Is Indoor Cycling A Good Workout?

Sandwiched in between the Jane Fonda and the Pilates decades, spinning was a hot gym class in the late nineties then seemed to fizzle out shortly into the twentieth century. When most fitness fads die, they pretty much die (the flow, sliding or wedge classes anyone?). That's why I've been so surprised at the spinning renaissance that's taking place.

Little pocket studios exclusively dedicated to indoor cycling like SoulCycle and Fly Wheel have become celebrity magnets. Seats are reserved days in advance and instructors are amassing rabid fan bases. Even classes in regular gyms and YMCAs are packed again. It's not just a big city thing either- I've checked in with friends all over the country who tell me they're seeing the same thing. And I know SoulCycle is planning a huge expansion into suburban areas.

To see what gives, I decided to try a couple classes. I was curious to find out whether people were flocking for nostalgic reasons in the same way many still admire Richard Simmons' retro shorts, or there has been some sort of update that makes Spin - aka studio cycling - relevant again.

The first class I hit was at SoulCycle in lower Manhattan. Even before I reached the front desk, I sensed that participants view their group cycling time as more than just a way to sweat. Everyone waiting to enter the classroom was talking excitedly, clearly jazzed up about the ride. They view every 45 minute session as an event featuring the instructor's cult of personality.

I can see why. Laura's class was challenging, though filled with exactly the same jumps, sprints and hills and insanely loud music I remember from a decade ago. The main difference, at least from the classes I used to take, is that she was more of an entertainer than a fitness trainer. Though not much coaching went on, a lot of her rap was about remembering your intention and digging deep to get what you came for, the kind of discourse that would annoy me coming from a golden-ball-of-light yoga girl but for some reason was ok coming out of Laura's mouth. Not sure why she offered the steady stream of personal confessions but I admit it did help the workout fly by.

Moving onto the Flywheel studio in midtown I thought I'd get more of the same – but I was wrong. This place is less of a scene and more of a serious athlete's hangout. Here the bikes had readouts attached to give rider's feedback on pace and intensity. In a terrifying yet motivating twist, these little computers feed into a screen at the front of the classroom so everyone can see how their effort stacks up against everyone else's.

I didn't catch the instructor's name and I learned nothing about his personal life. And I mean that in a good way. He spent most of the class shouting cadence and intensity goals and barking at us like a drill sergeant to keep up with said goals. Seeing my numbers - and knowing everyone could see them too - made me hustle to keep up. 45 minutes later, I was drenched in sweat. I don't think I could have lasted another 10 minutes.

Taking these classes made me wonder why indoor cycling ever went out of style. It offers an awesome, no-impact aerobic session that burns mega calories (about 450 calories in 45 minutes according to the American Council on Exercise) and tones your butt and thighs like a sculpt workout.

As I see it, there are basically two approaches to group cycling. If you're looking for your heart-pounding Kumbaya moment, you'll prefer a SoulCycle type of experience. And if you're on a mission to murder calories, a Flywheel type class will do nicely. As for me, I plan to toss myself on a spin cycle more often from now on.

What about you? Does anyone know how to change the seat height on one of these spin bikes without a hammer and lots of cursing? I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether or not it's a workout that's worth wrestling yourself into a sports bra for. Sound off below or tweet me.

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