Lifting weights for the arm exercises in barre and cycling class can build endurance, but it may not actually be making you stronger

By Hannah Doyle
January 03, 2016

There comes a point in every cycling and barre class, right when you're so sweaty and exhausted you don't even care what your hair looks like, when the instructor announces it's time to transition to arm exercises. You pick up the 1- to 3-pound weights and you do the dang thing. But do those 10-15 minutes of pulses and reps really count as strength training?

Technically, yes, but it ultimately depends on your goals, says Joslyn Ahlgren, cycling instructor and lecturer of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology at University of Florida.

When your muscle is contracting to resist a force, that's technically strength training, whether that force is a paperclip or a dumbbell. So when you're lifting super light weights for just a few minutes, it's unlikely you're building much strength. "The arm components in barre and cycling workouts help build endurance for your muscles, not make you stronger," explains Ahlgren.

But what about those five minutes during cycling class where the 1-pound weights feel like 20 pounds? "The weights feel heavy because your muscles are exhausted, but since you're only lifting a pound, they're not getting stronger," says Ahlgren.

If you want to gain strength and reap the all-day-calorie-burning benefits of bigger muscles, you need to lift heavier weights to get your muscles to a state of hypotrophy (or muscle tissue breakdown). Why that's important: You need to break your muscles down so they can rebuild even stronger; it also helps bump up your metabolism and improve your bone density, which can help protect you against injury. Ahlgren recommends training two to three days a week, using a weight that makes it a challenge to perform 2 sets of 8-12 reps. We'd recommend these 9 next-level strength training moves.

But that doesn't mean you should scrap the barre and cycling all together. Endurance training helps condition your muscles so they can handle lifting heavier weights. Plus, mixing things up on the reg is more beneficial for your body in the long-term. So whether you're trying to look good or just trying to open a pasta jar, you'll keep your muscles guessing and your metabolism revving, which can help you see better body results more quickly.

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