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Spin class at home: How to get the best results without going to a gym

Have a new bike? Here's how to get started with a solid spin fitness routine.

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Home spin bikes are hot right now -- here's how to get the most out of yours.

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As a former spin-class enthusiast, I know there's nothing like the rush you get after a really great class. The combination of endorphins and adrenaline from a challenging workout paired with great music and a motivating instructor is hard to top. Not to mention that a spin class is an awesome workout that challenges your body in ways other workouts can't without putting serious strain and impact on your joints.

If gym shutdowns due to COVID-19 made you finally cave and claim a spin bike for yourself at home, you may be wondering how you can get the most out of your investment. A home spin bike is not exactly a cheap buy, even though there are many bikes on the market that cost less than the Peloton. So it makes sense that you want to do what you can to make the investment pay off.

I spoke to two spin pros, Karen Asp and Briana Owens. Owens is the founder of Spiked Spin, a spin studio in Brooklyn, New York. Karen Asp is a certified fitness trainer, avid Peloton user and former spin instructor and endurance road cyclist who knows a thing or two about how to make sure your spin class is effective and fun -- whether that's at home or in the studio. 

Keep reading for Asp's and Owens' advice on how to make sure your body and mind are getting the most benefits from your spin class.

The benefits of spin workouts

"Spin workouts provide many of the same benefits as other forms of aerobic exercise, including improving mood, increasing brain health and building a fitter heart," Asp says.

But spin workouts have a few benefits in particular that make many people fall in love with the workout and keep hopping on the bike day after day. 

Low-impact cardio

Many forms of cardio -- like running, jumping rope or doing anything else that is high-impact -- can put a lot of stress on your joints. That can be an issue if you have injuries or other health conditions that require you to avoid high-impact exercise. That's where spin workouts can come in to save the day.

"Spin workouts can provide a temporary break for the body [from impact] without sacrificing intensity. And they're great for all levels of exercisers, whether you're new or advanced," Asp says.

Adjust the intensity to your level

"Like other forms of aerobic exercise, spin workouts also offer huge cardiovascular benefits, and because you can work in such a wide range of intensities -- anywhere from low to high intensity -- you can significantly improve your fitness," Asp says. You can adjust your intensity by either reducing or increasing the resistance, or by going faster or slowing down. Spin is a great workout for beginners because you can easily adjust the intensity and work at your own pace. 

"You can do endurance workouts, strength workouts primarily using hills, interval workouts or a combo of all of them. In fact, to keep up my general fitness, I prefer to do most of my interval training on my spin bike because it's easier on the joints," Asp says.

Builds strength, particularly in the lower body

Spin workouts can help you build strength and muscle, especially in your glutes, quads and calves. Your strength will depend on how much you "climb hills"  by turning up the resistance and how often you do hills and sprints during your workouts. Likely, during your class an instructor will guide you through intervals and give you suggestions for how much resistance you should use. That added resistance pushes your muscles to work harder, and ultimately makes you stronger. 

It's not just about strengthening the lower body. "Indoor cycling has become much more creative in recent years. Instructors now incorporate light weights, and even push-ups to ensure the upper body is not left out of the workout. Additionally when riding with proper form, the core, or midsection, of your body should constantly be engaged. Great form ensures a more total body workout than just pedaling the legs," Owens says. 

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It's important that you properly set up your spin bike for safety and the best workout.

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How to get the most out of your home spin classes 

Set up your bike properly 

When you go to a spin studio, often the instructor is right there to help you set up your bike. The same should happen at home -- even if you have to contact the bike manufacturer for help or watch a video to make sure your bike is properly set up for you before you use it. 

"Setup on the bike is key. That includes checking that your seat is the right height (not too high or too low), and the seat is far enough forward or handlebars are set to a level that's comfortable for you (if you're new, I recommend higher height to start)," Asp says.  

Next, you may be intimidated by adding resistance to your bike at first, but Asp says riding without any resistance is a bad idea. "One of the biggest mistakes I still see in indoor cycling classes is people moving the pedals so fast that they're literally bouncing up and down in the saddle. Faster speed doesn't mean a better workout, and to combat that, always make sure there's some resistance on the wheel. Think, after all, if you were riding your bike outside -- if you didn't have any resistance on that bike and just spun your wheels like crazy, you would get nowhere," she says.

Pay attention to your form

There are a few form corrections that Owens makes most frequently in class that she says to watch for. "Ensuring the shoulders are relaxed away from the ears, the spine is in a neutral position, and the core is engaged allows riders to protect their bodies while also getting the most optimal workout on the bike," she says.

Set attainable goals 

"For me, I always start with small attainable goals that will keep me motivated to keep going. For instance, instead of committing to 1 hour per day, begin with a 20-30 minute commitment, three times per week. By focusing on goals that are attainable you're more likely to have a positive association with the workout, and more likely to stick to the plan, and even increase the goals that you've set," Owens says.

If you're struggling with motivation to exercise at home, Asp recommends the 10-minute trick: "Tell yourself you're just going to ride for 10 minutes and that if you're having a miserable time, you'll stop." Then see how you feel.  

Schedule your workouts like you would a studio class

If you decide to do livestreaming classes then you'll have to stick to a specific start time, like you would at a studio. But if you do on-demand or prerecorded classes and find that you keep missing class despite good intentions, try scheduling. 

"[Scheduling] is critical for home exercisers, as it's easy to let a zillion other things take you away from your workout. But if you put it in your calendar, you're more likely to stick with it. I make up my weekly workout schedule every Sunday night, even noting the specific live classes I want to take on the streaming websites/apps I use," Asp says.

Take a look at your environment 

"If your bike is in a dark corner of a room that's filled with junk, no wonder you don't want to exercise. Fortunately, most bikes are easy to move, so reposition that bike where the scenery is more motivating," Asp says.

You don't have to have a dramatic landscape to look at to make a difference -- just moving your bike to near a window instead of in a dark corner, or by a door so you can get fresh air can make a big difference.

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There are plenty of apps and streaming services you can use to watch a spin class live or on demand.

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The best streaming fitness apps if you don't have a smart bike

Apps and online streaming classes are great tools when you work out at home -- they give you a structured workout to follow, helpful cues, good music (usually) and best of all, an online community to engage with.

"There are so many cycling apps that offer live and on-demand classes, and even though you're not physically in a studio with others, knowing that others somewhere in the world are working out at the same time in the same class if you're doing it live can be a huge psychological boost," Asp says. 

If you don't have a bike like the Peloton that comes with a screen to stream classes on, you still have plenty of options. For example, you can still access Peloton classes on a phone, tablet or computer if you purchase the Peloton app for $12.99 per month. When you subscribe you get access to a variety of online classes including running, yoga and meditation. You can do classes live in real time, or access content on-demand in your own time.

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The Peloton streaming app gives you access to spin classes, plus other workouts like yoga and strength. 

Screenshot/Mercey Livingston CNET

Here are a few other options too:

CycleBar Go

CycleBar Go is the popular spin studio CycleBar's new digital component. When you subscribe to the app, you can access a library of recorded classes -- just like what you would experience in the CycleBar studio. 

Studio Sweat 

Studio Sweat offers seven different types of spin classes -- from beginner to a TRX-and-spin combo class -- so you'll never get bored with doing the same class over and over. Although you can purchase a bike and streaming bundle from Studio Sweat, you don't have to in order to access the classes. You can pay for one-time downloads, or a more regular membership that gives you access to live classes as well.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.