June 9, 2017

Spin Class for Beginners

This past semester I upped my basic-ness and started going to spin 5 days a week and I loved it (Related: 11 other things I've tried and loved last semester). I feel like all of my friends are starting to get into spin class too so I thought I'd share some of my tips for first timers so that you can rock your first class a little better than I did. My school's rec center has a spin class that they offer for free to students, so keep in mind that your class might be slightly different if it's at a professional gym or a Soul Cycle. 

Get there early

I'm talking like 15-30 minutes early. I was very surprised when I got turned away from the 6:30 AM class on a college campus because it was already full by the time I showed up at 6:27. If it's that packed with a bunch of college kids, imagine how early a class full of adult gym goes gets full.

Also, you're going to want to be one of the first people in the room because it will take you longer to get set up your first time. If you're super extra like me, this means overthinking where you want to sit— in the front close to the instructor so you can see what she's doing or hiding in the back because you're a lil embarrassed? sit underneath the speakers so you can literally feel the music and ride to the beat or be far away because loud music doesn't help when you feel like you're dying? where's the area that gets the most air from the fan? 

Once you find your perfect spot, or just pick any spot if you're not picky, you need to go and introduce yourself to the instructor and tell her it's your first time so she can help you set your bike up. The proper bike seat height will either make or break your workout so you're going to want to get help. Test out the height and make sure that it's comfortable and doesn't put all of your weight on your knees. Also adjust the seat distance from the handlebars to make sure that your legs aren't squished up in you or that you're overreaching to pedal down. Adjust the handlebar height and distance to you to make sure that you can reach it without straining but also aren't hunched over the bars. Oh, and ask her for a seat pad. Your butt will thank you.

Know the terminology 

RPM - At least on our bikes, there's this screen that has all of your stats and the one that RPM is referring to is your rotations per minute which is your speed. Throughout the class, your instructor will be yelling out numbers in reference to your RPM that should be your goal. In general, the less resistance, the higher the number and the more resistance, the lower the number

Resistance - Our bikes have a knob right below the handlebar that looks just like a doorknob sticking up. You'll be using this in a scale of probably 1-10. For me, 0-2 is almost like going downhill where the pedals are pushing my feet up rather than my feet pushing them down. A 3-4 is how a normal bike ride down a road feels. And as you add more, it will start to be harder to push the pedals down, almost like you're riding through mud.

Add - Turn your knob to the right to add more resistance. When I first started out, I turned it 1/4 of a circle and now I'm strong enough to turn it a 1/2 circle every time. 

Take off - Turn your knob to the left to reduce the resistance. In general, you will use the same level of turn that you did to add (so either a 1/4 or a 1/2 turn each time). Be careful not to take off all of the weight at the time or that can be bad for your muscles. 

Rest/Recover - You take off a little resistance and slow down for a bit. This could be a couple of seconds if you're doing a tabata or in between jumps or it could be almost a minute after a sprint or during a ladder (I'm about to explain all of this below). But this is not a cool down so your RPMs should generally be like 60-85. Sometimes it feels good to stand up for a couple of seconds and stretch your legs during rest times so you might try that.

Position 1 - These are hand positions. Imagine the handle bars are like a clock. This is one hand on each side of 6. Most commonly used for climbs and sprints. But figure out what's most comfortable and easy for you and put your hands there.

Position 2 - About 3 and 9 on the clock. Most commonly used for jumps or tap backs.

Postion 3 - About 2 and 11 on the clock or at the top of the handle bars. Most commonly used while standing. At all times and no matter what position, make sure that you're not death gripping the handlebars. Your hands should be open enough that you could be holding a pen in your hand while holding on the the handlebar at the same time.

Sprint - What it sounds like. Pedal as hard as you can for the time that your instructor has told you to. If you're going over like 110 RPM, keep using that same level of effort but add a little resistance to keep your muscles and the bike safe. Instead of imagining yourself running, the easiest way to go really fast is to imagine that you're doing mountain climbers or high-knees and imagine trying to knee your chest.

Tabata - Basically this is fast-slow-fast. Usually at the beginning of a new song my instructor will tell us that it's a tabata and that will mean that we're sprinting for 20 seconds, then slowing down a little for 10 seconds, and then speeding back up for another 20 seconds and the cycle repeats until the song is over.

