Take a spin class and, by the halfway mark, it's easy for the mind to fill with thoughts of, "When the heck is this going to be over?" (and maybe a few expletives). Finish the full 45 to 60 minutes of the high-intensity exercise, and you're bound to walk out in a head-to-toe layer of sweat, overcome by a feeling of fatigued accomplishment.
Now picture repeating that seven times a day, for a total of five-plus hours of working your butt off — literally — on a bike. For Leonid Spesivtsev, winner of Flywheel's Tour de Fly competition, this became his daily routine for nearly 25 days straight.
"There was one day where I did 10 classes," says Spesivtsev, who attended 177 Flywheel sessions from July 7 to 29. It didn't take more than a few days for him to learn about saddle pads, and to invest in a pair of padded shorts. "While I was tired by the end of the whole thing, it was an incredibly positive impact on my life. I feel more energized, stronger, happier than ever before."
Averaging just under eight classes per day, Spesivtsev logged a total of 4,342.45 miles during spin studio Flywheel's annual Tour de Fly competition, designed to align with the Tour de France, the major 21-stage bike race held each summer in France. Spesivtsev's seemingly superhuman stats placed him well above the more than 2,700 other nationwide participants.
"He rode almost double what Tour de France riders rode in that same time period," says Andrew Fick, Flywheel Philadelphia's market manager. "It's different riding inside, but that's more than riding a bike from here to California in three weeks. It's mind-blowing — I've never seen anything like that."
Flywheel's competition ranks riders based on what the studio refers to as a "Power Score," generated using an algorithm that takes into account your speed and resistance on the bike. Spesivtsev's score was 53,395, nearly 15,000 points above the second-place contender from North Carolina. His prize? A $1,700 version of a Flywheel bike designed to be used at home, among a few other smaller items.
Spesivtsev says the bike prize was nice, but it was not his primary motivation. "It was an experiment for me. A lot of people give in to stress at work, but I had noticed that after intense workouts at Flywheel, I always felt more productive throughout the day," he says. "I wanted to see how far I could push myself, and if the challenge would continue to positively impact my work life."
Spesivtsev, who moved to the states from Russia 10 years ago, works as a postdoctoral researcher in the alternative investment space at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He delights in such probing and exploration. As for the results of his personal experiment, Spesivtsev says he never felt sharper at work.
"I always felt really energized after the morning classes, so I'd go to work and find myself incredibly focused, and then would return for evening classes," says Spesivtsev. "I was generally fatigued by the end of the last class, but at that point, I'd already had a productive day."
By the middle of the competition, Spesivtsev was averaging six classes a day, hitting the 6, 7, and 8 a.m. sessions, heading to work, and then returning to Flywheel for the 5:45, 6:45, and 7:45 p.m. time slots. Toward the end, he'd throw one or two more classes into his routine.
Feeling wiped out just thinking about it? Join the club.
"If I ride five to six classes a week, my butt hurts, so it's hard to imagine doing six or more classes a day," says Fick, who notes that Spesivtsev was beating out avid Flywheelers and athletes who participate in other competitions, like Iron Man. "His endurance is beyond anything I've ever seen. But I think what really helped him was how strategic he was about mapping out his rides and mapping out breaks, like walking into class a few minutes late if he needed to go grab a smoothie and refuel."
Throughout the experience, Spesivtsev lost about 10 pounds, dropping from about 160 to 150 on the scale. Meanwhile, he gained what he calls a "defined set of abs and better overall look," and again, says he's never felt better.
Previously attending Flywheel classes only a few times per week, Spesivtsev acknowledges he never could have sustained the competition if he'd directly followed instructors' cues during each class. Instead, he created his own workout, often using the first class as a warmup, revving things up in the second class, and then pushing toward maximum effort in the third class. He'd repeat that strategy during the evening, alternating between pedaling fast at a low resistance and pedaling slower at a higher resistance.
"I made some calculations based off of what my competitors were doing, and made a target for each class," says Spesivtsev, an ardent scrutinizer of the leader board posted every Wednesday. "By the end, there were days where I thought about taking a break, but I had to think about my competitors. To quote Michael Phelps, 'If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren't willing to do.' "
When he wasn't spinning or working at his office, Spesivtsev could most often be found using a foam roller to stimulate muscle recovery or chowing down on food — lots and lots of food.
Perhaps the only universally appealing aspect of spinning more than once a day is the required uptake in calorie consumption.
"I tried to learn online from how real Tour de France athletes eat," says Spesivtsev, who estimates he was averaging an intake of 3,000 to 5,000 calories a day.
He credits whey protein (mixed into two to three shakes a day) and buckwheat — a popular food where he grew up in Russia — as his saviors during the competition. Although a burrito bowl from Chipotle for breakfast was not an uncommon part of his day, and electrolyte and he also incorporated multivitamin supplements.
"It actually made me really disciplined," says Spesivtsev, who relied on a variety of lean proteins, whole grains, and veggies. "You can't eat heavy during a competition like this, but you need to make up for the calorie expense, so you have to think about what easy healthy items, like nuts and granola, you can eat throughout the day."
One of Spesivtsev's primary snacks was fruit, largely thanks to Flywheel, which provides it free to all riders. Spesivtsev estimates he was taking in at least seven servings of fruit per day, quickly devouring a banana or orange before and after each class.
Now that the contest is over, Spesivtsev remains a regular Flywheeler, attending classes once or twice a day.
"I found that I learned so much about cycling itself," he says of the experience. "When you take a regular 45-minute class, you may make small mistakes that won't affect you as much over a short time, but when you take multiple classes a day, these mistakes can really hurt you."
In terms of form, Spesivtsev's biggest takeaway was the importance of maintaining good posture.
"When instructors are shouting to straighten your spine and tighten your core, they're serious," he says. "You can't be lazy. Especially during high RPM sprints, you get more oxygen with good posture."
A former figure skater, Spesivtsev has always incorporated exercise into his life. But as his career began to take up more and more of his schedule, this competition served as an incentive to roll out of bed each morning, often well before 6 a.m., to make time for himself. He inspired many of his friends and coworkers, too, another of his goals.
"We tend to get overly focused on what's going on in our busy lives, and instead of making much time for exercise, we get stressed," he says. "But if it's possible to find time for six classes a day, it's absolutely possible to find time to fit an hour of exercise into your schedule — and if you stick with it, there's no way you won't feel better than before."
Spesivtsev's next challenge? He hopes one day to take on the TransAmerica Trail, a 4,000-plus mile route across the U.S.