Do Spinning Classes Help or Hurt?

How you participate in a class determines it's a good fit for your fitness goals or not.

Daylight hours are dwindling away, which makes riding your bicycle outdoors more of a challenge. Add bad weather to the equation and all but the toughest souls are forced indoors.

One indoor option for winter riding is a structured Spinning? class, where you and your stationary-peloton pals gather at the gym to be motivated into sweat rivulets by an encouraging instructor. With music pounding in the background, athletes spin the cranks as fast as possible. The instructor encourages, "More tension! Stand up! Down! Up! Hold it, hold IT!"

With red faces, burning legs and ponds of sweat below each bike, tired and tortured athletes might wonder if Spinning? classes are helping or hurting their athletic goals.

You must first establish goals for your training before you can decide if your class is helping or not. Then decide how substituting indoor cycling—and more specifically Spinning?—for outdoor cycling fits into those goals.

Multisport athletes have to be particularly cautious that very difficult Spinning? sessions do not take away from possible gains made during running and swimming workouts.

Realize You are Part of a Group

Once you decide what you want to achieve from Spinning?, recognize that your goals may not match the session goals of the instructor or others in the class. One of the tough things about leading a group is structuring each class so the participants have a good experience and keep coming back.

Participants often end up forming the class structure by rewarding the instructor with comment ("What a great class! You just killed me tonight. I work harder here than for anyone else. Those standing intervals toasted my legs, what a workout!") If you enjoyed a particular interval set or it fits nicely into your training plan, let the instructor know.

You can also ask what the focus of upcoming classes will be. Remember, however, that rarely will a class be structured around an individual's training plan or goals.

Additionally, some people want to feel totally thrashed after class, and that is what determines if it was a "good" Spinning? class for them or not. It doesn't matter if the workout doesn't remotely resemble an outdoor cycling session--all they are looking for is that nice flogged feeling. If this isn't what you're looking for on that particular day, don't fall into the trap of keeping pace with someone who is.

Pre-plan Your Workout

Before you go to the class, decide what kind of workout you want to achieve. Most good instructors encourage participants to modify the workout to meet personal needs.

If you want to do a form workout that focuses on high revolutions-per-minute while staying mostly aerobic, for example, this may mean staying seated while the rest of the class is repeatedly bouncing up and down. Or you may need to keep the tension low when the instructor tells everyone to crank it up. Don't be afraid of standing out from the crowd in order to conform the session to that day's training.

Bike Fit

Some stationary Spin? bikes have limited seat adjustment. On these bikes, seat height can only be adjusted in half-inch increments via holes in the seat post. This limited adjustment can cause some athletes knee, hip, foot or back pain.

The fit problem is compounded when you increase the tension, or load. A high load and an incorrect fit are bound to cause you problems. The last thing you want is an injury.

Before you head to class, measure the distance on your bike from the top of the pedal to the top of the saddle when the pedal is in the position putting it furthest away from your seat. This position is not at the bottom of the pedal stroke, but rather slightly forward from that position.

Try to get the seat height of your Spin? bike as close as possible to that of your own bicycle. If you don't wear the same shoes for spinning class as you do for outdoor cycling, consider the difference your shoes may have on seat height adjustment.

Just For You

In the end, how you participate in a class determines whether or not spinning helps or hurts your fitness goals. It is impossible for an instructor to meet the goals of every individual in the class, so it is up to you to get what you need from each class and each instructor.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

Spinning? is an indoor cycling program created by Mad Dogg Athletics, Inc.

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