Jump - This is one of the hardest things to get when you're first starting. Basically what you do is stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, all while pedaling. The slower version that we do is 4 seconds and the faster version is 2 seconds where you feel like as soon as you sit down you're supposed to stand up again. The trick to these is to get your pedaling synchronized so that you're pushing yourself up at the same time that your leg is pedaling down so that it's more natural. Another trick is to pedal a little faster while you're standing to keep your momentum going which will help you balance. If you feel like you're wobbling around when standing, add a little resistance and it'll help keep you balanced.

Tap back/Dip - These are basically squats while standing and pedaling. They're pretty hard because they require balance to be able to move your body while moving on a bike and coordination because you have to only bend at the bottom half of your body to make your butt go out and down into a squat while resisting the urge to just be bowing.

Ladder - The most typical ladder is 10 second sprint, 10 second rest, 20 second sprint, 20 second rest, 30 second sprint, 30 second rest, 20 second sprint, 20 second rest, 10 second sprint, 10 second rest. 

Flat road - This is about a 3-5 on the level of resistance. This is usually used during the warm up and sprints.

Climb - This is where you slowly add more and more resistance to get to like an 8-10 level of resistance. Once it starts getting really hard, try swaying your hips (but not your whole body) just a little to put all of your bodyweight into the leg that's pushing down. Don't be afraid to add resistance! Trust me you could workout every day with the resistance maxed out and you still won't get watermelon-crushing thighs. Adding resistance will get you a better workout much more than just going fast.

Saddle - The bike seat. So when your instructor is telling you to get off the saddle she's meaning either stand or you're doing some jumps. The most comfortable position that I've found is to scooch back until the curve of the seat catches your thighs and your butt is hanging off the back a little.

Spin butt - The bike seats are not comfortable. Everything that the seat touches (inner thighs and where your thigh meets your butt/legs) are going to be very sore after your first ride. Eventually by like your 15th ride, your butt gets used to it so it's no longer uncomfortable. This is why a lot of beginners will used padded seat cushions at the beginning.

Quads - The muscles on the front of your thighs. These are mostly worked when you push down your legs. You will feel these because they're going to be very sore after your first day.

Hamstrings/Hammies - The muscles on the back of your thighs. These are mostly worked when you pull up your legs.

Glutes- Your butt muscles. Usually what part of my butt hurts is the outer edge.

Breathe your workout

Cycling is an aerobic workout so you should be breathing the whole time. When you're sprinting really fast or the resistance is way up there, your natural reaction is to hold your breath and then eventually let in out in one big exhale like what you do when you come up for air after diving into water. This will make it harder for your muscles to work right and you'll feel like you're gasping for air for a full hour. Even worse, if you do start gulping air in quick breaths, that's an easy way to make you start feeling the need to burp or even worse throw up since you're hot and moving up and down a lot.

If you notice that you're doing this, try inhaling through your nose for a few seconds like you're smelling flower and then exhaling out your mouth for a few seconds like you're blowing out a candle. And try to be exhaling on the harder parts, so like exhale as you stand up in a jump. This actually really helps. Even while you're sprinting try to keep your breathing in rhythm instead of gasping for air. Don't worry your heart rate will still be up there but now you just won't feel like you're dying. Another thing to try during rests is to put your hands on your head like if you were being arrested. Sounds silly, I know, but it actually is opening up your airway so you can take really deep breaths and eventually catch your breath.

Pay attention to your posture

Another biggie. Remember that although this is generally a cardio workout so you're burning overall body fat, thanks to the resistance knob it is also a thigh, butt, and ab workout. When you get tired, it can be really easy to hunch your shoulders over or squeeze them real tight by your ears. Don't do this! You're putting your weight into your shoulders instead of your legs and it will make you sore in the wrong places. Look at the seam of where the wall directly in front of you meets the ceiling. Keep your eyes on this seam during sprints or other hard parts. It will keep you from hunching your shoulders and will keep your chest open so you can breathe fully. Or if you feel your shoulders tightening up, simply roll them back a few times and get them to loosen up. You can also stretch your arms out wide and then cross them in front of your chest to stretch (you've probably seen Michael Phelps do this flapping motion as he warms up to swim).

