Spin Class 101

So, what is the deal with all these crazy people who “spin” on a stationary bike for an hour, and walk out looking like they are fresh out of the shower….drenched in sweat?!?!

Welcome to the world of Spin, Cycle, or whatever else your gym chooses to call it.

What exactly is “spin”?

  • Spinning classes are done in a fitness studio, with various light and music settings to create an energized atmosphere.
  • Instructors guide participants through workout phases. Warm-up, steady uptempo cadences, sprints, climbs, cool-downs, etc.
  • You control resistance on your bike to make the pedaling as easy or difficult as you choose. Constant adjustment is normal.
  • All you’ll need is workout clothes, a towel (to wipe your face) and a water bottle.
  • Spinning bikes have toe clips so you can wear tennis shoes. But many pedals also work with Shimano-style SPD cleats.          Source.

Now, lets say you have finally worked up the bravery to enter one of these classes.  Your not sure what to expect, and the bike is pretty darn intimidating.  There are knobs and adjustments all over…and everyone else seems like they have been doing it for months.

First step….breaaaaaathe.  This class is not as intimidating as it may seem.  If your instructor knows what they are doing, more than likely they will show up to class early enough to help people set up their bike for the first time.  Depending on your height, you will be set up and normally given numbers which you can remember for the next time you ride.  Let’s say the instructor is running late….find someone who has been doing class for a while, and ask them if they will help you get set up.

Ok.  You are on the bike.  Your feet are strapped in.  Your water is ready to go, as is your towel….now what?!?!?!

First of all, relax.  The cool thing about a spin class is that you work at your own pace. This ensures that the most seasoned vets can be in the same class with someone who is new or returning to exercise, and each get the workout they came for.

Resistance/Weight is adjusted by a small knob which is normally located in the center lower section of the bike.  Turning “up” the weight would be turning it to the right.  “Backing off” or taking weight “off” would be turning to the left.  To each their own when it comes to how much or little weight to add/lower each time.  I typically tell my class to “add weight” or “1/4th turn” each time.  Again, do as much or as little as you want.

If you are in a class that focuses heavily on speed of music/BPM (Beats Per Minute) then it is important that you are constantly staying on beat as you pedal.  If you find that you have so much weight on that you cannot attain that speed, it is better to back it off.  It is much easier to be on track with the music than not.

Now lets talk some spin lingo.  What if you hear this sentence?

Add some weight as we lift up to a standing position, moving into a low hover and eventually surge back into the saddle.”

Are they speaking English?!?!

Sort of.

Lets decode that…shall we?

Add Some Weight = Adding Resistance

Lift Up = Lifting the booty OUT of the seat, into a standing position.  Light grip on the bars….feet flat, knees to the front, body weight centered over the seat

Low Hover = Lowering the upper body towards the bars, as the booty gets pushed back, about an inch from the seat

Surge = Resistance is being added, as well as speed in short, quick bursts

Saddle = Seat

Simple, yes???  😉

Other Terminology:

  • Climb-A climb is a period of time in which you will slowly be adding resistance, and will feel similar to climbing an actual hill on the bike.  Many instructors will sometimes lead you on an imaginary ride where they will throw out visual cues to let you know when hills are approaching, when you reach the top…etc.  I personally like to use music to climb with.  For people who want to work harder, I challenge them to maintain their speed as we climb, and to not slow down until they have to.  There are several good climb songs, this being one of my favorites:

(On this climb, I would have the participants “add weight” or resistance every 10-15 seconds.  We also may “surge” at some points when the music picks up, and add speed for a short period with that heavy weight still on)

  • Sprint-Speed….pure and simple.  A sprint is all about having a lower weight, or what I refer to flat speed.  You want your bike to feel like you are outdoors on a completely flat and level road.  That being said, you also don’t want to have NO resistance on.  I normally pick songs that have 3/4-25 second sprints, with recovery after.  For example, in the following sprint song:

There are 3 main sprints.  They last 20-25 seconds, and during this time…participants would go as fast as they can with “flat” speed.  The sprints are obvious in this song, when the music speeds up…so do you.  Once the music slows, it is time for “recovery” which is simply a slower speed used to catch your breath and prepare for the next sprint.  You can recover down in the seat, or in a standing jog.  If standing, it is best to add some resistance, as it is easier to pedal faster standing.

