Skip to content

Let's Settle This: Is Spinning Actually A Good Workout?

Leigh Weingus
Author: Medical reviewer:
Updated on January 28, 2020
Leigh Weingus
By Leigh Weingus
mbg Contributor
Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist writing about health, wellness, feminism, entertainment, personal finance, and more. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis.
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Medical review by
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who completed her family medicine training at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia.
January 28, 2020

Over the past few years, it seems like everyone has become completely obsessed with indoor cycling.

If it's not SoulCycle they're dragging themselves out of bed at the crack of dawn for, it's some other trendy new boutique spin studio. While spin isn't really my thing, I've certainly seen my friends get the spin bug.

Seemingly overnight, people go from being mildly interested in spending 30 minutes on a stationary bike at the gym to becoming totally obsessed to pedaling away for 45 minutes while dripping sweat in a club-like atmosphere.

I'm all for finding the workout that makes you happy and that you can actually stick with, but there's something a little troubling to me about indoor cycling: I've had many a friend tell me their back is killing them from their weekly class or that they're not sure they're actually getting a great workout in.

So I decided to get in touch with Jason Tran, an instructor who teaches at SWERVE, an indoor cycling studio in New York City, to get the inside scoop on what kind of workout we're really getting when we hit the bike.

Here's what he had to say.

1. Calories burned are different for each person.

If you think you're burning 1,000 calories every time you cycle for 45 minutes, think again—it really depends on your weight and what kind of class you take.

"Many factors go into the amount of calories someone burns in an indoor cycling class, like weight and energy output. Someone who weighs 125 pounds will typically burn 400 to 600 calories in a 45-minute class, and someone who weighs 185 pounds will likely burn 600 to 800," Tran said. "If you're taking an interval-based class where the instructor is using the music to determine sprints and drills, you're likely to burn more calories than a class where you're at a steady cardio state."

Additionally, you're working some important body parts each time you go to class—quads, hamstrings, and core.

2. Injuries do happen, so ask for help.

If your back is killing you after class, don't keep doing the same thing and expect to get different results.

"Potential injuries are neck and lower back pain and patellar tendinitis," Tran noted. "To prevent injury, the number one thing you should do—and this is true of every type of exercise—is listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right, ask for help. Most of the time, the bike isn't set up properly. "

"Be sure to keep a slight bend in the knee while riding," he added. "You can easily grasp the handlebars while sitting, and you're wearing proper cycling shoes to avoid foot numbness."

3. But isn't biking outside a better workout?

Not necessarily, although studies do show that exercising outside might make you enjoy the workout more.

According to Tran, though, it really depends on your preference.

"Neither is better or worse," he explained. "It's really based on personal preference and the environment in which you prefer to workout. If you're looking for a more efficient workout, indoor cycling classes will burn calories faster and boost calorie expenditure since you're likely going to be motivated by the music, energy of the room, instructor, and classmates. Depending on the class, there will be intervals, drills, and varied resistance and speed. If you're riding outdoors, it may take double the time to burn the same amount of calories."

4. There are some amateur mistakes you should be aware of.

The number one mistake Tran sees in new indoor cyclists? Seat height.

"Their seat is too low! There should only be a slight bend at the knee—you should not look like you're riding in the circus. This takes away from energy output and can cause severe knee pain," he explained. "My advice: Stop guessing what the height of your bike seat should be by standing next to it and measuring with your hip (most people don't know where their hips are). Instead, flag down a staff member to help and remember your settings."

Got all that? Good. Now get out there and start cycling.

Leigh Weingus author page.
Leigh Weingus

Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist and former Senior Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen where she analyzed new research on human behavior, looked at the intersection of wellness and women's empowerment, and took deep dives into the latest sex and relationship trends. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis. She has written for HuffPost, Glamour, and NBC News, among others, and is a certified yoga instructor.