Spinning Strong


Spin classes are a fun and challenging way to be active and fit. They combine the fun of working out in a group for community, and they give you the opportunity to work out with higher intensity without impact. You get to burn calories and help strengthen your cardiovascular/respiratory system. Overall, it’s an aerobic activity, but you can also improve your anaerobic capacity by pushing hard on sprints and high intensity intervals. If you are presently a spinner, you know this already. But is there a way to improve on this activity further? Is there a way to not only make you a stronger spinner but also a stronger, more resilient person off the bike?

The most recent health guidelines for physical activity recommend adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity each week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. The guidelines go on to suggest adding muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least 2 days per week. If you spin regularly you are probably getting close to your 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous activity each week. Here is how adding a simple barbell strength program can put the finishing touch on being in the best shape of your life!

There are a number of factors to consider when selecting exercise. There is Suitability, Performance, and what might be new to many of us: Combating a Sick & Aging Phenotype (SAP). Suitability simply means the appropriateness of the exercise. Is it safe, time efficient, can it be adapted for beginners to experts, and does it address full fitness partially or completely? Performance looks at whether it improve measures such as endurance, mobility and balance, strength, power, and body composition. When we exercise we typically want to see physical improvement in some or all of these. Combating SAP might take some explaining. In our increasingly sedentary society, the way we age has changed. We are less physical (hence our need to exercise), more of the population is overweight and experiences insulin resistance, higher levels of cardiovascular disease, and further along in years we see loss of muscle (sarcopenia), loss of bone density (osteopenia) and increased weakness/frailty. A SAP is a body type which encapsulates all these negative traits and virtually ensures that our final years are spent highly medicated and spiraling down into obesity, metabolic syndrome, and loss of independence. While we are young we never consider what lies ahead of us in our later years. But should we get there, we want to make sure we are in the best possible shape to live out those years as independent as possible. To paraphrase Maximus from the movie Gladiator, “What we do in life echoes in our Golden Years!”

From a Suitability standpoint, Spin does a pretty good job of being safe, time efficient, and accessible for beginners and experts. For full fitness, the body needs more movement across various planes, ranges of motion, and load-bearing.

From a Performance standpoint, Spin does a pretty good job of improving endurance, body composition, and power (as it relates it bike-specificity). To see improvement in mobility, balance, and strength the body needs to get work off of the bike.

From a Combating the SAP standpoint, Spin has a positive effect on obesity, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. But something more is needed to help combat the loss of muscle and bone density, and the weakness or frailty associated with aging.

A simple barbell program can significantly bolster the fitness efforts of virtually everyone. Taught and performed correctly, the basic barbell lifts are accessible to young and old alike. Please dismiss the notion that you must start by lifting heavy weights from the outset. Strength is the ability to generate force against a resistance, and this develops/increases over time and with the correct application of technique. First move well, then add a little more weight. Repeat. This is how we are able to effectively strengthen older adults whose movements and recovery abilities are compromised. You do not need to be able to pick up several hundred pounds. Consider this, if you are not able to safely and repeated lift a weight equal to your body weight off the ground then training the ability to do so can truly be life-changing. Learning to lift barbells challenges your mobility and balance, and so develops it. Our lives are filled with activities which require that we get down, get up, pick things up and put them down again, put objects over our heads, and/or carry them for some distance. Barbells allow us to increase our capacity to do all these tasks. The biggest benefit of barbell strength training is in the area of increasing or preventing the loss muscle/bone density and reducing weakness and frailty. And it meets this head on. If you are getting stronger, you are obviously not getting weaker and more frail. If you are not getting stronger, then you are gradually moving toward weaker. Stronger doesn’t happen on its own outside of puberty. So if you need strength, you need strength training.

Starting a simple barbell program that uses a handful of compound exercises (using major muscle groups) and performing on average 1-2 times per week will amplify your fitness efforts in leaps and bounds (without the impact associated to leaping or bounding!). And increasing your body’s capacity for strength, to generate more force, will also make you stronger on the bike as well. Stronger in everything.

We like to say that life is better stronger. 

Are you ready to be a stronger spinner?

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