Hop on a bike without a helmet? Mom would definitely shake her head. But there’s an exception to every rule: Indoor cycling (aka “spinning,” its trademarked name) is a cardiovascular, butt-kicking workout that takes us on a stationary but sweaty ride of our life. Read on to learn what makes this bike different than hopping on an ordinary two-wheeler.
You Spin Me Right Round — The Need-to-Know
More intense than a stationary bike (and that 3rd grade tricycle), indoor cycling keeps things cool with bumpin’ music and a killer class atmosphere. Expect to sit tight for 30 to 75 minute sessions, which can burn up to 900 calories (take that, Bikram yoga!). The intensity varies throughout the class, thanks to changing up body position, pedal speed, and resistance. And get ready to listen up: The instructor will yell out instructions to imitate a real ride of climbs, sprints, and coasts. The best part? Most bikes can track mileage, pulse, and calories burned to record progress throughout the class. In some special classes, the pedaling is even mixed with upper body workouts, resistant bands, or a themed adventure (Michael Jackson tribute, anyone?).
Spinning® is definitely no ride in the park, though. It guarantees to amp up VO2 max (the rate oxygen is carried to the muscles), a sign the body is being pushed Physiologic responses during indoor cycling. Battista, R.A., Foster, C., Andrew, J., et al. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008 Jul;22(4):1236-41.. All that pedaling will tone up muscles, too, working the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. Studies have also found that indoor cycling can help shed unwanted pounds and potentially ward off migraines, while keeping impact on the joints to a minimum The effects of indoor cycling training in sedentary overweight women. Bianco, A., Bellafiore, M., Battaglia, G., Department of Sports Science (DISMOT), University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2010 Jun;50(2):159-65. Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: A randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls. Varkey, E., Cider, A., Carlsson, J. Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiotherapy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden. Cephalalgia. 2011 October; 31(14): 1428–1438.. Now that’s a #winning combo.
Ride or Die — Your Action Plan
Whether you’re a spin class newbie or simply brushing up on the etiquette, here are some tips for a successful joyride:
- Suit up. The body will definitely work up a sweat, so throw on moisture-wicking clothes to keep cool n’ dry. As for the feet, cycling shoes are required for some classes, but normal athletic kicks will work fine in most cases.
- Take a seat. If it’s an option, reserve a bike online to guarantee a spot in the class. Otherwise, get there early to snag a seat! And newbs, don’t head straight to the back: Getting a bike up front will make it easier to follow along.
- Adjust your saddle. Create the perfect fit on the bike. The right height on the seat is when one leg is at a 30-degree angle at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The seat should also be able to slide forward or back depending on what feels best. As for the handlebars, position them so the neck and back doesn’t strain. And strap or clip in the feet: The balls of the feet should rest on the center of the pedal and the kneecap should be aligned directly with the center, too.
- Know the numbers. These bikes have a different kind of lingo: Some instructors call out numbers for different hand positions on the bars. Gripping the center of the bar is usually “Position 1,” home base for warm-ups and cool downs. “Position 2” is where the hands will be for most of the class — right on the bar that crosses the body. And “Position 3” is normally only used when standing and climbing up those “hills.”
- Insist on resistance. There are no real gears to change, but there is a resistance knob (or computer!). This will control how hard the muscles need to work to increase RPM (that’s bike talk for revolutions per minute).
- Towel off. Keep a towel draped over the handlebars for easy access — we’re sure that face may need a wipe off here and there. And swigging water is encouraged mid-ride to stay hydrated (although the spin n’ sip may take some coordination…).
- Choose wisely. Love the club? Choose sessions with dimmed lights or a disco atmosphere. Or, if seeking more adventure, opt for classes that bring the outdoors to the studio. Studies show the fun factor is increased when the mood is juuust right Music and light during indoor cycling. Shaulov, N., Lufi, D. Department of Behavioral Sciences, Emek Yezreel College. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 2009 Apr;108(2):597-607..
Indoor cycling puts things in full gear with its awesome tunes, control over resistance and speed, and overall intensity. Hop on to the nearest bike and give this class a go!
Special thanks to indoor cycling specialist and co-owner of Pedal NYC Ray Wallace for reviewing this article and lending his expertise.