Take Me For A Spin - Indoor Cycling 101
Anyone that knows me is well aware of how much I LOVE spinning. It all started many years ago after a running injury left my knees in shambles. What I thought was the end of the world ended up being an incredibly “happy accident” because I found my passion for spinning and now consider it to be hands down the most rewarding, exhilarating, effective and even spiritual form of fitness in my life. With all that being said I know it can also be one of the most intimidating group fitness classes out there, so let me do my best to convince you the rewards far surpass the risks, and educate you (pre-class) to allow you to gain confidence and saddle up like a champ.
I am going to break this down into before, during and after class to cover absolutely everything you will experience from beginning to end and really give you the real deal on what it means to spin, but before we get into that, I want to touch on why you should spin both from a physical health angle and from a personal angle.
Cycling has a plethora of physical benefits including:
- Burning upwards of 700-800 calories per class
- Increasing cardiovascular strength and endurance
- Increasing muscle endurance
- Weight loss
- Lowering of stress and anxiety by working on controlled breathing
- Increasing metabolic rate therefore burning more calories throughout your day
- Easy on joints (low impact)
- Good for any age group
- You progress at your own pace
In addition to the above benefits there are several personal reasons that make spinning my drug of choice and why I think you will all fall in love with both the experience and the amazing results:
- There is so much energy pulsing through the room with all of your classmates you can’t help but feel amped
- The combination of music, emotion, and physical strength is incredibly therapeutic and rewarding
- I often find myself flooded with emotion and adrenaline that I almost cry, I burst out laughing or I just feel the endorphins rush through my entire body all the way to the tip of my nose and my toes!
- Because it is all on me to do things with my own challenge and resistance I feel in control and strong
- It is a “high on life” experience if I ever knew one
- This workout is fast and furious which works well for my lifestyle. I am in and out and feel totally accomplished afterwards
- I love the sense of community. At first you might think it is intimidating and pretentious but it is not at all……not even close! We ride together!
- Cute outfits…. (I will touch on what to wear in the post a little later!)
- The self discipline I build in class trickles into other areas of my life
- No matter how I feel when I get there I always and I mean ALWAYS leave walking on a cloud
- My legs are shapely and lean and my booty is perky
- I get the results of a runner without the injuries
Ok so now that I have piqued your interest lets get into the nitty gritty.
Being a virgo, I love to be prepared so lets talk about the best ways to get to class ready to rock it.
- There is no way in hell that you will walk out of a spin class not covered in sweat. This is why I always bring at the very least a fresh shirt to put on afterwards.
- You will need water, and lots of it, so bring a large water bottle. Most studios offer filtered water and unless you are in California it is best to bring a glass or aluminum bottle instead of the plastic bottles that do our earth harm.
- Strong hair elastics and possibly a head band. I have thick hair and with all the movements happening in class I find the cheap ones just don’t cut it to keep my hair up and off of my face.
- Do have a light snack before class such as a banana, yogurt or cottage cheese. I know the idea of burning all those calories on an empty stomach will help you burn more fat but the reality is you will have much better overall results if you give your body the much needed fuel.
- Some studios provide apples and bananas for after your ride but it doesn’t hurt to pack some health bars and/or fruit for afterwards. Maybe toss a coconut water in the mix if your really feeling preparing to sweat.
- One of my main tips is get there early!! This way you have time to register, fit your shoes,, set up your bike and if your a Thumbelina bladder like me……..use the restroom.
As promised lets talk outfits:
Some of the main priorities in class with regards to what you are wearing are you want to be comfortable, cool and you do not want anything that will get caught up in the bike. Which is why I recommend wearing form fitting pants and shirts. I always wear cropped tights, a sports bra and some sort of tank top or one those cute tops that has the sports bra built in. I also recommend having fun with your workout clothes. Put on something that makes you feel good whatever that means for you, put some personality into it and don’t be afraid to treat yourself to new gear as you progress………for myself it is a mega source of motivation.
Ok so you’re in your perfect outfit, your bag is packed with everything you need, your fueled up, hydrated and have that buzz of first time rider excitement. Now lets get going……
Setting up your bike:
I have to admit I am so particular about my bike and it makes such an amazing difference when you have it set up in the sweet spot just fro you and your ride is geared up to give you the most efficient and effective spin. I will say (sadly) most bikes are a tiny bit different and if you are on the more OCD side like myself it can be a bit of a scene so two things…
- Try to find a bike you love and keep booking that bike if possible
- Remember your setting. You can count the notches and numbers on each part of the bike that can be adjusted (seat height, distance and handle bars).
At any studio you go to, especially as a new rider, you should absolutely have someone giving you a rundown of the equipment and get you set up on your bike. However, with that being said I am still going to give you all of my own knowledge in hopes of you walking in the doors with that much more confidence.
- Seat Height: Stand beside your bike and line up the seat with the top of your hip bone. This will be your starting point of setting up your bike.
- Seat distance from handle bars: The distance from your seat to handle bars should be approximately the length from your elbow to the tip of your extended fingers.
