Spinning – Is it for real cyclists?

Can serious cyclists benefit from Spinning?
It’s an interesting question because of spinning’s popularity and the fact that many serious riders enter spinning classes frequently in the winter season.

I believe most people can benefit from spinning classes. Spinning bikes are different to ride than regular road cycling bikes, but the physiological adaptations are so close to adaptations from road cycling. Thus it’s almost certain you will improve your cycling performance when you enter a spinning class.

Though I have to say that it’s impossible to compare 1hr spinning with 1hr road cycling. There are many external factors that will influence on your perceived exhaustion (temperature, humidity, music, instructor etc.) Thus, you might very likely subjectively feel you’ve worked harder than you objectively have (a power meter might tell you a different story…)

Also remember that most spinning lessons are made with fitness people in mind. The spinning instructors want to entertain and train people who enter the fitness room once or twice every week, not cyclists who train 8, 12 or even more hours per week. I don’t think it’s a bad decision, but it’s worth to remember when you are road cyclist with a much larger training amount and a different goal with your training.

I have previously outlined how you can achieve better results with spinning and these recommendations illustrate why some riders might end up with the conclusion: “Spinning is not for real cyclists”.

I disagree with the above conclusion, because all cyclists can benefit from spinning classes if they remember the differences between regular cycling and spinning.

Share your experiences
Please write a comment with your experiences with spinning and how you integrate spinning in your training routine.

14 comments… add one
  • cyclegirl Link

    As a long time indoor cycle instructor I agree with your article. I have one additional comment if your readers/cyclists are taking an indoor class but not training with the rest of the class. I don’t mind at all that cyclists come to my class but if their agenda is different from mine I do ask that they sit in the back of the room so as not to throw off other participants. I also tell my “real” cyclists that this class can definitely benefit their cardiovascular system and help with their training but does not generally translate to their outdoor ride.

  • Frank Link

    To add my own commentary to this subject, I prefer to mix in a spinning class here and there in my Winter training program for a number of reasons.
    •It gets me out of the solitary experience of riding the rollers for what seems like eternity.
    •I can add on some seriously high resistance for strength training
    •It affords my wife and I the opportunity to work-out together for a change

    I also have a few caveats to add regarding my spin training:
    •I loosely follow the routine provided by the instructor; No jumps, only sprints when the training plan calls for it, and my bike setup looks very different from everyone else in the class.
    •Arriving to the class an hour early lets me get a full two hour work-out in for that session. I sometimes will do two classes one after the other when the opportunity presents itself.
    •Use your heart rate monitor. This is the only way to adequately gauge your spinning workout.
    •Never, ever ride with no resistance. I always keep at least a few twists of resistance on the spin bike because as we all know there is no such thing as a flat road with no resistance.
    •I also tend to mimic actual conditions while on the spin bike. For example, after a “hill” I’ll back the resistance off slightly and increase my cadence to imitate the corresponding decent.

  • I’ve now been riding for roughly around 6 months and therefore walked into cycling at the height of summer. Reaching the winter period was depressing because it meant investing in a whole new series of kit, lights etc and dealing with (especially recently) some very tricky road conditions including snow and ice and the potholes that result.

    As a result, I’ve attended a spinning class at least once a week and done a quick hour beforehand. The 90-120 minute total workout is arguably better than a road ride since there are no traffic lights etc so in theory it is possible to work a little harder.

    Although I do not strictly agree with this view, I have found spinning to be an excellent addition to my training. As a beginner, I’m not sure I could have made the significant advances in power I have managed through spinning unless I lived in a more undulating area.

    My conclusion is that spinning is extremely advantageous for beginners.

  • @cyclegirl
    It’s a good point you have. If a rider plans to ride a different program he should try to be as anonymous as possible.

    You use some solid principles that makes spinning an advantage for you. Thanks for sharing these tips with us.

    @ Eliot
    I haven’t really thought much about the traffic issue since I’ve always lived in smaller cities, but you’re right.

  • Larry Link

    I have been a spin instructor for 16 years. One of the first things I learned was Spin is not for every body. Second, this is not cycling, that is why we call it Spinning. My classes are concentrated interval training and do not have a 1:1 relationship with road riding. That said, cyclists should take the conditioning aspect from it and train specifically for road riding in a different venue. They both have merits and the most complaints about spinning come from the weekend riders who do centuries and organized rides. I am sure most spin instructors can relate to the pompous wanna b’s
    who refuse to follow the class format. I team teach with a professional cyclist and we get along great! I learn from him and he learns from me. We have established a safe middle ground which is not spin and not road cycling. The most objectionable and resistant part of the training always is in the area of V02 max training. I would never pedal at 180 rpms + . What is omitted is “I can’t handle it because I am not conditioned.” 2.Hey dude, how’s your recovery rate? What is your resting heart rate? Have you ever won anything or are you just 35-45 and just become an “athlete?”
    Spinning is about conditioning, range of motion, and very low impact training. So, if you are interested in being in great shape, Spin for Life!

  • Ronald Link

    Certified Spinn Instructor; Certified Cycling Coach; Certified UCI National Commissaire; Multiple Pan-American Masters Cycling Champion 2004, 2005,2009, 2010; Multiple National Masters Cycling Champion since 1988.
    It is my belief that spinning would definitely improve a cyclist’s performance if he attends sessions that are conducted by instructors who are themselves cyclists. I have been spinning since 2000 when I was introduced to the programme by a former cyclist who suggested that I become an instructor. I became certified after attending sessions over a few months as I believed that I could make a difference to competing cyclists as my own performance had improved tremendously; a point of note however is that competing cyclists should search for classes that are conducted by present or former cyclists as their form and instructions would surely be beneficial.
    If you are just looking for dance and hype, any spinn class would do.

