You’ve probably heard the pulsing beat of music emanating from the fitness studio at your gym or peeked in to see furiously spinning legs on stationary bikes. Spinning, while it sounds simple has a variety of fitness benefits that might be worth your sweat, says Erin A. McGill, master instructor and director of training and design for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Spinning classes can increase a woman’s endurance, caloric expenditure, increase lean body mass, and improve your cardiorespiratory efficiency and strength. Spinning is becoming ubiquitous because “just about anyone can do it,” says McGill. “You don’t have to be coordinated or have the ability to keep up with any type of advanced choreography.” Here are five reasons to hop on a bike.
1. Social Cycle Many women enjoy exercising in groups. Spinning is social. Lots of people meet in a studio, sit on spin bikes next to each other, warm up, do uphill climbs, then cool down. McGill says this social interaction enhances your motivation and accountability. It helps you stick with it long enough to see results.
2. A Strong Heart Spinning is great for improving cardiovascular efficiency—how quickly the heart delivers energized blood to hardworking muscles and your aerobic capacity—the maximum oxygen your body can use in a workout.
3. Burn Calories Spinning is great for your overall fitness. Because it burns so many calories during class there is an increased caloric burn post-workout that is similar to strength training, so it’s great for losing weight. McGill reminds us that spinning is a form of resistance exercise, and “will give you more shapely legs” and torch calories.
4. Build Lean Body Mass Pedaling a bike uses all the large muscles in your legs; gluteals, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps. The quadriceps pushes the pedal down and around, essential for hill-climbing. The hamstrings (muscles in the back of your thigh) work with the quadriceps to help lift the pedal back up so you can keep going. Gluteals, the muscles in your buttocks and hip area help you stand up for hill-climbing. Your calves transmit force from your quadriceps to your feet during the lower part of the stroke. When spinning intensity increases, so does your calorie burn. Some experts say all you need are three classes to see shapelier legs. “Spin classes that have intense intervals will create stronger legs because it provides a workout similar to resistance training,” says McGill.
5. Intense and Low-Impact It’s also low-impact so you can push yourself to intense levels with less impact on your joints compared with running or step classes. “Instructors typically create workouts with choreography incorporations of racing, jumps and mountains—all which give exercises excellent leg workouts,” adds McGill.
For spinners who sit at a desk all day, McGill recommends stretching their hamstrings and hip flexors before saddling up as well. Here are two she recommends:
Supine Biceps Femoris Stretch: Lie on your back with both knees bent. Extend one leg straight in the air until the first point of tension is achieved. Hold the back of the knee with the opposite arm and complete the exercise in 10 repetitions, holding the stretch for 2 seconds each repetition.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch: Kneel with front and back legs bent at 90 degree angle. Internally rotate back hip. Draw navel inward and raise arm overhead. Squeeze gluteal muscles of the side being stretched while rotating the pelvis posteriorly. Slowly move the body forward until a mild tension is achieved in the front of the hip being stretched. Side bend and rotate posteriorly. Hold for 20 – 30 seconds. McGill stresses concentrating on your form, especially foot placement. When it’s correct, it helps to keep the body moving efficiently during aggressive workouts. Proper form involves keeping the hips pushed back and the upper body slightly tilted forward to allow glute muscles to work harder and burn more calories.