A Philadelphia Rider Finds Mind-Body Peace At Flywheel

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Julie Szymczak is a sociologist and health services researcher living in Philadelphia. She has always made physical fitness a part of her life, since her time as a multi-sport athlete in high school. Since moving to Philadelphia for graduate school 10 years ago, she participated in different fitness activities including running, weight training and group exercise. Also an indoor cyclist for about 4 years, she took classes at local gyms and studios — that’s where she met Jesse Spiegel, an instructor at Flywheel. She recently celebrated her one-year FLY-versary, and took some time to share how Flywheel has changed her life.

I was skeptical to try Flywheel so when my favorite indoor cycling instructor, Jesse Spiegel, told me he was leaving our local studio for FLY, I was disappointed! But since we live in the same apartment building, it wasn’t long before he convinced me to try Flywheel. In July 2015, he succeeded…  

…and I immediately fell in love.

I started taking classes 2-3 times per week and then became a member. Soon, I was riding 5-6 times per week and was doubling whenever I could. By December 2015 – just a few months after starting – I had lost 38 pounds without radically changing my diet. I was stronger and fitter. I reduced my LDL cholesterol by 30 mg/dL and my resting heart rate by 12 BPM, and I took a little over 2 minutes off my mile run time. My triceps saw the light of day! Flywheel physically transformed me in a way that no other exercise I’d participated in had done.

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Instructor Jesse Spiegel (left) and rider Julie Szymczak (right)

While the physical transformation was important to me, it was the mental strengthening that really made an impact on my life. Flywheel helped keep me grounded and clear-headed through a very difficult time in my professional life. I began riding right as I was finishing up a postdoctoral fellowship and gearing up to go on a months-long academic job market. I was nervous about this experience as it was competitive, characterized by a lot of uncertainty, and an evaluation of work I’d spent years building.

Flywheel gave me a place to get out of my head during this time. When I’d enter the studio, clip into the bike, feel the lights go down and the music start, I knew I could leave my anxieties outside the door. I spent those 45 minutes engaging my heart, muscles and mind and achieving a measurable goal under the guidance of talented and motivating instructors.

I’ve ridden consistently since then, even attending studios across the country while traveling for work. Ultimately, my job search ended on a happy note when I was offered an assistant professor position at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.  As a sociologist, I’ve also thought a lot about what makes Flywheel so effective for me: the community and accountability. 

When I began to meet other regular riders at the studio with whom I really connected, the role of community became abundantly clear.  We laugh, share goals and cheer each other on…literally. As someone who studies human behavior in groups for a living, I believe Flywheel does a great job of creating local social cohesion even though it’s a national brand.

Plus, the TorqBoard has been integral in helping me work harder and perform better because of the accountability it fosters. There is no “phoning it in” with the tech pack. This is the first time in my life exercising where I’ve really pushed myself out of my comfort zone and that is because my effort is transparently quantified. My Power Score is something to focus my attention on, share with others and ‘chase’ during class.

I’m planning to continue to ride at the Center City studio and have recently bought a road bike for long distances outside. I’m especially grateful to all of the talented instructors in Philadelphia who challenged me, encouraged me and showed me that I am physically capable of far more than I ever believed.

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