Training & Nutrition

Spinning: A Great Cycling Fitness Boost or Indoor Purgatory?

Short on time and need to change up your training? Why not try spin classes...

Busy schedules, school runs and work can often leave us fighting for the time for a good cycle session. So, if you’re short on time and fancy adding a new dimension to your training routine? Juliet Elliott tries the indoor training alternative of a spinning class.

If you like the idea of getting your head down and focusing purely on your cadence, heart rate and power whilst being spurred on by a throbbing beat and the motivational words of a teacher, indoor cycling, or spinning may be for you.

The benefits

With no distractions or danger from traffic, you’re free to concentrate on improving your strength and fitness. A variety of classes, some led by competitive cyclists, deliver an intense, structured workout, designed for maximum effect. A well thought out playlist can add to the fun.

The kit

Despite the multi grasp handlebars and clipless pedals, in essence, spinning bikes are a stripped back version of a standard exercise bike. A simple knob adjusts the power needed to pedal, mimicking the terrain you may cover as you speed or slog your way up and down hills outdoors. A basic monitor displays your RPM and heart rate.

The workout

With the lights down low, padded seat cover in place and SPDs firmly attached to my pedals, our class began with a simple warm up to the retro sound of ’90s house music. Despite my personal hatred of said genre, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. As we stood up and pedalled to the beat, it felt like dancing on my bicycle. Willing to jettison my prejudice for a moment and have some fun, I grinned my way through the first part of the class.

Warm up complete, we moved on to a series of drills, essentially interval training. With the house music blaring, it was sometimes a tad tricky to understand what our teacher was saying and I was slightly confused to hear instructions to “change up four gears”. On my simple machine with merely a red knob to twiddle, how could you know what four gears were?

I also spent a fair bit of time messing around with the monitor trying to adjust said ‘gearing’ to match the suggested RPM and getting a little flustered. Looking around it appeared most people were ignoring such intricacies and focusing more on increasing and decreasing power and cadence at the correct moment rather than wasting time fine-tuning like I was. It seems as long as you make it more difficult for the 30-second ‘hill climb’ then lighten up for the active cooldown, you’ll get plenty from the workout.

As the class progressed and we increased the level of difficulty, my initial euphoria began to wear off. This was partly due to the fact we were pushing our bodies hard, which is the point, but I began to feel differently about the lack of visual stimulation.

I’d initially been content to get my head down, lose myself and pedal with my eyes closed to the music, but when simulating hill climbs the lack of a visual incentive made things tough.

I felt motivated by our trainer counting down our intervals – if you know you only have to complete another ten seconds sprint before a ‘rest’, it feels achievable – but I really missed seeing the top of the hill come closer and closer.

At this point, I began looking at my watch quite regularly and feeling a bit grumpy, but luckily this slump didn’t last too long.

With this class, the more you put in, the more you get out. If you don’t pedal as hard as you can during the sprints, or switch up to a heavy enough ‘gear’, you’re only cheating yourself.

Strangely, as we continued and toughed it out for the final section of the class, I actually began to enjoy myself again, bathed in the soothing endorphins released by my workout and feeling a great sense of achievement, with the music building, spurring us on to pedal harder and faster.

The proverbial, ‘top of the hill’ was finally in sight, and I gave it my all as our teacher encouraged us through the final song. Dripping with sweat, we finished with some deliciously deep stretches and when I stepped out of the studio, I felt fantastic.

I missed the outdoors, the freedom and the wind in my hair but I enjoyed the intense, structured training session delivering an effective workout in a short period of time.

You may also enjoy:

 How breathing properly improves cycling performance

How cycling affects your hamstrings

11 Things to know before your first spin class


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