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What Should I Expect in my First Spinning Class?

Published on December 2017
Lindsay Warner
Lindsay Warner

Freelance journalist, editor and copywriter. She writes about art, design, travel and outdoor adventures in #VT.


“Tap it up!” “Get ready to jump on four!” “Dial up that resistance!” “Get in home position!” “Now, SPRINT!!!!”

If you’re like most first-time indoor cyclists, you probably haven’t been this confused about riding a bike since you took the training wheels off when you were five.

Not to worry; we’ve all been that newbie walking into an spinning class for the first time. Don’t let it intimidate you; just learn the lingo before your first day, and you’ll go in feeling ready to “tap it up” with the best of ‘em.

Girls getting ready for a spinning class


Hint: Spinning is hot. If you’ve ever ridden a stationary bike in your basement, you know that you can build up a sweat very quickly. Now amplify that by 25 or so fellow studio cyclists. Consider leaving your bibs at home and wearing bike shorts and a tank top. Triathlon shorts with a perforated chamois are a great choice too.  Sweat-wicking socks under your Actifly indoor cycling shoes are a must. You won’t be laughed out of class if you wear a sweatband, either. Just remember that you don’t need to wear undies with your bike shorts. Sweat + cotton briefs + a chamois = misery. Bike shorts are made for this.

What to bring.

A water bottle. You’re going to get thirsty. A bike-specific bottle makes it easy to grab a sip mid-class, because you won’t want to mess with a screw-top bottle. Most studios provide sweat towels, but you might consider bringing an extra towel to drape across your handlebars when they get sweaty (and they will).

Wear (and bring) the right shoes.

You’re totally welcome wear your tennis shoes (so long as they’re clean). But you’ll get the most out of your workout with a pair of spinning shoes. Like outdoor cycling shoes, spinning shoes are designed to accommodate a special metal cleat that lets you lock your foot into your pedal. Being “clipped in” provides superior power transfer throughout all cycles of your pedal stroke and protects you from accidentally slipping off while pedaling at top speed (ouch!). The super-stiff plastic sole isn’t terribly comfortable to walk around in, but it helps you pedal harder and more smoothly without putting tons of pressure on your arch. Be aware that you’ll need to buy the cleats separately; nearly all cycling studios use Shimano Pedal Design or SPD pedals. If you get your cycling shoes and/or cleats from a bike shop, you can ask to have them mounted in the correct position for pedaling.

Get there early.

Spinning isn’t the type of class you want to arrive late for — especially on your first day. If you do, you’ll suffer the humiliation of trying to adjust your bike to fit you in the dark (more on that later) with people sprinting and sweating all around you. Get there at least 15 minutes early, and tell the instructor you’re new. He or she will help you set up your fitness bike to fit correctly. Don’t assume you can do it yourself, just because you know how to ride a bike. A stationary bike looks nothing like your bike at home, and riding for 45-60 minutes on an ill-fitting bike is a great way to hurt yourself. Own your newbie status. We’ve all been there.

Fun fact!
A single 60-minute class can torch between 400-600 calories! It’s also way more fun than biking alone in your basement!


Spinning session

Learn the lingo.

First of all, everything evolves around that little knob under your handlebars, which controls your resistance as you pedal. All the way left = no resistance (easy-peasy pedaling); all the way right = the toughest hill you’ve ever climbed. You’ll frequently hear your instructor tell you to “dial it up,” “tap it up,” “turn to the right” or “get ready to climb” as a cue to increase resistance. “Take it off,” “dial it back” or “turn to the left” are cues to decrease resistance. All the way left equals a 1 on a scale from 1-10; all the way right is a 10. And it hurts.

Learn the SPIN BIKE positions.

Stationary bike handlebars are pretty funky looking. There are three main locations: “Position 1” is both hands on the center section. For position 2, move your hands to the outer edges of the center bars (you’ll be here most often). For position 3, move your hands to the very top of the handlebars (you’ll only use this position when standing). Most indoor cycling classes feature a mix of standing and sitting work; thanks to its geometry, a stationary bike feels very stable whether standing, sitting, or transitioning between the two positions (also called “jumping”).

Anticipate the format.

Spinning is usually done in a darkened room with a jammin’ playlist designed to amplify the speed and intensity at which the spin instructor is teaching. Different spinning classes will have slightly different routines, but all will include a slower warmup, an intense middle section with a mix of sprinting, slow hill climbs and jumps, and a gradual cool-down. Your instructor will talk (and cheer) you through the entire spin class.

“Now, SPRINT!!!!”


Don’t expect to go out to dinner after a spinning class. There’s a reason many studios provide showers; you’re going to sweat. A lot. That’s also why so many people have gotten addicted pedaling on a bike to nowhere while listening to great music: a single 60-minute class can burn between 400-600 calories! It’s also way more fun than biking in the rain or snow — or alone in your basement. Come to class prepared to sweat, and you’ll leave feeling leaner, lighter, and with a catchy tune in your head to boot.

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