Spinning class vs. Cycling

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Anonymous's picture

I was under the impression that spinning classes were like cycling, but indoors. The thing that confused me before I even took the class was how I was supposed to pedal out of the saddle. The bikes don't exactly rock back and forth like they do when you are dancing on the pedals up a hill. Now after the class I am even more confused. The instructor sugested that I use more resistance. How do you pedal out of the saddle when the bike doesn't rock back and forth under you?

The other thing I cannot figure out is that my average heart rate for 53 minutes was 170. 85% of my Max is 172. How do I lower it to get into my aerobic zone? Am I really that out of shape?

I wish it would get a bit warmer. Or I am just going to have to get out there in the cold. Indoor spinning is not as fun as outdoor cycling.


Anonymous's picture
John Z (not verified)
I Share Your Frustrations

"Honestly, most spin instructors don't have a fundamental understanding of training concepts. This is further compromised that gyms want to attract members, not help cyclists train in the off-season, hence the funky moves, some of which can be dangerous. However, with a some understanding of training and heart rate zones (I am asking way too much for spin bikes with power meters), you can get a good workout.

The first concept to understand is what can and cannot be achieved by a spin class. They are ideal for lactate threshold training, refining your form and active recovery. Spin classes are not very good for much else. So, the best way to do spin classes is to go really hard one day, really easy the next, and so on. Forget about the aerobic zone stuff. The classes are too short to help ""aerobic"" fitness, which requires 2-4 or more hours at a moderate level. If you are already at 85% of your max (how did you determine that?), than go a bit harder on your hard days 87-92%, then much, much easier on your easy days. You may be able to ride 2 hard days in a row, but if it does not start becoming difficult to do, than you are not riding hard enough on you hard days. This routine may seem boring, but its highly effective. Don't worry about jumps, interval training or any of that. Spin class intervals are to short with too little recovery for effective V02 max training, and jumps are outright dangerous for your knees. Regarding the out-of-saddle climbing thing, this annoys me the most. These instructions to rock back and forth or whatever are silly and a waste of energy, and many instructors have you out of the saddle way too long. Why they equate hills without of the saddle I don't know -- I guess they have been watching too much of the late Marco Pantani."

Anonymous's picture
Judith Tripp (not verified)
"""Climbing"" out of the saddle"

"If you put a lot more resistance on the spin bike, unless you are just super strong, it will be easier to turn the pedals if you stand up. The bike doesn't have to move. Try it! As for the ""jumps"", I don't know how the spin people do it. Some of those people are just amazing; I never try to imitate them; I just wish they'd get on a real bike and they'd probably take up racing (or maybe they'd be hopeless). The way I kept sort of with the class was just put more resistance on when they wanted you to stand without more resistance (which, as John says, seems really bad for the knees, not to mention almost impossible for your average cyclist)."

Anonymous's picture
John Z (not verified)
Strength vs. Power

"One area where many spin instructors don't have a good understanding (and many cyclists as well) is the difference between strength and power. Too often, we say ""strong"" when we mean ""powerful"". Very few cyclists, except for sprinters and pursuit racers, are ""strong"". Many are ""powerful"". Most of us want to be more powerful, not stronger. Interestingly, the body senses force more readily than power, hence the emphasis by many spin instructors on low cadence, high resistance efforts. While low cadence work has its place, too high a force requirement actually reduces the overall power output. As for the in/out of saddle thing, let's look at it from the road cycling perspective. The most efficient way to climb is in the saddle, Lance Armstrong notwithstanding. While a little bit of intentional out-of-saddle training is a good thing, if you find yourself too often encountering hills that require extended time out of the saddle, I would recommend changing your gearing. As for these 10 minute out-of-saddle excursions in spin class, I don't see the benefit..."

Anonymous's picture
Michael (not verified)

It seems to me that a lot of spinners ride with very little resistance. Their jumps might involve balance but I doubt they are headed for CRCA events this summer.

I happen to spin often in the winter and find it keeps me from hitting rock bottom (which is quite low in my case). We have a few good instructors at Reebok and many more bad ones. You can follow alond with the good and create your own workout with the bad. If you like to get up early you can get on the bike before class starts and get a 75 minute workout... then you can do intervals, base miles etc.

Anonymous's picture
Heath (not verified)
Jumps? and HR

My Max HR was determined by the Polar Fit Test Computer. It uses age and resting HR and does some calculation. My resting HR was a little higher than usual, so my Max is probably a bit higher. During the class my HR was usually at 183, but 170 was the average. I felt I was working fairly hard, but I probably could have worked harder.

What are Jumps? For the class we just rode in the middle of the saddle, standing up, and fast pedaling. I have seen some strange stuff in class, but this one was pretty straight forward.

Are you saying the rocking back and forth iin spinning class or while cycling is silly?