  • Mike Link

    Hi Everyone – I have been spinning 2/3 times a week for the past 5 years but have been a cyclist for some 50 years. Although spinning doesn’t represent riding the road it does have considerable relevance I find to road riding. The country I live and work in is too hot and dangerous for real road riding so to keep in tune I do the spinning classes. On my trips home I can then enjoy riding up to 2 hours at a good pace without undue problems. I have found that I can ride undulating and hilly roads with out too much of a problem. My breathing is totally different but I soon adapt and can enjoy my sport and pastime for the two to four weeks I ride each year. My legs are in good shape and just need fine tuning to make the difference. I can even accompany my old cycling colleages on 2 hour runs or more without too much stress.
    Its a great way to enjoy your life in a group of like minded fitness people.Mike

  • Jay Bernabe Link

    I started into spinning about 4 months ago. Initially, I can’t even stay off the saddle for more than 15 seconds. Now, my warm-up is 15 minutes off the saddle and on the last minute I sprint. During the first 15 minutes I intentionally exhaust myself and then push for the rest of the class. While in the class, I’m actually doing my own thing. We are using Keiser M3+ which I really like. The resistance varies from 1-24 gear. At 22 I couldn’t hardly pedal off the saddle (I’m only 5;-2″). So I normally stay around 14-17 gears. During my warm up I’m at 17 for 15 minutes off the saddle. Rest for 2/3 minutes after at normal speed and I sprint on 12 gear at 110-130 RPM for 3 minutes. So for 45 minutes, my exercises are actually sprint on or off the saddle only giving myself 2/3 minutes rest in between. In-door bikes are really good for building endurance. I’m only in the class for motivational purposes; besides that, I really don’t have to be in the there. I don’t have a bike yet but looking forward to doing time trials. I’m thinking about buying the carbon frame Trek Madonne. I’ve been to some bike shops and they mentioned to buy aluminum. I disagree. If you think you have powers on your legs and likes speed, buy the lightest bike around and feel the ride.

  • Doug Link


    I agree with things that are said here. I started spinning classes last winter. I attended 2-3, 1 hour classes a week in addition to running,swimming, and weight workouts.

    I am a fair weather triathlete, meaning I start my outdoor training in mid April and end in October. I mostly train on my Tri bike. My normal speed in the spring, before I started spinning, was about 16.5 mph for 20 miles. After spin I started at 18.5 mph for 20 miles.
    And had my PR time mid year in a race too.

    I really think spin is a great tool to have in you tool chest. It builds you base aerobic and core strength. I have other friends that swear by a bike fluid trainer, but for me that is horrible. I will take spin class over the trainer any day.

    It is what you make of it I am a fan of the spin class, Ride safe friends and have a great year.

  • Peter G Link

    I have been a roadie for 15+ years, and a spin instructor for 5 yrs. @Ronald is SPOT-ON. You need to find spin classes taught by real cyclists. Otherwise, it’s taught as an aerobics class.

    All of the best instructors I’ve had ride outside. ZERO exceptions.

    As far as certifications go, they are pretty pointless (except for maybe Cycling Fusion, which is the only USAC-certified indoor cycling certification).

    I’m certified through Mad Dogg, and from what I’ve seen, it’s really a scheme to make money off the instructors rather than any real coaching instruction.

    What really sucks about spinning are the bikes. I have found some bikes that do position you like a road bike (the Life Fitness GX bike is one), however I can’t figure out the bullhorn handlebars. I can’t stand them! Why don’t they have dropbars so positioning is correct?

    The ONLY one with dropbars in the excellent, new Stages Indoor Cycle.

  • Mark Link

    Cycling is great – I’m a road biker – I love it. Spinning is a completely different activity and it’s a great training activity and it’s a lot of fun. You can make great headway toward the road from spinning and other cross-training activities. If I go to spin classes in winter, I’m much stronger in the Spring when I hit the hills. If you go into a spin class looking for a road routine…what the hell? It’s spinning. If you want to know what spinning does for you, check out the hardcore spinners. They’re in killer shape. I recently did a 130 mile bike event with some spinners….they did very well and the ladies were great to follow………

  • Craig Link

    For me – someone who does most of his cycling on his own, the most beneficial thing about spinning is that it creates an environment in which I can push myself harder than what I would normally do on my own on the road… especially during the cold lazy winter months. I find it builds strength in my legs and mental strength, because one is pushed to endure pai one wouldn’t normally endure on your own, unless you’re in a cycling group.

  • Jeff Link

    I have a Garmin power meter on my bike and on my Keiser Mi3. Both are good power meters. I can hold ~200 watts for an hour on my road bike, but only about ~170 on my Keiser. I suspect a lot of it has to do with isolation of muscles on the Keiser. I can pull with my arms, etc. like I can do with the road bike.

    This is my first season with the Keiser. We’ll see if it helps with those isolated leg muscles in the summer.

  • Nat Link

    I’ve been a road cyclist for 10 years and just started spin classes about 2 months ago. My asthma is triggered by cold air, so the indoor class gives me way more opportunities to train in the off season – this can also apply to fair weather riders who just don’t enjoy winter riding. Most importantly, as a recreational and non-competitive road biker, I’ve been riding with the bad habit of remaining mostly seated and rarely testing my strength in bursts while cranking through the hills in my mountainous PNW home terrain. The spin classes have VERY QUICKLY conditioned me to stand up and power through in interval bursts and recovering more quickly while I’m still climbing. I’m totally stunned at the way I’m suddenly setting crazy new PR’s out on the road on routes that I’ve ridden hundreds of times over the years and I owe it to the rigors of spin class intervals. If you’ve never focused on interval training as a cyclist then I recommend giving spin classes a try.

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