- Handle Bars: The handle bars depend entirely on what you desire and is comfortable, the last thing we want is a back injury. Typically as an experienced and healthy rider you will have your handle bars level or just barely above your seat height. However, if you want to make it easier on your back or just take the workout down a notch raise the handle bars to a few inches above the seat height. You can have them up as high as you want but I wouldn’t recommend any higher than 6 inches above seat level. Some serious riders even drop the bars an inch or two below their seat. I wouldn’t recommend this for new riders and even for experienced riders in the new style of classes because they have so much choreography it really isn’t beneficial.
At this point hop on your bike and clip in. Hopefully you will have your bike set up perfectly with the above guidelines but minor adjustments may need to be made. I totally recommend tweaking it and experimenting to get what is not only safe but what feels good for your body. The way to make sure it is going to be safe on your knees, hips and back is to push one foot all the way down to the bottom of your pedal stroke. With a flat shoe and your foot at that bottom position you want to have the slightest bend in your knee. If your knee is locked or if you have to dip your hip down to get to the bottom you will have to either raise or drop the height of your seat.
When you are sitting on the bike leaning forward to touch your handle bars. bending from the hips with your butt back on the seat. Is it comfortable? If you feel to close or too far back adjust that seat a touch. The good thing is with the first three guidelines you should be within a very slight adjustment of spinning set up perfection and well on your way to getting this cardio party started:)
Form and hand positions during a typical class:
Hand Positions: There are 3 positions you will come across during class.
Position 1 is Bottom of the “L”: You will use this position the least. It is usually used when doing an endurance song on a somewhat easy resistance. It is usually used when mimicking a rider that wants to have that streamlined body to go as fast as they can with little wind resistance. This used to be done a lot more in the old school spin classes but with the classes taking on a much more total body, all in, dance party on a bike style it is used much less. Regardless now you know position 1.
Position 2 is Bottom Corner: When seated you will mostly always be in position 2. What is so important to remember no matter what position you are in is that you really don’t want any weight on your arms, they are mainly used for balance. The idea is to keep the weight in your legs. Keep your elbows tucked in and under. You should feel this pull your shoulders back and outwards.
Position 3 is Parallel Grip Wrists Facing Each Other: From my experience this is the position you will be in most of the time and that is because you will be standing up for the majority of the intense classes like soulcycle or cycle house. When standing and hands are at position 3 this is when it is really really important to keep your weight back and in your legs. You want to be super light on the hands. This can be achieved by keeping your bum back and over the seat. Best case scenario if your positioning is correct and your bike is set up well you will feel the seat lightly tap your booty as you pedal. It should also be noted that you want to keep you back straight and avoid hunching over. This is not only bad for your back but makes you lose power and constricts your airway.
The classes these days move quick. Things are far more advanced and choreographed than they were when I began spinning over 10 years ago and it is for this exact reason that I wanted to write this article. To take it back to some of the basics that get left out in a world of advanced, fast paced, high impact classes and allow riders to maximize their workout while avoiding injuries. So coming from someone who has been spinning since the old school days I will give you some advice in regards to form but please keep in mind it’s not all as straight forward as it used to be.
- Spin is mainly a leg workout so use them! Keep the weight off of your hands and in your legs. This will mean keeping your booty back and close to or over your seat. You want to feel your bum “tap” the seat as you peddle in a standing position.
- While riding on a “flat surface” AKA when you have lower resistance on your flywheel. Keep your feet parallel to the ground and flat. The way I describe it is to imagine scraping a piece of dirt off the bottom of your shoe on the ground with each peddle stroke.
- Your legs should be pushing down AND pulling up. You want to use all the muscles in your legs.
- This push and pull comes into even greater importance when you begin to “climb”. This is a seated heavy resistance or while standing. In this case the legs should be thought of more like pistons. Pushing and pulling up and down and removing the scraping of the foot to incorporate dropping the heels with each peddle stroke. Sp pushing through with all of your weight, dropping the heel of the foot below the pedal which will give you more force and help the process of gaining momentum to pull your leg up. You should feel even more piston like as resistance is increased. Pushing down and pulling up equally with he legs. This is super important in building balanced muscle within the legs to avoid injury and to get the toned stems and booty we are all after.
- Keep the knees in line with your feet. Avoiding knocking knees or peddling with the knees out on an angle.
- As much as possible sit back on your seat as far as you can as this will give you more power and better posture.
- Climbing standing with heavy resistance you should have your heels lower than the pedal on the down stroke.
- Keep the elbows tucked in and in line with your shoulders and your arms light on the handle bars. Shoulders should be loose and down away from your ears as much as possible.
Ok so first of all congratulations you have made it through a class and burned upwards of 700 calories! After a class of this kind of intensity there some basic things you have to do to recover and reduce any chance of injury.
- HYDRATE and REFUEL! When I am done class the first thing on my mind is Kreation or Urth Cafe. Get as much healthy fluids as you can, eat a nutritious meal with plenty of protein and carbs and maybe throw in a protein supplement.
- You will feel it in your muscles! You must make sure to stretch and keep yourself loose for the upcoming classes I know you will be eager to attend. In particular stretch the hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, glutes and shoulders.
- If you are super sore have an epsom salt bath or get to a nice massage. Treat yourself! You deserve it
So there you have it…….ten years of spinning knowledge all wrapped up in a little blog post just for you. Let me know your thoughts and how the class goes.