Cycling

This Philly Spin Instructor Started Teaching as a 47-Year-Old Empty Nester

CycleBar instructor Jamie Greenbaum takes to the podium to inspire fellow riders.


CycleBar instructor Jamie Greenbaum talks about the importance of physical and mental health in midlife. / Photograph by Haley Bank.

For a number of parents, there comes a point when the house will revert to how it started: without kids. Whether that’s due to college, marriage, or simply the desire to move out, many parents will find they’ve become “empty nesters” — a transitional period that can be full of uncertainty. But, it’s also a time when many people reinvent themselves.

For Cyclebar [Plymouth Meeting] instructor Jamie Greenbaum, the change in her life became a chance to reconnect with and reinvest in herself. After her second daughter moved away to college, Greenbaum — a then 47-year-old stay-at-home mom — was left with an empty house for the first time. Greenbaum did something she never thought she’d do: auditioned to be a spin instructor.

Now 50 years old, Greenbaum spins to keep her mind and body healthy, and to motivate fellow riders to do the same. We chatted with Greenbaum about her teaching journey, experience as an empty nester, and the importance of physical and mental health in midlife.

BWP: What was your fitness and wellness lifestyle like prior to becoming a spin instructor?
Greenbaum: In college, lifting was my passion. I weight-trained on my own for a long time, continued it after getting married, and eventually became a personal trainer. But keeping up with my own workouts became harder as time went on. Between being stay-at-home mom to two daughters and training clients, I didn’t really have the time to carve out for my personal physical and mental health. I ended up giving up personal training because my kids always come first, and when they were at school, I’d go lift at the gym.

So then how’d you get into spinning?
When I was in my early 40s, my husband said to me, “I think you’d really love spinning.” (He stays active with basketball, but also spins on the side because it’s safe on your knees.) Believing him, I started spinning at my home gym AFC Fitness and fell in love with it. There was something about the sweat, the music, and the inclusivity that thrilled me. Instructors there would ask me when I was going to get certified, and I’d just laugh and shrug it off.

But then the time came when my younger daughter was leaving for college, and I found myself wondering what my role was. Sadly, there were no more lunches to make, school functions to attend, bus drop-offs and pick-ups, or events to play chauffeur. Sure I was working out on my own, but I needed more opportunities to socialize and invest in my wellbeing. Even with the rise of at-home exercise bikes and equipment, fitness was pretty lonely and isolating as an empty nester. When I heard CycleBar was coming to the area, I thought to myself, “It’s now or never!” and decided to audition.

Greenbaum at CycleBar Plymouth Meeting. / Photograph by Haley Bank.

What was your audition experience like?
I was 47 years old and clearly the oldest person there. But I got called back, probably because I just put my all into it and went for it. I didn’t compare myself to others. I went through a challenging four-day boot camp that involved a LOT of spinning and sweating, but I learned a lot and felt so good about myself.

How do you want your riders to feel during class?
It’s no secret that the wave of the future is these hip boutique fitness studios. Many of them can be intimidating, especially for people my age, because some instructors can make exercise feel intimidating or even inaccessible. It’s foolish to think and expect every rider can easily pedal in third position at like…150 RPMs. I tell my riders, “I don’t care if you can’t do the choreography or ride to the rhythm. All I care about is that you’re challenging yourself in your own way. Those numbers are YOUR numbers and nobody else’s.”

Are there any age-specific challenges you’ve faced as an instructor?
About a year after I started working at CycleBar, I ended up hurting my back shoveling snow. My manager really worked with me to give me time I needed. I cut down on teaching hours, but was still spinning through the pain (which, I don’t advocate everyone should do). I went to physical therapy and luckily avoided surgery, but I still need to be mindful of my back and to what extent I’m pushing my body. Even now [two years later], I’m unable to teach as often as I’d like because my body needs more recovery time than my fellow CycleStars [CycleBar’s instructors]. They never make me feel poorly about it and the staff at CycleBar has been so accommodating, but that’s probably when I feel my age the most.

Greenbaum celebrates her 50th birthday. / Photograph courtesy of Jamie Greenbaum.

How has spinning benefitted your overall physical and mental health?
It’s very therapeutic for me, and totally relieves my stress. The feeling I get when I’m pedaling helps everything I’m dealing with fall away, and my mood can completely turn around in those 45 minutes. It’s like my internal switch gets flipped and I’m ON!

I hear all the time from the 50+ club, “I have this pain and that pain. I could never do that workout.” But I have all those pains, too, and I don’t let them stop me. I know not everyone’s ailments are the same, but I believe movement of any kind can help loosen all that stiffness we unfortunately start to feel midlife. I’d love to see more people stop allowing their excuses to get in the way and start using exercise as their medicine.

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