  • Lifts/Jumps-Lifts/Jumps are periods of time in a song where you are moving from a standing/jog position to seated or low position…in counts of 16/8/4.  In my classes I will typically start out with 8 count lifts, and then move to 4, and sometimes even 2.  In the following song…

…there are three main sections for jumps/lifts.  You would start out in a standing jog for 8 counts….and then lower all the way down to the seat for 8 counts.  Once this is completed, you repeat the process.  Rise for 8 counts, lower for 8.  When lowering/rising it is important to push and pull with the LEGS only, and not the upper body.


Bottom line, it is going to probably be a pretty confusing first ride, even when prepared.  However, just like anything else…the more you do it, the better you will get.  Also…do not be surprised if you are “saddle sore” the first time or two you ride.  The body is not typically adjusted or ready for the movements of the bike for a prolonged period of time…and can produce a killer bun in the booty/quads.  It WILL go away, I promise.

Bottle wise, you always want to have plenty of water in a nice large, unbreakable bottle such as these Nalgenes:

Bottom Line:

Spin is a KILLER workout, and provides some amazing cardio in a group setting…with kick butt tunes.  You work at your own performance level, and can progress at anytime.  Find a class, grab a bike, and ride.  I promise you will love it and it will not be as intimidating as you have it in your mind.  Every single person in that class had his/her own first experience, and can relate!  Even the instructors!

Questions, Comments, Etc???  Let me know!



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14 responses to “Spin Class 101

  1. Michelle

    I’ve never been to a spin class, but this post helps me so much! I feel like I would be a little bit more comfortable in such a new world 🙂

  2. I LOVE this post! I am a new Cycle instructor and this was really great! I’ve been spinning for about 4 years but I was also playing college vb at the time so I could never find the time to teach, but now I’m that much more excited about it!! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hubby and I love spin class. He goes 3x a week and I go 2 now that I’m starting to run to train for a Dec. 1/2 marathon in Jamaica. We have a variety of instructors and although hubby can ride fine with all of them, I personally have to have really good music or I just can’t get into the ride.

    Having spin shoes makes a major difference though so I’m glad that we finally got them. Spin is an awesome workout, I can burn 500- 700 calories every class. Oh yea and I go through almost 2 bottles of water LOL

    One day I would like to get certified to teach spin.

  4. Thanks for the info! I think I would enjoy spin class and now I’m not so intimidated to try! I will definitely look for one when I join a gym after I move.

  5. Rachel

    Thanks for this… I have lurked on you blog for a while – I love your enthusiasm and energy! I love going to body combat and body attack at the gym in addition to running, but I went to one spin class and it was all a bit too much (don’t think my heart rate has ever been that high! and I didn’t understand the instructions/how to use the knobs!). I feel braver now and ready to try again! Thanks – hope you had a good day!

  6. Thank you so much for this post. I always read about your days teaching spin, and it’s nice to know what to expect. I’ve never been to a class, but I will have to see about finding one soon. 🙂

  7. I love spin so much, I want to teach. How do I go about getting certified? How did you do it?

  8. Ashlei

    Love spinning!!! I want to come to another class!! Miss you!!!!

  9. I’m still scared of spin class, mostly because everyone at work goes to spin class at lunch, and I just can’t bring myself to work out with coworkers…esp. male coworkers. Maybe I’m overreacting! But it sure does sound like I’m missing out.

  10. Karen

    Great post Tyler! I have to explain all this about a million times a week. I teach 8 Spin classes a week and LOVEEEEEEEEE every minute of it. Just keep spinnin! I remember how much fun I had with the instructor there that had us poppin our Lolli! Ahhh good memories! 🙂

    • LOL I know right?! Glenda is the bomb.com. Kareeeeeeen, I miss you oh so much! I want to come take your spin class! If only we could be teaching at the same Y, darn it.

  11. This is a great version of interval training.

  12. Gerry

    I admit I thought about doing a spin class but I’m terrified. I’m 51 years old. I’ve had a heart attack and double bypass surgery. I’ve watched from the outside the spin classroom and it’s insane. I didn’t see any beginners in the class just people jumping up and down on their bikes. Pedaling at a high rate of speed with the insrtuctor yelling Elbows to knees!!!!!! It was intimidating to watch. Is their spin classes for beginners to start of slowly and work there way along with a group of your peers? I’m trying to build my courage but I don’t want to hurt myself and if I was in that class that I watched I would be very lost and confused.

    • Go for it, Gerry! The great thing about Spin/Cycling classes is the ability to work at your own pace. You may not necessarily be going as fast, or adding as much resistance as the others…but that will not stop you from having a GREAT workout. Even if you sit the entire time, you will doing yourself a world of good. As far as the others, they are SO focused on the instructor that they will not even notice you.

      Give it a try!

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