Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Spin Class but Were Afraid to Ask
Now's the time to conquer your fear.
By Corrie Pikul
Now's the time to conquer your fear.
Those bike people. Their music is pumping so loud you can hear it—and feel it—even when the door is shut; their instructor sounds like she's screaming at them; and they occasionally whoop. They also hoot. You watch and think, "I am not a bike person."
Everyone is intimidated, says Janet Fitzgerald, a 16-year indoor cycling veteran and a master instructor in New York. She was teaching aerobics when her friends tried to convince her to come to a spin class. "I said, 'I've tried that, and I don't like it.'" Four months later, she was training to be an instructor. She says she hears stories like hers from spin converts all the time. Here, Fitzgerald answers the most common questions she gets from gym-goers:
1. What's with all the shouting?
Instructors like Fitzgerald incorporate jumps, standing runs, sprints, core exercises, arm weights and more. They need to make sure that you hear their instructions (and encouragement) over the music and the whir of the bikes. That's where their telephone operator headsets come in, amplifying their voices around the room and beyond. Fitzgerald says that there are some teachers who bark orders like a drill sergeant, but if that's not your thing, then you can try another class. The same goes for the music. "In the optimal spin experience, you're getting a DJ, a motivational coach and a fitness expert all in one package," she says.
2. Do the bikes need to be adjusted to my exact height, weight and skill level?
What matters is how tall you are and the length of your arms, legs and torso. But the instructor will explain this when they help you set up the bike; that's one of the key things they learn during certification, says Fitzgerald. Here are her rules of thumb: When you stand next to your bike, the seat should be at hip height. Bend your elbow at the nose of the seat; your fingertips should just brush the stem of the handlebars. When you sit in the saddle, your knee should still be slightly bent at the lowest part of the pedal stroke. Fitzgerald says that newbies like the handlebars to be slightly higher than the saddle for extra back and neck support (lower bars require a powerful core).
3. Do I need special shoes that lock me into the bike?
You can wear sneakers to classes in most all-purpose gyms. Fitzgerald claims cycling shoes are even safer for riding than sneakers, and physical therapists agree that they give you a better workout on the bike. Cycling shoes have hard soles that more evenly disperse the weight across the bottom of your feet. They also clip into the pedals, allowing you to work your glutes and hamstrings when you pull up during the pedal stroke. "When you wear tennis shoes, your foot is only half in the pedal basket, which makes it easier for it to accidentally slip out," Fitzgerald says. She says that sneakers' flexible soles also put unnecessary pressure on the forefoot when you push down, and overwork the quad when you pull up.
4. What should I wear?
There won't be a breeze like there is outside to lift the sweat from your skin. To stay cool, Fitzgerald recommends shorts or capris and a supportive tank top, all in wicking fabric. Another must-have is a band to hold back your damp hair when you lean forward over the handlebars.
5. What if I max out and need to rest?
If you feel like you can't do another interval, or you feel like the weighted wheels are carrying your legs faster than you want to go, Fitzgerald recommends turning up the resistance, sitting comfortably in the saddle with your hands on the handlebars, dropping your head, closing your eyes and softly rolling your legs until your heart rate recovers. "This is our version of the child's pose yoga move. It's what you do when you need a little break on the bike," she says.
6. Should I expect to feel sore the next day?
Fitzgerald says that newbies tend to ride a little heavier in the seat, so you might feel a little soreness around your inner thighs, bottom and abs. But as you get stronger, you'll be able to pull up through the inner thighs and lower stomach muscles so that you'll barely touch the saddle. If you're worried about pain, you can ride in a pair of cycling shorts with pads or bring your own cushioned seat cover.
7. What if I'm riding off the beat?
No one is going to care, says Fitzgerald. First of all, the room is usually dark. More importantly, the riders are focused on their own workouts, and spin instructors know it's part of their job to make all riders feel welcome. Fitzgerald adds that no one will expect you to be able to stand up and balance without holding on or to sprint with high resistance right away. In the beginning, you might also find it hard to stop bouncing in the saddle (which is inefficient and provides less of a core workout). Fitzgerald says that it often takes time to ride with perfect form, as if your entire body is covered in shrink-wrap, pulling inward toward the center of your bike. She also says that even those who ride—or race—outdoors can take three to six months to figure out their pace. The good news: You'll feel the "spinner's high" after the very first class.
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