As most of you know, I’ve been teaching spin classes for over 6 years. My style of teaching has evolved a lot since then, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot on the way. Whether you’re an avid spinner or planning to participate in your first ever class, these points will be useful.
1. Not setting your bike up properly
Setting your bike up correctly is crucial; it’s all about angles. Making sure your knee is directly over your ankle when you bring the angle of your hip to 90 degrees will help you ride with maximum efficiency. Simply put, it’ll help you get the most out of your ride. The most common mistake I see is riders setting their saddle height too low. When you’re at the bottom of your pedal stroke, your knee should just have a micro bend in it (you’re taller than you think you are, trust me!).
I’ve written a full blog post about the perfect bike set up, it’s up on the Digme Fitness blog if you want to know more. I’d advise all regular spinners to take a quick read.
2. Riding with no resistance
I don’t care if you can ride at the speed of light… Odds are it’s because you aren’t actually pushing anything. Riding like this will do you more harm than it will good, it’s harmful for your knees and you risk your foot sliding out of the cages or cleats which usually ends in disaster.
I have had quite a few people over the years tell me that they’re scared to pile on the resistance because they don’t want to get big thighs… NEWSFLASH, big thighs are not a disease, you don’t just “catch” them. Unless you’re genetically gifted, muscly legs are a product of years of training and a tonne of focused effort… Not a few 45 minute endurance focused spin classes per week (or month).
You might feel like you’re working hard at 150 RPM and 0 resistance, but your power output will be much higher when you slow it down and add some resistance. More power output = more calories burned, simple as that. Remember that when you’re asked to ride at over 130 RPM.
3. Only pushing, never pulling
This one is difficult to remember when you’re in the middle of climbing a heavy hill, giving it all you’ve got to hold your rhythm. Most people tend to push down as hard as they can on those pedals and forget to pull up as well. Pulling up with your hamstrings as well as pushing down with your quads will enable you to push harder for longer. If you can get your glutes involved too, that’s even better.
Here’s where cycling shoes come in, it’s a lot easier to pull up when you’re clipped in to the bike rather than wobbling around a bit in the cage. If you’re an avid spinner, I recommend getting your own pair of cleats or going to a club that will lend you some to ride in.
4. Going slower than 60 RPM
If you’re riding at a boutique gym or a relatively new health club, hopefully their bikes will be fitted with monitors that will give you an indication of how fast you’re moving (RPM, revolutions per minute) as well as your power output in watts (if you’re lucky). These numbers are important! There’s an optimal range for leg speed, strictly speaking it’s 60-110, but I tend to extend it just slightly up to 120, just because I feel that it’s safe, and it’s fun.
I won’t bore you with the science of mechanical efficiency, the point is that when you’re riding with enough resistance to slow you to under 60 RPM, you should take a bit down and speed up a touch. Try to make sure you’re always within the 60-120 range, that way you’ll be riding efficiently and getting the most out of your session.
5. “Working your upper body”
The inverted commas are there for a reason. Wowie where do I start with this one… Ok so I feel like most of us have been there, I most certainly have. When I first started teaching I put in “push ups”, hell I even took over what was then a “one of a kind” class that used weights on the bike. That was then.
Let’s strip it back, why do we go to spin class? Here’s a list of possible answers, please drop me a comment if you feel there’s something I’ve missed: 1. To burn calories 2. To get fitter 3. To have fun 4. It’s a social thing we do with friends 5. To train for an upcoming sporting event 6. Doctors orders 7. To improve our mood 8. To change the way we look 9. Maintain our current condition 10. To hear great music on banging speakers without having to go clubbing (Just me? Surely not…)
If your goal is to do with body composition, calorie burning or training for a sporting event of some sort, you want to maximise the contribution that every class you go to has towards achieving your goals, right?
So you turn up your resistance a little, slow your legs (to less than 60 RPM?) grab your hand weights and push back off the handlebars? Your all important power output is going to drop. It’s about opportunity cost. Throwing around 1kg weights is going to do less for your arms than climbing a hill or doing speed intervals is going to do for your cardiovascular system and calorie burn.
"There is an illusion that they are working out harder because high repetitions can cause a burning sensation, but it doesn't accomplish anything," Martha Heaner, an indoor cycling instructor with over 15 year of experience who has a doctorate degree in nutrition and physical activity, told the Los Angeles Times. Doing hundreds of light reps of any exercise in quick succession will have a negative effect on a person’s joints, but if you performed a sensible rep range with the same weight you wouldn’t feel that mighty “burn”. See where I’m going with this? One of the first things you learn about when you take an indoor cycling instructors course is injuries. Proper alignment is crucial to avoiding back injuries when we’re spinning. You could argue that most instructors will tell you to engage your core when you lean back and let go of the handlebars but let’s face it, some people don’t really know what that means. The instructor doesn’t have time to go around and make sure that everyone’s form is correct and that their core is actually working, so what happens if yours isn’t?
So you go to spin class to have fun, and that class where everyone is doing their “push ups” at the same time (that happens once a blue moon) makes you feel like you’re part of something, and you’re having the time of your life… If an instructor can’t make a text book, straight up spin class entertaining enough for their riders so they turn to ridiculous dance moves, they don’t know what they’re doing. (n.b. some are very capable of teaching sans bullshit, it may not be the instructor it may be the studio they work at).
But hey, there will always be those that like a 100 kcal per 45 minute dance on a bike class and you know what, that’s fine. Just be aware of what’s going on, aware of the fact that you may think that it’s a fun, sure fire way of achieving your goals but it may not be the most efficient.
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