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Spotlight on Spinning

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I took a Spinning class for the first time after I moved away to college. Although I was active in sports throughout high school, I knew that I wanted to stay strong and in fit, and now it was up to me to do that on my own. I didn't know anything about Spinning or what to expect (I'd never taken a fitness class at all), but I had heard the stories—that it burns serious calories and it'll kick your butt. I was game.

I took classes a few times per week and enjoyed it most of the time—even though my legs dreaded it. Some of the instructors were better than others, but I always came away dripping with sweat and feeling like I had really done something good for myself. When I became a certified Spinning instructor a few years later, I learned so many things that my former instructors never told me (and some things they shouldn't have!). When I teach classes now, safety and comfort are the priorities I emphasize to my students, so I start every class with a review of fundamentals and safety points—so that everyone, no matter their weight, age, or fitness level—can have a safe and effective workout. I tell them this truth: that Spinning is your workout. You control everything from your speed and resistance to your intensity level, so it can be as easy or as challenging as you want it to be. Like many things in life, you will get out of it what you put into it.

If you've been curious about trying those notorious Spinning classes yourself, here’s what you need to know, whether you’re taking a Spinning class, for the first time or the fiftieth time.

What it is: Spinning is a specific format of indoor cycling. Only certified Spinning instructors are legally allowed to teach “Spinning” but other group cycling programs exist by different names, and some have their own certifications. Spinning is a cardio (aerobic) workout set to music and led by a certified instructor. Most classes last between 40 and 60 minutes, although some places offer beginner or intro classes that might be shorter.

Who it's for: Spinning is great for everyone who wants a motivating workout that they can control at their own pace. Even if you’re not into choreography-based fitness classes, you can still enjoy Spinning since it’s not based on having any kind of rhythm or learning any complex moves. It’s low-impact, so it’s very suitable for people who want to balance out higher-impact exercises (like running) or for people who have some joint problems.

What to expect: Try to think of your instructor as a guide—she should give you general guidelines about how much resistance to add, how fast to pedal, how hard you should be working, and when to do certain movements (like standing, sitting, sprinting, etc.). Using these cues as guidelines, it’s up to you to work out at your own level and pay attention to how you feel. You can recover, go slower, use less resistance, or vice versa depending on how hard you want to work. In a class format, everyone feels a bit of pressure to keep up with the others. But Spinning is non-competitive. Especially if you’re a beginner, remember that it will take a few weeks to build up your fitness level to be able to work really hard for the whole class. It’s important to honor your body and work at a lower intensity as you get the hang of it.

You can also expect to feel fatigue throughout your leg muscles when you’re newer to Spinning—even if you’re used to working out in general. But no matter what, don’t stop pedaling. At the very least, keep those legs moving even if they’re really slow. Suddenly stopping any exercise has risks (like passing out and lightheadedness), so if you get tired, simply reduce your resistance and slow down to catch your breath.

You will also feel some saddle soreness from the seat, and that’s very normal. After coming to class regularly, that soreness will go away for more people. If it helps, stand up out of the seat a little bit when you need a break from that seat. You can also adjust your position in the saddle and take “posture breaks” where you stop reaching forward to the handle bars and just sit up in your seat.

What to wear: Workout clothes (but no long/baggy pants, because those can get caught in the pedals/wheels) and flat-soled workout shoes are a must. If you have them, padded cycling shorts will go a long way to increase your comfort, and cycling shoes with cleats (they clip into the bike pedals) also make your workout more effective. But cycling shorts and shoes are not musts, especially not for beginners.

What to bring: At least one water bottle (trust me, you’ll need it!) and a towel for all that sweat. I also recommend a gel seat (about $15), which will fit over top of the bike seat and increase your comfort. If you have one, a heart rate monitor is an awesome fitness tool and is often used as a measure of intensity during Spinning classes. Check out more of my picks in my Stuff I Love for Spinning blog post

Where to find it: Spinning is pretty commonplace these days—you can find it (or similar indoor cycling programs) at almost every gym or fitness center, and there are even Spinning-specific gyms too. If you go to, you can find some locations listed, including locations that will allow you to come and try out a class for FREE!

