At this point, you've probably heard of indoor cycling (or Spinning, if you want to use its trademarked name), but that doesn't mean you've made your way to a class yet. We know the whole experience can seem overwhelming from the outside, so here's what you should know before hitting the studio for the first time.
More intense than riding a stationary bike, most indoor cycling classes last for 30- to 75-minute sessions. The intensity will vary throughout the class thanks to different body positions (i.e., standing versus sitting), pedal speed, and resistance. The instructor will tell you when to change your settings so your ride feels like it would outdoors—complete with hill climbs, sprints, and coasting. 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 will 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 RA, Foster C, Andrew J. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 2008, Sep.;22(4):1533-4287. Plus, all that pedaling will work your 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 your joints to a minimum. The effects of indoor cycling training in sedentary overweight women. Bianco A, Bellafiore M, Battaglia G. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 2010, Dec.;50(2):0022-4707. Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: a randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls. Varkey E, Cider A, Carlsson J. Cephalalgia : an international journal of headache, 2011, Sep.;31(14):1468-2982.
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 and 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. Getting the perfect fit on the bike can be tricky, but a general rule of thumb is to adjust the seat to be even with your hip. 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 if you're strapping in, make sure they're secure.
- Know the numbers. Some instructors call out numbers to indicate how far you should be rising out of your seat. Roughly, position one is sitting in the seat, position two is a slight hover over the saddle, and position three is a more dramatic hinge forward, but here are the specifics on each.
- Insist on resistance. There are no real gears to change, but there will be 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—you'll probably need it. And swigging water is encouraged mid-ride to stay hydrated (although the spin 'n' sip definitely takes some coordination).
- Choose your class wisely. Love the club? Go for sessions with dimmed lights or a disco atmosphere. If seeking more adventure, opt for classes that bring the outdoors to the studio. Getting the mood juuust right (for you) can make your session more fun and more effective. Music and light during indoor cycling. Shaulov N, Lufi D. Perceptual and motor skills, 2009, Jul.;108(2):0031-5125.
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!
Originally published April 2012. Updated June 2017.