*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study

12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

You Won't Get Big Legs on a Bike!

More from my Spintastic listserv excerpts, compiled by topic for your convenience...


A few thoughts on refuting the age-old myth that Spinning results in bulky legs. A woman in my class this morning (not a member of the Spintastic listserv... all of you know better) approached me after class and said, *"I love you! I'm so glad you have us go fast... I don't want to go slow with... ugh... resistance... and get huge legs." *

This compliment was the furthest thing from complimentary. In fact, I sort-of felt nauseated. It means that I have failed in my attempts to explain this properly in class.

Here's the deal:
In order to build muscle mass in ANY way, we have two requirements:
1) *high weight - heavy enough to overload our muscle fibers*
2) *low repetitions*

This is why, when we lift weights with the goal of building muscle (bulking up), we use heavy weights with approximately 12 repetitions per set (the weight should be so heavy that we feel like we cannot possibly DO a 13th rep... that's what it feels like to truly overload the muscle, to break the muscle fibers). When we lift weights to tone/sculpt, we use lighter weights with lots of repetitions per set.

Here's how this does NOT apply to Spinning. On a Spin bike, the flywheel weighs approximately 40 lbs. For anyone who has ever used a lower body weight machine on the gym floor, you can appreciate how little weight this is - relative to what our lower body can support. So, requirement #1 is already out from consideration.

As for "reps," this is where our pace comes into play. I don't typically talk of specific numbers for our pace ("cadence" is the technical term) since numbers don't mean much to the average student - instead, I select my music so that if you lock into the rhythm, you're going at a specific cadence without thinking about it. It may appear random and unplanned, but it's anything but. The slowest climb we ever do in the Spinning program ever is 60 rpm (revolutions per minute) - and I personally *very rarely* include climbs that slow, at that. But that's the slowest that any certified Spinning instructor calls for (if they're doing contraindicated movements, I can't speak to that...).

So, even at the SLOWEST pace in a Spin class:
60 revolutions per minute x 40 minutes = 2400 revolutions (repetitions).
*2400 reps is not "low" (compare to 12!). *Bulk requirement #2 eliminated.

In my classes, my heavy-beat uber-steep seated and standing climbs support cadences of 75-80 rpm (as confirmed by the sparkling brand new cyclocomputer at 86th/Lex... sigh... I daydream about that thing!). That's even more reps!

So, in sum: *It is scientifically impossible for you to build bulky legs on a spin bike.* Use the resistance to help you burn more calories - don't be afraid of it!

Without the proper amount of resistance:
1) you're not burning the number of calories you think you're burning
2) you risk blowing out your knees and injuring your hips
3) you're just wasting your time

*Here's what you should keep in mind when selecting your resistance at any point in the ride:
**1) How does your heart rate feel? (*If you have a monitor, this is so much easier to gauge!) Adjust your resistance until you're in your desired HR zone - not necessarily what the instructor (myself included) calls for, but wherever you need to be that day.
2) Do you feel a pull all the way around a perfectly circular pedal strike?
If the answer is "no," ALWAYS add more resistance. We don't want any "blindspots" in our pedal strokes, points in the circular arc where the muscles are not engaged.
3) Are your pedal strokes fluid or choppy? If choppy, back off the resistance gradually until you feel fluidity return.
4) Are you bouncing or rocking up/down or side to side? If so, add resistance gradually until you feel the hips "quiet" down.

*#1 is sometimes tricky. For example, I may tell you that I want you to "feel like you can talk" at 70-75% of your max HR... but when you adjust the resistance to get there, your hips may start rocking. It's at that point where you engage the core muscles to stabilize your hips, gently add the resistance back on and use your breathing techniques to bring that heart rate down. I do this ALL the time, in order to keep my form perfect yet still be able to talk to you. If you try this and it does NOT work, come talk to me and we'll work it out together.
Form is the most important thing, always. If your heart rate rides slightly higher for a few extra minutes until you can strike a balance with your core/breathing, that is preferable to letting yourself rock/flop around on a climb.* Form is EVERYTHING. If you are not in the practice of at least occasionally choosing a bike near a mirror, I recommend that you try it. *During the 6 hour spin-a-thon I did yesterday in Rochester, I parked myself right next to the mirror so that I could fine-tune form allllllll day long - which I *never* get to do while I'm teaching (since I'm watching YOU!). It was such a treat to indulge in self-absorption. I know that we all have our "pet" go-to bikes... but even once in a while, I absolutely encourage you to sit as close as possible to mirrors. You'd be surprised how large a gap can sometimes exist between how our posture feels, and how it looks. Before I became an instructor, I used to have neck/shoulder pain every day... I thought it was because I carried a heavy, unbalanced (shoulder) bag. But it was really because of Spinning form: I always rode in the middle of the front row, right in front of my favorite instructor's bike. "My bike" became "my bike" because it was as close to this guy as possible - we used to race and feed off of each other's energy, and had a lot of fun. The problem was that I was shrugging my shoulders ever-so-slightly... I had NO idea (I didn't feel like I was shrugging), and this guy wasn't into form-checking. Riding beside a mirror changed EVERYTHING. Just try it... pay attention to every subtlety. Your body will thank you.

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