social and physical exercise into a class that addressed the interconnectedness of mental, physical and social health.
“I was interested in looking at more than just physical fitness and diet,” he said.
When Barrett was in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, he became interested in the “Blue Zone” study. The idea, developed by Minnesota explorer and author Dan Buettner, is that certain communities in the world live longer and healthier lives. The research identified communities with high numbers of centenarians in places such as Sardinia, Italy and Nicoya, Costa Rica and found commonalities in, among other areas, consistent amounts of moderate exercise and high levels of social engagement.
Tara Davenport, the group fitness coordinator at the Uptown YWCA, said Barrett essentially submitted a research paper when he proposed the class. In September, the Y started offering Cycle Circle as a free class for members on Tuesdays.
“It’s a beautiful experience,” Davenport said. “You can get sweaty and learn from each other.”
Each week Barrett picks a topic and facilitates a discussion with participants. People pedal away and discuss the issue for an hour. Sometimes the class takes on heavy subjects, and that’s OK, Barrett said.
On a chilly Tuesday in late November, the topic “how to survive a Minnesota winter” was both light hearted and useful. Participants encouraged each other to get outside and embrace the winter by finding new activities. Riders swapped advice on good deals at local stores and restaurants and avoiding tows. As more people shuffled in, the circle opened up to add more bikes.
The class brings in all kinds of people of various ages and backgrounds: a ship captain from Egypt; an actor couple from Washington D.C. and South Carolina; transplants from California and Chicago; and Minnesota natives.
Mohammed Mehasab, who works as a ship captain making runs on the Great Lakes, moved to Uptown two years ago. The Egyptian mariner said one of his first moves was to join the YWCA, which was a great way to meet people.
Fitness classes where people aren’t jamming away to their own headphones are more natural social venues, but even there the high-intensity nature of the workouts or the serenity of yoga doesn’t naturally lend itself to conversation. At Cycle Circle, the pedaling is as vigorous as the rider wants it to be. A few times each class, Barrett offers an optional sprint.
The focus is more on the discussion, which Barrett gently facilitates, moving from one rider to the next.
“I think it’s very nice when you exercise and talk about things,” Mehasab said.
Barrett wasn’t sure how the class would go over at first, but it’s caught on at the Y.
“It was just a nice feeling,” said Noriko Gamblin, of Lynnhurst, who has attended a few Cycle Circle classes.
She said she learned from the other riders and felt more engaged and entertained than in other forms of exercise.
“Sometimes exercise can really be a solitary thing,” she said.
At Cycle Circle, it’s anything but that.