Have you ever watched Laura Trott or Jason Kenny whizzing around the velodrome on telly and though ‘yeah, I could do that no probs’?

If so, you should probably get yourself down to London’s Olympic velodrome – aka Lee Valley Velo Park – which offers a Taster Session for wannabe track cyclists to find out what it’s really like to reach top speed on two wheels at a 45-degree angle.

I bought the hour-long Taster Session as birthday present for my boyfriend Sam – it was 40 quid each for an hour. We turned up 45 minutes early, as requested when we booked, but were told to wait about 20 minutes before actually getting kitted up. This at least gives you the chance to go and see the velodrome from the spectator seats – it’s a pretty impressive sight!

Next we had to don our gloves and helmets and were given a bike. ‘They don’t have brakes by the way’ the guy told me as he rolled a bike my way. Oh brilliant.

lee valley velodrome taster sessions review 1

I will say now that this activity is not really for the faint-hearted. Before booking I’d read a bunch of reviews online, all of which seemed to be by 45-year-old men, and that was certainly the main demographic when we showed up. A voice in my head said ‘Well this will be fine, I’m obviously one of the fitter ones here’ but as well as strength, you also need nerves – that track feels a whole lot steeper once you’re on it, and on top of that you also have your feet strapped in to a bike with no brakes.

However, the instructor eased us in fairly gently – starting with a pedal round the flat section at the bottom of the track before we gradually moved up higher.

You have to cycle pretty bloody hard to stay up on the slopes – this really is a workout – but once you’re up there it’s an exhilarating feeling.

As for stopping with no brakes – you basically have to slow yourself down as much as possible and then grab the handrail while trying not to fall off. A bit of a test in itself for some of us (yes me).

The entire session is over in an hour, which is really as much as you can manage given the amount of effort that goes in to track cycling. Although I was nervous beforehand, I came out of the velodrome feeling really pleased that I’d given it a go – it’s a pretty unique sensation, and an experience I’d definitely recommend trying!

Oh and you also get a certificate, as modelled by Sam.

sam-lee-valley-velo-park

For more info visit the Lee Valley website.

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If there’s one person who knows a thing or two about cycling, it’s Victoria Pendleton. The British sportswoman, best known for picking up gold and silver at London 2012, is one of the UK’s most successful female Olympians, and has recently turned her hand to becoming a jockey (to which I say RESPECT – most people would probably just put their feet up!)

Anyway, Victoria has recently teamed up with Barclays to promote its new Budget Bootcamps, which is how I found myself in the rather serial situation of arriving at the bank’s Piccadilly branch to do a spin class with the lady herself.

Naturally, I got a photo with her before the class so you wouldn’t see how red and sweaty I got, although all the randoms peering through the glass frontage of Barclays during our class did get to witness my descent into sweaty mess!

Selfie with Victoria Pendleton Barclays Bootcamp

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that apart from looking fabulous in photos (apparently she gets those amazing arms through horse riding), Victoria also had some excellent wisdom to share on the best practice biking. 

In fact, despite being a rather seasoned spinner myself, there were a few mistakes I was making that I wasn’t even aware of until the session, so I thought I’d share in case you’re doing the same! 

  1. Pushing your feet too far forwards 

You know those cage style pedals you have in spinning? Well, I always just shove my feet straight to the front of them and strap my feet in as tightly as possible. 

However, Victoria pointed out that these pedals are made for ‘man sized’ feet and that you shouldn’t necessarily have your toe right up against the end if you have smaller ones. 

Instead, focus on positioning the ball of your foot on the centre of the pedal, which could mean a few centimetres of space between the front of your foot and the cage thingy. 

If this sounds confusing, then just look at the photo of Victoria’s foot below and hopefully it will make more sense!

how to position your feet in pedals during spinning

2. Bouncing your shoulders during the sprint

Part of our session involved everyone‘s favourite cycling move, the stand up sprint.

Victoria pointed out that most of us were getting our technique wrong here, bouncing our upper bodies around with gusto as we tried to force the peddles down on each side. 

Instead, you need to try and keep your shoulders absolutely steady and level, and your back straight, as you drive through the legs. Basically top half of body = still, bottom half = going like the clappers.

‘This will work your glutes more’ said Victoria, and I can confirm my bum definitely noticed the difference! 

3. Cycling at one speed for ages 

While instructor-led spinning classes tend to see you do all sorts of things on the bike (I even did a bike rave once), alone in the gym many of us tend to just sit on the bike and pedal through a set distance or time at a steady speed.

I know I’m certainly guilty of plodding along on the static bike for 10 minutes, before sloping off thinking ‘my work here is done’.

However, Victoria emphasized that improving your cycling – and therefore your body – is ‘all about intervals’.

In fact, she said intervals were the number one component of her Olympic training, involving short bursts of high power, high speed cycling interspersed with more gentle sections (I have a strong feeling Victoria’s version of gentle is very different to mine!)

4. Having the wrong attitude to the gears

Ok, say when your spin instructor says ‘Guys, I want you to turn your gears up to the maximum you can manage for this next 60 second sprint’ do you think a) ‘Hmm, it’s quite a long time, I’ll put my gears up but to a level I know I can manage’ or b) ‘YES I’m going to put my gears up so high I don’t even know if I can make it, but I’m going to try’.

If it’s b) then God’s speed, you are a hero and don’t need to read any further.

If, like most of us norms, it’s a), then you need an injection of Victoria Pendleton thinking in your life.

I have honestly never seen anyone so enthusiastic about the prospect of adding another gear. Or, in fact, about the prospect of pushing yourself in general. She proudly told us that her power on the bike used to go up to 1500 watts in training (to put that in perspective, most people can maintain around 200 watts in a spin class) and she re-emphasized the importance of pushing your body in order to strengthen and tone it.

Her enthusiasm definitely rubbed off and I found myself cranking the gears up to a level I wasn’t even sure I could manage – but you know what, I did. And it’s that kind of drive that’s going to give you the GAINS *gun fingers*

Budget Bootcamp classes are open to everyone, and a session will be taking place in Central London, on Sunday 29th January. Enter a competition to win a space through Barclays Twitter (twitter.com/BarclaysUK) and Facebook pages (facebook.com/BarclaysUK).