Randy Brotman (center) runs virtual spin classes for people living with Parkinson's with technical help from Lanny Thomas (left), who also participates in the classes along with Pedaling for Parkinson's rider Steve Iseman (right).
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Exercise plays a key role in managing Parkinson’s, and there is growing evidence that cycling (including high intensity interval training) plays a specific role in better health outcomes.

Randy Brotman, a credentialed PWR!Moves instructor and the owner of PERC Training, has been a certified Parkinson’s Cycling Coach through the American Council on Exercise and approved and recognized by CanFitPro since July 2017. That certification is modeled after the teachings of Dr. Jay Alberts, the forerunner of the cycling for Parkinson’s movement. It’s only recently that she has been able to expand her reach, thanks to a combination of the necessity to change brought on by COVID-19 and a commitment to quality.

Randy had been offering classes at the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre in North York for three years to a growing group of dedicated riders, including several of her teammates on the Rigid Riders Pedaling for Parkinson’s Cycling Team.

Overcoming COVID-19 restrictions with virtual spin class

When COVID-19 made those classes impossible to conduct, Randy and her participants wanted to keep the class going. Making the transition was no easy feat.

“Quality is of the utmost importance to me. And when you’re relying on everyone’s technology and don’t have the ability to offer support in person, it is tough to maintain a good experience for riders,” she says of her concerns with making a transition to virtual classes.

Thanks to her own efforts, Lanny Thomas’ technical skills and patience, a crew of dedicated trial riders, and contributing support from Parkinson Canada, she’s now found the perfect balance of technology to bring the in-person experience to people’s homes. She’s happy with how it is coming together, however, and is having fun with what she has learned. “It’s almost like I have a little DJ booth set up.”

After technology, the next important issue for her to resolve as she looked to maintain quality is whether the social aspect carried over. Riding is one thing, but you’re more likely to carry on and reap the benefits if you feel a part of the group and enjoy the experience. She’s happy to report that the group is as supportive as ever. On a recent ride, she brought a first-time rider to the class who was uncertain about her ability, her speed, and her general fitness. Participants were supportive throughout and, as soon as the ride ended, they offered a brisk round of applause.

“I couldn’t build the team with the same grace that the group does in welcoming and supporting one another. I’m always humbled by the support they give to each other, and I know it adds to the bond of the group. I’ve never been more touched by the quality of human nature as when I’m with this group of riders with Parkinson’s,” she shares, with a sense of pride and reverence that makes it clear that the classes are much more than a business venture. As an instructor, she sees herself as a cycling expert but not a Parkinson’s expert, and is glad that the class can come together and support one another, and that the social time after class spills over to Parkinson’s knowledge-sharing and support.

Why spin?

Randy Brotman explains the benefits of spin for people living with Parkinson’s

Classes are off and running, Randy and her participants are seeing the benefits of coming together. In just her first few weeks of offering the ride, she noticed an influx of newcomers, including a participant who was in the process of recovering from Deep Brain Stimulation and had just received clearance to begin exercising again.

It’s riders like this who inspire Randy to keep going. “I get so much from hosting these classes as part of the community. I complain when I have a headache, when someone is so driven to participate, it’s hard not to be inspired. That, and I love how the class welcomes new members into the community, even in a virtual setting,” she shares.

How to join a spin class

Now that she has seen how the benefits of the exercise itself and of coming together as a class transcend sharing four walls with your fellow cyclists, Randy is ready to expand. She’s offering the classes to anyone with the space, tools and motivation to participate and is hoping to see a situation where she needs more instructors to keep up with demand.

For now, you just need a stationary cycle, access to Zoom, and the time to participate. Riders can sign up for a $45 orientation fee (that comes with a 1:1 orientation to understand what to expect in the class and to help riders set up their bikes for optimal performance and safety) and packages of six rides can be purchased for $60. At the moment, classes are offered every Wednesday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. ET.

Randy’s advice for anyone thinking of riding? Try it out (after appropriate consultation with your doctor)! “Whatever your bike and however quickly you’re moving your legs, the bike wins over the couch,” she says with encouragement.

For more information on how you can get involved, simply comment on this post or contact perc.training@gmail.com. For more information on exercise and Parkinson’s email info@parkinson.ca, or call 800-565-3000.

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