Question: I am interested in starting spin classes to slim my legs. I have never done this type of cardio before. What should I know before I start?
Answer: Spinning, or studio cycling, is an excellent workout to strengthen your heart and tone your legs. (You can stretch your way to lean, lovely legs, too.) Classes consist of anywhere from a half dozen to 20 participants perched atop special stationary bikes. The instructor then takes the class on a "ride" that includes sprints, hill climbs, and other fun exercises like intervals and circuits. Classes are usually 45 to 50 minutes long and are set to music.
Aside from the group energy, one of the things that makes spin classes so much better than regular stationary cycling is the bikes themselves. Spinning bikes are equipped with a weighted flywheel in the front that picks up speed as you pedal, and the seats and handlebars are adjustable, so you feel like you're riding on a real bike. There's a knob below the handlebars that allows you to adjust the tension, making pedaling easier or harder, as you ride down flat roads, up mountain sides, and down hills.
Spinning is very popular, especially among people who don't care for traditional exercise classes. There are no complicated dance moves to follow, and since you control your bike's tension, you can stay within a comfortable exercise zone for your fitness level, while still feeling like you're "keeping up" with the class. Unlike actual cycling, there are no worries about lagging behind the pack. Everyone finishes together. And everyone gets a great workout. Spinning scorches about 7.2 to 13.6 calories per minute, or about 500 calories per class. All that pedaling is also great for leg toning as it strengthens your glutes, thighs, and calves.
When you're taking a spinning class for the first time, here are a few helpful guidelines:
Cushion your seat
If you're not accustomed to riding a bike, the bike seat may feel a little hard on your butt. This feeling goes away before too long, as your gluteal muscles get firmer and adapt to the activity. In the meantime, consider wearing padded bike shorts. Or many clubs have gel-filled seat covers you can put directly over the bike saddle.
Spinning works up a great sweat and the rooms are often warm, so always bring a water bottle to class. A sports bottle with a pull top works best, so you can take frequent sips while you ride. A small towel is a good idea, too.
Stationary cycling is especially good for people who have joint problems or trouble with weight-bearing exercise. Classes can be high energy and vigorous, however; if you're new to exercise, remember to go at your own pace and don't get swept up in the class enthusiasm and ride beyond your comfort level.
Make sure you click with your instructor
Like any class, whether it's a yoga workout or Pilates, instructors vary widely. Some studio cycling instructors are "visualization" oriented, actually taking you on an imaginary ride, while others focus on interval work and a variety of drills. They all provide a great physical workout. But remember the general rule of group exercise classes, if you don't care for the style of one class, you should always give another instructor a try. It could make a world of difference.