CYCLING 101. Your Guide to Riding STRONG.

The low lighting. The techno music. The jersey fitted regulars who walk out the door covered in sweat. The world of “Spinning” can be intimidating. But don’t let the bike shorts fool you: Indoor Cycling is for EVERY gym go-er. If you are in a search of a fun group workout that provides a serious sweat, you might want to give cycle class a try. This low impact exercise option provides a great workout challenge and is designed to accommodate to all fitness levels. The bike will only work as hard as you want it to as both the  speed and resistance are in YOUR control. This is one of the reasons why I love indoor cycling: EVERY one can participate no matter what age or fitness ability. Its welcoming, fun, and a great workout for everyone.

Whether you’re a regular or never stepped in a spin room before, there are a few things to watch out for when you get your biking cardio. Here’s my guide to getting the most out of your ride and becoming a spin fanatic for life.

Indoor Cycling 101. Your Guide to Riding STRONG.

“Spinning” / Indoor Cycling Defined: A cardio class utilizing a indoor spinning bike. The pedals and wheels spin, but the bike stays stationary. There is a knob for you to adjust your resistance and make the workout more challenging or easy to handle, depending on the instructor’s directions and your preferences.

What to Expect:  Usually a 45-60 minute class in which the instructor will lead you through a warm-up, cardio workout, and cooldown. Different instructors will use different ways to gauge how hard you’re working. Some will use levels (“On a scale of 1-5 right now, you should be at a level 3”), resistance (“turn the knob twice”), cadence (how fast your wheels are spinning. Some clubs have spin bikes with consoles on them which help keep track of time, cadence and power), and all instructors will focus on your position (seated, standing or climbing). Speed will also be emphasized throughout the class through slower hill climbs (with heavy resistance), steady state or sprinting (speed intervals). Expect different drills of sprinting, hills, jumping, and tempo work set to the instructors choice playlist. The type of workout you get in Spin will depend a LOT on the instructor, their teaching style, exercise /cycling background, and music preferences. I have been to some classes where techno is blasted and the teacher doesn’t say a word; others with detailed drills and a cheering crowd. The best way to find the right instructor/class fit for you is to shop around and try them all. EVERYONE has a unique style and is looking for something different out of the spin class experience.

Getting Started

Comfortable workout clothes, a water bottle and a BRING IT attitude are all you need to get started. The following things can make a great Spinning class even better.

  • Moisture wicking tops to keep you cool and dry – expect to sweat A LOT.
  • A longer pair of shorts or padded cycling shorts to make the ride more comfortable for important parts 😉
  • A great water bottle to keep you hydrated and performing your best. Its a good idea to consume at least 40 ounces of water before, during and after  a 40-minute ride.
  • Shoes with a thick sole.  Thinner soles can be painful on your arches when the medal pedals are in the middle of your foot (nike frees would be a bad choice for cycling). If you fall in love with Spinning, you might choose to invest in cycling cleats. They provide much more power and muscle engagement in EVERY pedal stroke. Invest in one pair and they will last you years. Sports Basement is a great spot to buy high quality cycling cleats at a discount. And who knows… you might buy a pair and turn into a real outdoor cyclist 🙂
  • A small towel. Or two 😉

Ready to Ride

Spin bikes are designed and engineered to fit all shapes, sizes and abilities. Adjustable, with a real-bike feel, these bikes let you tailor seat and handlebar height to create the perfect fit thats right for you. With the proper bike setup, you can reap the full benefits of the cycling class and minimize the risk of injury. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin your spin workout.

  • Be sure to arrive to class at least 15 minutes early to discuss bike safety and setup procedures with your instructor. When you are new to a Spin  class, its important to let your instructor know. He or she can help you adjust your  bike and familiarize you with its features.
  • Adjust the seat height so that your knees are slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
  • Adjust fore/aft seat position so that your arms are a comfortable distance from the handlebars and your elbows are slightly bent.
  • If you’re a beginner, start with the handlebars in a relatively high position. As your flexibility increases and you become more comfortable on the bike you can begin to move the handlebars downward until they are approximately level with the saddle. Always make sure that the handlebars, seat post and seat slider are securely attached and that all pop pins are completely engaged.
  • Remember to ride at your own pace and learn the seated movements before advancing to standing movements and jumps. Always stay in control and focus on your form.

During Class

  • Place the ball of your foot over the center of the pedal. If wearing sneakers, make sure that your shoelaces are tucked in and your feet are securely attached to the pedals.
  • Note that most spin bikes have a fixed gear, you must gradually reduce the speed of your pedal strokes to stop the pedals from moving. To decrease the speed of your pedaling, press down on the red resistance knob to stop the pedals.
  • Remember, there is no competition in Spin class. Go at the pace that feels right for you.
  • There should always be some resistance on the bike. Familiarize yourself with all movements at a moderate pace before you attempt to increase your speed.
  • Stay in control. Focus on your form and on making smooth transitions between movements.
  • If you begin to feel faint or dizzy, slowly stop pedaling, carefully dismount from the bike and inform your instructor immediately.

Spin Class DO’s And DONTS

Form and Figure: Proper form is an essential part of a Cycling program. If you don’t have the right form and technique, you not only lose out on a great workout, you may be putting your body at un- necessary risk. Here are some of the questions that determine whether a movement should be used in Spinning class:

  • Can you perform the movement on a road bike? If not, don’t do it!
  • Are you in control?
  • Does the movement seem to have a physiological function, or is it just used as “choreography”?
  • Is the movement safe and efficient?
  • Does the movement feel natural?

