In the ever-challenging world of trying to keep people interested in fitness, spinning classes burst onto the ‘elite fitness’ scene about 15 years ago, dribbling down into the gyms of the peasant masses over the past 10 years or so. A specialized fitness activity where serious bikers sweat along side amateur newbies, the spinning class has found its place among traditional aerobics and its popularity is rising to the point of even having entire schools of spinning dedicated to the workout.
Spinning classes use specialized stationary bikes first developed by inventor, Californian Johnny G, that have a 38 lb flywheel with a fixed gear. Translated, the flywheel is in perpetual motion, eliminating any inclination you might have to just coast along while others pump away. The resistance on the bike can be adjusted by the rider to control the intensity of their workout. This workout is recommended for workout junkies over the age of 16, but in-shape participants up to the age of 75 can participate as classes are structured so that each cycler can go at their own pace.
Many people have been drawn to spinning for various reasons. It has been lauded has being an intense butt and leg buster that can burn large amounts of calories in a relatively short period of time. Other athletes, such as runners or swimmers, also participate in spinning in order to vary their cross-training schedule. It has also been sold as a great way for avid bikers, even professionals, who wish to carry on their training on cold or wet days not conducive to cycling outdoors.
If you are just starting out a fitness regimen after years of couch potatoism, be careful if you choose spinning as your fast track to weight loss and fitness. A recent study by the American Council on Exercise showed that many beginners jump into spinning classes without knowing their limits and can tend to workout at an intensity that is beyond their bodies’ capabilities.
If you are just starting out and wish to choose spinning as your fitness poison, make sure that you are listening to your body when it is telling you to slow down, reduce the resistance on your bike, or rest. It is easy in a larger class to try and keep up with the spandex-clad nymphette on the spinner beside you, but take care of your body and build up your fitness level at a safe pace instead of killing yourself the first time and never returning.
In comparison to any other cardio workout, spinning can be better, the same or worse in terms of effectiveness. As with anything, it depends on the effort you put into it. With its independent elements such as how fast you pedal and the level at which you set your resistance, you can burn anywhere between 300 and 600 calories in an hour-long class.
Intensity relies on both the speed at which you pedal and the level of resistance. If you pedal fast with almost no resistance, you are not using the bike effectively. You need to figure out what resistance is challenging, but also not cumbersome to getting your speed up.
When measured against other forms of cardio workouts, such as stair-climbing, step classes or treadmills, there are several factors to consider. When you are spinning, it is the machine that is doing the work, while you are the power driving it. When you are performing such upright workouts as stair-climbing, step or treadmills, a lot of the work that your body is doing has to do with the resistance of gravity and hauling your own weight around.
When you are pulling your can up and down a step, there are more calories built into just hauling your weight. In spinning, because you are seated the workout depends on your effort; gravity is not helping you out.
On a positive note, if you are already hauling a lot of weight around, or have had knee, ankle or foot problems in the past, spinning is a fantastic way to take the pressure off of your joints and feet so that you don’t have to wait 4 days between workouts for your joints to stop aching. The lessened pressure on your lower body also reduces likelihood of injuries and makes spinning a great workout for those recovering from injuries.
Aside from the reduced stress on your joints, spinning works mainly the lower body, building muscle strength and endurance in the quads, hamstrings, and back. It is a fantastic cardio workout and calorie burner that will build lean muscle in your large muscle groups, and building lean muscle raises your metabolism, meaning that you will be burning more calories, even when your body is at rest.
At more advanced spinning facilities, you will be able to choose among several different types of classes. These may include All Terrain classes that will include simulated hills, flat roads and jumps (which alternate standing and sitting); Endurance classes that work on setting and maintaining a steady pace on the bike; Strength Training classes that work on building muscle with slower cadence riding at a high resistance; and Fat Burning classes, which keep your heart rate at an optimum fat-burning level.
You don’t need a lot of gear to excel in spinning class. It is recommended that if you wish to pursue spinning as a regular workout option, you invest in some padded bike shorts. You’ll know why after that first class you spend without them.
Other than that, all you will need is a big bottle of water (spinning classes are notorious for the sheer volume of sweat produced), and a quick tete-a-tete with the instructor. When you are just starting out, you will need their guidance as to where you should begin your resistance and speed. As with all new workouts, listen to your body—it knows its limits, even if you don’t.