Spinning: Good for the heart and muscles, gentle on joints

Spinning: Good for the heart and muscles, gentle on joints

Harvard Health Blog

As part of my 2018 fitness goals, I resolved to spend two days a week in what I playfully call “the pain cave.”

No, it’s not a setting for “Game of Thrones,” but one of the most challenging (and rewarding) workouts I have ever tried: spinning, also known as indoor cycling.

Spinning classes are staples at most gyms, and there are even entire fitness centers devoted to nothing but spinning. A class typically lasts 45 minutes to an hour and is led by an instructor who guides everyone through a series of heart-pumping workouts. For instance, you might do speed work, where you pedal fast for brief periods followed by periods of rest and recovery. You also may do incline workouts, where you increase the resistance so it feels like you are cycling uphill.

If you haven’t tried spinning — or are looking for a way to liven up your exercise routine — you should give it a whirl, as it offers a wide range of benefits for people of all ages and fitness levels.

“Spinning is a great cardiovascular workout and can help build lower-body muscle strength,” says Greg Robidoux, a physical therapist with the Cycling Medicine Program at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

It’s also perfect for people who don’t enjoy, or have difficulty doing, higher-impact cardio activities like running. Spinning is a low-impact exercise that places less stress on your joints, which makes it ideal for older adults with knee or hip issues or those recovering from orthopedic injuries.

Spinning classes are safe for most people, but get your doctor’s OK, especially if you have a heart problem or are recovering from an injury or surgery. “Once you are more comfortable on the bike, you easily can do your own workouts,” says Robidoux. “But you should experience several classes to get a feel for everything before going solo.”

Guidelines for a safe and effective workout

Look for proper credentials. Most spinning instructors are certified to teach spinning. Others may be only certified to teach aerobics, and while they may be experienced with spinning, they might be less knowledgeable about the equipment and how to move smoothly through different positions on the bike.

Robidoux says to look for instructor certifications like Mad Dogg Spinning Instructor Certification, AFAA [Aerobics and Fitness Association of America], Indoor Cycling Certification or Schwinn Indoor Cycling Certification.

Get fitted. Ask your instructor how to adjust the handlebar and seat height and position to ensure proper alignment, so you don’t put too much strain on your lower back and knees. Your legs should move in a circle with no jackhammer-like bouncing.

Take it easy at first. Only pedal at a pace that allows you to stay stable in the saddle, and never feel you have to do what everyone else is doing. “Go at a lower intensity if needed, stay in your comfort zone, and progress at your own pace,” says Robidoux. “It is perfectly fine to skip a workout, recover and jump back in when you are ready, or do your own thing and just pedal.”

Keep it short. It’s OK to stay for only 20 or 30 minutes of a class at first, until you are more comfortable and your endurance increases.

Don’t forget a towel and water. You will sweat, so always have a towel handy to wipe your brow and a water bottle to stay hydrated.

Sit right. Also, invest in a pair of cycling shorts, which can make sitting on the saddle more comfortable.

(Matthew Solan is executive editor of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.)