Indoor cycling – also known as spinning – is a hugely popular form of exercise. Whilst stationary bikes and cycling indoors have been around for decades, “spinning” has only been a major player in the global fitness market since the early 2000s. Created by a professional South African cyclist, spin classes have quickly become a favourite of gym-goers and fitness fans around the world.
How does it work?
Using a stationary bike, spin class participants are taken through a series of workout moves involving different levels of intensity. These are usually performed to loud, high-tempo music and often in near-darkness. Classes can range in length but tend to last 30 minutes to an hour.
Why is it so popular?
Spinning is low impact yet effective in rapidly building fitness levels and burning calories. The group aspect of this activity is another important factor in its popularity. Many indoor cycling converts extol the “high” that they get from a spin class, due to the camaraderie and competitive spirit that come from being part of a group.
This desire for a shared experience is reflected in the popularity and success of Peloton, an at-home stationary bike company. Peloton mimics the group setting of a spin class through live-streamed workouts. The company’s sales have increased by a huge 66% during the first two months of lockdown alone.
Still not convinced? We speak to Suzie Thomas, co-founder of Harrogate spinning studio Go Revolution to get her expert opinion on the benefits of indoor cycling.
What got you into indoor cycling?
I got into indoor cycling around the same time Sophie and I decided to open Go Revolution four years ago. She already owned a yoga studio, Go Yoga, but we wanted to create a boutique studio that combined cardio with music, community and a positive mindset.
Coming from a physiotherapy background, I knew the benefits of cycling. However, I found going out on my bike scary and time-consuming, so indoor cycling seemed the perfect choice. After going to various classes at other studios, we became hooked and knew it was what we wanted to do.
What are the key physical benefits that indoor cycling offers?
Indoor cycling is a fabulous form of cardiovascular exercise which helps people lose weight and keep the heart healthy. It’s low impact and puts far less force through the joints. This is why people who are recovering from injuries or have discomfort in their joints can cycle, whereas they may not be able to do other forms of cardio such as HIIT (high intensity interval training).
The low impact also causes less damage to joints whilst exercising. It increases muscle endurance in the lower limbs and strengthens joints and muscles, which in turn helps improve a person’s ability to carry out general daily activities. The beauty of indoor cycling is that people with a wide range of physical abilities and fitness levels can exercise together, as each individual controls their resistance.
What about the mental health benefits?
Exercise itself is known to improve mental well-being, due to the production of endorphins which help reduce stress, create euphoria and boost the immune system.
We also use music to motivate and empower people and make them feel good. Our instructors give lots of encouragement, not just for the physical workout but for the mind too. They help our class members to de-stress from their day and feel positive within themselves, helping them to discover their inner strength. As a result, some fantastic friendships have been formed at our studio.
There are lots of exercise classes out there, but spinning has remained extremely popular. Why do you think that is?
Indoor cycling can get addictive. You can leave a class on such a high that it leaves you wanting more. So many people tell us indoor cycling is the only exercise they’ve ever stuck to.
It’s not just the endorphin rush from the exercise which is great, but also the music and sense of collectiveness. Above all, you get results fast. Most classes are only 45 minutes but you can burn around 300-700 calories a class.
There’s a lot of variety in indoor cycling as well. We provide rides that are more dance-like, which incorporate upper body moves. We also have themed party rides and colour rides which focus more on stats and performance. Having lots of variety makes it more fun.
Do you get “outdoor” amateur or professional cyclists coming to your classes? If so, what do you think spinning offers that outdoor cycling doesn’t – and how do they complement each other?
We get a lot of cyclists coming to our classes, particularly in winter. They come to us because they want to keep up with their training when the weather is less than favourable. We find a lot of cyclists enjoy our colour rides which focus more on intervals and power output.
That said, we work with a lot of cyclists who love the more dance-style rhythm rides, as these are totally different to what they’re used to. They provide more of a full-body workout too.
Our clients tell us they see big improvements in their outdoor performance when they’ve trained indoors. Their endurance builds as they’re pedalling non-stop for a full 45 minutes, which they don’t when they’re up and down hills.
Are there any myths around indoor cycling you think are important to “bust”?
We get a lot of people who are worried they won’t be able to do it. They worry because they are not a cyclist, can’t ride a bike or are really unfit.
We can’t stress enough that it doesn’t matter where you start from – you can try indoor cycling. It’s very different from ‘outdoor’ cycling and you don’t need to be able to ride a bike, as our bikes are going nowhere.
Our clients are from all ages and abilities, in fact we even have a 65-year-old chap with a prosthetic leg, who rides five times a week. You’re totally in control of how easy or hard you make your ride.
The other myth we’re trying to bust is that indoor cycling is taught by scary, young instructors who shout at you. We know some people feel intimidated in a gym environment, but our amazing team are so friendly, supportive and encouraging.
You don’t have to be screamed at to be motivated. Age has no boundaries, several of our instructors are in their 40s and some have gone from being nervous first-timers to rocking it on the podium. It really inspires our clients.
How have you coped during the coronavirus lockdown? Have you been able to provide online classes and how are you personally managing to stay fit and well?
We’ve started offering free online classes to our members to help keep them connected and healthy during lockdown.
Some of our instructors and members obviously don’t have bikes at home so it’s been a challenge, but we’re encouraging those without to still join in and have a dance or do their own home workout. We feel it’s our duty to help others, especially as we have quite a few key workers who need us right now.
I’m lucky to have a bike at home to keep my spinning legs alive. I taught a Greatest Showman ride this week which really lifted everyone’s spirits, including my own. It got a bit emotional at one point, but we held it together! We’re not sure when we’ll re-open, but at least we can still ride together online as we stay at home and stay safe.
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