Spinning classes have become hugely popular for lots of good reasons, most of which revolve around the fact that they’re accessible, affordable and effective. If you’re in a location which is big enough to have a gym, then it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll have regular spinning classes you can attend and if you’re in a really remote location, then you can buy your own spin bike and attend online classes.

What exactly is so great about spinning classes?

Spinning classes give our heart a good work-out in a way which carries minimal risk of injury. They provide all-over toning for the body (including the upper body) and are especially good for conditioning the muscles in the lower part of the body. What’s more, the fact that class participants stay on one place from start to finish, means that it’s easy for people to adapt the basic workout to suit their level of fitness without disrupting the flow of the class as a whole, basically there’s never any danger of people literally bumping into one another. It also makes it possible for rooms used for spinning classes to be set up in a way which makes it easy to see the instructor from any position in the room, so you’re never left jumping up and down trying to work out what is going on.

Choosing a spinning class

The popularity of spinning classes means that there is a good chance you will have a choice of different classes to attend. While convenience will probably play a major role in your choice of class, remember that gyms with a good reputation tend to run good classes (and, sadly, vice versa) so if you’re new to the world of gyms, you might want to check online reviews before paying for gym membership.

Another point to consider is that spinning classes tend to involve loud music, partly for motivation and partly for the beat. You can, of course, use some form of ear protection to tone it down a bit but remember that in the early days as least, you will probably want to make sure you can still hear the instructor. That being so, if you have a particular fondness for (or dislike of) a specific music genre, you might want to contact a gym you are thinking of attending to see if they can give you an idea of what to expect.

The last point you might want to check is whether or not the spinning class generally uses hand weight since this typically means the gym will provide them and you can opt out of them if you feel they are too much for you. If they don’t, there is nothing to stop you bringing your own wrist weights if you want more of an upper-body workout. When just starting spinning, your level of fitness will determine whether or not you can feasibly use hand weights in your first classes, if you do, in all seriousness, remember to keep pedaling throughout your arm work-out session.

Getting started with spinning classes

So you’ve found a place you like, and you’ve booked your place on your first class. Here’s a brief guide as to what to expect.

Standard sneakers/exercise footwear should be fine for most classes. You may come across the odd gym which requires you to bring proper cycling shoes, but if they do, then this should be made clear to you when you sign up. As with most gym classes, it’s a good idea to bring a towel and a bottle of water. General gym clothes are fine, and ladies will need a good sports bra.

You’ll generally want to arrive a little before your class is due to start, so you have your spin bike set up in good time. This basically means you adjust the spin bike to suit your height and arm/leg length. If you’re used to regular bikes, the technique is much the same. If you’re not, your instructor will help you.

Once you’re on the spin bike, the one part of it you need to find and understand is the knob, as it will probably be called in class, more probably the resistance knob. This basically determines how much effort you need to make to pedal the spin bike and the great news is, you control it. Generally, it’s Your baseline is your “flat road”; this is the point just above freewheeling. As you go along, your instructor may ask you to “gear up” (increase resistance) or “gear down” (decrease resistance). As you gear up, pay attention to your body and, in particular, to your pedal stroke. It should be one smooth, continuous action. If you find that it is jerky and that you are forced to stop, often at the very top or the very bottom of the stroke, then you’re likely to have your resistance too high. If, by contrast, your pedal stroke seems unnecessary and that really you’re just freewheeling, then you’ve probably gone below your flat road and should increase resistance.

Modern spin bikes also tend to come with monitors showing a range of data about your workout (such as distance travelled, time and calories burned). If you want to track your progress, you can use your phone to take a shot of this at the end of each session. Alternatively, you can just ignore it. It’s up to you.

Spin bikes typically have handlebars which are similar to the drop handlebars seen on some road bikes. Your instructor will tell you where to position your hands on the handlebars. Position one means to put your hands on either side of the central section. Position two means putting your hands on the vertical bars towards the horizontal bar. Position three means putting your hands on the vertical bars but higher up and is generally used for standing sections.

The format of a spin class is much the same as for other exercise classes, which is to say that unless the instructor is familiar with everyone in the room, there will be an introduction, which will cover the basics of the class, followed by a warm-up section, the main work-out and then a cool-down section. You have a huge degree of control over the intensity of the work-out section, in addition to being able to adjust the resistance, you can also choose a lower-intensity position.

Let us explain, position one is sitting in your saddle, what you might think of as standard riding position for a road bike. Position two is slightly out of the saddle, the sort of position you might use to tackle a moderate incline on a road bike. Position three is basically standing position, such as you might use for serious inclines on a road bike. You can also decrease the length of intervals, hence increasing the rest period in between them.

A note on the “tap back.” Tap backs are a bit like doing squats on a spin bike. Basically, you stand up on the pedals and then sit back down until you are almost back in the saddle, but not quite, then stand up again. Only do this move if you have the muscle strength to use your quads and cores for leverage rather than using your arms and shoulders for extra help.

Online spinning classes versus gym-based spinning classes

While online spinning classes have a lot in common with their gym-based counterparts, there are a few important differences it’s worth noting.

You’ll be on your own. If you’re the type of person who really benefits from being in a group to keep you going in tough workouts, then online spinning classes are unlikely to be the best choice for you.

You have control over the volume of the music.

You can exercise literally whenever you want (assuming you use headphones). One of the big differences between spin bikes and treadmills is that the former is driven entirely by kinetic energy (muscle power), whereas the latter has a motor. This means that spin bikes are close to, or even totally, silent, whereas treadmills inevitably make noise and hence that the former are much better suited to people who might want to exercise without disturbing other people.

You’ll need to obtain and set up your own spin bike. Obviously this is an up-front expense you can avoid if you sign up for a gym membership, but on the other hand, unless you really use that gym membership, getting your own spin bike could work out a whole lot more economical in the long run, even if you also subscribe to online spinning classes. What’s more, there’s plenty on online help available when you’re looking to choose the best spin bike for your situation (including your budget and the space available to you), so you can do your research thoroughly before parting with your cash.