Anonymous's picture
John Z (not verified)
More Thoughts

"A better test for your maximum heart rate is to do the ramp test, where you gradually increase yur effort until your are very uncomfortable, then hammer as had as you can go for as long as you can go. In the end, this will be your maximum heart rate...

Many instructors encourage spinners into exaggerated back and forth motions that do not mimic any position on a bike. But let me back off a bit here, as the way spinning has evolved, its not really intended to be ""indoor"" cycling. These motions and positions are to provide as much tone to as many muscle groups as possible. Jumps, for example, are a rapid up and down motion.

I once had a long discussion with my gym's fitness instructor regarding spin classes. It was prompted by an incident with an instructor who should have been fired for his egregious behavior. My complaints included rooms that rooms were way too hot, with several instructors considering ventilation a ""reward"", ignorance of the fact that several in the class are on structured training programs that include ""easy days"". She was nice, but not much happened, and in the end I simply had to adjust my schedule to accommodating instructors.

To be fair, there are some instructors who are quite good. I just met one who is a research scientist and avid cyclist. There are a couple, mentioned in previous threads, that have a racing background, and another I know who is an Ironman Triathlete."

Anonymous's picture
linda (not verified)
Different strokes...

If the instructor knows what they are doing, they do not ever encourage side to side movement. In fact, just the opposite - they will instruct the class to use smooth & strong pedal strokes so that there is no bobbing up & down or side to side. Some people ride the spinner using very little leg muscle power and just take advantage of the bike being bolted to the floor - hence lots of side to side motion. In all the spin classes I've taken at my gym there is much emphasis on form. The bikes there all have the option to use Look or SPD, so you can get a pretty efficient stroke going.

As for the hills...my experience is that they keep you in the saddle with a high resistance to mimic hill climbing -and that getting out of the saddle just makes the higher resistance a bit easier to handle if you need a break.

Hey - the only way to feel like you're riding a bike is to ride a bike. I love riding both my bikes on and off-road and I love running. But I also happen to love spinning and I think it's a super efficient 45 minute workout. Perhaps its just the endorphin rush ;-)

Anonymous's picture
John Z (not verified)
Good Input


Where are your classes! Actually, I can't switch as I have a 2 year membership, but I do agree there are some that do emphasize form and it has helped me become a stronger cyclist. Even in the summer, I will use spin class for recovery, and to tune my form for hillclimb time trials.

Anonymous's picture
Nathan (not verified)

I have been doing spin classes 3-4 times a week this winter and I feel it has really made a difference. I don't really follow the class much. Instead I do my own thing which I feel will benefit my cycing. One day I will focus on in or out of the saddle power. Next will be timetrialing. Then my own special workout that involves power and sprinting(blackouts are common). I don't go below 90% in spin classes generaly.

Like John said it is pretty pointless to do aerobic work in a 50 minute class. I focus strictly on power and do aerobic work in the morning on my own.

Anonymous's picture
John Z (not verified)
More Ideas

That's the way to do it! Another variation is to find the maximum effort you can sustain day in and day out and work that for a couple weeks. This approach will burn the most calories over the period, as its harder than the pure aerobic zone, and not hard enough to burn yourself out after a couple days.

Anonymous's picture
linda (not verified)
Spinning wheel must go round...

Hey John,

I go to the Reebok/Sports Club NY at 67th/Columbus. Alot of friends have commented that its an expensive club, but its all in how you look at it - Spinning and working out in a spacious, peaceful environment (especially in this gruesome winter we've had) is amazing stress therapy and a hell of a lot cheaper than sitting in a shrink's office once a week.

For me, spinning is a nice segue between cycling and running. To speak to a point you made in one of your posts - I don't think that any of them really help me become better at another - but they all complement each other well.

If you ever get a chance to go to Reebok, take a spin class from Adele. She's low key and focused, works the class hard, keeps an eye on everyone's form, pushes me to the point where I want to puke and plays ass-rockin' music. What more can you ask for!!

Anonymous's picture
Mordecai Silver (not verified)
Lon Haldeman's routine


""Now that the indoor season has started, I’m back riding the old Monark ergometer I’ve been using since 1982. It has a belt hitched to a furnace fan to add pedaling resistance and make a cooling breeze.

""To help keep my heart rate up, I made a couple of other modifications, too. I replaced the handlebar with chrome high-rise bars from a kid’s String Ray. Then I took off the seat so I have to stand for entire workouts.

""The handlebar is high enough so I can’t lean on it and cheat the weight off the pedals. I push a big gear at about 60 rpm. The position isn’t very efficient, but it raises my heart rate 10-15 bpm over what it would be sitting and spinning the same wattage output.

""One thing I’ve realized over the years is a basic formula for maintaining fitness. It seems if I can accumulate at least one hour per week within 90% of my max HR, then I have had a good training week.

""Years ago, my max HR was 200 bpm, so 90% was a goal of 180. If I did 3 workouts per week with my heart above 180 for 20 minutes, I felt I had a good week. Same thing for 6 workouts at 10 minutes each above 180 bpm.

