Breaking a sweat while getting a good cardio workout has changed a lot over the years. Gone are the days of throwing on a pair of short-shorts and a terry cloth headband, then hitting the pavement for an outdoor jog. Ditto the leg warmers and Jane Fonda videos.
Sure, those are still viable options, but it’s much more fashionable, efficient and effective to hit the gym for a high-intensity aerobic workout.
The benefits of cardio activity are numerous. Not only is weight loss a perk when performed for a good duration multiple times per week, but it also helps strengthen your heart and lungs, increase bone density and even reduce stress and anxiety.
The concept of spinning on stationary bikes as part of a high-intensity workout class was first introduced in the 1980s, but soared in popularity in fitness clubs during the ’90s. Today, spinning classes are still frequented in both traditional formats or new amped up versions for total-body workouts with an emphasis on variety.
Patti Patak became a spin instructor at the age of 40 after being encouraged by her own spin instructor. She teaches at multiple health clubs and fitness centers, at least nine times per week.
"I think the music is key to any group instruction class," she says, speaking of the typically high-energy music that provides the soundtrack to the near-hour-long sessions. "You also need to interject some personality and put together a program that all levels of participants can enjoy."
Eric Pratt, owner of Taddy’s Pet Services, is a die-hard who’s been spinning for more than 10 years, an average of five times per week. You might even call him a spinning addict.
"I enjoy challenging myself to see if I can take myself to another level in spin class," Pratt says. "I also feel better physically and mentally."
So why not just bike through the neighborhood or around the lake?
"I prefer spinning over outside biking because of the controlled environment and the time savings. Since I have always worked demanding jobs that consumed a lot of hours and now, particularly, that I work for myself in a pet services business, I can get a good workout and feel good in an efficient way," he says. "I also don’t have the extra expenses that go with outside riding and safety issues with helmets, pads, etc."
"What we do in a one hour class can take up to two to three hours to accomplish in an outdoor setting," Patak adds.
The intensity and focus of the exercise definitely burns a lot of calories, too. According to Nutri-
Strategy, a maker of fitness and exercise software, an hour of spinning can burn between 620 and 906 calories on average, depending on the weight, conditioning level and metabolism of the participant. Sometimes even more can be expended.
The trend in spinning, however, is evolving to meet the new demands of active lifestyles.
According to Everett Aaberg, owner and director of fitness services for TELOS Fitness Center, "Current concepts favor higher intensity with an attempt to create a competitive and often surreal outdoor riding experience in the gym. The equipment and bikes have gotten much higher tech."
Kelley Gray, owner of Trophy Fitness Club and the new Pulse Fitness Club in downtown Dallas, has taken spinning in a new direction altogether.
"We have a cardio fusion class that uses dumbbells for body sculpting, mini-trampolines, jump ropes, spin bikes and heavy bags," Gray says. "We do this so the member gets a full body workout and it keeps the class interesting because you are not stuck doing one activity."
They also have a spin and box class. As the name suggests, it combines spinning and boxing. "We use spin bikes to give a lower body workout and they punch the heavy bag for upper body. We end each class with core strengthening and ab work."
The group setting is also beneficial.
"One of the most important reasons why we push classes is because it keeps people motivated knowing they are working out with a group," Gray says. "It also keeps the workouts fresh, therefore people tend to stay with a workout program longer."
The total-body approach means more variety and provides less chance of repetitive motion injuries from doing the same exercise too often.
Though it varies by individual, Aaberg recommends taking spinning classes up to three times per week and adding in other forms of cardiovascular activity and resistance training.
Spinning alone "only produces one repetitive movement pattern that will create wear patterns on the joints if done in excess."
By incorporating spinning or a combination class into your routine, the benefits can be more than just physical.
"I believe if you feel good inside it will show on the outside and that’s what spinning does for me," Pratt says. "It makes me feel good!"
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice – Body & Fitness print edition February 15, 2008