Training & Nutrition

11 Things to Know Before Your First Spin Class

Heading to a spin class? Check out these tips first for the best experience...

We love to ride our bikes outside, but sometimes a spin class is a quick way to get a super intense fitness fix that could see you reaping serious benefits in power and speed.

Spinning is addictive and you’ll usually spot a couple of regular attendees who have clearly been punching the pedals indoors at least once a week for months.

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However, there’s no need to feel like a kid on the first day of secondary school – just a few simple know-how tips will ensure you’re the teacher’s pet in no time…

You should arrive ten minutes early

The bike you’re going to spend the next 40-60 minutes on is crucial to your enjoyment, so get there early and make sure you have time to set the saddle and handlebars up to suit you.

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If you’re feeling super geeky, you could measure your own bike and set the spin bike up to match. If you’re not ready to get your measuring tape out, sit on the saddle, and place the ball of your foot on the pedal – your leg should be straight, without your hips rocking. When you clip in or attach the cages, you’ll have a slight bend. Alternatively, jump off the bike, and set the saddle height to match your hip bone.

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Know what a Tap Back Is

The ‘Tap Back’ is a popular spinning move. Quite simply, you’re going to come out of the saddle, then almost return to seated, before lifting yourself back up – multiple times. When TWC’s editor experienced LOTS of this in her first spin class, she was walking like John Wayne for days so it’s got to be good for you.

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The tap back activates your glutes and really uses your quads and core muscles. It can be tempting, especially when you’re tired, to use your arms as a bit of a ‘hinge’ during this movement. This will stress your shoulders, and not your glutes, as it should.

If you find yourself ‘tapping back’, consciously think about using your midsection, and not your arms, for the best effects

The resistance level is really important

You’ll be in control of the resistance throughout your session. Some people find themselves tempted to overdo it, whilst others are more inclined to under-do it.

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Using too much resistance will feel like riding through concrete, and it won’t result in legs of steel. Instead, you’ll begin to rock and recruit weaker muscles in your lower back, as opposed to the glutes, quads, hamstrings and core that you should be maximizing. If you feel like every pedal stroke is a conscious effort that travels into your ankles and your lower back, then back off the resistance dial.

At the other end of the scale, if your spinning is super quick and feels almost out of control, you’ll find your lower back wiggling as you pedal, and your bum shifting in the saddle. This will do you no good, and can result in some mega saddle discomfort, so dial it up before you do your lady bits some damage!

You still need to breathe

You’re pedalling as hard as you can, the music is pumping, the air around you is hot and sweaty… but you do still need to breathe!

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Spinning can be a bit of an explosion to the senses, but don’t get so carried away with the experience that you forget the basics of, you know, survival. Your muscles need oxygen to work, so take deep breaths.

You should pedal in full circles

A spinning class is the perfect place to concentrate on your pedal stroke. Outside, there are distractions in the terrain, the view, and company.

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Many spin bikes have ‘Look’ pedals so you can clip in with your cycling shoes. If not, or you don’t use cycling shoes and cleats, make sure the cage is fairly tight around your foot so that you can get the full benefit of the ‘up-stroke’.

During the warm-up, pay special attention to the way your feet and lower legs operate during the pedal stroke. We’ve explained the intricacies of the perfect stroke here – but in short:

  • Imagine the movement as a clock face, we’ll describe the cycle for one leg:
  • Phase one takes place from 12 o’clock to 5 o’clock. Here you are pushing down, using your hamstrings to extend your foot downwards. Allow your heel to drop as you go past 12 o’clock.
  • From 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock, you prepare to pull back up. Engage your calf muscles, and slightly point your toe downwards, as though scraping mud off your shoe.
  • From 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock, your other leg is on the downstroke. Letting the pulling leg go limp means it needs to work harder – so, think about keeping it moving – don’t switch all your focus to the pushing leg.
  • From 9 o’clock, through to 12 o’clock, you’re pulling up – imagine pulling your knee towards the handlebars, as you complete the full circle.

A good sports bra is absolutely necessary

Of course, you need a good sports bra when riding outside, too. However, because you’ll be jumping in and out of the saddle and often pedalling fast, a good sports bra is an absolute necessity.

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When testing a sports bra before purchase, try jumping up and down in it – you should have minimal movement.

There might be weights

Yep, really. Many indoor cycling classes incorporate hand weights. These are often high rep, low weight affairs – don’t pick up a hefty weight that will have you wobbling all over the place after three reps.

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If your class does involve weights, remember to carry on pedalling unless told otherwise – you don’t want to let your legs cool down before the next set. However, keep the resistance steady, so you don’t end up spinning so fast you’re unstable.

Dance on the pedals, not with your hips

Everyone loves a good tune – and we’re used to celebrating the beat with shaking hips and nodding heads. However, do this during your spin class, and you’ll throw your body all over the place, and lose the core training benefits of holding that strong stance over the bars.

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The music will no doubt be carefully selected to accompany the pedalling effort, so think about holding your core strong and spin the cranks to the beat.

Don’t death grip the handlebars

You’re working really hard, sucking in air and pushing as pulling as forcefully as you can on the pedals… what are your hands doing?

It can be tempting to grip onto the bars when you’re working, pushing your upper body weight through from your shoulders to your wrists. This pressure should actually be travelling through your core, which should be engaged, and used to hold you up.

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To prevent yourself from falling into this trap, lift your fingers off the bars from time to time. If you feel suddenly unsupported, you’re taking your support from the bars, and not your core.

You should take lots of water

Some studios will have fans, but you’re still riding in a square room, with no wind rushing through your hair to keep you cool.

This means you will really build up a sweat – which is fine, as long as you remember to take lots of water to keep you hydrated (and ideally a towel).

It’s going to be really fun!

There’s no reason to feel nervous before your first spin class. The music will be pumping, the coach will make sure you get a thorough workout, and there will be loads of other people in the room – not to bear down on you, but to motivate you.

So get booked in, and enjoy! If you still need convincing, read about our spinning experience… 

Spinning not for you? Check out these other indoor training methods and their benefits. 


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