Does a Spin Class Burn Enough Calories? And How Can You Burn More?
From small beginnings in Santa Monica, California nearly 30 years ago to conquering the fitness world today, it’s safe to say that spinning is having a moment. Spin classes have never been more popular, and there are no signs of its stationary wheels slowing down.
It’s easy to see why spinning is so popular. Loud, pulsating music, classes filled to capacity, motivating instructors, sitting… spin classes have it all!
Is the spin class-hype justified? How many calories does spinning actually burn? How can you make your time in the saddle even more productive? What other exercises give you more bang for your fitness buck?
How Many Calories Are You Actually Burning in Spin Class?
For those unfamiliar with what happens behind the walls of a spin class, they all follow the same basic formula. Participants are directed to their stationary bicycles. They’re shown how to adjust the set up for optimized ergonomics, including appropriate seat heights best suited to their bodies, and how to grip the handlebar without strain. The instructor leads the class through a warm up, backed by gradually intensifying music. Bursts of intense cycling followed by freewheeling downhill segments make up the main portion of the class, the intervals providing the high-intensity/relief periods that make this kind of workout so effective. These intervals are followed by a cool down and some stretching.
Spin classes have the reputation of being one of the best calorie-burning exercises out there. Experts agree that depending on body type and intensity of the class, you can burn 400 to 600 calories in a one-hour session. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Those numbers put spinning ahead of traditional stationary bike exercises and treadmill running sessions.
Of course, those numbers are all contingent on buying in and staying motivated. And that’s exactly where spinning gains traction over other interval exercises. Beyond the tangible, number-based gains of spinning, studies have shown that spin classes reap positive mental health benefits. And it’s not hard to see why! The infectious beat, a sense of membership and community as you and the other spinners work together to climb that next hill, the instructor cheering/yelling you on; it all serves to create an intoxicating cocktail of mental and emotional stimulation that engages and inspires. No wonder there are so many self-proclaimed spin addicts out there.
Spinning also serves as a good fitness option for people with joint pain or in need of rehab. The cyclical movements of pedalling are easier on ankles, hips and knees. While treadmills tend to get you nowhere fast (last pun, I promise) when it comes to joint rehabilitation, spinning might be just what the doctor ordered.
Cycling can provide a whole body workout. Many spin classes, such as this one in San Diego, now incorporate resistance bands and weights into their programs, meaning that strength training and spinning are no longer mutually exclusive exercises. Goodbye raddish legs.
Spin Harder and Smarter
Spinning clearly nets some major benefits that put it ahead of other exercises. But if you’re looking for even more burn, what can you do to maximize those numbers?
In a moment of inspiration from one of the early 00s great fictional thinkers, Dom Toretto said: “It’s not the car. It’s the driver.” Applying this timeless gem to your spin class, consider the following steps to make you a better driver:
You know those moments between songs? Break time, right? Keep your body moving. SoulCycle’s Lily Miesmer says: “As you hear one song end and the next begin, resist the urge to sit down in the saddle or let your heart rate slow down. Transitions are great times to keep your cardiovascular system working.”
- Turn up the heat!
Does your spin class offer heated rooms? Use ‘em! Cranking up the temperature helps you literally burn calories. Optimists estimate that you can burn 1000 calories in 55 minutes. (Just one sec as I ring up one large McDonald’s milkshake.)
- Yield to Resistance
There’s a delightfully linear relationship between upping resistance and burning more calories. Want to burn 10% more calories? “Increase your resistance by 10% for all hills, jogs and sprints,” says Cycle House’s Nichelle Hines. Maths.
- Prepping for Spinning Success
Don’t ride on an empty stomach. Flywheel’s Ruth Zukerman suggests “eating something small, like a bar or fruit, at least an hour before class. This provides you with more energy and boosts calorie burn.” (Okay, so she’s not quite buying into my milkshake theory, but still…)
What if you’re looking for something beyond handlebars? Are there extra-cyclical exercises that burn more calories?
More Burn! Exercises That Burn More Calories Than Spinning
If you’re all about getting those numbers up, here are some exercises that burn more calories, add some variety to your workout routine, and help you live your best life.
⇒ 600 to 800 cals/hour burned
Another seated exercise FTW! Rowing machines offer a great alternative to spinning for a few reasons. Experts say that rowing engages more muscle groups than you can shake a stick at! Quads, hamstrings, abs, triceps, biceps—they’re all going to be put to work. Interval exercises work a treat here too. High-intensity activity broken up with one-minute or thirty second breaks help to maximize calorie burn and your time.
- Skipping Rope
⇒ 600 to 800 cals/hour burned
Child’s Play, right? Believe it or not, this activity nets some adult-sized results. And while thinking of skipping rope might be daunting, you can’t argue with those numbers. Barriers to entry are minimal: $10.00 and an open space (and a dose of coordination) are all you need to burn hundreds of calories and improve bone density, agility and balance. (Barbs optional.)
⇒ 750 to 900 cals/hour burned
Cardio is the name of the game when it comes to kickboxing. Classes combine mixed martial arts drills, jump rope, circuit training and core exercises to give you an exhilarating, full-body workout. Tipping the scale in kickboxing’s favor include improved coordination, flexibility and reflexes, while the fringe benefit of being able to defend yourself against nerdowells is just icing on the cake. And you know that bottle cap challenge you’ve been wanting to tackle? Kickboxing may be just the ticket to joining the Stathams and Mayers (?!?) of the world.
- Hours of Household Chores
⇒ cals/hour burned varies
Mopping (153 cals/hour), scrubbing the tub (90 cals/hour) and vacuuming (238 cals/hour!) admittedly don’t provide the same efficiency of previously cited exercises. But imagine how clean your house will be after four hours and 1000 calories worth of vacuuming!
Spinning Your Way to Better Shape
Don’t you love confirming suspicions? Spin classes are trending up for a reason. The best of them give you a full body workout with minimal joint impact, improve mental health, give you a sense of community as you work out with fellow cyclists, and are incredibly efficient in posting impressive calories-burned numbers. And they’re addictive! Spinners love the adrenaline rush of conquering that next hill while burning those calories.
If you’re looking for even more dynamic exercises, try to mix it up with some rowing, skipping rope or kickboxing. Or bust out that mop for a three-hour session and some squeaky clean floors.