In any given spin class—whether you’re exercising at home or in a studio—riding the bike is just the beginning. In addition to asking you to pedal along with the beat, your instructor will push you through sprints, climbs, push-ups, crunches, tap backs, and the list goes on and on. But what, exactly, is the point of all of that choreography? To find out why it’s worth following along, we asked spin instructors to explain the benefits of the full-body moves and cues they’re constantly challenging us with in their classes.
“One of the benefits of taking a spin class that has a number of different speeds in it is that it helps in working your power, endurance, and speed all in one class,” says Olivia Amato, a spin instructor with Peloton. “Also, alternating between really fast powerful efforts and something really easy will bring the heart rate up and down, boosting your metabolism and allowing for a kick ass workout that will leave you feeling confident and strong.”
The fact that spinning your wheel at a rapid-fire pace leaves you drenched in sweat is a good indication that it’s a solid dose of cardio, but that’s not all a cycling class has to offer. “Resistance training allows us to build strength, as well, and a beat-based workout feels fun, and like less of a punishment than other exercises,” says Ariel Padilla, a SoulCycle instructor on Equinox+. “You’re training your mind along with your body, and by focusing on music and the tasks at hand, whether they be choreography, sprinting, or pushing, allows you to really get lost in the movement.”
Keep reading for the 411 on the most common spin class workout moves you’re likely to find in a class, and why Padilla says doing them properly can “change your day, or quite frankly, change your life.”
1. Running and sprinting
When your spin teacher asks you to put a few turns on the wheel and start to pedal along to the beat, it’s considered “running” on the bike. “Sometimes a fast pace and lower resistance is used to warm up or cool down,” says Amato. By lowering resistance and increasing speed, you’re able to spike your heart rate and really get your muscles heated. And when you pick up the pace even further, it’s considered sprinting, which Padilla calls an “excellent form of cardio”—even when you’re only doing it for a short amount of time. You’ll need a little bit of resistance on the wheel, and should put your hands on the front of the handlebars, or in second position, for stability and control. “It’s a tough effort that should result in your heart rate going up, and you should be breathless by the end of it,” says Amato.
While pedaling at a high speed with low resistance can spike your heart rate, doing the opposite—pedaling at a slow speed with high resistance—can have the same effect. These “climbs” are a form of resistance training, which is a great way to build strength. “Working against an opposing force is how you build muscle so when we ask you to ‘turn it up,’ it’s for a reason,” says Padilla. In addition to working your lower body, according to Amato,”if you also focus on engaging your core while climbing, it’s a killer way to work your abs.”
Isolations involve cranking up the resistance and holding your upper body still so that only the muscles in your lower body are working to power your movement. “They’re a great way to feel your muscles working and be super aware of your body,” says Amato. “The goal is to keep your movements super controlled, with no bounce, while still engaging your legs, arms and core.” Because the pace tends to be slower in these moments, it also gives you a chance to focus on your breath, check in with your form, and really work on controlling your body.
4. Tap backs
If a crunch and a squat had a baby, it would be a tap back. The move, which requires you to engage your core from a standing position and tap your booty back to the seat, targets your glutes and lower abdominals at the same time. Be sure to squeeze those muscles, and power through your core and lower body to ensure you’re reaping the full benefits that tap backs have to offer.
Crunches on the bike have the same goal as crunches on the floor: strengthening your abs. To do them properly, hold the tops of your handlebars with a light grip, and engage your core to move your upper body toward the bike. By design, you’ll bend your elbows as you move, but it’s important to remember that the work should come from your abdominals instead of your arms. Some instructors will mix things up and ask you to crunch one side at a time, which means you’ll want to squeeze through your obliques to hit those side abs.
Spin class push-ups may be easier than the usual mat variety, but they’re still great for building strength in your upper body. Instead of scrunching up your body (which Padilla says is a common mistake she sees people making in her classes), remember to keep your heart forward and shoulders down. “Think about creating an ‘A’ position with your body,” he says, which means placing your hands in the middle of handle bars so that your elbows have enough space to go out to a 90-degree angle. “Allow the weight of your body to give yourself something to push off of.” Admittedly, this move can be a challenging one to get right, so remember that it’s always okay to slow things down to ensure you’ve got proper form.
Arguably the *most* important move you’ll find in a spin class? The stretch. Follow along with the series below to keep your lower body loose.
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