My Tips: If you’re new, show up early! Let the instructor know that you’re new (and if you have any conditions that might affect your ability to take part in the class), and ask her to help you set up your bike properly. The main thing that I can’t emphasize enough to my students is to monitor your intensity level and work at your own pace. Every person in a Spinning class is at a different level of fitness, and everyone had to start at square one. Don’t feel pressure to do more if you’re not comfortable doing so. And lastly, remember that every instructor is very different. You might not like it your first time, but you might like it better your second time. Give it a chance with a few different classes/instructors before you decide whether Spinning is for you or not.

Member Comments About This Blog Post:
MYCUTEGIZMO 9/1/2009 5:29AM

  Sounds like I have got to try it..LOL

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DIGITALGURL 1/13/2009 10:25AM

    I am going to my VERY FIRST EVER spinning class tonight.
I am only 5'2.. well almost 5'2.. and 191lbs. I also have lower back issues from time to time. I am nervous but very excited about tonight. Thank you for your article.

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LOVEAANDJ 12/15/2008 1:19PM

  I have a spin bike and ordered a La-z-boy padded seat. It still hurts my tailbone. I love the workout but dread it because of the rear pain. Do padded pants really help that much?

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BORNEARTH13 11/12/2008 8:45PM

  i tried a spin class a few months ago and left half-way through. today, i took a spin class stayed for the entire 60 minutes. this time, i just sat and increased and decreased the intensity when the instructor indicated. i'm so proud of me!

my rear really hurt however. i think it will take a few weeks to build up to all the standing up and bending over the class did...but at least now it seems possible...hey, i want to burn 500 calories in one hour!

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CMDH93 10/18/2008 1:09AM

  Just would like to know how often guys do spinning? Also, if you are 300 lb, 5'2" person, is an hour program realistic?

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NIDHIVARMA 9/30/2008 1:15PM

  Hey i have been wanting to join spinning classes but didnt know if i wud b able 2 do it....thanks a lot for clearing my doubts.


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ZORA424 9/29/2008 5:39PM

    There is a spinning class at my gym. I have not tried it due to a bad experience I had at another gym. Actually the problem was with my discomfort in the croutch area. I looked around at the other women and couldn't believe anyone could leave the class and be able to be romantic again. But seriously, it really hurt. emoticon

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DONOEL 9/17/2008 10:41AM

    This sounds like something I want to try. Question though: I have PVD-get leg cramps often. Will spinning cause more leg cramps? I get them from my toes to groin and don't want to tempt them.

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CAROLI09 6/24/2008 1:43PM

  Thanks for that information. I tried a spinning class and it was overwhelming to me. I felt that I had to keep up with the instructor and thought I would pass out half way through. I also felt my heart rate went extremely high. It actually frightened me. Maybe I'll try it again. I think it can be fun and will take my fitness program to another level.

Comment edited on: 6/24/2008 1:43:00 PM

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1NUGGET1 3/26/2008 2:09AM

    Thanks for the info! I've been wanting to try spinning for a long time, but I'm too intimidated!! Everyone always seems so hard-core. I have an exercise bike at home, and I do a lot of high-intensity work on it, listening to loud house music, and it's a lot of fun. so I think I'd really like spinning. I just have to overcome that intimidation factore!!

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JOHNSOBM 3/25/2008 6:06PM

    I love spinning and became addicted to it in college. I noticed a great change in my legs after taking this class regularly. I am trying to get back into spinning now at the gym I belong to. The 6AM classes are a wonderful way to start your day.

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ALEXANDRA1979 3/23/2008 10:19AM

    I became addicted to spinning the first time I tried t last summer! It' such a great work out, and gives you such en endorphin rush! I know spin about 3-4 times a week, and I feel tired if I don't go at least twice a week. I highly recommend this cardio work out for everyone! You'll love it!

