You may think that it goes without saying that spinning must be building muscle, as droplets of sweat roll off your nose and swinging hair to pitter-patter on the handlebars of your spin cycle. But the variables involved in muscle gain aren’t quite so simple as that, even as you pedal hard, break a sweat, swig your water desperately and sit back in the saddle, happily exhausted after 45 minutes. Gaining muscle depends on how you spin and what else you do as part of your exercise plan.
The Five Spinning Positions
A spinning class instructor brings you through the five positions in the course of a typical class. During the pre-class warm-up and recovery, you sit and pedal reasonably quickly with the resistance knob set on only light resistance, as if you were on a flat road. For the seated hill climb, as the term implies, you remain seated with considerable tension on the resistance knob. Standing running involves a rapid pace but low-ish resistance while standing on the pedals, while standing hill climbs can involve significant to extremely heavy resistance. Jumps entail going in and out of the saddle, typically on either every eight beats of a vigorous song or every four for a tougher challenge.
Basic Muscle Building
As you might have suspected, to gain muscle you need heavy tension in or out of the saddle. “Heavier tension results in more toning,” notes Lauren Widmer, a certified spin instructor in Baltimore, Maryland. And, of course, the demands of hill climbs entail more muscle toning. “Some classes have you in the saddle 80 to 90 percent of the time to simulate a road ride, so the amount of muscle building depends on class preference and focus,” Widmer notes. If you are spending a lot of time in the saddle -- as in a road ride simulation -- your mode of exercise becomes more cardiovascular than muscle building.
More than Just the Quads
As a smart Nestie, you already know by that burning sensation at the front of the thighs that spinning strengthens the quads. Especially as you become more experienced and lower your handlebars, your lower abdominals become heavily invested in moving your butt on to the saddle after jumps, note the authors of “Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100.” Your arms and shoulders help on out-of-the-saddle work, whether it’s running or standing climbs. Keep your heels low to engage your calves, and recruit your hamstrings, glutes and lower back to hold your posture stable during standing climbs.
Adding Resistance Training
If you’re a pretty serious cyclist -- a Nestie who wants to really cover miles or enter races -- you’ll need to add strength training to your spinning program. Even the hardest clockwise turn of the spinner resistance knob clockwise cannot compare to the value of resistance work with weights. You can perform pushups and crunches and add a barbell to get stronger by performing squats, heel raises, step-ups, rows and shrugs.
- Fitness and Wellness; Werner W. K. Hoeger, Sharon A. Hoeger
- Lauren Widmer; Spinning Instructor, Mac Harbor East; Baltimore, Maryland
- Bike For Life: How to Ride to 100; Roy M. Wallack, Bill Katovsky
- Cycling Coach: Dan Coy: Strength Training for Cyclist
An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.