I took a Spinning class for the first time after I moved away to college. I was active in sports throughout high school, and I knew that I wanted to stay strong and fit. Now it was up to me to do that on my own. I didn't know anything about Spinning or what to expect from a group class (I'd never taken a fitness class), but I had heard that it burns serious calories and kicks your butt. I was game.
I took classes a few times per week and enjoyed it most of the time—even though my legs dreaded it. Some of the instructors were better than others were, but I always came away dripping with sweat and feeling like I had really done something good for myself. When I became a certified Spinning instructor a few years later, I learned many things that my former instructors never told me (and some things they shouldn't have!). When I teach classes, safety and comfort are the priorities I emphasize to my students, so I start every class with a review of fundamentals and safety points so that everyone--regardless of weight, age, or fitness level—can have a safe and effective workout. I tell them this truth: Spinning is your workout. You control everything from your speed and resistance to your intensity level, so it can be as easy or as challenging as you want it to be. Like many things in life, you will get out of it what you put into it.
If you've been curious about trying those notorious Spinning classes, here’s what you need to know, whether you’re taking a Spinning class for the first time or the 50th time.
What it is:
Spinning is a specific format of indoor cycling. Only certified Spinning instructors are allowed to teach “Spinning,” but other group cycling programs exist by different names, and some have their own certifications. Spinning is a cardio (aerobic) workout set to music and led by a certified instructor. Most classes last between 40 and 60 minutes, although some places offer beginner or intro classes that might be shorter.
Whom it's for:
Spinning is great for people who want a motivating workout that they can control at their own pace. Even if you’re not into choreography-based fitness classes, you can still enjoy Spinning because it involves neither rhythm nor complex moves. It’s low-impact, so it’s very suitable for people who want to balance out higher-impact exercises (like running) or for people who have some joint problems.
What to expect:
Try to think of your instructor as a guide—he or she should give you general guidelines about how much resistance to add, how fast to pedal, how hard you should be working, and when to do certain movements (like standing, sitting, sprinting, etc.). Using these cues as guidelines, it’s up to you to work out at your own level and pay attention to how you feel. You can recover, go slower, use less resistance, or vice versa depending on how hard you want to work. In a class format, everyone feels a bit of pressure to keep up. However, Spinning is non-competitive. Especially if you’re a beginner, remember that it will take a few weeks to build up your fitness level to be able to work hard for the whole class. It’s important to honor your body and work at a lower intensity as you get the hang of it.
You can also expect to feel fatigue throughout your leg muscles when you’re newer to Spinning—even if you’re used to working out in general. But no matter what, don’t stop pedaling. At the very least, keep those legs moving slowly. Suddenly stopping any exercise has risks (like passing out and lightheadedness), so if you get tired, simply reduce your resistance and slow down to catch your breath.
You will also feel some saddle soreness from the seat, and that’s very normal. After coming to class regularly, that soreness will go away for most people. If it helps, stand up out of the seat a little bit when you need a break. You can also adjust your position in the saddle and take “posture breaks,” where you stop reaching forward to the handlebars to sit upright in your seat.
What to wear:
Workout clothes (but no long/baggy pants, because those can get caught in the pedals/wheels) and flat-soled workout shoes are a must. If you have them, padded cycling shorts will increase your comfort, and cycling shoes with cleats (that clip into the bike pedals) can make your workout more effective. But cycling shorts and shoes are not necessary, especially not for beginners.
What to bring:
At least one water bottle (trust me, you’ll need it!) and a towel for all that sweat. I also recommend a gel seat (about $15), which will fit over top of the bike seat and increase your comfort. If you have one, a heart rate monitor is an awesome fitness tool that instructors and students alike typically use to measure exercise intensity during Spinning classes.
Where to find it:
Spinning is commonplace these days—you can find it (or similar indoor cycling programs) at almost every gym or fitness center, and there are even Spinning-specific gyms too.
If you’re new, show up early! Let the instructor know that you’re new (and whether you have any conditions that might affect your ability to take part in the class), and ask him or her to help you set up your bike properly. The main thing I emphasize to my students is to monitor your intensity level and work at your own pace. Every person in a Spinning class is at a different level of fitness, and everyone had to start at square one. Don’t feel pressure to do more if you’re not comfortable doing so. Lastly, remember that every instructor is very different. You might not like it your first time, but you might like it better your second time. Give it a chance with a few different classes and instructors before you decide whether Spinning is for you or not.