Runners should take a revised look at spin classes

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Andrew L. Rosen, MD

As a runner myself, I’ve tried numerous forms of alternative workouts without much success. I’ve never been able to be excited by indoor gym workouts such as elliptical, rowing or simple stationary biking. Outdoor biking can be a great alternative as a runner accustomed to being outside but the workouts are much more time consuming, require costly equipment and have increased risk of injury, sometimes serious.

I had tried spin classes many years ago and found them equally unappealing with teachers emphasizing simple hill climbing and loud music. Recently that seems to be changing dramatically. Modern spin classes can be much more attractive to runners with new stationary bicycles that provide constant information ‘metrics’ of speed and resistance that feel very similar to the information we are accustomed to seeing on our GPS watches as we train and race outdoors. This non-stop information drastically changes the stationary biking experience and allows riders to know how hard they are pushing and how much work they accomplished in the workout.

The addition of this information also allows classes that feel very similar to running speedwork with high intensity short intervals, longer tempo intervals and repetitive activities that mimic running ’fartlek’ workouts. New spin studios such as Peloton and Flywheel take it a step further and create a ‘leaderboard’ that shows riders where they are placing in a workout and allow every ‘ride’ to be a race that allows participants to virtually chase each other and push a hard workout.

Having an indoor activity can also substitute for a running workout for days of rain, snow or heat that would make running undesirable or unsafe. The Peloton company makes the workout even easier by allowing the same enhanced workout experience without leaving your home.

I know it is seems unusual for a running doctor to tell runners to try something different, but adding stationary biking to a weekly workout program allows runners to improve their overall conditioning with stress to different muscle groups than running.

Getting experience with a good cross training workout can also be valuable when an injury forces time off from running. Many of us force ourselves to run through injuries because we don’t have another workout activity to easily transition to. Many injuries will resolve quickly with a short period of relative rest but will worsen if the running continues.

Trying out the new generation of spin classes may help many runners to keep motivated, continue running stronger, and avoid injuries.