6 keys to getting the most out of your spin classes from a master indoor cycling instructor

Spin classes occupy a central place in the off-season training programs of many cyclists and the routines of fitness enthusiasts. Whether you’re training for a Gran Fondo race, or just want the juice to ride up the hill when exiting the Hudson River Greenway at 59th Street, spin classes can improve your fitness level and help you reach your goals.

But here’s a key question that applies whether you’ve been spinning for years or just attended your first class: Are you getting everything you can out of your 45 – 60 minutes in the studio? Is your workout helping you to build your climbing, endurance, explosive power and ability to recover?

For advice, I recently talked with Greg Cook (photo below), a national fitness educator and a Schwinn Master Trainer at Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York City. He’s recently launched a new website and blog, where readers can find inspiration to help fuel their daily workouts.

photo: velojoy

In the cafe of the club at 19th and Broadway in Manhattan, Cook, an experienced road cyclist, was enjoying a breakfast worthy of a fitness expert — plain oatmeal and scrambled egg whites — while leafing through Tim Ferriss’s best-seller, The Four-Hour Body. With more than a decade’s experience, Cook has learned a thing or two himself about exercise efficiency.

Digested from our conversation, here are six tips from Cook to help you wring maximum benefit from your spin class to achieve your personal fitness and performance goals.

1. Focus on intervals

Cook considers intervals — the timed exertions followed by recovery that help riders go farther and faster — to be the most beneficial features of spin classes, and he builds his classes around a carefully choreographed series of these. “Where people need the most help is with structured intense work,” Cook says. “Outdoors in this area, it’s hard to find roads where you can do well-structured work without obstructions.”

“Can you put a hell-yes energy behind this effort?” asks indoor cycling instructor Gregg Cook.

2. Know what you want to get out of the class

Not every day in the studio should be an all-out effort.

If your training plan calls for a hard day, be aware of your natural pitfalls, the things that derail or distract you during class, so you’ll be ready to take on the big challenges.

On the flip side, if your schedule calls for an easy day, be willing to restrain yourself – an often-challenging feat for the super-competitive. Follow the program of the class, but keep your intensity within a zone that’s comfortable.

3. Find the right balance between work and recovery

Rest and recovery are critical to performance gains. Cook generally suggests 2 – 3 intense interval training sessions per week with adequate recovery and lighter workouts in between. “I usually recommend that people do strength training, as well,” Cook says. “It all depends on your what your goal is: Cardiovascular fitness or strength, and that would determine your main focus.”

4. Establish training zones

Get to know the optimal training zones that will help you define the levels of intensity to ride in class. A heart rate monitor can help, but Cook advises doing your own research rather than relying on the output from entering your age, sex and fitness level into the wrist unit. Ride in the studio and note the heart rates and breathing levels that correspond to your perceived rates of exertion (PRE), the scale applied to how hard you feel your body is working – roughly easy, moderate and hard. “Perceived rate of exertion works really well for most people, if they’re honest and paying attention to their bodies,” Cook says.

5. Don’t kid yourself

Two of the most common problems Cook sees in his classes are lapses in focus and a lack of belief in being able to achieve a higher level.

“A lot of people believe that they are at 100 percent on the big efforts when really they’re riding at 80 percent,” Cook observes. He notes that this may be particularly true for those who started spinning years ago in classes without breaks, before structured intervals with calculated work-to-recovery rations became the norm.

6. Training doesn’t end after class

Cook typically ends his classes with reminders to stretch and use a foam roller to help prevent joint pain and injuries, as well to re-hydrate and refuel promptly to enhance recovery.

How do you know you’ve found the right instructor?

Look for instructors who:

  • Let you know what to expect by providing  a quick overview of the day’s class.
  • Motivate and inspire.
  • Provide references to time and intensity throughout the class, and time intervals honestly and accurately.
  • Serve as resources for your fitness plan, by willingly answering questions and giving advice after class.

Remember, if you don’t like an instructor, move on until you find one with whom you connect.

Gregg Cook and his wife Fatima d’Almeida-Cook are the authors of Body Bar, 133 Moves for Full-Body Fitness.

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