One of the many reasons we love cycling is that it allows us to get outside and explore. But with winter at our doorstep, sometimes the weather is just plain awful or there’s just not enough time in the day. The next best option? A Spin class, of course.

    Most studios offer a variety of class options—some as short as 20 minutes or as long as 90 minutes—so you’re always able to fit a workout into your schedule. Nowadays, there are even at-home magnetic spinning bike available that stream classes directly into your living room from companies like Peloton, NordicTrack, and Technogym. Peloton’s beginner-friendly classes, for example, teach participants the correct form and technique that will translate to every other level.

    Plus, the work you do in a class—whether that’s at home or in a gym—complements your on-the-road training perfectly, according to Peloton instructor Jess King. “It’s an opportunity for you to play around with your training—there’s something for you to hear, learn, and experience that you can take with you back on the road. So why not dip into both worlds?” she says.

    Spinning is one of those things that seems a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before. But as long as you have access to a gym or a bike, you can take classes that range from beginner to expert, King says, each of which helps build the main muscle groups used for cycling and your cardiovascular system.

    “We have this unique opportunity to create something for everyone,” King says. But most studios and instructors offer a variety of options that will suit your needs or experience level.

    And if you’ve already got the stamina to climb hills and ride long outside, you’re that much more ready to conquer a Spin class. Both studios and at-home options offer longer, more advanced classes as well.

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    It goes without saying that taking a Spin class is not the same as riding outside. While you can still experience similar terrain (hills and flat ground), King says in-studio and virtual Spin classes can feel more like a party than a workout.

    “There’s music from all different decades—from classic rock to EDM—and we use interval training, tabata training, and heart rate training, so it’s still a great workout,” she says about Peloton, though competitors offer a similar experience.

    A lot of times when you’re out on the road, it’s just you and the voice that’s in your head. That can be a good thing when you want to escape to nature and clear your mind, but it can be a bad thing when the voice is telling you to turn home. Being in a class setting changes things up—especially when you have the motivation of an instructor cheering you on. (Because let’s be real, there are times when you just really don’t want to do that interval workout on your own.)

    “Spin gives you a new perspective on how to ride, breathe, and think about your body,” King says.

    When you take an indoor cycling class, everyone from the instructor to the other participants are there to encourage and support you.

    “Everyone is rooting for you—you’re not alone in this experience,” King says. “We’re using the bike as the medium for that connection and energy.”

    And Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., former master instructor at SoulCycle and founder of Le Sweat, agrees. “[Everyone] is very supportive—they hold each other accountable and celebrate each other’s wins and losses,” she says. “They oftentimes can become an ‘extended family’ of sorts.”

    It can be really tough to be out on your indoor cycle spinning bike alone, struggling to finish a particularly challenging ride. Sometimes your first instinct is to give up. But when there are other people around you, it makes you want to keep going and prove you can finish what you started. That’s exactly what taking a Spin class does. And that mindset can and will benefit you on the road, too.

    If you’ve already found a great community of riders outdoors, indoor classes offer the same camaraderie and accountability, just in a different setting.


    4. It’s a great total-body workout.

    Not only does a Spin class benefit your muscles—everything from your legs to your core—but it’s also a great low-impact cardiovascular workout, which improves your blood flow, increases your stamina, boosts your mood, and prevents against chronic issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, according to Mayo Clinic.

    And because of this intense cardio workout, you’ll burn a ton of calories, too. While King says the average is about 400 to 600 calories per class, she’s seen some riders burn more if they’re going particularly hard and long.

    Some indoor cycling classes even incorporate the use of hand weights to “promote upper-body work, since cycling is a predominantly lower-body workout,” Atkins adds. So in one 45-minute session, you can challenge your upper body, lower body, and core.

    5. It’s convenient.


    Riding outside can take a couple of hours to complete, and most people don’t have that kind of time during the week. So taking an indoor cycling class either at home, at a gym, or in a studio is a great option for when your schedule is packed, and you only have an hour or less to work out.

    But don’t worry—exercising for a shorter amount of time doesn’t mean you aren’t reaping the same benefits as a longer workout. Many classes feature high-intensity intervals which help you build increased cardiovascular and muscular fitness in less time than a longer but steady-state ride out on the road.

    6. It’s low impact.


    Indoor cycling won’t beat up your joints like other forms of cardio such as running. “It’s great for people who are coming back from an injury,” says Atkins, because your hips, knees, and ankles won’t take all the impact. This makes it a great choice for those who aren’t yet functioning at 100 percent after getting hurt, older adults looking for a way to stay active without putting extra pressure on their joints, or those who suffer from arthritis.

    7. You can make it your own.

    Out on the roads, you can’t lower the grade of a mountain if you’re not up for climbing it that day. But the beauty of a Spin class is that you can customize it to your own needs. The Spin instructor is there to guide you, but you can always modify the workout.

