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Studio Spin Classes – the New Alternative to Running?

First off, let me state that I will never give up running…

(And, I know I’ll get a lot of flack from my running buddies for writing this)

Yet, I admit that I love spinning – not just a little, a lot and not without good reason.

Three weeks ago I set foot in my first spin class. I had no idea what to expect. My only experience prior to that was in a gym where a bunch of sweaty dudes cycled like madmen on stationary bikes inside a small, florescent-lit room. There was no music, no atmosphere…just full on indoor cycling and a lot of heckling and one-upmanship. I attended two or three classes before quitting. I’d rather jump on my bike and ride outdoors. Seriously. It wasn’t for me.

I heard spin class is an awesome low-impact exercise that mimicked the adrenaline rush, the mental and physical challenge of running. In fact, quite a few spin enthusiasts are former runners with lingering injuries – bad knees, torn calf muscles, etc. They were looking for a low impact alternative to running that still gave them an incredible cardio workout with that same connected feeling as running…spin class became their new addiction.

I was intrigued.

So, there I was about to take my first studio-style spin class. I’d heard about the Zen-like atmosphere and use of hand weights and thought, what the hell? Is this yoga meets cycling? Am I actually going to get a challenging workout? I mean, really, how the heck do you train with weights while riding a stationary bike? My mind was both boggled and bemused…

And then the workout started…

And (quite honestly) the “oh shit” moment arrived.

This was no joke…

Starting with the warm-up, you crank the resistance up about 10-13 notches. But you don’t just sit in your seat pedaling – you’re up, you’re down, constantly in movement. You hover in a low squat position over your bike seat for what seems like forever, firing up all those deep leg muscles you never knew you had. Increasing the resistance even further, you’ll alternate between a high, low squat position, continuing to pedal fast and fierce, spurred on by intoxicating, adrenaline-pumping music…rarely, if ever, sitting down in your seat. No rest for the weary.

In fact, throughout most of the workout (usually 45 minutes long), your gluts, in particular, are getting an absolute pounding. If you’re not climbing hills, racing through sprints or pushing through challenging intervals – you’re in the wrong spin studio.

It’s an all-out assault on your body.

But it doesn’t stop there, with the DJ-style music orchestrating your every move and pedal cadence, you progress into upper body training – pushups, dips and presses that tone and sculpt your biceps, triceps, shoulders, back and core. In another segment, you use hand weights in a non-stop, muscle-twitching series of deep tissue endurance training. Unlike the reps performed in the weight room, these slow and methodical movements penetrate deep muscle tissue. All this, while steadily increasing the resistance on your bike, hence the amount of sheer power your legs have to exert with each pedal stroke.

It’s a cross between absolute torture and pure adrenaline rush.

Some runners are incorporating spin classes into their overall training to enhance and improve their running performance. Several witness improvements in their pace time and overall endurance. Others, especially former runners with injuries, found their new “holy grail” for cardio. Female runners, in particular, who don’t resistance train, find spin class nicely strengthens and tones their upper body without the fear of “bulking” up.

Let’s be honest, though, most men view spinning as a “chick” workout. Studio spin classes, except in metropolitan areas, are overwhelmingly dominated by females. Make no mistake guys spinning is not only extremely hard, challenging and demanding physically, it is equally an efficient and effective cardio and strength training workout.

It’s madness – but just the type adrenaline-chasing runners love.

And let’s not forget the competitive types…spin class or “indoor cycling” as it’s also referred to, has evolved to incorporate various individual and team challenges. If you’re like me, you’ll love the “me against myself” aspect where you push yourself to the limits in sprints and intervals. Yet, equally so, I love team competitions, pitting various groups in the room against each other in races or games aimed at motivating you to up your performance. Each studio is different and will offer you a variety of options for upping your game physically.

I think the biggest takeaway I have from my spin experience is this – it’s a fun, entertaining, kick ass workout. And it does the job, both physically and mentally.

A full-on physiological experience very similar to the “runner’s high.”

No kidding.

As I’ve said before, don’t knock something until you’ve tried it. Exercise is constantly evolving and new takes on traditional workouts are shaking things up. Studio spin classes are extremely popular and spawned a whole movement in the crossover between physical activity, community and culture. Not unlike the way CrossFit pervaded the wider exercise sphere.

Spin may not be for everyone, but everyone can certainly benefit from it.

My verdict: it’s a great alternative to running, especially if injured, while also an excellent cross training option. Work it into your exercise regimen to amp your performance and overall fitness.

Studio spin class ROCKS.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Crazy Busy? Streamline Your Training to Maximize Your Time… – DR J 2211 – Rachael Jezierski, Phd December 14, 2016 at 10:11 am

    […] music and group training atmosphere is very motivating and fun! As I’ve said before in my article on spin classes…don’t knock something until you’ve tried […]

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    DR J 2211 – Rachael Jezierski, PhD