I was making such a rookie mistake.
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I've never left a spin class not drenched in sweat, so I've always filed spinning under "excellent cardio workout" and nothing more. Then, I took a heart rate-based spin class that made me realize I had been short-changing myself all along. (Related: Flywheel Launches New At-Home Bike Featuring Classes You Can Livestream)
I tried Breakaway, a 45-minute class at Chelsea Piers Fitness in New York City that takes the heart-rate leaderboard format of classes like Orangetheory and brings it to the bike. After you input your weight and fitness level, your bike's screen displays colored zones of effort based on your stats, speed, and resistance throughout the class. As you start pedaling, all that info is translated into a color zone based on your effort: white for very light through red for max effort. For more accuracy, you can pair your bike with a heart-rate monitor or take a test of five straight minutes of pedaling to calculate your functional power threshold, or FTP. (Related: How to Find—and Train In—Your Personal Heart-Rate Zones)
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Thankfully, you don't need to crunch numbers during the class. Your instructor simply calls out an RPM and color zone that you should try to hit. So if you're given a low RPM and it says to hit red, you've got to crank the resistance way up to get there. I quickly realized that my practice in previous spin classes had been to add wimpy turns to my resistance in order to prioritize pedaling to the beat comfortably over anything else. But *actually* turning up my resistance to hit the color zones murdered my leg muscles like never before. By my second class, I was inputting my fitness level as "low" just to have any hope of keeping up. (Here are five other mistakes you could be making in spin class.)
In fact, adding too much or not enough resistance is one of the most common mistakes that spin instructors notice. Adding the right amount can help you get the most out of your class, especially when it comes to working your glutes. So from here on out, when I'm not taking a high-tech class like Breakaway, I'm resolving to really crank up the resistance whenever my spin instructor says to.