In honor of my Wednesday morning spinning class (eee can't wait! It's been a whole week!), today we're talking about...

Spinning: the infamous, high-intensity, indoor cycling class.  Saddle up in a dark room, blast the music, and get your heart pumping.

I shared my love for group exercise--including Spinning--before.
I also showed you how my heart rate soars during my Spin classes; such a great interval workout!
I've also shared how fantastic it felt to get back to spinning after a couple weeks under the weather.

So, basically, since September, I've completely fallen for Spinning.  It's about time I share the details with you, and dare you to get into a class ASAP!  It builds muscles, works cardio, and serves as a great cross-training workout for runners, too.  Easier on the knees than running, so good thing to try when you've got an injury that prevents you from running. (Consult your doctor, of course.)  OR... just do it because it's a great workout and SO MUCH FUN.

(...If you think peddling your heart out and dripping in sweat is fun.  I do.  And stretching or yoga feels SO good after!!)


First, note that Spinning is not the only name that this type of exercise goes by nowadays.  You'll also see classes with the word "cycle," and there are some other well-known branded versions of Spin-like workouts, such as Soul Cycle and Flywheel.

Too many people are afraid of Spinning.  Yes, it's intense. Yes, they play loud music. Yes, you'll sweat, but what are you scared of?  The worst that happens is you don't keep up with others; so what?  No one's watching you.  The best that happens is you get a great workout.  Give it a try; you just might fall in love with spinning, like I and so many others have.  (And we were all newbies once, right?)

What is Spinning / Indoor Cycling? 

These indoor cycling workouts take place on a stationary bicycle, which allows you to adjust your resistance as you go.  The class, usually 45 to 60 minutes, will take you on a virtual bike ride that will improve your cardiovascular fitness as well as shape the muscles in your legs and glutes.  Carefully selected music serves to enhance the ride, provide cues for choreography, and to motivate you to speed up, push forward, and enjoy the ride.

All the changes--the acceleration and deceleration, the sprints, the hills, the stand-ups and sit-downs--make this one killer high-intensity interval workout.  Your body will feel it, and your heart rate will soar and plummet.  Race and recover.  Torch more calories than so many other workouts and group classes.

You can see from these heart rate charts how my HR increased and decreased, and that matched to where the "hills" were, the "sprints," and the descents.

As you can see above, it is hardcore interval workout that will give you a cardio workout worthy of your time.  It also improves strength, not only in your legs from the push-and-pull of the pedals, but also in your core for balancing in the standing positions, and even your arms in classes that do pushups on the handlebars.

Throughout a class, the instructor will tell you when to increase your resistance (turning a knob)--to climb that hill--or when to decrease the resistance for the descent.  The instructor will also give suggestions for speed, whether to stay on pace with the music's beat or to go to double-time, triple-time, to sprint (all-out effort), to surge (get ahead of the pack!), or to climb a steep hill at a slow but steady pace.  There are also bumps in the road, over which you'll perform "jumps" on the bike, switching among positions, standing and sitting, etc.  It might sound somewhat complicated, but as soon as you get into a class, you'll pick up on the instructions pretty quickly.

Setting up your bike: 

The best advice I can give you here is to have your instructor work with you on Day 1, before your first class.  In my post on group exercise, I encourage you to tell the instructor that you are new.  This is so important for spinning, because the equipment, jargon, and atmosphere will be new to you.  The bike positioning must be suited to your body, or you risk injuring yourself!

The "set up" process involves three things: Your seat height, seat position, and handlebar height.  It's all personal.  Your legs should extend but knees not lock, you should only see your toes (not foot) when sitting and peeking over your knee, and you should be leaning over to reach the handlebars but not so much that you hurt your back.  Please, have the instructor help you find your proper setup, AND have another instructor do the same, and see where they differ.  I've had instructors change me before, and when she did, I had back pains for days.  Get multiple opinions and figure out what works for your body.

Positions and Terminology:

The instructor is also responsible for explaining the instructions he or she will be shouting out.  They'll show you positions "One," "Two," and "Three," (respectively: seated in the saddle, standing out of the saddle, and leaning forward over the handlebars).

They'll also give speed and resistance instructions: "sprint" (all-out, maximum effort, pedal-as-fast-as-you-can, BUT with resistance!), "surge" (power ahead), "flat road" (as though you feel the road beneath your tires; the pedals aren't completely free to spin uncontrollably), "hover," "jump" (from one position to another and back again) and many more that vary by facility and instructor.

As my favorite instructor likes to remind us, "Everything I say is a suggestion."  Do what you can, for as long as you can.  You know your body, you control your speed and resistance, and you will get out of your workout what you put into it.

