Published January 27, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Spinning Classes

by Helen M. Ryan
Love of Spinning

You’ve spent long hours on that bike. Too many to count, probably. Lots of time in the saddle, riding happily to a fitter, healthier you. Sweating. Smiling. (OK, maybe crying a little, too.)

If you’re spending a lot of time in spin classes (or doing any type of work out), you want to get the most bang for your buck. And you want to see a consistent improvement in your fitness levels.

Take a peek at some of these tips below to make sure you’re doing everything in your power to successfully see those improvements. It sucks to feel like you’re working hard, but not getting fitter.

Here’s how to make every minute, every pedal stroke, and every drop of sweat count.

  • Work while in class. Don’t text (please!). Don’t chat incessantly. And for the love of cycling, don’t spend the whole class riding at just one speed and with one level of resistance. You’ve seen the people in class who do: They never break out of their “box,” whether they spend the whole hour going slow, or riding like a bat out of hell. Focus, shake it up, and make your body a little uncomfortable. Like to climb? Go faster. Like to sprint? Take a hill. Do the opposite every now and then of what your body finds easy. You’re the boss.
  • Water overcomes fatigue. I used to drink 24 oz. of water in class, and had no problem finishing up the bottle. I sweat—or, ahem, glow—a lot. When I upped my water to a 33 oz. bottle, though, I suddenly felt less tired in class. It seems that little bit of extra water was what my body needed, and I didn’t even realize that it was lacking. I can’t drink much water before class (for obvious reasons since I teach, though I have been known to sprint out of class to use the restroom on occasion. I talk to the class via the headset mic all the way until I get close to the bathroom—turn it off—then on as I run back). During class I guzzle my water down and feel much stronger.
  • Focus on the feelings. When you are climbing, really focus on the climb. When you are riding a faster flat or going downhill, focus on feeling the smooth pedal stroke, on trying not to bounce bounce, on how great it is to hold a consistent speed. As you get tired, shift your focus to your breathing or relaxing your upper body. Just be in the moment and help your body do what it was meant to do: Move.
  • Do what the instructor does—mostly (unless he or she is doing pushups, crunches, hovers, really fast sprints with no resistance, isolations, using weights, bouncing, etc.) Try to follow the ride as best you can, including when you change elevation and speed. If you can’t do something, don't do it and don’t beat yourself up over it. But work at the best of your abilities in each class, even if you need to go out of your comfort zone.
  • Don’t do only intervals every…single…class. Most rides have terrain changes, but if you do a lot of 90% heart rate intervals in each and every class, you’re not doing your body any favors. You’ll burn out and only use one ‘fuel source.’ Plus, your body will adapt. Hard intervals are best a few times per week (this is really important if you ride a lot— more than 4-5 days a week).
  • When climbing, make sure you can still move your legs. Mostly we see people in class who don’t heave nearly enough resistance on (go, bunny, go!). But sometimes we see students with way too much resistance to the point where they can barely move the pedals. A good steep climb is great, but if you can’t keep a basic pace your knees will not be happy with you.
  • Breathe and relax. It might not seem natural to relax your upper body while working but once you get the hang of it, it feels like a slice of heaven. You want to leave class feeling like you’ve worked hard, but not feel stressed out. Keep your hands soft and your shoulders relaxed. If you have to cling to the handlebars while riding, you might not have enough resistance on.
  • Change your instructors every now and then. I know, I know, we all have our favorites. But don’t be afraid of the sub, and don’t be afraid to try a new instructor or style. Remember…as long as they are teaching safely, it’s good to try something different. It will shake up your body and your mind. Don’t stick with just one style.

We all love Spinning classes and can ride 'til the cows come home. Let's make sure we get everything we can out of our rides.