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A Word on Spinning

April 13, 2011

By Gerard Bochese

I’m going to deviate from my normal blog format, which is usually more technical in nature, to talk about a very popular group fitness class – Spinning.  There are tons of spinning programs out there, as part of group fitness classes at gyms or in dedicated spin studios focusing only on indoor cycling.  There are also many types of spin bikes from various manufacturers featuring different looks and designs as well as a variety of spinning certifications for the spin instructor.

With all this variety out there, the one thing to remember is spinning is simply an indoor cycling class designed to improve leg strength and other capabilities.  These capabilities could be endurance, improved aerobic conditioning, and also improved anerobic conditioning if aggressive intervals are employed (these intervals can be in the form of sprints or short explosive hill climbs.)

A spinning class can be used by outdoor cyclists in inclement weather to remain in cycling shape and prepare for an upcoming outdoor season, by someone who is looking to lose weight and improve their cardiovascular capabilities, by a fitness enthusiast who is looking for variety in their workout, or by someone who just enjoys working out in a group setting with invigorating, pumping music to sweat to.

If spin classes stick to the purism of cycling and offers some stress release through physical activity, the class is on the right track.

What I don’t believe in is spin classes that try to encompass every aspect of fitness.  Spin classes are not designed to do upper body weight lifting.  Weights on a bike are a negative for several reasons:

1) The weights used in spin classes are way too light to challenge the muscular tissue of adults (1-2lb weights are typically used).

2) The time allotted for the weights is usually one song.  Thus, the “weight training” utilized in a spin class is only 2-4 minutes.  This is not enough time to create an effective weight training program.  For those people who tell me they don’t have enough time to lift weights so they like getting it done in spin class, I’m sure they can find 2-4 minutes somewhere in their day to lift heavier weights.

3) The positioning of the body while seated on a bike is not ideal for weight training.  The feet are not anchored to the ground, so ground reaction forces cannot be utilized.  The movement of the pelvis while cycling the pedals is not ideal to set up a strong and stable postural base for weight training.  Furthermore, the positioning needed to perform certain upper body exercises to work against gravity cannot be attained in an upright cycling position.  For example, sitting straight up on the bike and pressing the dumbbells straight out in front of you is not a chest press – the line of gravity is not correct.

Another upper body exercise used in some spin classes is push ups off of the handle bars.  Doing a push up from a seated bike position does not provide nearly enough body weight to create a challenge to the muscular system.  It really is just an exercise that allows you to bend your arms without providing much of an external resistance.  Furthermore, the up and down motion of the arms and upper body while doing these push ups can throw off the rhythm of your cycling.

Another thing spin classes are not good for is core training.  Granted, our core is incorporated in almost every movement we do because all movement must pass through the core in some capacity and the core connects our lower body movements to our upper body movements, but dipping shoulders side to side while pedaling and riding bikes that lean side to side is not engaging the core effectively or safely enough.  The core is designed to protect our spine and provide a strong and effective base for all our extremity (arms and legs) movements.  Therefore, it is critical to find time to incorporate a sound and effective training program in your workout routine, not a gimmick disguised as core training on a spin bike.

This being said, I think spin classes are great exercise and a lot of fun when kept simple and pure and look to train the elements it is designed for.  So find a local class and pedal away.

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