Spin classes are some of the most popular group fitness classes worldwide. Not only do many gyms have indoor cycling studios where members can ride, but across the country there are numerous spin-specific studios (SoulCycle and Flywheel being the most common).
Why? It’s a great workout! Research has shown that you can burn 400 to 600 calories during a 40-minute class.
“Indoor cycling is a class that asks you to constantly find your edge and push beyond it,” says Lisa Niren, instructor at CycleBar in Bergen County, New Jersey. “I find that no matter how many classes you’ve taken, its never easy and there are infinite ways to challenge yourself.”
Trying any new class for the first time can be intimidating, though — especially when you’re walking in with lots of people who are half your age. But don’t let that hold you back. If you’re curious about indoor cycling and want to give it a try, we’re here to help. Here are some things to know before you take your first spin class.
1. Do arrive 15 minutes early.
Think about any appointment you have, whether it’s at a doctor’s office, a casual coffee meet up, or even an interview — it’s best to arrive early. The same goes for a spin class. Generally there’s a waiver you have to sign, you need to find out your bike assignment and get set, and you may need to get shoes from the front desk prior to pedaling.
2. Do ask for help setting up.
If it’s your first or even third cycling class and you’re not comfortable or don’t really know how to set up your bike, ask for help. “The purpose of your instructor is to help you set up your bike, explain any technology associated with the bike, and to help you understand any positioning used during the ride,” says Niren. “He or she is there to set you up for success, so speak up if you need anything at all, and don’t be shy about sharing any injuries you have too.”
3. Don’t expect to be a pro on day one.
Or even day two for that matter. Just as with most things in life, the more you Spin, the better you get at it. Attending a new class is exciting, but try not to get frustrated if you can’t keep up the entire time. “Be patient, keep trying, and know that the more indoor cycling classes you take the better you will get at it,” says Niren.
4. Do eat ahead of time.
Often times, especially for early morning classes, people tend to skip breakfast. Don’t do it. “You will absolutely want to be fueled and hydrated before taking an indoor cycling class, as you cannot move for 45 to 60 minutes on a bike with nothing in your stomach,” Niren says. “People who do tend to feel faint and need to stop pedaling throughout the class.” Niren suggests a banana because it’s packed with easily digestible carbohydrates and loaded with potassium, which helps maintain muscle function.
5. Do drink lots of water.
Before, during, and after class. Chances are you’ll be sweating a lot, and hydration is key for a good workout. Many studios sell water at the front desk, but bring your own bottle from home just in case.
6. Don’t shy away from resistance.
In a spin class, you are in control of how much resistance you feel on the bike. Niren says that she finds that many women underutilize the resistance, especially if it’s their first or second time. “You don’t want to overdo it on song one so your legs are totally shot the rest of the class,” she says, “but resistance is a key component to an indoor cycling class.” Not using enough resistance can make you feel like you’re spinning out of control and can hurt your lower back from excessive movement side to side, while too much resistance can make you feel like you’re riding through quick sand and you may end up overcompensating with certain muscles just to pedal through. So before class starts, play around with the resistance so you know what your limits are, but don’t be afraid to turn it up a little if you’re feeling good midway through.
7. Do focus on the upstroke.
The what? No matter what spin class you take, chances are you’re either going to be changing into shoes that clip into the bike pedals, or you’ll have cages on the pedals for you to slip your shoes into. Why? This allows you to both push the pedals down, but also pull the pedals up, also known as the upstroke. “As you pedal, you want to make full circles with your strokes,” says Niren. “At the top of the stroke, you are pushing down and allowing your heel to drop, which requires you to use your hamstring to extend your foot. From there comes the upstroke, where you pull the pedal back up using your calf muscle, with your toe slightly pointed downward, as if you were scraping gum off the bottom of your shoe.”
Most newbies pay attention only to pushing the pedals down, but the upstroke provides you with power and increases your momentum and therefore your revolutions per minute (RPMs).
8. Do dress for success.
You want to wear clothes that make you feel good and that you’ll be comfortable in on the bike. Capris or tights are better than shorts, as the length of shorts and their ability to ride up can often cause chaffing. If you find the seat really uncomfortable, you may want to invest in bike-specific shorts, which have padding, also known as chamois, in the rear to provide more cushion during the ride (they also are made not to ride up). A sweat-wicking top will help you stay cool without weighing you down.
9. Don’t be intimidated by clipping in.
As we mentioned above, many studios have indoor cycling bikes with clipless pedals, which ironically means you actually are clipping into the pedals with cleats on the bottom of bike-specific shoes. If this is the case, the the gym or studio will have shoes for you (in time, you may decide to purchase your own). Don’t let the thought of clipping in scare you. Riding with clipless pedals allows you to both push and pull the pedals as mentioned above.
“Clip in one foot at a time, while the pedal is in it’s lowest position, and treat it like a ski boot,” says Niren. “Place the ball of your foot into the pedal, putting your toe in first, and then pushing your entire foot down or heel down to lock the shoe in.” If you’re not comfortable with clipping in, ask either your instructor or a front desk employee for help. They will get you set up and help you connect your shoes to the bike. And the good news it, you won’t have to unclip until the class is over.
“To unclip, you need to use force and turn your ankle out and away from the bike until each shoe comes out,” says Niren. Still can’t get your foot out? Simply un-Velcro or unbuckle the shoe, slide out of them, and then as someone to help you get them off post-class.
10. Do be prepared for upper-body work.
Some studios incorporate an upper-body segment in the class. If that’s the case, you can expect your bike to have weights either behind the seat or on the handlebars that your instructor will cue you to grab. The instructor may also have you use the handlebars to do push-ups or abdominal crunches. “During this segment of class, make sure to keep some resistance on your bike so you don’t end up pedaling fast and out of control,” suggests Niren. And, remember, if you don’t feel comfortable with a movement, don’t do it.
11. Don’t swing your hips from side to side.
You may notice people in your class bouncing from side to side on the bike in time with the music — and some classes actually try to have you move along to the beat. But know that the best way to ride is with your hips stacked over the seat and your butt down and back. Keep your knees facing forward, not outward, and try not to let them go past the resistance knob. “Although shaking your hips to the music seems natural, in your indoor cycling class, if you bounce from side to side, you will not only miss out on the benefits for your core, but it can also put your lower back at risk,” says Niren. She suggests just pedaling to the beat instead, as that’s the reason behind most of the instructor’s music choices anyway.
12. Do relax and enjoy the ride.
Easier said than done, but try to enjoy the class. Know there are going to be a lot of firsts, like clipping into the pedals, doing push-ups on the handlebars, and even standing while pedaling. Try not to death grip the handlebars, but instead use your glutes, legs, and core to help pedal you through class. And, perhaps, after a few classes, you’ll be a convert.