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Take a spin

Bike classes in vogue, but choose wisely

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Indoor cycling has been around for a very long time. It first hit the fitness industry in the early 1990s when Johnny G released the first spinning program and education. Recently, this fast-paced, high-intensity workout has undergone a resurgence as one the most popular fitness trends.

Cycling classes take place in a group setting on stationary bikes specifically designed for these exercises. The bikes are very different from the traditional stationary bike used in fitness facilities or in your home. They feel like a racing bike, and, partnered with music and a high-energy atmosphere in the classes, make you feel like a racer -- even if it's only in your head.

The original bikes were very basic. As the indoor-cycling community advanced, bikes have become more sophisticated with the addition of state-of-the-art technology. Most bikes now come with computerized consoles that measure wattage, speed, distance, heart rate, RPMs, calories and more.

As an international education consultant and certification trainer for Schwinn Indoor Cycling, I have had the opportunity to work with the industry's leading trainers and researchers to create cycling classes that are effective, safe and inspiring.

With the recent boom of indoor cycling studios, it's important for consumers to be wise in their choice of classes. In fact, some trends have emerged that take the classes back to the '90s and simply aren't right.

To help you navigate the indoor cycling rage and get more out of your cycling experience, there are some important training methods to understand.

First and foremost, cycling is a fantastic form of cardiovascular training. Not only is it easy to learn, it is easily adapted to a wide range of fitness levels, training goals and skills.

The two most common reasons people participate are to gain more fitness and change body composition, not to mention, having fun. In a cycling workout, the best way to meet these goals is through an understanding of energy production and output.

To get fitter, you need to challenge the cardiovascular system to work at a higher level than it is currently able. On an indoor bike, this is accomplished through the manipulation of RPMs and resistance.

Revolutions per minute, or RPMs, measure how many times the legs rotate per minute. Outdoors this is determined by the terrain and cycling skills. With indoor riding, the RPMs should be controlled by the instructor to guide individuals to the ideal training range.

If the goal is to gain fitness, the body needs to be challenged to make changes. This is very different than outdoor riding where the goal is to be more efficient.

Ideally, RPMs for indoor riding are between 60 and 100. In this range you are able to produce more power and the biomechanics of the knee are protected.

The second part of the equation is resistance, which changes your fitness level and burns calories. It is the marriage between RPMs and resistance that determines the intensity of the workout. In this way, all riders determine how much resistance they need to put on the bike to get the desired workout intensity.

When you spin over 120 RPMs on an indoor bike, you will naturally have to decrease your resistance and therefore decrease your training benefit and calorie expenditure.

All instructors should be coaching you to understand RPMs and resistance to produce power. Power is measured in wattage. Think of it like a light bulb. A 40-watt bulb uses less energy than a 120-watt bulb.

The more power you can produce over an extended period of time, the more calories expended and the better the training results.

A current trend in cycling classes is to mimic strength-training exercises while riding a bike. Here is where you really need to be careful.

No. 1, when spinning and trying to do pushups off of the handlebars, you are putting your body in a compromised position. Not only are the handlebars not designed for pushups, the mechanics of this position put undue stress on your knees. Doing a set of pushups on the floor is 100 per cent more effective.

Cycling is a cardiovascular activity. If you want to gain strength, a well-designed resistance training program will give you better and faster results. Stop pushing lightweight dumbbells while riding and focus on getting the best cardiovascular workout you can. Then get off the bike and do a set of weights and reap the benefit of training properly.

Indoor cycling classes are highly effective when done correctly. If you are finding your workouts getting dull and you need to put more life into your fitness program, try an indoor cycling workout.

Helen Vanderburg is a world-champion synchronized swimmer, fitness trainer and motivational and corporate wellness speaker.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2013 D16

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