Spinning is the type of workout that really divides people. Loyal “spin-sters” live and die for their turn on the bike, while others avoid spinning altogether, afraid it might bulk up their legs. Reportedly burning anywhere from 450–700 calories in just under an hour, spinning seems to be one of the most effective ways to drop pounds and keep your heart healthy.
But, if you’ve ever tried a spin class, sometimes proper riding form and bike set up can get lost amidst the dim lights and loud music. Determined to no longer spin out of control, I approached Mimi Benz—co-owner of the Los Angeles "hot spin" studio The Sweat Shoppe—for the skinny on everything spinning.
"Spinning is a concentric form of exercise, versus running, which is eccentric," says Benz. During concentric exercise, the muscles contract and shorten, whereas during eccentric exercise, the muscles stretch and lengthen. While it’s important for your body to get both concentric and eccentric exercise, the benefit of spinning is there is little to no impact. "This limits the possibility of injuries, but spinning is still a really great workout—it strengthens your muscles while conditioning your heart and lungs. And because you do it in a group setting, you can feed off the energy of other riders. Usually, that makes you work even harder," she says.
One thing naysayers often worry about is that spinning will make their legs really bulky. Benz says this isn't necessarily true. "The size of your quads depend on your genetic makeup and body type," she explains. There are three different body types: endomorphs, ectomorphs, and mesomorphs. For the most part, ectomorphs are tall, thin, and lanky, and have a hard time gaining muscle. On the other hand, endomorphs and mesomorphs respond quickly to resistance training and can build muscle more easily. So, as Benz points out, "any type of sport can result in muscle growth for endomorphs and mesomorphs. That isn't specific to spinning!"
If the benefits of spinning have you convinced, here's Benz's advice for setting up your bike, riding properly, and beyond.
1: To set the seat height, stand next to the bike.
2: Lift the seat so it’s aligned with your hip socket.
3: Tighten the knob of the seat post, step over the bike, and plant each foot firmly on the ground, with your hands on the handlebars.
4: Clip one shoe onto the pedal, sit on the seat, and clip the other. (Benz's studio is a"spin shoe only" facility; she feels that cycle shoes can help improve the overall ride. However, many spinning studios and gyms have bikes with pedal baskets that accommodate regular sneakers, too. Click here for info on spinning shoes vs. sneakers.)
If you're going to be doing a lot of spinning, Benz recommends going with spin shoes, etc.
5: Check height and make any final adjustments. You want your legs, when extended, to maintain a small bend—just enough to unlock the knee. Straighten one leg. If it’s too straight, lower the seat. If the leg is too bent, raise the seat.
1: When riding, the hands should rest comfortably on handlebars, with a slight bend at the elbows.
2: At first, new riders should have a higher handlebar height. As you become stronger and more used to spinning, lower the handlebars so they align with the seat. This is the most advanced bike position, and requires a great deal of core strength.
When riding, remember to focus on equal amounts of energy on your "push" and "pull" pedal strokes. If you are pushing down more than pulling up, there's an imbalance, and your workout will be easier than it should be. Also, don’t forget to focus on your breathing as the workout intensifies. Here's how to get your form and posture right.
1: Keep chest lifted and open, with shoulders down and away from ears.
2: Arms should be parallel to one another, with hands resting on the handlebars—maintain a micro-bend in the elbows.
3: Keep eyes focused ahead.
Many spin bikes have weighted flywheels, which can end up doing the hard work for you if you don't have enough resistance to support your sprint. It’s important to have enough resistance on the wheel, so you don't cheat yourself during your workout. Focus on a balanced pedal stroke while lifting hamstrings, glutes, quads, and calves. Don’t forget to pull the abs in and up as you ride! Here are tips for proper sprinting form.
1: Hips should be pulled back over the seat.
2: Pull abs in, while slightly tucking into the hips.
3: Keep the hips back; this helps to pull weight away from the hands and into the glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, and core.
Kit Rich is Los Angeles-based fitness trainer with endless exercise and nutritional know-how. Hollywood's hottest stars are addicted to Kit's unique, multi-disciplined approach that combines cardio, yoga, Pilates, and weight training. Kit's clients are immediately taken by her funny and honest approach to health and fitness. She treats her clients as she treats herself, "with a hard challenge, sensibility, sensitively, and a good laugh." Follow Kit on Twitter @kitrichfitness.