It’s not often I meet Indoor Cycling class (aka Spinning) haters. Most of the people I meet are devotees or recent converts. Then again, I have been teaching it for … ahem, 23 years. From time to time however, I occasionally meet someone who grumbles when I suggest they try the workout if they’re trying to jump start their weight loss or cardiovascular goals.
If you scratch your head wondering why everyone seems to love this workout but you, let’s talk.
Physical Benefits of Indoor Cycling
Here are just a few reasons people swear by it:
- Lets you burn a lot of calories with no impact on the joints. There are very few workouts aside from swimming that can make that claim.
- Develops great looking legs Improves cardiovascular endurance.
- Gives you a major endorphin high!
Once you get the bug, addiction is imminent. There’s a few reasons for this.
- The music. When you find an instructor who plays music that moves you, it psyches you up and makes the work feel easier.
- The learning curve. Of all the workouts, aside from walking, the learning curve of indoor cycling is FAST. Pretty much anyone can pedal a bike. It only takes a few classes to get proficient.
- The ambiance. Room ambiance, mood lighting, thumping sound system, other motivated people, and your own little space where no one can get in your way.
So how can anyone not love it?
These are the most common complaints I’ve heard from Spinning Haters:
- It hurts my butt (or worse)
- It hurts my knees
- It hurts my back / neck
- It hurts my head (“I hate all that phony PMA crap!”)
- It makes my quads (legs) too big
- It made me gain weight (or, I didn’t lose any weight)
- I can’t keep up with the class (or, I’m not strong enough)
- The teacher yells at me (or ignores me or talks too much)
If you’re a Spinning Hater with any of these gripes, I’m going to pick these off one at a time and explain how to fix them.
- It hurts my butt (or other sensitive areas). First you need a proper bike fit. There is a science to bike fitting and it has to do with angles. Get those right, and you’ll be much more comfy for the long haul. That said, for the butt pain, there’s a simple fix. Stop sitting so hard! The more you push your butt into the saddle, the more it’s going to hurt. Think of sitting light on the saddle and putting more of your weight into the pedals. You’ll burn more calories and go farther (if your bike has a monitor). Also, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, the lighter the resistance, the more your butt “bounces” in the saddle, creating more friction. People bounce from only pushing the pedal down and not pulling it up. Solution: add some resistance and pull thru the bottom of the stroke. Don’t just push.
- It hurts my knees. This should never be the case. If you’ve ever had to rehab a knee injury, the first thing you’re allowed to do for cardio is ride a stationary bike. That’s actually how I got started. I was dealing with chronic knee tendonitis and riding the stationary bike after physical therapy. The creator of Spinning came to the gym I was working at looking for instructors who wanted be Master Trainers for the company and I raised my hand. It’s 20+ years later and no more knee problems. So, if you’re knees are hurting here are the two main culprits. A) your saddle is too low and, or too forward. B) Your cleats are not in the right position or loosened up. If you wear cycling shoes, have your cleats checked. They can shift and put torque on your knee. Solution: When the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke and your foot flat, your knee should only have a slight bend. (see pic. above)
- It hurts my back (or neck). Again, bike fit. You should set up the bike to accommodate your body, not the other way around. The position of the handlebars should be comfortable for your neck, shoulders and length of your spine. Keep your spine neutral, more flat than round. Save the racing position for when you become an experienced road cyclist. Don’t hang your head down when you ride. Clue: if you can see your saddle or smell your armpits, your head is too low! Your neck is an extension of your spine so keep it in line.
- I hate all that PMA crap! Not all instructors teach a cycling class like a yoga-meditaion class. There are all kinds of styles. Some are more “coachy,” treating you like an athlete doing training drills. Some put on a show for you to be entertained (and distracted). Some just play the music and give minimal instruction (which can be daunting if you’re new and don’t know what to do). Some do head shrinking and visualization. Try a few and see what style gives you the best workout.
- It makes my legs too big! Aaaargh!! This is a frustrating one. The possible reasons are: A) Poor form or position on the bike. If you’re riding too low or forward, you’ll be overusing the front of your legs. B) If you only push down and don’t pull back and up on the pedal, you only use the front of your legs. Clue: if you only feel the front of your legs working, you’re probably only working the front of your legs. C) You’re not doing any significant upper body work, making your legs looks bigger by contrast. Clue: 2 – 3lb dumbbells on a bike don’t count as significant. D) You’re building leg muscles under the fat. If you tend to store the majority of your body weight in the hips and thighs, this is a common complaint. Solutions: Check your diet. You can’t out train a bad one. Workout your upper body too. If you’re only cycling, you’ll be losing body fat everywhere, including the chest and arms, making the legs appear bigger.
- It made me gain weight (or, I didn’t lose any weight). I’ll say it again, you can’t out exercise a bad diet. Indoor cycling workouts are intense. But one hamburger or salad from the Cheesecake factory undoes all that hard work! Make sure you’re not eating back all the calories you’re spending.
- I can’t keep up with the class (or, I’m not strong enough). Everyone has to start somewhere. The first time I got on a cardio machine after college I could barely do 10 minutes on a Stairmaster! The good news is endurance builds faster than strength. Don’t let ego get in the way. If you’re new, just focus on getting thru the duration of the class and skip the intense intervals, jumps or super heavy climbs. In just a few classes you’ll be able to start adding those components in.
- The teacher yells at me (or ignores me or, talks too much). Finding an instructor who gives you guidance, encouragement and motivation can be trial and error. Try a few and see whose style gets you to where you want to go. Also try to remember instructors are human. While we only get once chance to make a first impression, sometimes we do have an off day.
If you’ve tried Indoor Cycling once or twice and hated it, see if any of these 8 scenarios are relevant to you. It’s possible indoor cycling may just never be your bag. But if you simply had a bad experience the first time you tried it, consider giving it another shot. You may just be the next convert