""Doing 2 workouts with 30 minutes above 180 bpm was tough. Doing one workout with 60 minutes above 180 bpm was impossible.

""Now that I’m 20 years older, my max HR is about 190 bpm. My training goal of 90% is 171 bpm. I’ve been using the goal formula of 60 minutes per week at over 90%. I think it’s still pretty effective.

""Including warm-up, cool down and steady riding while watching TV, sometimes I only ride 3 hours per week. But I still seem to get in okay shape for Desert Camp. I realize it would be much better to be riding up to 3 hours on several days to maintain or improve my endurance.

""For many years, I rode all winter for 3-4 hours per day and my heart rate probably never got over 160. I wasted a lot of training time, but I learned how to stay on the bike!

""I just wanted to report my ""One Hour per Week Over 90%"" rule. I'm not sure how much scientific sense it makes, but it is a good rule of thumb that seems to work for me and is easy to calculate and remember. Maybe other riders will find it effective, too.""

Also, on the same webpage, ""Tips from an Indoor Instructor"" by Chad Schoenauer.

Anonymous's picture
Debbie Rothschild (not verified)
Spinning at Reebok

"I also take spinning classes at Reebok and I agree, it ain't like the road, but it is a good workout. Nobody, except maybe a bad sub here or there, has included ""jumps"" in a class for quite some time now. If they do, I ignore them and use the time to maintain a steady paced ride. Too many, however, do ""standing climbs"" which last about ten minutes or so. There are always a few regular cyclists in class and it's easy to spot who they are - we are always the ones seated during the climb. In other words,you can always make your own modifications to whatever the instructor is doing."

Anonymous's picture
Heath (not verified)

I took another class tonight. The class was with Robert Pennino. I spoke with him at the beginning of class and he gave me some suggestions as well as checked on me during the class.

Robert gave a really great class. His music was selected so that the beat was the exact cadence that he wanted you at. And he knew the mix so well that he counted you into each change. Very well organized. He also did a lot of in the saddle climbing. Anyone else familiar with his classes?

I joined Equinox for the same reason you are at Reebok. Yes it is a little pricey, but the environment is really nice to work out in.

Average heart rate was 167. I want to try the ramping method reccommended in another post. I think I just need to adjust my 85% mark.

Getting excited for the warm weather.

Anonymous's picture
Basil (not verified)

"you mention Robert. I took his class (first time) at Equinox on Monday. I've ridden with Robert to Nyack on a number of occasions - he's an extremely strong cyclist who has completed a number of Ironman competitions (and plans another this summer). Given my limited exposure to spinning (I've just joined Equinox), I believe Robert's class is more likely to be appreciated by real cyclists than most spin classes. Helpful, well-organized and few ""gimmicks"".
The other class worth mentioning is Chris Griffin's Saturday morning class. This will soon be eclipsed by SIGs and STS but, officially a 1.5 hour class, it unofficially generally ends up being 2 hours - quite a useful workout by any measure, I'd say. But even Chris (a regular CRCA racer) had us standing for a long ""climb"" during part of that 2 hours.


Anonymous's picture
John Z (not verified)
Reporting a Good Experience

I had a class with Verna this evening. I had forgotten how good she is....

Anonymous's picture
Michael (not verified)
NYCC Day at Reebok

I have a sh#tload of passes for Reebok, the next unrideable day we could get a large group of real cyclists together and takeover one side of the spin room.... have some fun (and stay seated while we climb)

This Saturday is supposed to be rain isn't it??
(but warm and dry Sunday yippeee)

Anonymous's picture
linda (not verified)
Sounds like fun...

I'd love to know whenever you decide to put that together and I'll join you all in the spin class.

Anonymous's picture
Michael (not verified)

In club jerseys...

we can take over Al and Marks class... or do Langdon's Sat 8:30 class, since we cyclists get up with the farmers

Anonymous's picture
John Z (not verified)
Another Distraction

"My spin class tonight was filmed for an episode of ""Date Patrol,"" another one of those silly reality TV shows. I had to sign a release. I thought about not signing to see what would happen, but it was late and I wanted to get started. Since I signed a release for them, I would like the following addendum to be known:

1) My appearance on ""Date Patrol"" does not constitute my endorsement of said show or does not imply I went to any extraordinary means to appear on the show.

2) My use of ""Crunch"" facilities is not an endorsement of ""Crunch,"" certainly not since it was taken over by Bally's Fitness.

3) My use of a Schwinn spinning bicycle should not be viewed as an endorsement of Schwinn, or any of its products under any name that they are currently sold or might be sold in the future.

4) My use of a Polar Heart Rate monitor should not be viewed as an endorsement of Polar heart rate monitors.

5) I do endorse and support Bean's Bikes of Paoli, Pennsylvania, whose jersey I happened to be wearing this evening."

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