Have you ever taken a spinning class? Have you wondered if spinning is good for runners? If you haven’t tried spinning, I suggest you try it. It will do wonders for your running, and you just might enjoy it. At the very least, count on being challenged and burning lots of calories. The fact is running and spinning make a great match.
First, you may have heard of ‘spinning,’ but maybe you have never attended a class and don’t really ‘get’ the difference between going out for a bike ride and spinning.
Well, the difference is greater for some than others, but besides the fact that they both involve cycling, they are quite different. I’ll attempt to make that distinction clear.
Spinning, as you probably already know, is an exercise performed on specially designed spinning bikes, indoors, usually in a group, with music, and led by a motivational instructor who chooses music specifically chosen for the class. Classes normally last for 45 minutes to an hour, but at some gyms there are hard-core spinners who take two or even three classes in a row. Yeah, three.
Oh, one more thing, it’s generally quite intense. So, if you’re comparing it to a leisurely bike ride around the neighborhood, think again. It’s more like a strenuous, high-speed ride, 20 to 25 mile ride on varying terrain.
Spinning has been popular for years. I first tried it several years ago; at the time my husband and I frequently road our mountain bikes for two hours or more on off road trails. We thought we were working hard. It seemed like it, and my significant hamstrings and quads were impressive proof.
So, my daughter Wendy and I decided to join a spinning class at the gym. I lasted about ten minutes and never felt like I got the hang of it at all. I recall my feet flying off the pedals and my pride dashing out the door only moments before my physical self made a sheepish exit.
Three years later, after hearing many people drop the spinning word, I decided to try again. The experience was a little better, but when the instructor asked us to stand and hover several inches above the seat for a prolonged period, I knew I couldn’t last, and after thirty minutes, I ducked out again.
Now, keep in mind I’m no wimp. I was running at least 30 miles a week and frequently competing in half marathons around this time. I was also swimming regularly. Most people would think I was in excellent condition. Obviously, there was still room for improvement. Lots of room.
That experience taught me that despite the running and racing I was doing, my leg muscles were not strong enough. I think most runners assume they don’t need to do strength train their lower body because those muscles get adequate training while running. Apparently, that is far from the case. I can’t explain why, but I absolutely know this to be true.
A year later, determined, I signed up for a beginning spinning class. By this time, my friends had pointed out a helpful hint. Just because the teacher says to increase the resistance, which is accomplished by turning a knob on the bike, doesn’t mean you have to do it. You are in control, and you can turn it as much or as little as you want. Since the, I’ve heard many spin instructors explain as much. After all, they really do want all members of their class to succeed and return next time.
This time I spent few minutes with the instructor before class. First, she showed me how to determine the correct seat and handlebar adjustment; then she explained the three hand positions she would refer to during class. This provided me with some confidence. Of course, it also helped that the class was less intense because it was a beginner class.
I survived, and that was the first of many, many weekly spinning classes. In fact, our Y had a Tour de Y challenge during the Tour de France, which required participants to take two spinning classes a week. I did, and discovered an amazing result: Spinning is g-r-e-a-t cross training for running. Well, it’s great for many reasons, but let’s start with the specific running benefits.
Benefits of Spinning
- It builds strength. Spinning is an intense leg exercise that utilizes virtually every leg muscle, at least if you do it correctly. You’ll know that, because you’ll feel it by the end of the class and even more the next day. A good instructor will remind you use your muscles to push the pedal down, then toward the back and then to pull it up an pull it forward.
- Spinning moves the legs in a completely natural circular motion, and although it is intense, there is no pounding as there is in running. A good instructor will have participants standing some of the time, spinning with lower resistance part of the time, and spinning with higher resistance at other times, providing a very complete workout.
- It’s an intense cardio workout, easily as intense as most speed work.
- The high cadence - 90 rpm or higher most of the time – is a great way to increase leg turnover for running. For many runners, increasing turnover is the single best way to improve race times.
- It’s an ideal workout when the weather prohibits outdoor training.
- You can count on the instructor to motivate the group; every instructor is different, so visit several classes. You’re bound to find an instructor you particularly like, and you will get to know the other people in the class; that always makes it more fun.
- It’s a great way to burn a lot of calories in a short time.
- Because you are in a class, you are less likely to back off; this is good, for the most part, but as always, if you are not feeling up to par, it’s important to listen to your body and back off.
A Word About Gear
If you have biking shoes to clip into the pedals, wear them. Spinning bikes have caged pedals on one side, but they are made so that if you have clips, you can clip in on the other side of the pedal. This is preferable because it makes you more efficient, and it’s easier to rotate your foot deliberately, in a circular fashion, thus utilizing more muscle groups. If you don’t have biking shoes, then just be sure to tighten the clips.
Always bring a full water bottle. All spinning bikes are setup to accommodate this, and you will drink the whole bottle during class.
Always bring a towel if your gym doesn’t supply them. You’ll need at least one. Did I mention that spinning is intense?
If you have bike shorts, wear them. Those seats are not comfortable. I’ve seen some people bring cushy seat covers; that’s an option. If you don’t have bike shorts, at least try to find some stretchy shorts that fit close to the leg. The will help you slide on the seat and facilitate getting into and out of the saddle.
A few things to remember that will make your experience better, and equally important, will make the experience better for other class participants.
- Get to class on time, so you can get your bike adjusted correctly before class starts.
- Get to class 20 minutes early if it is your first time, and inform the instructor that it is your first class.
- Turn your phone off if you didn’t leave it in a locker, which would be preferable.
- If you keep your phone with you, do not text.
- If you have children in the building, ask them not to interrupt the class.
- Avoid listening to an MP3 player. This is rude in a class situation.
- Make sure you have a towel and use it rather than dripping all over the floor.
- Wipe down your bike after class. Most gyms provide sanitary wipes for this purpose.
- Do not hold conversations with classmates during class.
- Do not leave early, as this is disruptive. If you do have to leave early for some reason, explain to the instructor ahead of time, and remember to wipe down the bike.
- Follow along. If you just want to sit and spin, do it some other time or on a stationary bike that is not in a spin class.
- Believe it or not, people sometimes get attached to particular bikes. The standard rule is first come first served. If you get to class, and someone is on the bike you like, never ask them to let you have it.
- Do not ask the instructor not to turn on the fans. If you don’t want the fan, don’t get a bike close to it. Most people love the fans as it gets quite hot in a spinning class.
I am so glad to have finally become successful at this excellent activity, and I recommend it to everyone. Running is a very effective means of cross training for runners.