The beginner's-guide to a spinning class

Spinning classes at the gym are a super cardio workout and get you fit fast. But they can be intimidating for a first-timer. We spoke to Fiddy Gey Van Pittius (Regional Product Specialist for Virgin Active South Africa) to find out all you need to know before you hit your first class.

The basics

Spinning is the generic name given to the fitness programme of Indoor Cycling. Indoor Cycling classes are generally 45 minute to an hour, medium to high intensity classes delivered by a qualified instructor where participants are lead through the various components of an indoor cycling class. These components are the warm-up, main workout which consists of hills and flats, cool-down and finally stretching, all done with music.

A participant will experience a number of profiles which may be found in outdoor cycling such as hills, flats and even downhills. There are three variables used on the indoor cycle to create the various profiles found outdoors - these three variables are:

  • Body Positioning (sitting or standing),
  • Cadence ( leg speed or revolutions per minute RPM) and
  • Resistance ( generally measured on a scale of 1-10 known as Rate of Perceived Effort RPE).

The many different combinations of the three variables create the terrain or profiles found in outdoor cycling. Programme workouts include a variety of interval type time sets where short bursts of 10-90 secondss of hard work or high intensity are used as well as sustained medium to high intensity type time sets such as 3-8 minute mini time trials.

What should you wear?  

General fitness gear can be used but it is always a good idea to invest in a pair or two of proper cycling shorts to assist in being comfortable in the saddle.

Cycling shoes are also a great investment as your foot is placed in the best position on the pedal both for indoor and outdoor cycling otherwise normal trainers can be used.  Standard fitness tops or t-shirts can be worn although it does help to have a top which assists in keeping you cool.But a sweat towel and filled water bottle is essential when participating in an indoor cycling class.

How to set up the bike 

As the indoor cycles are a 'one size fits all', there is a generic set-up to assist participants in setting themselves in the most safe and effective position on the bike.

Saddle height is the first setting and this requires that the saddle is basically in line with the hip bone [while you are standing next to the bike with both feet flat on the floor in trainers/shoes]- this is the quick set-up and the secondary check of saddle height is when you are sitting on the bike with your feet in the pedals and one pedal is at the lowest point, there is a soft knee bend in the extended leg.

The second setting is Saddle Fore and Aft [forward/back]- this requires that when a participant is sitting on the bike with the pedals parallel to the floor, the bent front knee is aligned [plumbline from knee down to pedal between the front toe and ankle and does not extend beyond the toes or remain behind the ankle another way of looking at this is when the participant is sitting on the bike with the pedals parallel to the floor, the knee of the front leg is aligned with the axle of the pedal.

Next is the Handlebar Height. The Handlebars should be in line with the saddle/at the same height or slightly higher [if the participant has a lower back injury/strain or hamstring strain/injury/stiffness].

The last setting is the Foot Positioning - the ball of the foot should be over the axle of the pedal. Cycling shoes place the foot in the correct position on the pedal whereas with trainers, participants need to place their foot correctly and then tighten the pedal-cage straps to secure their foot position. All of these settings are important for a safe and effective indoor cycling experience.

How does the resistance work?  

Resistance is generally measured on a scale of 1-10 known as Rate of Perceived Effort or RPE.

As not everyone has Heart Rate monitors and the actual Bikes do not have a resistance reader that may show the amount of resistance on the flywheel, RPE is considered by the American College of Sports Medicine [ACSM] as the acceptable measurement of intensity while doing exercise. 10 on the scale is maximum effort whereas 1 is little or no effort. Physically on the bike, there is a dial that regulates the amount of resistance placed on the flywheel of the bike and participants turn the dial to the right for more resistance and turn to the left for less resistance.

The different types of spinning classes  

There are a number of different types of classes which means that the main focus of the class is different. The basic class format of warm-up, main body, cool down and stretch remains for each class with the focus of the main body workout differing depending on the instructor or the advertised class.

There are classes such as All Terrain which means in the main body of the class, a good balance of hill and flats are used along with a good balance of interval and sustained work. The overall intensity of the
 class is also balanced. Interval classes focus the main body on the various types of intervals such as strength (loads more resistance) and or speed ( loads more high leg speed work).

Other classes that are available are Orientation classes for people who need to get started on an Indoor Cycling programme and Recovery classes - these usually follow Race days or High Intensity Interval classes to give participants a chance to recover on the indoor cycle - these classes generally provide a lower intensity with more sustained light resistance workout.

Reference: Fiddy Gey Van Pittius (Regional Product Specialist for Virgin Active South Africa)

(Amy Froneman, Health24, August 2012)

Image of spinning class from Shutterstock

Read more:
 Spinning vs training on the bike

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