Spinning Classes – What to Expect, The Benefits & How to Start
When it comes to spinning classes, there seem to be three questions people want answering.
What can I expect? – What are the benefits? – How do I get started?
This guide will give you all the information you need to answer those questions.
What to expect at a spin class
Expect a class to be busy. Spinning is popular and by that, we mean really popular. Many spinning classes have to be booked in advance and when spin bikes are available on the day, they tend to go very quickly.
Expect to get hot. Even if your gym has air conditioning and/or fans going full blast, the fact of the matter is that spinning classes give you an intense (read sweaty) workout and the chances are you’re going to be in a room which is packed as full as it can be of other people getting hot and sweaty. What this means is that you need to select gym clothes with the idea of keeping cool in mind. Ladies, a good-quality sports bra is a must.
We’d also suggest you invest in a microfibre towel (often sold as travel towels), they’re very affordable and they are much more effective at mopping up liquids (including sweat) than ordinary towels. Even if you don’t take this advice, we’d suggest you bring your own towel, although most gyms will provide them.
You’ll also need liquid. We tend just to bring water, but you can bring a sports drink if you prefer. We’d suggest you make it a still drink rather than a fizzy one. The last thing you want is getting hiccups on a spin bike.
Expect the class to include some “set-up” and “take-down” time
Gyms tend to buy the same model of spin bike in large quantities and in addition to robustness, they look for spin bikes with a high degree of customizability so they can accommodate people of all shapes, sizes and weights (literally).
As a rule of thumb, the gym will set up the spin bikes in the room and then you start the class by customizing your spin bike to fit you comfortably. This is a good opportunity to give the spin bike a quick once-over in case your gym has missed something.
First of all, give the spin bike a quick push and see if it wobbles and then try the same on the saddle. Then give the pedals a spin to confirm that they move freely and check the straps to ensure that they fasten correctly and will hold your feet safely. If you have any concerns, point them out to your instructor. If you are still waiting for an instructor, you may just wish to move to another spin bike and alert anyone who moves to the first spin bike.
While it may seem obvious, make sure you can see the instructor from your spin bike. Gyms generally set up the spin bikes spaced out so that class-goers are not directly in front of each other, which means that most people should be fine with any bike. If, however, you’re particularly small, you might be best to head to the front and if you’re particularly tall it might be appreciated if you went to the back. Having said that, regardless of where you are, you’ll still be able to see what everyone else is doing.
In our experience, most gyms choose spin bikes which can be used either with ordinary trainers or with special cycling shoes. Some gyms have spin bikes which only work with trainers and some have spin bikes which only work with cycling shoes. In the latter case the gym will usually hire out cycling shoes although you’ll probably want to get your own if you’re planning on going to the spinning class regularly.
Hint: if you’re new to cycling shoes, just ask someone to show you how to clip on and off the pedals. Your instructor will be happy to do so as will most people in the class.
Expect to have to find your way around some basic controls on your spin bike
Gyms choose spin bikes which can be worked without a degree in IT so while your console may be large it won’t be like trying to navigate the helm of the Starship Enterprise. Most of the time, you’ll work your resistance from your console, but some spin bikes may still have a manual knob to turn. Either way, you can bank on it being pretty straightforward, you just need to check quickly that you know what it is, where it is and how it works. Again, your instructor can show you and generally another class goer will be happy to help.
Expect to have to learn some new terminology
In spinning you’ll be in one of three different positions and many instructors use numbers to indicate which position to use at any given time. They will usually run through these at the start of the class, but if you want to prepare, one is seated and three is standing up on your pedals. Two is in between where you are leaning forward over the handlebars but still seated (or hovering just over the saddle). If in doubt just see what everyone else is doing and if you feel capable do the same. If not, take it down a position or two.
Expect to be asked to turn off your phone (or at least put it on silent)
In all seriousness, if you’re expecting an important phone call then either give your spinning class a miss for one week or at least take a spin bike at the back so you can leave easily and make sure you have your phone on your arm so you can feel it vibrate because you’re unlikely to hear it over the music.
Expect to be in a class full of lots of different people of varying levels of ability
One of the great features of spin classes is that the resistance control means you decide just how hard you want your workout to be, so the same class can be shared by experienced spinners and total beginners as well as the super fit and the super unfit. This is part of what makes spinning classes such fun. If you’re afraid of being judged, forget it. Apart from anything else, you’re all going to be working too hard to have any energy left over to judge each other.
Expect it to be different from cycling
We have to admit, when we went to our first spinning class, back in the days when it was really new to the UK, we went because we thought it would basically be cycling indoors. We were partly right at least. It is a bit like cycling indoors, but it’s also very different. Basically, when you’re cycling (or when we’re cycling at least), the realities of the road (or offroad terrain) dictate how hard you work. In a spinning class you and your instructor will decide what sort of workout you will have.
