First off, the winner of last week’s Spartan Class Spirit Award goes to…Kim from TryItMom! Kim, I will email you the code. I can’t wait to hear how you kick even more #motherSpartan booty at your next race. I think you will go professional by the year’s end.
Now, in my continuing quest to become a fitness curmudgeon, I present to you: a rant about spin class.
Disclaimer: I am no exercise scientist, no professional cyclist, and am only marginally qualified to comment authoritatively. But I do, however, also exercise that organ inside of my head along with the rest of my body, so I feel the need to point out some glaring errors I see all the time.
I am certified to teach Spin, and I pick the brains of actual fast cyclists, triathletes, and dude and ladies who ride outside, I own an actual bicycle, I rode it a couple of times, one time for 100 miles, a few races, I research this crap for work, and I can understand basic mechanics. This makes me 80% more capable of discussing what 9 out of 10 spin instructors don’t understand than the average gym goer. I kind of straddle the endurance sports world and the gym addict world. I’d like to see some of the common sense effectiveness of the outdoor riding world in gym spinning, since there’s nothing wrong with gym spin classes. They are an excellent training tool when used correctly.
So I am lucky that my gym has Keiser bikes. The Keiser bikes have computers that read out:
RPM (Cadence) – cycling speed
Calories/Watts – power output
Gear – resistance level 1-20
The sad thing is that 95% of instructors don’t USE the computers. It’s the single best training tool you could ever have but most ignore it and teach the old way from when Spin bikes just had a resistance knob and no one knew what anyone was doing besides perceived exertion. I guess because those teachers learned that way and are creatures of habit and/or don’t understand how to teach with watts.
Because watts are the single most important piece of data you can use. Unless you’re just riding for fun, and not to get fitter, but then you’re strange and you should go ride a basket bike to the market and pick up a loaf of French bread.
Some attempt to use the data to teach, but in a misguided way. Because everyone’s gear and watts will be different, because fitness level and body weight matter. If a 100-pound woman and 300-pound man are both using 12 gears, then that woman is working way harder and would be pushing her way up a hill way faster than the guy, because she’s putting out more power for her size.
The bigger you are as a rule, the more power you can exert and the faster you can go on a bike. Your watts= power=speed=how fast you can push your ass through space on a bike. Not using this number as a teaching tool is like trying to teach algebra without the X, like teaching geography without a map. It’s plain dumb.
I think I need bullet points to break this down.
- How many miles you went doesn’t really matter. They aren’t real miles. If you are using gear 6, you didn’t really go 20 miles in an hour. Sorry.
- When you spend the class out of the saddle, it’s fun and more interesting, but it’s not as good of a workout as sitting down with moderate gear. The watts will show this. Ever see cyclists on trainers prep for outdoor fitness by bouncing around all over the place to Fergie?
- An instructor should never call out a gear to you. “Use 14!” No, each student should find their base gear (the instructor should be able to help you with this) and then be told to add two more gears from base, or five up, or two below, etc.
- If you are moving all around and bouncing your butt and, like, flailing about you don’t have enough gear.
- If you aren’t sweating and your hair is down, you’re paying for an hour of meditation in a dark Day-Glo room. Don’t tell me you don’t sweat. Push twice your body weight in watts and see if you sweat.
- A good power output sustained over time is anything from your body weight in watts, to 1.5 times your weight to double your weight, depending on your fitness. If you really want to see how you stack up there are books with age and gender tables for time trials for outdoor riders. You can test yourself on a Spin bike, subtract some wattage for indoor vs. outdoor (no one really knows how much) and see how well you are doing. Warning: this is some nerdy shit.
- A better way to determine ideal watts for you (and base gear) is to do a simulated lactate threshold test on the bikes. Kill yourself for 30 minutes after a brief warm up and see what your average watts end up being. I did this right after I had Henry so I wasn’t that fit and I averaged 258 for 20 minutes. I weigh about 120 so this is decent for me, but I think I could do better. When you train with tests like these, make sure you repeat them as you get fitter or every few months or so. Now I can take this number and plug it into an online calculator for ideal training zones. But you don’t need to get so fancy. Just try to keep those watts as high as you can.
- Gym spin bikes don’t have computers? Same principles still hold. Sit your butt down, train your mental discipline, and hold the heaviest gears you can for the whole class. Add some hills and speedy portions, sure, but spending the class in second and third position is actually kind of silly. Sorry. I know it’s more fun. The thing about this is that it gives you the ILLUSION of working hard. Like, you may get out of breath and a little sweaty, but if you stood in place and yelled long enough and maybe waved your arms around, you’d get out of breathe too. Does that mean it’s a good cardiovascular, muscular and training workout?
- Your instructor shouldn’t really be making you spin over 120 rpm, maybe as part of a short kind of skill drill but not as a rule. Yet I see this all. the. time. I guess it’s part of that cardio junkie female mindset that thinks the faster, the better, the more Energizer bunny, the better. Yes, this works in running but biking is different. If you were outside spinning 130 revolutions per minute with your gear at five you’d fall over. You have to hold your own weight and the weight of the bike (your body weight in watts) and you have to have enough gear that your ass is not moving wildly side to side. The crazy ass test is actually a pretty reliable one.
A conundrum happens when you go to a class and it’s all wrong. Are you rude and do your own thing? (I’ve done this, sorry) Do you only go to classes that ask you to train effectively? There are only two or three at my gym, and I go to a somewhat sophisticated gym. It’s worse at the national chain gyms. But sitting home alone on a trainer isn’t fun! I like the group atmosphere, the healthy competition, being pushed, the music, the lights. That’s why I’m certified and I want to start teaching again soon.
Even if you never ride outside and don’t care, even for the sake of exercise you should care. Spin is the single best cardio workout besides running and a lot of people can’t or won’t run. Runners can use spinning as a highly effective cross training tool. BUT YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT THE HELL YOU’RE DOING AND FEMALE GYM FITNESS WORLD?
You don’t right now. Hope this helps. Let’s copy what the nerdy guys are doing with their fancy outside bikes a little. Because right now we’re silly. We’re doing step aerobics on bikes, but it’s worse because it’s not even as hard. A lot of us have tried to start lifting weights like a guy (no more endless reps with two pound pink dumbbells) now let’s ride the damn inside bike like we’re serious.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen in a Spin class?