Spinning your way to fitness on a spinning bike

Fancy going for a spin?

Spinning bikes are a great way to get fit and have a good time while you’re doing it.  Cycling is fun and good for you but in the depths of winter or if you live in an area with busy roads it can get too easy to just decide not to go.  So why not try a spinning bike instead?

Spinning bikes are stationary bikes that are part of the basic equipment of most gyms; they look like a proper bike with the exception of a back wheel.  Don’t confuse them with the bikes that you sit on like a seat, recline back and relax while you are pedaling though – they’re for pretending to exercise (notable by the fact that the person using it is usually reading a book or chatting to their neighbour about last night’s soap opera installment…)

Many gyms hold spinning exercise classes and they’re fun to join in because they are a group event.  Rather than sitting there on your own you get involved with other members of the group, sharing the experience and having something to talk about later.

Spinning bikes give you a low impact, high intensity cardio workout with the added opportunity of getting to know people while you exercise.

What happens during a spinning exercise session?

The instructor will be out front (usually on their own bike), there will usually be some loud, pumping, motivational music and you will all be ready to have some fun.  The instructor will call out instructions to ease the pace, speed up, get out of the saddle to pedal or whatever, and you will all comply.  Quite often the instructor will also be ‘scene setting’ to get you visualising that you’re really out there on the Tour d’France or whatever, going for the post.  After anything between 30 and 75 minutes the session will be over and the group will be smiling, panting and re-living the session.

So, here’s how to prepare for that first spinning exercise session.

Personal preparations

First off, you don’t need to already be at the pinnacle of fitness to take part.  Although the instructor is changing the pace ultimately it’s you in the saddle and you can vary the intensity of your pedaling as you wish to enable you to keep going without worrying that you will get left behind (another bonus over a proper bike ride with a group of over keen cyclists!).

Normal gym kit will be fine for your first few sessions to see if you like it.  If you do decide to get serious about it then you may want to get yourself a pair of lycra cycling shorts (with a padded seat area) and, possibly, a pair of cycling shoes with cleats.  If you’ve never cycled with cleats this is a really good way to learn and you will see how they really make a difference to the amount of power you can put into your pedaling.

In addition to kit you also need some liquid refreshment to keep you going.  Water is fine for shorter periods but if you’re going for a longer session then isotonic drinks might be a better idea as they help to replace minerals and salts lost during sweating, along with the water.

Take two small towels too – one for you and one for the bike (and surrounding floor!).  You will be sweating and it’s just common courtesy to make sure that you leave the bike clean and dry – just as you’d hope to find it yourself.

Setting the bike up

Like proper bikes, spinning bikes can be adjusted to suit your size and riding style.  If you’re new to cycling then probably the easiest thing to do is ask the instructor or another spinner to give you a hand with the initial set up.

You can adjust the seat height, position and angle and the handlebar height to suit your body.  Most spinning bikes have the various positions marked so that you can take a note of them and set the bike up easily next time you come in.  It’s worth taking a pen and paper into your first few sessions to make a note of these otherwise (at least if you’re like me) you will forget them.

The key thing is to make sure that you’re comfortable, that your legs are just about at full stretch when the pedal is at the bottom and that you’re not leaning too far forward on to the handlebars.  Don’t worry if it takes a few sessions to get them right, experiment to see which suits you best.  If you get really serious there are ways of determining the ‘ideal’ position but that’s beyond what we’re talking about here.

The final thing to set up is the resistance.  The resistance dial is usually a red button on the frame just below the handlebars.  Turning this increases or decreases the resistance on the front spinning wheel, making it harder or easier to pedal.  Beginners often set this at too high a resistance to start thinking ‘oh, this is easy’ and then, ten minutes later find themselves backing it off as they gasp for breath and their legs turn to jelly.

One key thing to remember with spinning bikes…

So, you’ve set the bike up, you’ve got your drink and towels, the instructor and music are powered up and you’re off.  What else do you need to keep in mind?  Well, the one big thing to remember is:

Never try to stop pedaling when the bike is going at high speed.

Why?  Well, unlike a normal bike that has a freewheel that allows you to stop pedaling for a rest, spinning bikes have a fixed wheel.  In other words the pedals and wheel are directly  linked.  The wheel has a huge amount of inertia in it that means if you try to stop powering it then it will start powering you.  Worst case you could hurt your ankle, at the very least you will be pushed upwards out of the seat, making involuntary yelps of panic and attracting the attention and knowing smiles of your fellow spinners (ask me how I know all this…!)

There are two safe ways to stop a spinning bike.  The first is to slowly slacken off the past till you are almost at a standstill.  The second is to press down on the red resistance button; this will increase the resistance on the wheel and quickly bring it to a stop.

Ok, so now you know what spinning exercise is all about, you know what you need and how to set up the bike and you know how to stop safely.  All you need now is the determination and willpower to get yourself down to the gym and give it a go.  Good luck and enjoy.