Glamour Magazine recently published an article The 6 Secrets to Burning Major Calories in Spin[sic] Class written by Faith Cummings.  Four of the points raised are solid. One is iffy and another is IMO boarding on BS.

Their suggestions; Don't stop moving, Make sure you have enough resistance, Push yourself and Prep your body before class (that last one is my favorite and I'll expand on the idea below) are all solid and sound advice.

These other two, not so much:

Turn up the heat.
We're going to sweat while we workout anyway, so why not turn the temperature up a bit and really get it going? "Riding in a heated room torches calories," says The Sweat Shoppe co-owner Mimi Benz. "You can burn up to 1,000 calories in 55 minutes."

While technically accurate (yes your body expends additional calories staying cool... actually more than staying warm) what's missing is how our body's ability to create work decreases, as our core temperature increases. So if you can't work as hard because you're overheating, I find it hard to believe that a hot room has a positive effect on calories burned. I'll respond to the 1000 calories in 55 minutes BS below.

Remove the bounce.
"Bouncing stresses our joints and actually takes away from the calorie burn," says Flywheel cofounder and creative director Ruth Zukerman. "When riding out of the saddle, hovering closer to the saddle relies on the use of your muscles more, resulting in more calories burned."

I've love to see an actual study showing this - it's actually the first time I've ever heard it. My perception is bouncing out of the saddle is the result of improper pedaling technique - so technically she could be right > better technique could result in more muscle recruitment = more work accomplished / calories burned... or it could go the other way > better technique = more efficient, which could result in less work/calories expended. Either way I have a hard time believing that hovering will contribute to you being swimsuit ready anytime sooner.

My six secrets to Burning Major Calories in Indoor Cycling class.


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#1 Dump the assumptions, they're unhelpful and potentailly destructive

No, Ms. Benz, the typical participant in one of your Indoor Cycling classes CAN NOT BURN 1,000 calories in 55 minutes. Yes there may be a few in your classes who can. But unless you're looking at a room full of very fit 200lb men in every class, burning even half that amount (500 calories) will be a huge result for most participants.

Knowingly setting unrealistic expectations (BURN up to 1,000 Calories!) for riders in a class is unethical and is sleazy marketing of the worst type.

So what happens when a rider thinks they will burn 1,000 calories (no one hears the "up to" part) in a 55 minute class? Lots of things and none of them good:

  • They'll feel free to eat more post-class as a reward. This post describes what's called hedonic snacks which are those little treats we use to reward ourselves for a job well done. "I just burned 1,000 calories!" "Say, doesn't the blueberry muffin look like the perfect reward?" Congratulating folks for expending way more calories than they really did, sets up a destructive cycle of behavior that results in weight gain, not weight loss.
  • They won't work as hard in class, so their actual caloric expenditure will be even less than it could be. "I'll be happy with just 600 calories today, so I'll take it easy and chat with my new friend riding next to me." 
  • They're set up for failure. Consider a studio equipped with Indoor Cycles with power indication. The studio's marketing materials tell riders they can burn 700/800/1,000 calories a class. At the end of the 60 minute ride the customer hits the avg/end button and sees; 'Total Calories = 287'. How do you think they'll feel? "What happened to 1,000 calories?" "I must be a failure" "I'm never coming back here" 🙁
  • OR - consider a studio without power who tells their customers; today we burned 700/800/1,000 calories! And then one day they ride a competitor's Indoor Cycle with power and learn the truth. Whoever lied to them will have lost a customer...
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#2 Find some technology

I'm not talking about a wearable fitness tracker or heart rate monitor that offers estimated calories - they've been shown to display wildly optimistic calorie counts > Instead find a club or studio where you can ride an Indoor Cycle with Power/Watts indication - so you can observe a real measurement of how much work you're actually doing in class.

Indoor cycle power meters

At the risk of losing you here, there's a Law of Physics that can be applied to exercise and calorie expenditure. In layman's terms, the law; Conservation of Energy says you can't get more energy out of a machine... than what you put into it. Makes sense, right?

The power meter on an Indoor Cycle will record the the amount of energy your body expends turning the pedals x the amount of time you're working. Through some fancy math, any brand's power meter will display a reasonably accurate estimate of the amount of energy that went into powering your ride, expressed as Kilocalories (kcal), kilojoules (kJ) or both.

There are still a number of unknowns with these estimates of calories expended. The cycle doesn't know your gender, body weight or fitness level. My understanding is that the estimates used by manufacturers are based on a reasonably fit, 160 lb male.

Don't let these minor variables trip you up. The most important benefit of riding an Indoor Cycle with power/watts is how you can see today what you burned during the total class. Your next ride you'll have the chance to work a little harder and then you'll get to see your actual success!