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The benefits of spinning and spinning classes
Get lots of low-impact cardio
There are many benefits to spinning classes, but it we had to pick just one as the main benefit, it would probably be the fact that spinning classes combine high cardio with low impact exercise. Just about every other form of high-cardio exercise we can think off is (much) harder on the joints than spinning is. This makes it a great choice for anyone dealing with injuries and/or anyone who needs to make it a high priority to avoid injury.
Strengthen your heart
The term cardio relates to the heart. Spinning classes increase your VO2 max (the speed at which your body transports oxygen from the heart to the muscles), which
Burn (lots of) calories
Cardio and burning calories tend to go hand in glove and spinning classes are no exception to this rule. Spinning classes are one of the top options for burning off a lot of calories in a short time.
Work those muscles
If you’re thinking cycling, your initial thoughts may be of leg muscles, calves, hamstrings and quads as well as your glutes for the beautiful booty. You’re absolutely right, these will certainly get a workout – and so will your core. In fact your core will get much more of a workout than on a road bike, because you’ll be encouraged to move your upper body differently, precisely for this reason.
For the record, spinning will develop your muscle tone it will not bulk you up. In other words, you can spin away without worrying that you’ll end up looking like the Incredible Hulk/ette.
In theory, the only set of muscles spinning classes don’t cover are your arm muscles, but actually a lot of spinning classes have that covered with arm exercises, weights and/or resistance bands.
You’re in control of the pace and can take breaks when you want
In principle this is true of any exercise class, in practice just how true it is can be very variable.
If you have the money for one on one training for a personal instructor in your own space then you are most certainly in control of the intensity of the workout. If you join a group class, then your costs may go down but much of the time your ability to tailor the session to your needs will also be reduced.
For example, if you are in an aerobics class, it will probably be fairly straightforward to reduce the intensity of movements which are performed on the spot, e.g. walking on the spot instead of jogging. If, however, a crowded aerobics class starts moving about within the room at high speed, then there’s a good chance that you’re going to have very little choice but to move with it, otherwise you’ll cause an obstruction.
Spinning classes get around this problem (if you’ll pardon the pun) because effectively you’re always working on the spot, i.e. on your spin bike so you have full freedom to adjust the intensity of the workout to suit your needs. What’s more, you’ll probably do this by means of the resistance control, so you can still stay in synch with the group, at least for most of the workout.
Improve your mental health
In addition to their many physical benefits, spinning classes are also great for your mental health. The warm up will help you to get into the zone, then you have a high-intensity workout, complete with music, during which you can burn out all your stress, then you have a cool down to bring you back into the world feeling more ready to face it.
You’ll also have the benefit of spinning in a group, to give you the feeling of having your own support team. This is one of the biggest advantages of going to a spinning class instead of spinning purely on your own at home. Sometimes your fellow class goers can become a real community for you. As a minimum, just having company can encourage you to push yourself as far as you can and really give the workout the full 100%.
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How to start
The popularity of spinning classes means that unless you live somewhere really remote, there’s a very high chance that you’ll find at least one spinning class near you. In fact, if you live in a town or city, you’ll probably have several classes from which to choose. When looking at your options, make sure you check which classes are only open to gym members and which can be accessed by anyone, even if they’re not members of the host gym.
NB: due to the popularity of spinning classes, many gyms have some classes which are members-only and some which are open to the public, so make sure you read the schedule properly (rather than just skimming it) so you are clear about which is which. Similarly spinning classes may run for anything from 30 minutes to 75 minutes, even within the same gym so again, make sure you check this.
We’d suspect that for many people, convenience to their home or place of work and the time of the classes will be their top considerations, but even so you may well find that you have a range of options. If that’s the case, then you might want to consider trying each one of your possible classes to see what is best. Even if you don’t fancy that, remember you do have other options if you find your first spinning class isn’t what you hoped. Instructors are individuals and each has their own taste in music, therefore you may need a few goes to find your perfect match.
If you want to prepare yourself physically for your first class, you would probably find using a spin bike outside of a class to be a better option than road cycling.
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Spinning classes versus buying a spin bike for home use
If you really need the support of the group to get through a workout then spinning classes are the only way for you to go. Likewise if you’re a very private person and don’t like groups or if you would find it a real struggle to get to a spinning class, then buying a spin bike for home use would be the only way for you to go.
In most cases, however, we’d say many people would benefit most from doing both. Head to a spinning class a few times a week for the stimulation and companionship and use your spin bike at home on other days to keep fit.