Watch Out for these technique DON’Ts! The following are variations on Cycling technique that can compromise your workout AND cause injury:

  • Excessive Movement. Excessive upper body movement, including crunches, push ups and excessive side-to-side leaning is not only inefficient, it can throw off your balance and possibly strain your back. If you want to build-upper body strength, dedicate time to these exercises in a separate strength building session—off the bike.
  • Riding Posture. Riding seated with the arms reaching FAR  forward and the back rounded may seem harmless, particularly since elite cyclists ride in a similar position using aero bars. Since triathletes have custom fitted bikes with shorter top tubes, they can stretch into this position comfortably. However on the Spin bike, this hyper-flexed position may strain the back and can be uncomfortable, particularly for shorter individuals. Keep your shoulders down, core engaged, and maintain strong posture when you ride.
  • “Squats” and other Isolated Movements: Isolating the lower body while pedaling might feel like a great exercise for the quadriceps, but it can place undue strain on the knees and spine or cause injury. You would never do a “Squat” on a real bike, its NOT a good idea in class.  Instead, try a hill climb  and give your legs a good workout with the right form.
  • Pedal Stroke. Watch out for POINTING your toes as you complete each pedal stroke. Work instead on dropping your heel while you cycle, moving your foot as if you are scraping mud off your shoe.
  • Jumping too Quickly. Jumps are effective and challenging, but when they’re performed too fast, they don’t do any good. Since the focus of Jumps is to create smooth transitions between seated and standing positions, the key is proper speed. If Jumps are performed too quickly, the exercise can be ineffective or cause injury.
  • CRAZY Legs.  Riding at high cadence without resistance is ineffective on a Spin bike (and could cause serious butt soreness). Instead, ride at 110 RPM or less. If you begin to bounce in the saddle, increase the resistance. Riding at a consistent pace with good resistance develops power, strength and endurance.

Class Etiquette: 

  • Sanitize! Many gyms have bottles of sanitizing spray and towels handy for a bike sweat clean-up after your workout. Fancier clubs take care of bike clean up for you after each class – the maintainance staff at Equinox is FABULOUS!
  • Talking. It can often be perceived as rude to have conversations or talk loudly while the class is going on. Some instructors dont mind, but other participants might. It’s best to save your coffee chat for after class. That way everyone can enjoy their ride without having to hear you’re latest gossip.
  • Cell Phones. It’s best to leave the phone OUT of your workout so you can get the most from the experience (multi-tasking works the OPPOSITE way you want it to trust me). If you really must have your phone on you for emergency calls, please take the call OUTSIDE the spin room. Yes it’s happened in my class…. so its out there on this blog post 😉
  • So fresh and SO clean. Clean clothes and deodorant are a MUST. The bikes are close to each other, be a nice neighbor.
  • Connect with your instructor. We are here because we LOVE cycling with you. Say hello, it makes our day 🙂

I have taught cycling for 14 years and LOVED every second. I look forward to every class I teach and a chance to connect with others through movement and music. If you are in the Bay Area, I’d love to share a class with you. I currently teach the following Cycling classes in San Francisco:

Tuesday: 1230-115pm “CYCLING the Workout” at EQUINOX Pine Street

Thursday: 1215-1pm “CYCLING the Workout” at EQUINOX on Market Street

Friday: 12:15-115pm “CYCLING the Workout” at EQUINOX Pine Street

Saturday: 11am-12pm “CYCLING the Workout” at EQUINOX Pine Street

If you cant make it in to ride with me, here are a few songs that are on my spring spinning playlist. Maybe they will inspire you to get on the bike and sweat.

Caroline’s Fun Spring Cycle Playlist 2012

  1. Pjanoo (Club Mix) / Eric Prydz
  2. Too Much In Love ( Original Version DRM ) / Chris Willis
  3. You da One (Dave Aude Radio) / Rihanna
  4. I’m a Machine (feat. Crystal Nicole & Tyrese Gibson) / David Guetta
  5. Turn Up the Music / Chris Brown
  6. 6 Foot 7 Foot (feat. Cory Gunz) / Lil Wayne
  7. Lights (Fear of Tigers Remix) / Ellie Goulding
  8. Don’t Hold Your Breath (Kaskade Remix) / Nicole Scherzinger
  9. Sorry for Party Rocking / LMFAO
  10. Million Dollar Bill (Rauhofer Reconstruction Mix) / Whitney Houston (shout out! RIP Whitney 🙂
  11. Jesus Walks / Kanye West
  12. Levels / Avicii
  13. Took My Love (feat. Red Roo, Vein & David Rush) / Pitbull
  14. Block Rockin Beats / Chemical Brothers
  15. Pass At Me (Junior Sanchez Remix) / Timbaland
  16. We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monáe) / fun.
  17. Choose (feat. Ne-Yo & Kelly Rowland) / David Guetta
  18. titanium ( feat. sia) / David Guetta
  19. Cheers (Drink To That) / Rihanna

Indoor Cycling workouts can be a great part of a regular fitness routine. I challenge you to try out a class or two this week – your legs, lungs, and heart will THANK YOU for it!

Do you take cycling classes on a regular basis? What is YOUR favorite song to ride to?

Thanks again for being such a fabulous fitness family. I look forward to seeing you in class or on a bike for a workout soon!


Other Things to Check Out This week:

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