The Science of Spinning (and 5 Reasons You Should Consider Joining a Spin Class!)

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Cycling is perhaps among the best hobbies to develop, either as a pastime or as an exercise. Apart from being a great stress buster, it helps burn some serious calories as well. Not to mention that it helps to strengthen those core muscles that are so very important for overall strength and fitness. However, a few issues like road safety, lack of open spaces, bad roads, bad weather and lack of time are among a few reasons why people find it difficult to indulge in cycling as a regular activity.

Spinning is a name given to the process of riding stationary bikes in an enclosed environment- a solution to all those issues we spoke about earlier. Spin classes are classes where groups of multiple people come together to exercise (spin) on spin bikes with similar routines and intervals. Spin classes typically last 30-60 minutes and are run with various routines of different intensities, resistance, and rest.

If you’ve already read our 10-step plan to keep your fitness goals in 2018, you’re probably looking to add a new exercise to your list of things to try. In the heat of the growing ‘Spin class’ trend, we thought it’d be a good idea to examine the science beneath the benefits and give you five reasons why you should join a class this year!

One Big Calorie Burner

Popular spinning studios like Flywheel and SoulCycle have their riders clip their feet into the stationary bikes. As long as the wheels turn, legs keep pumping. Combine this always-working aspect with the thumping music, enthusiastic instructors and energetic group atmosphere of most spinning studios, and it’s easy to get intense exercise and burn calories by the bucketful.

This puts spinning near the top of the list when it comes to high-intensity workouts. A study from Sweden found that one hour of spinning was enough to trigger the release of blood chemicals associated with heart stress or changes. While that may sound like a bad thing, these blood chemicals—or biomarkers—signal the heart is getting a good workout. “These kinds of findings have also been seen with prolonged exertion such as marathons,” says study author Dr. Smita Dutta Roy of Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden. While more research is needed to tease out the risks or benefits associated with exercise of this intensity, she says that some of the biomarker shifts her team observed could lead to blood vessel repair and renewal.

It can also help improve body composition, decrease fat mass and lower blood pressure and cholesterol, says Jinger Gottschall, an associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State University. Some of her research has shown that high-intensity spinning can increase fitness levels even in trained athletes. “In every study we’ve done, we’ve seen increases in heart and lung capacity,” she writes. She calls spinning “the optimal cardio workout,” and says you can get all the intensity of a treadmill or stair-climber without the impact.

Resistance vs Speed

It’s a common conundrum in indoor cycling: You hit a hard hill and realize you can’t maintain your speed. So do you lower your resistance or slow down?

According to Victor Self at Flywheel, “Torque (resistance) is completely negotiable and RPMs (speed) is non-negotiable.”  With high-intensity interval training, you always want to add torque or speed to increase your heart rate and the overall effectiveness of the workout.

So if you’re struggling on a hill, drop the resistance and keep your RPMs where they should be. However, you don’t want to cut the resistance excessively. The faster you can do a heavier amount

of work, the greater your explosive power will be in your core and leg muscles. Turning up the speed will get you the most bang for your buck, in terms of upping your aerobic and anaerobic power.

The bottom line: Master the basics at a lower resistance, then work toward keeping that resistance high to improve your fitness.

Popular Spin Questions

Why is Proper Pedaling Technique Important?

Cadence is an important skill to develop, even if you have no intention of ever riding outside. Spinning classes require riders to be skillful in their riding technique to get the most out of their training sessions.

One major reason for developing an efficient pedal stroke and working toward an ideal cycling cadence, is injury prevention. When someone is out of control or pedaling too slowly, they put themselves at risk of injury. As riders get stronger on the bike, they generate more power per pedal stroke which causes an increase in the amount stress placed on the knee joints. The increase in force on the joints may stress them to the point of injury. Besides, a more efficient pedal stroke will allow the student to generate more power and thus expend more calories.

So, What is an Optimal Pedal Stroke?

There is no one optimal pedal stroke — the definition varies depending on whether it applies to the stroke that produces the most power, the least fatigue, the most comfort or the greatest economy. Norwegian sports scientists Foss and Hallén define the optimal cadence as one that produces the best performance.

How Do You Apply These Research Findings in a Spinning Class?

The science helps us gain an understanding as to why we choose a particular cadence depending on the terrain we are riding. Newer spinners often pedal below the cadence parameters we use in the Spinning program. As you gain experience, you’ll eventually find their own preferred cadence and drift into the normal ranges of 60-80 RPM on the hills and 80-110 RPM on the flats, according to Fit Day. Over time, new riders will develop their skill level and improve their pedal stroke, working toward their ideal cycling cadence.

5 Reasons to Try a Class

1. It Helps Build Muscle. A spin class may help you bulk up a lot more than you thought possible. Since a spin class, as mentioned above employs the rules of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), it engages the fast twitch muscle fibers in the lower body. The fast twitch fibers are responsible for the explosive strength that is required for the body to perform this taxing exercise.

2. It Gives You Healthy Heart. A spin class will give your heart an amazing workout as well. Spin classes are specifically designed to keep your heart rate well above normal levels during the entirety of the workout. This makes it a wonderful aerobic exercise which helps to increase lung capacity, burn calories and increase endurance.

3. It Improves Posture and Strength. Spinning is an ideal way to improve your core strength. A proper spinning instructor will coach you on the best posture to use while spinning to ensure maximal output, optimal lung capacity and minimize injuries. When performed with a proper posture, spinning directly engages the core muscles, which are the thighs, abs, laterals, lower back, and upper back.

4. It Is A Low- Impact Exercise. Spinning is extremely easy on the joints, ligaments, and muscles of the legs, knees, and back. Compared to most other exercises, there are no jerks and the movements are quite smooth. Due to this, people recovering from injuries, those suffering from arthritis, sprains and the elderly can also participate in a spin class.

5. It Relieves Mental Stress. Spinning is a rhythmic exercise, which helps the brain to zone out and focuses completely on the process and helps to relax your mind. It is also a soothing exercise since you don’t need to worry about where you are going since the motion is repetitive, the position is fixed, and the only thing changing is the pace, which is pretty much subconsciously controlled.

Overall, spinning is exceptional exercise. But if you’re new to it, you need to ease in and give your muscles time to adapt to its intensity. Even if you’re an experienced athlete, pushing yourself to your limit the first or second time you get on a spinning bike may be risky, Brogan says. Even once you’ve found your spinning legs, daily sessions may still be overkill.

But if you’re looking for a high-intensity workout a few days a week—and especially if running or other forms of vigorous aerobic exercise hurt your joints—spinning may be the ideal way to keep your heart and body in shape.

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