Spin class has been around since the early '90s, but as of late, the hardcore workout has developed something of a cult following. So why is everyone raving about biking in place? It turns out, like most exercises, spinning is really, really good for you. To learn the many health benefits of spin class, we reached out to Ashley Calloway, an instructor at SoulCycle, who shared the reasons we should add indoor cycling to our workout routines.
Meet the Expert
Ashley Calloway is an instructor at SoulCycle in Washington, DC. Her background in music means her classes are charged with energy.
While we never quite understood the appeal of biking in place coupled with upbeat music and an inspirational shout or two, after talking to Calloway, we started to understand just why people are hooked on the exercise. From its stress-reduction abilities to its impressive calorie-burning, cycling is a serious workout that improves physical and mental health. Here are eight benefits of spin class and the reasons you should give it a try.
1. It's Easy On The Joints
Spinning is a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints. Like running, spinning is a great cardiovascular workout. However, Calloway says you are less likely to suffer from hip, knee, and ankle injuries commonly associated with other cardio exercises because it is low-impact. For those with joint pain or mobility issues, especially older adults, cycling can be a great way to keep active while avoiding pain.
Even better—indoor cycling can improve your joint function: "The continuous motion that we do while indoor cycling is also super beneficial to your joints (especially your knees) because that constant full-range movement of your legs produces synovial fluids, which will keep your joints lubricated throughout the day," says Calloway.
Moreover, cycling may increase the strength and function of your muscles, ligaments, and bones that surround your joints, improving your daily function and helping keep you fit and active as you age.
2. Decreases Stress
Yoga isn't the only mind-and-body workout. Indoor cycling signals an adrenaline rush and endorphin release, proven to lower stress levels. "Endorphins help improve our moods, sleep, reduces stress, etc. For me, indoor cycling is my release," shares Calloway.
While most exercise forms help with stress management, 40- to 60-minute cycling sessions are a quick and effective way to relieve stress and improve physical fitness. Once you're in the zone, it's hard to focus on anything other than keeping up with the instructor. It takes your mind off that rough day at work and makes you feel super accomplished when you finish your workout.
3. Burns Calories
As evidenced by the sweaty shirts of many indoor cyclers post-ride, Calloway says that spin class is a great way to burn calories because it's fun and engaging. "You really have to exercise your mind to keep up with the choreography sequences and cues. You are also in control of how far you push yourself, which is empowering," she says. "At SoulCycle, we do not depend on a number to tell us how far to push resistance-wise. It's all based on your feeling. With that control, I push myself to new limits every class."
Since cycling is so intense, many classes incorporate high-intensity interval training, which is thought to increase calorie burn post-workout. This bonus benefit means that spin class is both a fast and effective cardiovascular workout. Calloway takes advantage of this: "Although we're not technically at HIIT class, I try to give my class a nice mix of heavy resistance work and fast fun songs. So your heart rate doesn't stay the same the entire class, which helps with calorie burn even when class is over," she says.
4. Improves Strength
Contrary to popular belief, spin class builds muscle strength without adding bulk. Calloway notes, like all other forms of cardio, indoor cycling recruits your whole body, not just your quads. "Once you master your form on the bike, you'll notice that you're able to work your full legs, core, and arms. I always tell my riders to tuck, poke, and pop. Tuck your core up and in, poke your glutes out (towards the back of your seat), and pop your chest. This allows you to focus on driving your weight in your heels. Doing this will help you work your hamstrings and glutes while your core supports your every movement," she explains.
While each class is designed differently, she says that a cycling segment may focus on building arm strength or increasing resistance on the bike to build strength. The variety in the classes is intended to help build strength, endurance, and improve cardiovascular health.
5. Builds Mental Strength
Spin class can be a challenge, pushing you mentally to keep up with the instructor and classmates. Although you should always listen to your body, pushing yourself close to your limits is a fantastic way to build mental strength. "As an instructor, I'm constantly throwing out different sequences of choreography at a fast pace to keep you on your toes. I'd say the heavier resistance work is to build muscle and to spike our heart rates, and the faster lighter resistance/more choreography focused work builds endurance and strengthens the mind," says Calloway.
Research shows that intense exercise benefits cognitive functioning and well-being and even protects your brain from age-related decline. So jump on that bike to remain sharp as a tack as you get older.
6. Strengthens Core
As you keep your body in an upright position while balancing on the bike, your core will work to prevent you from tipping over. "Your core is the meat and potatoes of an effective indoor cycling class. It supports every movement we do on the bike, protecting you from straining your lower back," says Calloway.
Mastering your form is vital, explains Calloway, so properly engaging your core is a fundamental she ensures her class practices until perfect. "Once this is mastered, you'll be ready to tackle different choreography in a class geared towards your obliques and complete core such as crunches in the seat, presses, etc. Your core strength increases with every class you take," says Calloway.
Lifting your legs and twisting on the bike activates your rectus abdominus, obliques, and transverse abdominus muscles, as well as your back and the muscles along your spine. Strong core muscles help protect you from lower back injuries and create a strong base for all of the movement you do during the day.
Cycling helps build core strength, but to get even better results from your cycling workout, try adding off-the-bike core strength exercises to your routine. With a stronger core, you'll be able to cycle longer with less fatigue and reduce your risk of injury.
7. Gives Sense of Community
Group exercise classes like Soulcycle and Flywheel can help give you a sense of community. After all, you're all in it together. Research shows that group exercise lowers stress and improves emotional well-being while increasing social connectedness and mutual support. And with group exercise, you are more likely to keep up your new habit and keep coming back. Calloway agrees, stating that "Community at SoulCycle is everything. I can truly say you work harder when you know you have a pack of like-minded people in the same room aiming for the same goal. The community pushes you and keeps you coming back."
8. Promotes a Healthy Heart
Aerobic activity improves heart health, protecting you from heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise, such as spin class, that gets your heart pumping each week. If your classes are vigorous, then 75 minutes is plenty to provide these protective benefits. Spin class promises to improve your aerobic capacity, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and body composition.
To further reap the rewards of an active lifestyle, add two days of full-body strength training each week, and spend less time sitting. Even greater benefits will be gained by being active for 300 or more minutes each week.
Spin classes like SoulCycle and Flywheel are a fun way to increase your physical, mental, and social well-being. Joining group exercise classes can increase the likelihood that you'll return to your workout, helping you reach your fitness goals. "I try to take out whatever I'm feeling on my bike. And being able to do that with a group of amazing people cheering you on and pushing themselves as well is euphoric," shares Calloway. Try signing up for a spin class in your community, or if you prefer to work out at home, try the online versions of spin classes to keep you motivated outside of the gym.
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