Spinning Isn't Just a Fad Cardio Workout - It Has Many Health Benefits

by Kristine Cannon - May 22, 2018

Photo Credit: by Martin Barak, Unsplash
Photo Credit: by Martin Barak, Unsplash

The darkened room with the occasional strobe lights. The steady, driving beat of the remixed Top 40 jam blaring through the speakers. The room with air so thick, it could almost pass as fog.

No, it's not a rave. It's a spin class — and it's consistently gained popularity over the past few years.

Personally, I'm a huge fan and have been for years. For me, it's 45 minutes of glorious, sweaty meditation — my therapy. It may not be that for all spinners, but there's no doubt it's one of the most intense exercise classes anyone could take.

One class typically consists of climbing or cycling uphill, sprints (pedaling at much faster speeds) and various other resistance exercises, with a spin instructor leading the way. And in just one class, you'll typically burn 400 to 600 calories an hour (at a moderate pace), sometimes more.

"The muscles you use on a spinning bike — the gluteus maximus and the quadriceps — are some of the largest in your body, so you're using a lot of energy," Dr. Maureen Brogan, an assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College, said in an interview with TIME magazine in 2017.

And according to a study in the Journal of Fitness Research in 2016, middle-aged people who took a 30-minute spin class twice a week were healthier in the following ways than those who took an hour of moderate-intensity exercise: They showed more improvement in leg strength, total cholesterol level, fat mass, blood pressure and fitness.

Speaking of blood pressure, heart health is one of the biggest benefits of spinning, according to Spinning — as is improving one's lung capacity. According to a study in the Scandinavian Cardiovascular Journal in 2012, one hour of spinning triggered the release of blood chemicals associated with heart stress or changes — signaling that the heart is getting a good workout.

"In every study we've done, we've seen increases in heart and lung capacity," says associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State University, Jinger Gottschall.

Other benefits include building lean muscle definition, enhancing your mental strength and strengthening your core, according to Spinning.

But how does spinning compare with biking? Is one form better — and have more health benefits — than the other? The answer is yes.

A study in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation in 2017 investigated the effects of 16 weeks of spinning and bicycling exercises on body composition, physical fitness and blood variables in female middle school students. The study found that spinning was more beneficial than bicycling: The students who cycled had a lower body mass index and lower percentage of body fat than those who biked.

However, we won't knock outdoor cycling — it's still a fantastic form of daily outdoor exercise. Case in point: According to research reported in the British Medical Journal in 2017, commuters who cycled to work had a 41 percent lower risk of dying from all causes than people who drove or took public transport. That's not all: They also had a 46 percent lower risk of developing and a 52 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease — and a 45 percent lower risk of developing and a 40 percent lower risk of dying from cancer.

But let's get back to spinning.

Spinning is also a great low-impact form of exercise, one that'll give you same level of intensity of a treadmill or a stair-climber without the pressure on your knees and your feet. Due to its lower level of intensity and the low-impact nature of spinning, there's less stress on your joints and a lower risk of injury — making it a great exercise for older adults, those with knee or hip issues or those recovering from orthopedic injuries.

"Because you can adjust the resistance and moderate the pace and intensity of your ride, it opens the door for many people to participate," Gottschall tells TIME.

And that includes spinning master instructor in the U.K., Michelle Colvin. "I recently acquired to my medial collateral ligament caused by a bad fall whilst skiing," she told Spinning. "By keeping my knees symmetrically tracking with the cranks, there is no discomfort and I'm actually strengthening the area around the injury."

Injuries are possible, though.

According to Harvard Health, those who push too hard too soon are more likely to injure themselves. This includes increasing your resistance too high or pedaling too fast to keep up with the class. It's highly recommended to go at your own pace.

"Go at a lower intensity if needed, stay in your comfort zone, and progress at your own pace," Greg Robidoux, a physical therapist with the Cycling Medicine Program at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, tells Harvard Health Publishing. "It is perfectly fine to skip a workout, recover, and jump back in when you are ready, or do your own thing and just pedal."

According to TIME, spinning has also been linked to rhabdomyolysis, a muscle injury where muscles break down are released into the bloodstream, possibly leading to kidney failure.

"People have swollen legs or trouble walking, and sometimes they take aspirin or NSAIDs for the muscle pain, which is the last thing they should do because those can also damage the kidneys," Brogan tells the publication. She continues to say these problems typically set in a day or two after a spin class.

It isn't just newbies who are at risk of injury, though: It is possible to spin too often.

According to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2008, spinning too often could become non-beneficial and contribute to "nonfunctional overreaching," or a workout that's so intense and strenuous that it leads to fatigue and a decline in performance.

In all, though, "spinning is a great cardiovascular workout and can help build lower-body muscle strength," Robidoux tells Harvard Health Publishing — so long as you follow the rules, go at your own pace, and not overdo it.



Kristine Cannon is a professional writer and editor. You can find her work on Canadian Pharmacy online, SheKnows, Taste Company, Alternative Press, Scottsdale Living, AZRE Magazine, AZ Business Magazine and Experience AZ.

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