Get in Shape with Spinning: 4 Incredible Exercise Benefits of Indoor Cycling

There's a reason indoor cycling classes like SoulCycle are such a popular way to sweat

Allie Burdick—Did you know that 76 percent of spin class attendees do not regularly participate in outdoor cycling? That’s right -- if you thought spin classes were dark caves with blaring music where only die-hard cyclists go to train in the winter months, you're so wrong. And more importantly, you're missing out on the many body benefits of indoor cycling. (And don’t worry -- bike shorts are not mandatory.)
First things first, a history lesson: Ultra-distance cyclist Johnny Goldberg (aka "Johnny G") brought indoor cycling out of his garage and into health clubs everywhere back in 1989, when big hair bands were all the rage and classes were all about going hard and sweating buckets to blaring music in a dark room. There are still plenty of gyms that offer that kind of heart-pumping atmosphere but, if that’s not really your style, several other options are available these days.  

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Because indoor cycling has become a big business, spin studios and classes are now available in 80 countries, and new types of niche offerings are showing up all the time. Nearly 1 million people ride on spin bikes every day, which is why trendy alternatives to the Johnny G method like SoulCycle and Flywheel are gaining popularity in large cities throughout the U.S. A celeb favorite (Katie Homes, Lady Gaga, and Lena Dunham are fans), SoulCycle offers a primary focus on music and inspirational instructors, while Flywheel uses their proprietary Torque system, which lets students see their data and output as they ride.
So why is everyone happy to get accustomed to that initially painful bike seat? Why are they subjecting themselves to a dark room surrounded by sweaty strangers? Because it’s oh-so good for you, and a lot of fun! According to our resident sports medicine doc, Jordan Metzl, MD, author of The Exercise Cure, there are a few reasons why people may consider sweating it out at a spin class: 

For one, it's a group-oriented activity, so the energy of the class alone can motivate you to push hard to the finish, says Metzl. Secondly, it's pretty easy. Compared with other classes like Zumba where you need to focus on sometimes-complicated steps, or CrossFit where you must be hyper-aware of your form, indoor cycling frees your mind while your legs and lungs work, he says. And finally, it’s safe! There are no cars to worry about and you can do it year-round, no matter where you live.

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OK, so now that you have the big picture, let’s talk details! Just how many calories are we talking about? Is this a total-body workout? Won’t I get bored pedaling to nowhere? We've got your answers with these 4 body benefits of signing up for spin class:

#1 Spinning Benefit: It burns hundreds of calories.
According to Spinning’s official website, the average indoor cyclist can burn between 400 to 600 calories during a 40-minute workout when averaging 80-110 rpm’s -- the equivalent to 15 to 20 road miles. What other workout can have you burning that many calories while mostly sitting? Plus, a lot of the classes offered are 45 minutes to an hour, so you can torch even more calories the longer you ride.

True, blasting cals by spending time in "the saddle" (spin speak for the bike seat) can be hard on your lady parts at first, but you get used to it, and the pros far outweigh the cons:“What hurts you more? Sitting on a spin bike or sitting on your couch?” asks Spinning instructor and CPT, Nikki Oliva. “I'll take the minor pain of backside versus the enormous pain of possibly having to take medication to lower blood pressure, regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, etc. etc.” Good point!

#2 Spinning Benefit: It works more than your legs.
When you think spinning, you probably think only your legs and lungs will get a great workout, right? Wrong. “Spinning helps you build muscle tone through your core, as well as your cardio strength," says Johnny G-certified trainer Shannon Kelleher. And true, your legs and glutes will definitely get the biggest benefit from this type of class, but is that really a downside? We don’t think so.
#3 Spinning Benefit: It motivates.
No matter where you spin, the instructor and music will keep you motivated for the entire ride. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Spynergy Consulting Services, “The number one reason people return to the [spinning] studio is ‘quality of instructors,’ and the number two reason is the music.” But know this: It could take a few classes for you to find the music and instructor that's right for you. Just look at it as a shopping opportunity -- you need to shop around for your perfect match. “You may want to start with asking friends with similar tastes who their favorite is, and then go with them to class," suggests Kelleher. "That way you’ll feel more comfortable and know what the vibe is before you feel stuck in a 45 minute class."
#4 Spinning Benefit: It offers a judgement-free environment.
“I have found it is the one class, regardless of your fitness level, that anyone can do,” says group cycle instructor and Zumba teacher, Charlene Stimson. “Usually in a group fitness class I feel like people are always comparing themselves to others, but in spin you get into a zone where it's just you and the bike, and you forget about everyone else in the room.” It’s true; indoor cycling is all about you: You control the resistance and speed, and only you can see (and feel) how hard you’re working. It levels the playing … um, pedaling field.

If you have trouble seeing or don’t particularly like working out in semi-darkness, the low lighting may pose a problem. However, not all cycling classes have the same atmosphere. Contact your local gym or studio and ask about the lighting situation if you're concerned.

This story first appeared on Courtesy of Dr. Jordan Metzl.