Focus on spin

Jennie Meynell
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Spin (also variously known as cycle classes or RPM) has taken the world of gyms by storm, combining low levels of embarrassment — it's conducted in low-lighting studios — with music and one of the biggest fat-burning workouts you can get.

What do I need to take?
Yourself, some comfortable clothes (you'll get very hot), a small towel and a bottle of water. You will need both — make sure you drink plenty of fluids during the class.

What happens before a workout?
Participants enter a studio which is usually kept warm to prevent injury — the heat warms up the muscles slightly. Each sits on a stationary bicycle. This is bolted to the floor, and the participant adjusts the height of the saddle and the distance that it sits away from the handlebars by using the controls provided. Once in the saddle it is important to make sure your feet are secured on the pedals by using the clasps supplied — part of the workout involves standing up on the pedals.

If you are new to a class the instructor should come over and check that you have everything right.

And the actual workout?
Spin classes depend on the instructor. They should all begin with five minutes of warming up. On the cross-bar of your bike you’ll see a resistance dial: turning it clockwise increases the resistance (ie makes it harder to pedal); turning it anti-clockwise decreases the resistance. During warm-up the dial should be at a level comfortable to you, so that the pedals are not stiff to move.

After five minutes or so, you should be slightly breathless and have a light sweat. This means you're ready to go for the burn!

Instructors usually employ a variety of moves. These include short periods of sprinting, pedalling as fast and as hard as you can, all the time turning up the resistance a notch, before slowing down again and allowing your body to recover by pedalling more slowly. They usually also include periods of time when you pedal standing upright on your bike, as though climbing a steep hill on a real bike. When doing this move your shoulders should remain relatively still, and you should tense your abdominal muscles to help support your back. Most instructors will get you to keep time to a piece of music during all moves.

Workouts should end with stretching to cool down.

What's good about spin?
These classes require no coordination as you sit or pedal on a stationary bike in dimmed lighting — they're particularly good for people who are a bit gym-shy.

Spin is also very good at burning fat. You can burn up to 500 calories in an hour, depending on the intensity of your own work-out. Because you have your own resistance dial, you control the intensity of your work-out — you work at the level to which you feel able. It's great cardiovascular exercise, and the muscles that benefit include the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calf muscles, abdominals, biceps and triceps. It's also less high-impact than, say, aerobics, making it a better form of exercise for people with joint problems.

Many people find that exercising to music encourages them. Find an instructor with your taste in music and spin quite quickly becomes addictive!

What's bad about it?
Instructors can exert you past your physical capabilities, if you're not in very good cardiovascular shape. Although you can adjust your controls according to your level, it can be difficult to resist turning up that dial when the instructor is shouting at everyone to do so! Only ever work at your own pace. You may wish to wear a heart rate monitor to make sure you are not over-training.

Badly adjusted bikes can lead to injury, and particularly around the back and neck. Always make sure your bike is properly adjusted and that the adjustments are secured: there's nothing worse than your bike seat sliding back in the middle of a sprint! Gripping the handlebars too tightly can increase the tension in your neck and back — leading to subsequent aches and pains.

Where can I find out more?
Check out this American site:

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