Tips for getting started:

Straight from the source: on Getting Started with Spinning

Laura at Mommy, Run Fast! (a certified RPM Cycling instructor) wisely recommends trying a VARIETY of instructors to see what you connect with.  I agree -- to me, the instructor, his/her music, and his/her routine makes ALLLLLL the  difference.  She also reminds cycling newbies to "bring water, grab a towel, and work hard!"  Again, agreed: you'll need 1 and 2, and #3 is the key to success!  Laura also urges you to not be afraid to challenge yourself on hills.  "Spinning is a great workout to improve your strength and cardiovascular fitness."  (But if you take it too easy, you're selling yourself short!)


Learn from others' first experiences:

To quote my sister, after her first spin class: "Spinning is no joke!"  :)

True.  It is no joke, but it is what you make of it.  If you can only work on getting the positions and lingo down at first, then take it easy on resistance while you're trying to pay attention.  Once you're more comfortable, up the resistance, pedal your heart out on those sprints, and make the most of it.  As I mentioned above, YOU GET WHAT YOU PUT IN.  There are certainly days where I take it easy on myself because I'm not feeling great or because I don't like the substitute instructor, and I see the negative impact on my heart rate and calorie burn.  Make the most of your workout, every time, and it will be worth it.

It really REALLY helps to have an instructor you like, who uses a VARIETY in his/her routine, and who plays music that you like or that inspires you.  Music plays a huge role in spinning for me; if the music doesn't motivate me--through its beat, words, or whatever--then I don't give as much as I could. Find the right instructor for you, and don't give up on spinning just because you didn't enjoy your first class.  Try another instructor.  Once you find your match, you'll want to go back every. single. time.


Caitlin of Cait Plus Ate was kind enough to share her story with us:

"Spinning is what got me addicted to sweaty cardio workouts!  
When I started trying to work out regularly in college, I attempted treadmill/elliptical sessions, to no avail.  My mom has always done spin and used to be an instructor, so I thought hey, why not try that out?  It took a few classes for my butt to get used to the seat ;-) 
but the 
refreshed, accomplished feeling I got after each class,
after climbing each hill, completing each step, made every spin session so worth it.  
The MUSIC really got me pumped, too!  
I soon expanded to other modes of group fitness, but spin is what got me going 
on a regular workout schedule."

Personally, I very much relate to Caitlin's experience.  It took a while to get used to the seat, to truly amp up the resistance, to not feel like the tin man for two or three days after a spin class, but in the end, I LOVE IT.  I always feel like queen of the world after a killer spin class, because it's such a fantastic workout.  My sweaty towel and empty water bottle show me how strong I was to get through it, and I always look forward to the next one. :) 

As Caitlin suggests, it is also really great for people looking to establish a regular workout schedule.  Most gyms offer cycling classes DAILY, with at least one morning and one evening session--often more.  See what your gym has to offer, or check out a stand-alone cycling studio, who will have classes all day long!


More stories, advice, and recaps: 
(Click the blog name to read more!)

Nicole at Making Good Choices Blog lists the pros and cons of her experience at Soul Cycle.  Seems like she loved the workout itself--kick-butt, sweating, loud music, motivating instructor, weights at the end, helpful and encouraging atmosphere--but was less impressed with the facility itself.

Jenn at Run With Rabbits shares her first spin class story, summed up in "Wow!" It was more difficult than she'd imagined; she says, "Take a class you've never taken before, and you'll see how much more you can improve."  SO true! She also recommends that newbies eat before class; fuel your body for the grueling workout!

Jess of Blonde Ponytail conquers your fears on Run To The Finish, where she encourages non-spinners not to be afraid of the bike seat or the intensity levels.  She does a great job explaining how crucial bike setup is, and how YOU and only you determine what effort you will exert.

Tamara of Fitknitchick explains why indoor cycling is a great, fun way to get in shape: music, energy, variety, multi-level capacity, extreme calorie burn.  All good reasons to spin!

Angela at Eat, Spin, Run, Repeat provides the reasoning behind some common cues/reminders that cycling instructors give.  In that post, she also describes the benefits and mechanics of spinning shoes.

Stay tuned to hear about MY recent, first-time experience with spinning shoes :)


In sum: Calorie-burning, sweat-inducing, muscle-building, heart-pumping... FUN, ROCKIN' WORKOUT. Just step into a class, because once you sit on that bike, the music will wake you up, and you might as well make the most of it.  Dare you.

Do you do spinning?  Have a fun first-time story?  What did you think after your first time?  
Did you go back?  Become addicted?  Got tips for newbies? 

Would you be willing to give it a try, if you haven't yet?  I dare you ! 

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