Thinking of trying a spin class? Fast paced group pedalling could be the fitness boost to transform your riding
What is a spin class?
A spin class is a high intensity cycling workout that generally takes place on a stationary machine with a heavy, weighted flywheel that is linked to the pedals.
The result is a fixed gear bike (like a track bike) – your legs are constantly moving and you have to apply pressure to slow them down. You can’t simply stop pedalling and that means that every second of the available time is put to good use.
Most spin classes last for around 45-60 minutes; it’s rarely necessary for them to be any longer and participants can expect to leave sweaty and with heavy legs.
Nearly all classes will be led by an instructor who calls out intervals (when to pedal hard and when to slow it down) – and this person has a huge effect on the class.
A class that advertises itself as being designed to aid your outdoor cycling performance might be led by a qualified cycling coach who may focus the intervals on skills needed in a bike race – using terms like ‘threshold’ and ‘sprint’. In comparison, other classes will place a greater importance on all over conditioning. Both promise a thorough workout and it’s really down to personal preference.
What are the benefits of spin classes?
Most cyclists looking to train indoors will turn their thoughts first to the turbo trainer or rollers, perhaps lightening the mental torture involved with a programme like Zwift or a Sufferfest video.
Whilst some cycling clubs organise group turbo or roller sessions, often it’s a solo affair – spin classes provide motivation in the form of spin-colleagues.
The instructor will determine the intervals, but the vast majority rely upon High Intensity Interval Training (HITT): efforts will be hard and fast, but short – this creates a time effective form of training.
You can expect to burn anywhere between 500 and 700 calories in an hour long spin class. Some add in weight bearing elements, such as chest presses using small weights as you pedal.
Spinning instructor and GB age-group duathlete Sam McClary told us: “A spin class provides 45 to 60 minutes of high intensity interval training (HIIT), widely regarded as one of the most effective training tools.
“Short sharp bursts of sprints and hill efforts interspersed with active recovery and longer intervals to test strength and endurance all help to push your lactic acid threshold, annihilate fat, burn calories and build muscle. Given the right instructor and the right set of tunes, you’ll push yourself harder than you do on the road.”
Can anyone take part in a spin class?
The handy thing about spin classes is that they allow riders of all abilities to push themselves as much as they like, in the same place. So an Olympic champion can train alongside a complete novice without either placing any impact on the other’s training.
Spin bikes have resistance dials – so a stronger cyclist can turn their dial right up to the max, whilst a beginner may want to be a bit more restrained. No one gets dropped and no one gets frustrated.
“Classes can also be modified for each individual as the resistance you add to your bike is linked to your own personal rate of perceived effort. Eight out of 10 may look very different for the new spinner and seasoned cyclist but it will feel exactly the same for both riders,” McClary said.
Are spin classes suited to cyclists?
Spin classes take place on bikes – so ‘yes’ is the obvious answer. However, these sessions do have a reputation for being suited to those seeking more general, all-over fitness.
This is because spin classes often incorporate elements not considered directly relevant to outdoor bike riding. For example, weights might be provided for chest presses whilst you pedal, and there’s often a large focus placed on using your core muscles to raise yourself out of the saddle, almost returning, and repeating – lots of times. This move is so prevalent it even has a name: the ‘tap back’.
It’s true that chest presses and ‘tap backs’ aren’t tailored exactly to the fitness required to win a race or complete a sportive. However, they do promote core strength and all over conditioning: something that cyclists can be accused of lacking.
Furthermore, the fixed gear bike is also an excellent tool for helping cyclists to optimise their pedal stoke and speed up their cadence – which can help reduce the fatigue associated with churning a high gear.
Not all spin classes are the same: shop around and you’re likely to find one run by cyclists with a focus more on transferable skills. These sometimes take place on Watt bikes, which provide data on power output and pedal stroke pattern as well as left/right comparison.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that a roller/turbo session allows you to ride your own bike. Spin bikes are incredibly adjustable – and you can usually clip in using Look cleats – but there’s nothing quite like your own. If you do start using spin classes, measure your bike up and arrive with plenty of time to set the saddle height, fore aft and reach to match.
Tips for your first spin class
Going to give it a go? Here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your class…
Spin classes vary dramatically. If you want a fun fitness vibe, look for one that focuses on the music and lights side of the show. If you’re after specific race related intervals, look for one led by a qualified cycling coach.
Get there early
Leave plenty of time to make sure you don’t get saddled with the dodgy bike that everyone else knows has a useless resistance dial. You’ll also want time to set your bike up to match your measurements and to swap the pedals if you’re clipping in.
And take water, and a towel: It’s going to get sweaty.
Be open minded
Expect weights and ‘tap backs’: There will be some elements you wouldn’t expect from a standard cycling class – be prepared to try something new, but know everything will be explained so you won’t be left scratching your head.
Expect DOMS the next day
‘Delayed onset muscle soreness’ rears its head when you use muscles in a way they’re not used to. You might be perfectly ok with riding 100 miles on the weekend, but that doesn’t make you immune to muscle pain following your first spin class – plan an easy ride the following day to spin the legs out.
Keep the pedal stoke smooth
Riding a fixed gear bike can pay huge dividends in optimising your pedal stroke. The constant pedalling will naturally train your legs, but you can help the process by keeping a focus on the entire movement – both the downstroke and the oft forgotten upstroke.
Don’t death-grip the handlebars
It’s easy to get carried away during a hard interval, holding the handlebars with the kind of grip you’d apply to your top tube if the bike was at risk of falling off a cliff. But doing so takes away from the core strength element that you can gain from using your trunk muscles to keep yourself upright.
To get the position right, draw your stomach in and tense your pelvic floor muscles. Try to concentrate on your position wherever possible – especially when getting in and out the saddle.