Story and Photos by: Heather Allman
Enjoying K-pop with a bit of exercise
Bright, flashing strobe lights. Boisterous, deafening K-pop music. Frenzied, accelerating dance moves. Sweaty, dehydrating bodies. Sounds like the inside of a Korean night club, right? Maybe. In reality, however, this is an accurate (and possibly even lacking) description of unimaginably eccentric, high energy, high intensity, seizure inducing, K-pop spinning classes, which are currently circulating around Korea. The intensity of K-pop spinning is actually one of its greatest appeals. It is a motivational workout executed in a group setting where no cyclist is left behind. Rows of warriors on bikes fight hard to perform choreographed dance moves to catchy K-pop tunes while synchronously pedaling to the other side of an imaginary finish line. At first, K-pop spinning may seem intimidating and maybe even a bit aggressive, but once you’ve survived your first class, it will be impossible to stop going back.
The term “survival” may make you want to pump the brakes. Why would anyone choose to endure such indisputable torture? Well, in some alternate universe—the K-pop spinning universe—a combination of upbeat K-pop music, perfectly chiseled instructors, an unexplainable time continuum where time never ends yet somehow simultaneously speeds on by, unending caloric burn, sweat, and determination, are addictive. Not only is K-pop spinning extremely difficult, it is also a lot of fun and has been proven to be a valuable workout. For those who are not inclined to create a daily gym regimen, but desire an effective way to burn off those pesky samgyeopsal and soju calories, K-pop spinning might be just what you’re looking for. A single K-pop spin class is estimated to burn anywhere from 400-500 calories, and is considered a low impact exercise.
Many gyms and fitness centers in Korea offer K-pop spinning classes as part of their membership fee, or for an additional cost. Classes are offered at standalone spinning gyms as well. If there is a gym near you, then it is likely that there is a K-pop spin class. Class lengths vary, but tend to last from 40-60 minutes, with minimal breaks throughout. The classes use a combination of constant pedaling and fast-paced, choreographed dance moves to provide the perfect cardiovascular workout, with muscle strength development over time.
So, what does it take to survive a K-pop spin class? You don’t need many things, but most importantly, you need an open mind. You can’t go into K-pop spinning expecting to come out an expert on the dance moves. You probably shouldn’t expect to be able to breathe or walk afterwards either, but you should expect to enjoy yourself. A lot. There is something immensely galvanizing about completing a workout where struggle is inevitable but so is amusement. As with any other exercise, appropriate attire and athletic shoes are necessary. Think: breathable clothing. A water bottle and sweat towel are not required, but come highly recommended. K-pop spinning will make you sweat a lot, so it is essential to stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout.
While all K-pop spinning classrooms are different, there is uniformity to their design. Rows of stationary cycles zig-zag throughout the room, leaving no space for anything but a set of keys, a water bottle, or an occasional fallen body. All of the bikes face one single cycle at the front of the room. This cycle holds more power than any other cycle in the entire gym. This is the cycle that will tell you to pedal faster, yell louder, dance harder, and if you endure enough, let you take a quick water break. The walls are painted with bright colors, one with floor to ceiling mirrors. There are enough LED lights fastened to the ceiling to house a Saturday night disco, and the sound system at the front of the room could accommodate a small music festival.
Once you’ve chosen your cycle, make sure you are comfortable with its settings. Be sure to adjust accordingly, and do not be afraid to ask for help. Typical classes begin with five minutes of instructor-led stretching, which focuses on everything from neck to arm muscles, incorporating full body stretches reminiscent of an odd variation of the downward dog. Once this has finished, get your mind in gear and get ready to face the music. With the main lights turned down, the LED lights and music turned up, it is now time to pedal…and dance. For the remainder of the class, you will perform everything from body rolls to broad arm movements to rapid head flips, all while pedaling. Though the first class may leave you convinced that you’ll never truly learn the moves, it only serves as further motivation to return and prove that you do, in fact, have a little bit of rhythm and a whole lot of conviction.
K-pop spinning offers many long term benefits to its participants. If a calorie burner isn’t the only thing you’re in pursuit of, here are a few other reasons to engage. First on the list: the music. One cannot go anywhere in Korea without hearing K-pop music. What better way to become familiar with the latest songs, some lyrics, and a few dance moves, than in a high stress, high energy environment? Secondly, K-pop spinning is incredibly fun. Have you ever heard the expression, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can?” In a K-pop spin class, you will have plenty of opportunities to laugh at yourself, while also kindly lending that opportunity to those around you. Hopefully, they’ll be too busy laughing at themselves to realize that you just did every single dance move completely backwards.
Thirdly, K-pop spinning is one of the most unique ways to grasp the handlebars and attempt to acclimatize yourself to Korean culture. There is no other place in the world where you will be able to pedal and dance to K-pop music while surrounded by (mostly) Korean nationals. Okay, you might be able to do that, but will you also be able to leave afterwards feeling good about yourself? Finally, if the music, enjoyment, and cultural exploration are not enticing enough, one of the most important aspects of K-pop spinning is that it is genuinely a good workout routine. Western spinning classes tend to focus on caloric burn, and leg and glute strengthening. In addition, K-pop spinning tones the abs and arms through strategically choreographed dance moves, and is extremely effective at building muscle endurance while encouraging cardiovascular training.
K-pop spinning will not get any easier, but your body and mind will get stronger. You will learn the dance moves, and you will walk out feeling proud of yourself. Most days.
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