Another big posture thing is make sure that you've got your body aligned. This is why your seat position is super important. Take it from the girl who spent a whole session having all of the weight on her knees instead of in her quads. I couldn't go as hard and was limping for the rest of the day. When you're standing, you don't want your leg all the way straight but instead a little bend. And make sure that you stick your butt out a little so that your hips, knees, and feet are aligned and your butt is gently touching the seat with each spin. This will put all of your weight into your legs. Oh and make sure when you're pedaling that you're toes are never pointed down. Try to keep your feet flat in the pedals and if you catch yourself pointing your toes, imagine pulling your pedals up with your foot (your feet should be strapped or clipped in) and pushing down with your heels.

Have the right gear

I still have all of my oversized sorority tanks that I like to work out in, but I've found they're not ideal for spin class. As you see by now, there's a lot of quick switches from standing to sitting in spin and trust me that an oversized shirt will get stuck under your butt when you sit down and then it will pull from the back and choke you. Long story short, wear workout clothes that are actually your size. Even better, wear a workout tank that hash mesh in the back for when your back gets super sweaty. You'll be glad you did.

Don't think that just because you're on a stationary bike, you can just wear a flimsy sports bra. There's a lot of moments where it's a lot of action going on at once and without proper support this will cause your boobs to do a straight down fall which first of all hurts and second of all can lead to sagging. My all time favorite is Under Armour's high impact sports bras because they are very secure (even if you're a DD) but also are comfortable.

I always see people wearing leggings so I tried it once and y'all I died. Not only were my legs extra hot, but the pants were trapping the sweat along my legs and it made me very itchy. So now what I usually wear are capris. I'm a big fan of Under Armour heat gear capris because they're slick instead of being made with cotton so they're super breathable and it's made to get sweat off you fast to keep you from being hot and itchy. And if capris aren't your thing then workout shorts are great for spin, too. Again just try to be cool and comfortable.

Bring water! The biggest mistake I see people make is that they either wrongly assume that they can make it until after class to go to a fountain or they'll wrongly assume that a little plastic water bottle that they brought from their fridge will be enough. That's why every time I bring a 25 ounce water bottle and without a doubt I always go through it. One tip though on your first few classes if you're just getting back into working out is try to ration your water throughout the class. I make it a goal to not go through the halfway mark on my bottle before the halfway mark through class. This is just because it's not uncommon for an instructor to have the last workout be the hardest and you don't want to have already chugged all your water. I also really recommend a Camelbak water bottle over something like a Swell bottle just because there's no lid so you can easily drink it with one hand while using the other to hold on so you don't fall off your bike.

I have an Apple Watch and I love to use the Indoor Cycle Workout App. My watch stays in the app the whole workout so I can see how long I've been working out, how many calories I've burned, and what my heart rate is. If you just want a heart rate and calorie counter, then you could just get a FitBit, but I prefer my Apple Watch because for $100 more you get something that you can use all day every day and not just doing workouts (Related: How I use my Apple Watch for school). Monitoring my heart rate during spin class is really nice because if I see that if its only at 130 beats per minute then I know that I need to be pushing my self a little harder to reach my goal of 180 BPM.

5 tips for spin class for beginners | brazenandbrunette.com

drink a pre workout about 30 minutes before class. My personal favorite is C4 fruit punch because it tastes just like red Gatorade which is my favorite. I'm still on half a scoop because any more than that and my face gets itchy. I've really noticed that it's helped with how long I can go hard in a workout before my muscles get sore. I always keep a blender bottle in my gym bag so that I can mix my pre workout. I love this stackable blender bottle that comes with a container that screws on the bottom where I can store the protein powder that I mix up for after the workout (my friends joke that I've turned into a guido with all these pre and post workout shakes). What I use right now is Pure Protein in vanilla because it's super cheap and although it's definitely not as sweet as a real vanilla shake, it isn't nasty so that's good enough for me. 

The last thing that I have invested in for spin class is this small duffle bag from Adidas. The colors are perfect and the bag is just the right size to keep a change of clothes for if I go right after class. And since it's so petite, it's still fine even if I don't have clothes and is just right for everything else that I bring. I keep deodorant in there for obvious reasons. I also keep a pair of earbuds because I go into the sauna for 10 minutes after a workout so my muscles don't get cramped. I also keep face wipes to wipe down the sweat off my body. I highly advise that you try to wipe off at least your face and chest and back even if you're going to shower because you don't want bacne ruining your hot new bod. I also have the fitness minimergency kit in my bag because it has everything from a spare hair tie to a headband and even socks.

Here's some cute workout clothes to get you inspired :)