    For example, you don’t have to stay on the bike during the upper-body workout portion of the class if you feel safer on solid ground. You can also go slower if you need to—you don’t have to worry about getting dropped. And if the class motivates you to push yourself even harder, maybe try racing your friend next to you. Everyone in class is there to work out to the best of their ability while enjoying the motivational vibes of the group. So whatever you’re feeling, go ahead and do your thing.

    8. It gives your bike a break.


    Switching it up with some Spin classes will also give your commercial spinning bike a break from the elements, not just your body. Rain, dirt, and snow will take their toll on your components over time. Replacing just some of your workouts with Spin classes will give you the opportunity to buy and install new parts, or time to take your bike into the shop for a tuneup.

    Spinning might look about the same as outdoor cycling or riding a stationary bike, but in many ways, it’s a far more intense workout—and one of the easiest to overdo.

    First, there aren’t many (if any) breaks in spin class. “When you’re biking outside, you have to be aware of road dangers like water and cars, so you have to slow down at times,” says Dr. Maureen Brogan, an assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College who has conducted research into spinning. Especially if you’re a novice road rider, it’s going to take some time before you’re comfortable enough on two wheels to really push yourself hard for long distances. That’s not the case on a spinning bike, where newbies can hop on and ride hard from the start.

    Popular spinning studios like Flywheel and SoulCycle have their riders clip their feet into the stationary bikes. As long as the wheels turn, legs keep pumping. Combine this always-working aspect with the thumping music, enthusiastic instructors and energetic group atmosphere of most spinning studios, and it’s easy to get intense exercise and burn calories by the bucketful.

    “The muscles you use on spinning bikes, the gluteus maximus and the quadriceps, are some of the largest in your body, so you’re using a lot of energy,” Brogan says—600 calories an hour, and sometimes more.

    This puts spinning near the top of the list when it comes to high-intensity workouts. A study from Sweden found that one hour of spinning was enough to trigger the release of blood chemicals associated with heart stress or changes. While that may sound like a bad thing, these blood chemicals—or biomarkers—signal the heart is getting a good workout. “These kinds of findings have also been seen with prolonged exertion such as marathons,” says study author Dr. Smita Dutta Roy of Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden. While more research is needed to tease out the risks or benefits associated with exercise of this intensity, she says that some of the biomarker shifts her team observed could lead to blood vessel repair and renewal.

    It can also help improve body composition, decrease fat mass and lower blood pressure and cholesterol, says Jinger Gottschall, an associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State University. Some of her research has shown that high-intensity spinning can increase fitness levels even in trained athletes. “In every study we’ve done, we’ve seen increases in heart and lung capacity,” she says. She calls spinning “the optimal cardio workout,” and says you can get all the intensity of a treadmill or stair-climber without the impact.

    The low-impact nature of spinning makes it great exercise for older adults or people recovering from orthopedic injuries, she adds. “Because you can adjust the resistance and moderate the pace and intensity of your ride, it opens the door for many people to participate,” she says.

    But it’s also easy for people who are new to spinning to overexert themselves. “If you’re not used to vigorous exercise, or to exercising the large lower-body muscles involved in spinning, you can overdo it,” Brogan says. She’s a kidney expert by training, and some of her research has linked spinning to rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which muscles break down to the point that they release a protein that can poison the kidneys. “People have swollen legs or trouble walking, and sometimes they take aspirin or NSAIDs for the muscle pain, which is the last thing they should do because those can also damage the kidneys,” she says. Problems like this can set in a day or two after spin class, she says.

    While overexertion is possible with any form of exercise, she says the risks during spinning may be higher—especially when you consider that some spinners lose up to a liter of water during an hour-long session.

    Even for trained athletes, there’s some evidence that spinning too often may lead to trouble. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that spinning may push some people past the threshold at which the exercise is beneficial. “If indoor cycling were used as an everyday training activity, it is possible that the overall intensity would be too high and possibly contribute to developing nonfunctional overreaching,” the authors of that study write. (“Nonfunctional overreaching” is sports science lingo for a workout that’s so strenuous it leads to fatigue and performance declines, rather than fitness improvements.)

    Overall, spinning is exceptional exercise. But if you’re new to it, you need to ease in and give your muscles time to adapt to its intensity. Even if you’re an experienced athlete, pushing yourself to your limit the first or second time you get on a spinning bike may be risky, Brogan says. Even once you’ve found your spinning legs, daily sessions may still be overkill.

    But if you’re looking for a high-intensity workout a few days a week—and especially if running or other forms of vigorous aerobic exercise hurt your joints—spinning may be the ideal way to keep your heart and body in shape.

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