Is Spin Class an Effective Workout?



The simple answer is yes, spinning as a form of exercise is an effective way to get solid aerobic training into your weekly schedule. Spinning in recent years has grown in popularity due to the revamped marketing and branding lead by Soul Cycle. Spin class used to be just another group class offered by a corporate gym included in your membership. The room was somewhat sterile and boring, the music was usually old, or the bikes were kept somewhere separate and the clients dragged into a group fitness room. Nowadays, private studios are dedicated to purely spinning with a more thoughtful and invigorating approach to the design of the room, remixes to trendy music, and themed classes with experienced spin instructors. However, one thing that remains true no matter if it’s a ghetto set-up or trendy like Soul Cycle, spinning is extremely addictive.


Before I started weight lifting and after I finished competitive sports, I would attend spin class religiously. I was a veteran, the instructor would give me a nod when I walked in like, “that’s my girl, right on que.” My aerobic capacity was a 10/10, and the group class and intensity of the workout kept me coming back for more.


The best thing about it is the overall caloric deficit it will bring to your weekly routine via aerobic cardio. If you have your caloric intake in check and are eating 5-6 small meals per day with essential amino acids, healthy fats, and portioned carbs you should lose body fat. If you are doing everything right, you should see a 1-2lb loss in fat per week which will show up in inches lost. Since aerobic training such as spin is timed and for duration, this type of exercise is going to hit the type 1 and type 2A muscle fibers, but especially type 1 as it is the most aerobic, oxidative, and has the highest blood flow. Type 2A responds to a higher nerve stimulus and will be involved especially when the resistance kicks up. Since you are pushing harder and requiring more force, type 2A will need to be recruited. Type 2A has a medium blood flow so it also has aerobic potential. Both of these fibers however, do not have a ton of growth potential. Type 1 especially has very little growth potential, it only becomes more “fit” i.e. more aerobically efficient, will go for longer, more blood flow, more oxidative potential, but does not grow. Type 2A has some growth potential, but this would only be mildly tapped into and depleted on certain points in the workout. The biggest take-away is that spin class is an amazing high intensity, calorie torching form of exercise. It will aid in fat burning, but will only contribute minimally to lean muscle mass growth due to the aerobic, timed, for duration nature of the exercise.


The Only Mild “Down Fall”


One thing I will say from my year long, 4x per week obsession with spin is that although my aerobic capacity increased my body composition did not change dramatically. It did not change for the amount of effort I was putting in, although it was fun, I was also wanting to see some physical change as well. I was hoping vigorous cardio would create a more sculpted or toned appearance, but obviously diet during this time has a lot to do with this as well as previously stated. I will say my diet was not “right” during that time. I was eating “healthy” foods, but my energy distribution (caloric distribution) throughout the day was wrong, which meant my portions were large when I did eat.


Since spinning is mostly aerobic with emphasis on type 1 fiber type, the fiber with lowest growth potential, you will not see a ton of lean muscle mass growth. If you want this to occur, then you need to target type 2B muscle fiber type, the fiber with the most growth potential. If you desire to achieve less cellulite, and a  more sculpted, tight, and toned physique, then this is going to come from an increase in muscle mass. In order to target 2B, there needs to be a large nerve stimulus i.e. heavy weight or load, or for durational high intensity cardio for under 10s i.e. sprinters, or a rep range 8-2 reps, 3-5 sets. This doesn’t mean spin needs to be cut out of your routine, it just means it cannot be relied upon as a way to significantly increase lean muscle mass. Spin does not target the fibers that will grow your muscle bellies the most, weight lifting with good form a heavier weight for higher sets and a lower rep range will accomplish this. If you combine this style weight training 4x per week into your routine, you will build and grow your muscle bellies. More muscle on your body and bigger muscle bellies will make you more glucose sensitive which means when you eat a meal the energy is being used up immediately vs. potentially stored. The second positive among many, is your resting metabolic rate increases. You burn more calories at rest, which only adds to a caloric deficit helping you burn fat or keep body fat low. Now that you have increased your base lean muscle mass and your resting metabolic rate, by performing a powerful spin class 3-4x per week and being good with caloric intake, you will lose a significant amount of body fat. If you are looking to lean out/lose body fat, then if you keep this routine up for 12 weeks, you will reveal the muscle underneath the fat like a sculpture and the fat starts to burn away. Your skin becomes tighter, cellulite is reduced, and this is how you appear toned and sculpted. More lean muscle mass + less body fat = sculpted and tight.


The Final Verdict


A combination of aerobic training + weight training with a heavier load recruits all 3 muscle fiber types that exist within our muscle bellies. If you only rely on aerobic/type 1 muscle fiber training such as spin class for your workouts, you will see some results in your composition but will hit a plateau. Type 1 fiber type will become more aerobically fit and your oxygen capacity and anaerobic threshold will increase, but muscle mass will not significantly. If you want to increase muscle belly size (which you do, you will not “bulk” because that is extremely difficult to do natural), then you need to target type 2B muscle fiber type which needs a large and powerful nerve stimulus in order to be recruited.  By purely relying on durational, timed, body weight resistance aerobic training, this is not a powerful enough nerve stimulus to recruit type 2B. If you are banking on aerobic activity to sculpt, then you are selling yourself short. If you are spinning in order to lose body fat and create a tighter and more toned appearance, then you need to add in 4-5x per week heavier load weight training. Make sure you are not pigeon holding yourself or staying in your comfort zone, learn a new skill and start learning how to weight train.  Your future self with thank you.