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Benefits & Cons of Spinning

By Judy Fisk

A fast-paced spinning session can leave you feeling physically charged and mentally hyped. But as with any high-intensity activity, there's a potential downside. Before you sign on, consider how spinning might impact your total health and fitness profile. Understand the pros and cons of indoor cycling and how they relate specifically to you and your goals.

Pro: Calorie Burn

Combined with a sensible diet, regular and consistent spinning might help you shed some unwanted pounds. Calorie burn during a well-directed spinning class is roughly equal to calorie burn during a typical step class. Depending on the intensity of your workout, your current fitness level and your body size, you can reasonably expect to burn 7.5 to 19 calories per minute, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Pro: Muscle Building

Spinning involves continually and repeatedly pedaling against resistance, which increases bone density and builds muscular strength and endurance in your calves, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Boosting lower-body strength improves stability in the adjacent joints, including your hips, knees and ankles. The combined result of strength, muscular endurance and stability could lead to improvements in your overall sports performance and reduce your risk of injury on the court, field and track. If you're not an athlete, you still stand to benefit. As your lower-body strength increases, recreational activities -- such as walking or trail hiking -- and everyday activities become easier, safer and more pleasurable. And by increasing bone density, spinning might help lower your risk of osteoporosis.

Pro: Joint Protection

Unlike some high-intensity activities, such as running and traditional aerobic dance, spinning is low impact. Keeping your feet firmly on the pedals and moving your legs in a smooth, repetitive and circular motion allows for good joint range of motion. You'll benefit from increased joint flexibility and avoid relentless pounding. If you set up your bike properly, use good form and wear appropriate shoes, there should be minimal pressure on your joints. As a result, your hips, knees and ankles won't be subjected to unnecessary wear and tear. This makes spinning a particularly attractive option for athletes and others who are recovering from joint injury or returning to action after an extended break.

Pro: Heart Health

Spinning can boost your cardiovascular health. In 1997, researchers at the exercise physiology laboratory at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) led five participants of various fitness levels through a typical spinning routine. The heart rate of every subject measured between 75 percent and 96 percent of age-predicted heart-rate maximum; the majority of the time, heart rates were in the upper end of the range. Over time, working out continuously at such vigorous intensities can help reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your blood pressure and overall resting heart rate.

Cons: Safety Issues

For the unfit, spinning might prove too intense and even dangerous. Based on results of the CSUN research, ACE determined there's a risk that beginners and casual exercisers will overexert themselves in class. A report appearing in the December 2013 issue of "Journal of Human Kinetics" confirmed that spinning is a high intensity activity and that many participants underestimate how hard they are working, which could expose less conditioned exercisers to cardiovascular risk. For this reason, it's vitally important to monitor yourself, listen to your body and back off if you suspect you're pushing too hard. Jeff Vandiver, an ACE-certified professional, rejects the principle that pushing harder and faster is necessarily the way to go. If you're new to spinning or haven't worked out in a while, take a conservative approach. Work your way into a particular heart rate zone and aim to stay there for a given amount of time.

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