The music, the lighting, the rush of a high-intensity workout — in recent years, indoor cycling (sometimes known by the trademarked name “Spinning”) has taken off. But some top fitness experts caution that the trendy workout doesn't meet up to the hype — and could actually be hurting you.
“The human body was never meant to sit in a flexed [bent-forward] spinal position, performing hundreds if not thousands of repetitions, overloading the hip flexors and quads,” says Jason Walsh, a personal trainer, movement specialist and founder of Rise Nation. “It literally shuts down one of the most important muscle groups in the body, the glutes [butt muscles].”
These high-intensity classes are generally led by an instructor, and movements are synchronized to upbeat music. Celebrities like Olivia Wilde and Reese Witherspoon have been snapped exiting these trendy classes, and the general public is also picking up indoor cycling with greater frequency.
“I like that the general public is interested in exercise now more than ever,” Walsh says. “I just don’t think indoor cycling is a great form of exercise.”
Why You Might Want to Skip Spin Class
In addition to the wear and tear on the body, Walsh also thinks people don’t need to be sitting any more than they already do. “The public does plenty of sitting throughout the day, which wreaks havoc on the human body.”
Jimmy Minardi, certified personal trainer for more than 20 years and founder of Minardi Training, has also never been a fan of the indoor-cycling fad. “There are 616 muscles in the human body, and Spinning barely uses half of them,” he explains.
“One of the most important things — especially for the aging female with osteoporosis — is to bear your own weight,” Minardi continues. “So you’re way better off going out for a brisk walk or to a trainer who emphasizes safe weight-bearing movements.”
Riding a stationary bike also negates a key benefit of outdoor cycling: balance. “I see a lot of indoor-cycling enthusiasts who can barely ride an outside bike because it’s too hard,” Minardi says. “If you’re going to ride a bike, an outdoor bike is best. Not only do you get some fresh air, you’re also practicing balance.” This helps bolster the body against the effects of aging.
When Is Indoor Cycling OK?
While neither Walsh nor Minardi would recommend an indoor-cycling class, that doesn’t mean a bike is all bad. First off, any kind of movement is better than no movement, and there are benefits to stationary cycling. So when is it a good idea to include indoor cycling in your routine?
How to Get the Most Out of Indoor-Cycling Classes
Walsh wants to be clear: Exercise is important, including indoor cycling. “I do think that Spin classes today have done a great job with building community and making class training more exciting than ever, but I think they should be secondary to strength training,” Walsh says.
If your body moves well and your back, hamstrings and glutes are strong, then there will be less risk of injury, and the benefits from Spin will be greater, Walsh adds. “Strength training should be the primary form of exercise, laying the proper foundation before all forms of conditioning.”
Beyond that, Minardi also says to make sure you’re riding the bike correctly. “You want proper bike fit every time,” Minardi says, explaining that he peeks in on indoor-cycling classes from time to time and sees many participants misaligned on the equipment.
Walker says she stresses bike fit in her classes. If you sit too low you will compress your knees, she says. If you’re too high, you will strain your IT band (the firm band of tissue that runs along the outside of the thighs). Protect your lower-back muscles by engaging your core while seated, she recommends.
If you’re at all confused, Walker says a good instructor should refer to proper form throughout the class. “The instructor should also help with setup before class begins to make sure all participants are good to go,” she says. “Spinning requires proper form. If you come out of position, you won’t be getting the most out of the class and may be straining yourself unnecessarily.”
The bottom line on indoor cycling: It’s fine to have it in your exercise arsenal, but it shouldn’t be your only form of exercise. If you decide to hit the bike, make sure you’re doing strength-training and weight-bearing workouts too. Ensure that your bike fits properly and your form is sound. And if your instructor isn’t helping, find a new one.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you love Spinning? Hate it? What do you think of the arguments against indoor cycling? Give us your opinion in the comments.