The question: I do a spin class three times per week. Is that a good workout?
The answer: Congratulations on working out consistently! Since I cycle outdoors, spin is not a personal favorite, as it always feels fake to me. That said, for non-triathlete clients, I often recommend they try spin because it tends to includes intervals, and I am a huge fan of interval training.
The act of alternating between periods of high and low intensity activity burns lots of calories, tends to result in a relatively high EPOC (post-exercise calorie burn), is effective at burning fat and can vastly improve a person's fitness level. What you originally considered a challenge, or your "intense" interval, gradually becomes your new baseline, or "recovery" interval.
Think of interval training as the difference between driving on the highway versus driving in the city. If you only ever drive in the city, 50 kilometres per hour feels normal. Once you drive 90 kph on the highway, city driving feels slow.
Now the bad news: Spin is not weight bearing. This can be great if you have osteoarthritis, but it means spin doesn't help to strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis. In addition to spin, walk and strength-train regularly to increase your bone density.
Spinning also involves sitting, and usually a fair amount of bending forward, which can create stiffness in the hips and back and promote bad posture. To counteract the strain of sitting, something most of us do way too much of already, prioritize flexibility exercises that mobilize the hips and chest, and strength exercises that strengthen the upper back and core.
Lastly, biweekly strength sessions that include multijoint exercises like squats, deadlifts and bent over rows are a must. Strong muscles, tendons and ligaments will help support your body as you spin, allowing you to spin more intensely for longer, while helping to keep you injury-free.
Trainer's tip: Another way to help prevent spin-related injuries is to make sure your bike is properly set up, and that you always have resistance on your fly wheel, especially when spinning quickly. Stay in control and prioritize proper form – quality over quantity!
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.