If the winter is still getting the better of you and your training, think about doing something inside with a group of motivated individuals, a qualified instructor and inspiring music. Sounds good doesn’t it but how is that going to improve your biking fitness?
One answer is ‘Spinning’ – a gym based cycle training session on fixed wheel stationary bikes, it’s been around for a few years now and many non-cyclists use it as a way of getting fit quick and burning loads of calories without having to risk the roads or buy a bike. We’ve also noticed that lots of real bikers use spinning as an alternative training method in the winter months.
We decided to give it a go this winter and after several weeks of switching moving bike training sessions over to spinning sessions we have interesting results to share with you.
At first the sessions seemed really odd and not like biking in any sense that we were used to, pedalling inside seemed weird especially with an instructor dictating tempo, resistance and effort to some extent too. This was like nothing we’d experienced before, and it made the turbo sessions of old seem free-flowing and unstructured in comparison. However once we put aside our desire to stay in control of the cadence and tuned in to the instructor and beat of the music, the rhythm became natural and enjoyable.
Each music track depicts a certain pace or cadence and although at first it was essential to focus on the instructors pedalling it soon becomes second nature and you can concentrate on getting the resistance right for the kind of workout you want. Coupled with a heart rate monitor you can tailor your session to suit your training program too. It is simple to enjoy someone else making the decisions on how fast to pedal, when and for how long, and the best bit is that you know this will only usually last for the duration of the song, that’s anything from 2 to 5 minutes. Even a really fast beat track that requires quick spinning seems to pass in a matter of moments as you focus on the beat.
One of the things we found hard at first was getting our legs spinning quite that fast, and although this isn’t for long periods of time it’s something we rarely focussed on during normal biking sessions. To get your legs to move that quickly, we had to work on smoothing out the pedal circle action and use proper ankle rotation technique – simply pushing down on the pedals isn’t going to work. During the session we’d be guided on how to push through the flat-spots of the pedal stroke, eg at the top and bottom of the stroke, and how pulling up can help too. After a few minutes the difference is evident and a faster cadence was easily possibly. This not only increases sprinting potential out on the road but also teaches your muscles to work more efficiently and not just rely on the pushing part of the pedal stroke.
Other exercises built into the spinning sessions included standing up pedalling, focussing on keeping the upper body still and climbing in different positions too which seems to strengthen all parts of your leg muscles and builds core strength too. Some instructors do upper body workouts in the classes too, doing chest dips toward the bar that work the triceps, back and core muscles and take your mind off your legs hurting too. You can of course take it easy during the sessions if you need to, the resistance can be altered at the turn of a switch so it needn’t be a tough workout if you’re not feeling up to it. Stopping through a class is not recommended and indeed we never felt like doing so, knowing that everyone else is working hard and has goals too is inspiring enough.
Most spin classes last from 40 minutes to 1 hour, although we did attend one that was 90 minutes and not for the faint hearted either, an ex-pro road racer certainly put us through our paces. Each class has a warm up and warm down section and some stretches too so it’s not all pedalling.
The set up of the stationary bikes does not really replicate the feel of a real bike, the position tends to be more upright and from our experience the saddles are hideously large and not too comfy either, but as with any new position you do get used to it after a few sessions. If it’s your first time on a stationary bike take the time to get to the class early and spend a few minutes getting the bar and saddle height correct. Some gyms allow you change the pedals so you may be able to use your own pedal and shoe combo, if not the bikes may have toe clips and some have spd pedals. It’s best to check this out before turning up though.
Make you wear something lightweight and that wicks sweat well, you will get hot without the wind in your hair, some people take a towel to save making a pool on the floor. Take a large water bottle with you and if you are planning on swapping pedals over take a spanner as well. Oh yes, have fun and enjoy the training session out of the rain and cold.
”Yeah I know I’m the fastest person I know who never goes anywhere!! I just wish it translated to the road a bit more. It recommend you wear bike specific shorts ‘cos it does make those awful saddles a bit more comfy & I always wear track mitts to stop my hands slipping around the bars!
There are different types of spin classes now around, in Leeds they are doing a RPM class, in the dark, on bikes that are supposed to replicate the movement you get on a real bike… the handle bars move side to side, when out of the saddle climbing it is a very weird experience, plus they have a video screen at the front of the class playing some of the classic races from the continent. Like I said it’s a weird experience. The bikes are supposed to replicate a standard road bike, so not so upright, as normal spinning bikes. Also there are talks of introducing the Karaoke spin, already popular in the states, it’s where you sing along with the tracks while doing a lung bursting climb or sprint…”
Well there’s food for thought…..maybe next winter I’ll be putting in the miles whilst singing out of tune! – Ed