by Melissa Muhr
Why is spinning so fantastic? Spinning is simple and it doesn’t require any coordination, which for me, is a bonus (two left feet here). Spinning is low impact, it’s non-competitive and it’s very effective. Spinning can actually make burning fat fun. Yes, I said FUN! As Spinning is one of the most popular group exercise classes of all, here are some pointers for those of you who are thinking of trying a class.
What is spinning?
Spinning is a studio-based cycle workout that is set to music (sometimes bad music) and led by an instructor. Spinning classes typically last between 50 and 60 minutes.
What to wear
Some spinners, like me, prefer to wear clipless shoes (which add extra leverage when you’re pedaling). But it’s perfectly acceptable to wear your gym shoes. Since you’ll be sweating, a lot, I choose dry-fit clothes. Some spinners wear proper cycle gear. That’s not essential either, but for the sake of comfort, I would recommend that you invest in a decent pair of padded cycle shorts. I also grab a towel or two at the gym counter on my way into the studio.
Bring water. Lots of water. Pretty simple. I might add that having a water bottle that you can squeeze is a tad easier.
Your instructor will give you general guidelines about how much resistance to add, how fast to pedal, how hard you should be working and when to do certain movements like standing, sitting, sprinting and so on. Remember that you are ultimately in control. If you need to alter the intensity in order to make it through the class, go ahead and do so – you won’t be the only one.
If you’re new, arrive early. Let the instructor know you’re a beginner and ask him or her to help you set up your bike properly. If the instructor isn’t there early enough to help you, a good rule of thumb is to stand beside your bike and set the seat height so it reaches the top of your hip ball joint.
Once the class starts, the instructor will speak in terms of intensity, as well as telling you to increase resistance by 1/4 turn, 1/2 turn, etc. Don’t worry too much about the resistance at first. Focus on the RPM and gearing that works best for you. Don’t be afraid to take it down a notch in terms of intensity if the going gets too tough – it’s about enjoying you, not killing yourself. Pedal with your foot parallel to the floor and make sure the widest part of your foot sits over the pedal spindle. I find if I do not do this, my feet go numb halfway through the class.
Spinning classes start with some gentle warm-up exercises to get you used to the feel of the bike. There are a couple of basic moves to listen for– sprints and climbs, followed by recovery spells (my favorite). Sprints are exactly what they sound like – the instructor encourages you to set a level of resistance and then pedal as fast as you can. Climbs mean a high level of resistance and standing on the pedals to keep you moving. You are always in control of your own speed and resistance. Which are the two variables that are used to determine your intensity. The class ends with a cool down and stretches, slowly lowering your heart rate and loosening up tight leg muscles. I find it very important and beneficial to stick around for that. Your muscles will thank you later.
You can expect to feel fatigue throughout your leg muscles, but try not to stop pedaling. If you get tired, simply reduce your resistance and slow down to catch your breath. I find that grunting helps. Sure I get some looks but I like to spice things up.
You are also likely to feel some saddle soreness – that goes away after a few sessions for most people. If it helps, stand up out of the saddle when you need a break. You can also adjust your position in the saddle. I usually stop reaching forward to the handlebars and sit upright in my seat.
When you’re up and riding out of the saddle, your abdominal strength is what keeps you balanced, not leaning on the handlebars. The handlebars are there for balance, not to hold you up. I constantly hear the instructor telling the class to keep your core tight.
When new riders get tired, their knees tend to bow out to the sides. It’s important that your knees are pointed straightforward because bowed knees increase the potential for injury. Better to slow down with proper form than push yourself with incorrect form.
Relaxed shoulders will help you to engage your core, keep your feet flat and keep your knees straight. Spinning is a great workout in a stimulating environment that will add genuine fun and variety to your exercise program. I hope this encourages you to get out there and spin yourself fit. And as always HAVE FUN!