Spin Instructors are Cycling Coxswains

Chris Abraham rowing sweep heavyweight 8 man crew GWU

Chris rowing in 1989

I know we call them spin instructors, indoor cycling instructors, or even CYCLESTARS, like we do at CYCLEBAR, to me, they’ll be forever known as my Cycling Coxswains.  I know for a fact that when I leave CYCLEBAR Columbia Pike, I have left so much sweat, effort, watts, and heart our of those dripping Schwinn Carbon Blue bikes and those soaked rubber mats, that I can’t congratulate myself so much as thank Sylvia, Natalie, Sam, Damion, Danny, Shane, Dwayne, and others.

According to Wikipedia, the role of a coxswain in a crew is to:

  • Keep the boat and rowers safe at all times
  • Be in command of the boat at all times
  • Coach the crew when the coach is not present
  • Provide motivation and encouragement to the crew
  • Provide feedback on the crew’s performance both in and out of the races
Chris Abraham and Sylva Hříbková

Cycle Coxswain Sylva Hříbková

I performed pretty well when I rowed in a heavyweight 8 sweep boat in college and I finally know why: there was always someone slight of stature yelling at me to hurry up, slow-ass! My coxswain!

I always made every boat I tested for because my coxswain screamed at me when I spent time on the erg doing my 2k erg tests and even workouts.

He or she tricked me into doing HIIT way back before that was a thing by running us through sprints, high-stroke-rate pieces, power-10s and power-20s.

Our cox kept us on pace, on schedule, and motivated to give way more than I was prepared to give of my body. I was 6’3″ and around 200 lbs and so there was a lot of strength and potential for me to work with–but I never really had the personal drive to be a power athlete.

I often preferred to be an endurance athlete–and rowing, though you do accumulate millions of meters, you are only ever judged on between 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 meters of all-out various degrees of sprinting, from “I can’t do this” to “I really can’t do this” to ” are you crazy, you must be mad, I am going to die now.”

Usually a petite woman or a slight-of-build man–what jockeys are to letter in High School and College college (Is horse racing a letter sport?)–a coxswain is a very small personal trainer who has the authority and the lungs to berate between two-and-eight men over six feet tall (in my case) into pushing their bodies to where they can go, not want to–or think they can–go.

And that’s what I get every session–every class–I attend when I go to CYCLEBAR!

And if you think that maybe there’s a huge difference between the placid river and the hollow slaps of paddles against the water and the rigging. No!  Most of the time a coxswain yells at you in a small, dark, dank, boathouse or gym–with music!

So, in a couple hours I will be walking the mile to attend a 45-minute studio session with my cycle coxswain Natalie! The music will be loud (I wear plugs), the lights will be mostly off, and I will be pushed to within an inch of my physical capacity–and it’s just a Tuesday! Happy Tuesday.

Spinning isn’t just dancing on a bike to disco, it’s actually quite a profound and challenging workout–if you pick up the gauntlet and take the challenge!


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