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AFNURSE 3/22/2008 11:22PM I bit! I LOVED IT! Spinning is SUCH a great workout and it was truly at my pace. It was great to sweat so much and to really feel like you truly accomplished something. I will definitely keep this up!

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1STCINDERALLA 3/22/2008 3:30PM

    QUESTION: What is the difference between spinning and riding my exercise bike?

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ZELLAZM 3/21/2008 11:46AM

    I REALLY want to try spinning, but the courses at my gym conflict with my work schedule. Maybe that will change but probably not till September. But at least I'm prepared for what's coming thanks to Coach Nicole :)

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FOLGORE 3/20/2008 10:46AM

  I definitely enjoyed your commentary and wish I had read it before I started spinning in February as part of my cross training Fitness program. (My primary activity is running, so I use spinning and swimming to shock the metabolism several times a week.)

Being a runner, I do find it odd the extreme degree to which I can make my legs sore (while spinning) while not really pushing my heart rate up all that high.

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DIZZYD4 3/19/2008 9:15AM

    HI Nicole,
Just wanted to thank you for all the wonder exercise tips. The resistant band I feel will really help me. I was wondering if you had any tips for me on exercises for lymphdima. I had breast cancer 7 years ago and now have lymphdima of the left arm? Any suggestions would be great. Thanks again. Dizzyd

Comment edited on: 3/19/2008 9:15:04 AM

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BORNEARTH13 3/18/2008 11:03PM

  thanks for this entry. i've wanted to do the spin class but from the outside it seems so military and intense. the screaminng instructor, the loud music, the flashing lights, the fighting over bikes...but i think i'll find a slower/beginner day and give it a try.

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STAR1970 3/18/2008 10:33PM

    Cool, thanks for the info

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KANANIPOD 3/18/2008 7:19PM

    Great article. I never knew that spinning was a low impact cardio exercise. When I think low impact, for some reason I just think walking and swimming. I used to be an avid spinner, firmed up A LOT - lost only 10lbs max, but dropped 2 dress sizes. It really helped shed fat around my muscles and organs, but also strengthened my bones & toned existing muscle. I much prefer spinning to running!!

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NICNAT1 3/18/2008 5:17PM

  This is just what I need so that I do not fall into the same routine with my workouts. Thanks

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AMILNEFLIP 3/18/2008 4:25PM

    Thanks for the information on spinning. I have been interested in learning more about spinning and would love to give it a try. I live in a very rural community and we don't have gyms that have any type of fitness classes or instructors for spinning. Is there any at home DVD courses I could try or a bike you would reccommend to get a like experience at home?

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SUBTEACH52 3/18/2008 3:43PM

    I love to take spinning classes and it helps me stay in shape to get back to outside cycling come the warmer weather. I recommend spinning to almost all of the participants in my water exercise classes as a way to cross train. It is an awesome workout. You did a great job explaining what it is and what to expect.

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WENDYA70 3/18/2008 12:24PM

  I started spinning in jan. '08 and you are right....a towel and water is a must! Unless you are training for a marathon - it's not something to do everyday. I only do it 2-3x a week. Thanks for the info.

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CGSX3MOM 3/18/2008 12:01PM

    Thank-you for the info. I think I might look into a spinning class now. I have always been intimidated by those bikes. Atleast now I will have a little knowledge. Thanks again. cindi

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PULELEHUA 3/18/2008 11:58AM

    wonderful! Interesting. I also, wanted to know what it was. Mahalo!(Thank you) I'm game for it, too! Start in April-In a challenge this month already. Aloha-Nani

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LADYMOONWILLOW 3/18/2008 11:44AM

    Wow this is awesome, I had heard of it and never knew what it was, so Thank You for the information.


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COLEMANSR 3/18/2008 11:26AM

    Spinning class,? Hmmmm. Will look at it.
Thanks, JC.

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CSONIA 3/18/2008 10:52AM

  Thank you,
Very interesting.. Sonia:)

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