#3 Stick with water

Nothing drives me crazier than seeing a participant, who I know is in class for weight management, with two bottles of energy drinks on her/his bike. 12 ounces of Gatorade has about 80 calories > the typical water bottle holds 20/24 = 160 calories for one and 340 calories for two bottles or more. So there's the potential to replace every calorie you've burned, and then some.

Depending on the time of your class, participants and instructors should be consuming a small meal of ~200 calories, that consists of a blend of carbs/fats and proteins. My favorite is a slice of whole wheat peanut butter toast.

Side note: Dr. Joan Kent, who's our resident nutritionist here at ICI/PRO, has been battling the addictive properties of sugar for years. She's written extensively about how you don't need sugar before, during or after exercise of any form. Endurance Nutrition Coach  offers his own similar suggestions here

Be ready to go hard at the start

Don't be left at the start

#4 Get there early... and get after it

Fitness can be expensive and if you're anything like me - you hate to waste your hard earned dollars. So with popular boutique studios charging $30 or more per class, what's the secret to ensuring you get your money's worth + maximizing your calorie burn? Don't waste your pre-class time! Instead of sitting there, slowly pedaling and chatting with your neighbor, take yourself through a purposeful, self directed warm up. The objective is to be warm and aerobic by the time class begins.

Find a comfortable pedal cadence around 80-90 RPM and quickly add resistance until you're feeling productive. Wait until you feel the workload get easier (as you warm up you'll feel stronger) and add another gear. Ride there for a few minutes and then recover until you can breath easily. That's your cue to start the process again. This isn't anything crazy. Unless this is your first class, you know what you can (and need) to do to raise your body temp and elevate your heart rate to the point where you'd rather breath, than talk. I call this working above the Chatty Zone - that's the training zone you want to stay above to burn the greatest number of calories.

Again your goal is to be warm and ready to work the moment the music starts. You'll be burning major calories, while your neighbor is still organizing her towel.


Shut up

People who chat constantly during class burn 50% fewer calories than those who don't. OK, I made that statistic up out of thin air. As far as I know it's actually closer to 80% for the simple fact that burning calories requires a lot of Oxygen (O2) and talking can only occur when you don't need the O2 in the air you're breathing for anything else.

Just how much O2? The chemical conversion of the stored fuel in your body (fats & sugars) to usable muscular energy is around 3 to 1. So to burn 1 pound of body fat, you need to consume (breath in) 3 pounds of O2. Think about that for a moment. Oxygen is a gas that's only ~14% of the air you breath. O2 doesn't really appear to weigh anything and yet you need huge amounts of it absorbed into your bloodstream, to support the chemical reactions that turn stored body fat into energy.

Anything you do, that limits your ability to breath, will reduce the amount of calories you can burn. Choosing to talk during a workout subconsciously tells your body not to work hard = you might have had fun catching up with your friend, but you just wasted 60 minutes of calorie burning time - plus you probably irritated those riding around you 🙁

Here's a fun fact: do you know how those burned calories leave your body? Through your mouth! Fats and Sugars that have been "burned" (a more accurate description would be oxidized) are long chain carbon molecules that are broken up - one carbon atom combines with two oxygen atoms, to form CO2 carbon dioxide. So that toast you had for breakfast this morning leaves your body, a little bit at a time, with each exhale.


Stay down

I call it, "bailing out" - the act of sitting up, to recover completely after an interval. If your objective is to burn the maximum # of calories, then you need to work at your highest sustainable level for as much of the class as possible. Killing yourself in a short burst, only to back way off has a negative affect on your total work accomplished during the class. Instead, to expend a larger amount of calories, try working not so hard > but for a longer period of time. Physical endurance will come over time, so stick with it. Stay down in the riding position for as long as possible, while managing your workload to you can complete each interval segment. If you need another reason to stay down... consider that everyone watching you bail out, is secretly chuckling at your lack of stamina 🙁

Come consistently 

A focus on "burning calories" kind of misses the point. The objective is to reduce stored body fat, right? Just as you can't effectively train for a marathon, by randomly running across the street - reaching your weight loss and/or fitness goals requires a lot more than riding in a cycling class where you burning major calories. Weight loss will only come to those who attend fitness classes consistently.

If you're a little weak in self-discipline, I suggest finding a friend with a similar schedule and fitness objectives. Plan to meet together at a few specific classes, so someone will miss you if you're not there.[/wlm_private]

I'll often tell new riders:

The most important class you'll ever take... will be the next one.

Then I'll ask:

Will you be there? 


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