If you are someone who regularly goes to a big chain gym, there is a good chance someone has probably tried to convert you to the Cult of Spin. Also known as cycle class or indoor cycling, they first came to fruition in the late 1980s by Johnny Goldberg (Johnny G), a South African born endurance athlete.
Now before I go any further let me be clear that I will applaud that any movement is still better than nothing, but if you are someone who has been doing more than 1 or 2 cycle classes a week and/or wondering why you are gaining fat and/or are finding your legs are getting bulkier, than what you are about to read will give you a better understanding of what is going on!
Now don’t get me wrong a cycle class makes you work hard and no doubt gives an awesome endorphin rush but the intense repetitive motion could be doing more sabotage than good to your body both physically and emotionally. Firstly, if you are someone who naturally has a predisposition to bulkier legs, then spinning won’t help to make matters any better. The repetitive spinning action causes the muscle fibres in the quads and glutes to shorten and also increases the intramuscular fat stores in the legs, which creates that “bulky” look. Michael Ciardulli Jr., the bodyworker of choice for New York’s A-listers, warns clients against it: “To be lean, you need to strengthen and lengthen the musculature; cycling can shorten it.”
I have personally scene a range of different body compositions, goals and worked with a quantity of women and have personally seen a client improve their body composition by reducing cycle classes from their exercise regime. Through the aid of body composition scans, an additional 1kg of body fat was dropped from their legs over an 8-week period with no drastic change to their nutrition but by reducing their cycle classes from 2 per week down to 1 per of fortnight. Women’s Health and Fitness Magazine Head Trainer, Alexa Towersey, recommends to her clients who want to perform indoor cycling to do either Tabata intervals (20 sec on/10 sec off) for 8-10 rounds or 8 seconds on or 12 seconds off for 40-60 rounds (max. 20 minutes), as an alternative to 45-60 minute classes.
Frequent spin classes can also cause injury due to a high volume of the same repetitive motion and a lack of cross training, which leads to overdeveloped hip flexors and quads, thus creating an imbalance. With most cycle rooms being dark and often being filled with up to 30 people, it makes hard for instructors can’t actually see whether your form is right.
No discussion regarding weight gain would be complete without taking a look into nutrition. It is real factor to achieving great results and it doesn’t matter what exercise you do, a bad diet can’t be out trained so watching what type of food you eat is very important. Cycling has been known to make most people extremely hungry and creates a carte blanche effect ‘I did a kick-ass class today. I deserve dessert’. If we talk from a calorie science perspective there’s no doubt that an extremely intense class can torch around 400 to 600 calories per 45 minutes. “Spin three times a week and you torch up to 1,800 calories, but a pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. So to see weight-loss results, it’s not realistic to allow for wiggle room.” says Will Torres, fitness expert and founder of Willspace, a personal training studio in New York City. The Post Exercise Energy Consumption or after burn affect of a cycle class is only about half a day where as a strength training that is as short as 15 minutes can boost your metabolism for up to three days!
Finally, I’m not saying you should cut out spin classes completely, but if you are serious about improving your body composition and staying injury free, swapping out a couple of your spin classes a week for some strength and yoga/mobility classes would be the step in the right direction. It comes down to this: Do you like getting results? More than likely you would be answering yes, so then it may be time to change something. And that doesn’t mean the resistance on the bike.
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