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The REAL Truth on Whether Indoor Cycling Bulks Up Your Legs
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The REAL Truth on Whether Indoor Cycling Bulks Up Your Legs

By Shannan Lynch, PhD, CSCS, HFS, CISSN | Director of Education, Mad Dogg Athletics, Inc.

The media has given quite a bit of attention lately to claims made by celebrity trainer Tracey Anderson that “spinning” makes you gain weight and/or bulks your thighs.  We’d like to set the record straight on two important issues.  Firstly, Spinning® is a brand and the program that we developed over 20 years ago when we created the indoor cycling category.  It was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as the “hot” exercise of 1993.  As the worldwide leader in indoor cycling bikes and fitness education, we are committed to providing exceptional, high quality products and unparalleled programs and accessories under the Spinning® brand.

“Spinning is one of the trendiest exercise routines,” according to Margot Peppers of Mail Online who recently wrote the article “‘Spinning bulks your thighs’ Tracy Anderson on how the trendy workout could actually make you GAIN weight.” Tracy Anderson in Redbook magazine, states that “Spinning may burn calories in the short term, but if that’s all you’re doing, it’ll bulk your thighs…[and can actually make you gain weight].”

As SELF Magazine’s Fitness Editor, Marissa Stephenson, pointed out in  her response to Anderson’s statement, the simple fact is that there is no evidence to support her assertion. Numerous experts agree, including exercise physiologist Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of Exercise Science at Auburn University Montgomery (quoted in Stephenson’s response), citing recent studies that have shown women actually lose fat from their guts and lower bodies when they cycle often, even though their thighs may look temporarily pumped after a workout.

The scientific research to support Spinning® and indoor cycling as a meaningful and effective way to lose weight and maintain fitness is also very well documented. Most notably, the Bianco, et al. (2010) study found that indoor cycling training was an efficient method for weight loss in women, and Valle et al. (2010) observed significant reductions in body mass and fat percentage in body mass index in subjects who participated in an indoor cycling program for 12 weeks.

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In addition to collecting and conducting research, we’ve been working with cyclists of all levels for over 20 years, and have  deep practical experience understanding how cycling affects people’s bodies. Consider the body “archetype” of professional road cyclists. They are all on the leaner side of the athletic body type spectrum, not the bulkier one. And while their leg muscles may be chiseled, they are not “bulky”—any ‘bulkiness’ would be attributable to their body type (i.e., endomorph), not to cycling.

To get scientific for just a moment, hardcore cycling requires a large proportion of fast-oxidative glycolytic (FOG) muscle fibers. These are the fibers that allow a rider to go long, go fast and explode at the right times without fatiguing too quickly.  Thicker fibers only develop as a result of heavy loads, time under tension and, of course, genetics. Spinning®, which was created as a sports-specific indoor training program for cyclists, is a program tailored for 30-90 minute classes—the thicker fibers can’t sustain this type or duration of activity, and therefore do not develop in response to Spinning® or other indoor cycling programs.

So, when it comes to Anderson’s statement about Spinning® bulking up the thighs, we respectfully but strongly disagree and we have facts and experience to back it up. This is not to say that all of Anderson’s statements or methods are wrong. In fact I personally referred back to her routines numerous times during my personal training career.

Learn more about what Spinning® REALLY is: the authentic, exhilarating experience, the fitness and empowerment, and the camaraderie of our global community–not the size of anyone’s thighs.

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One comment

  1. Tracie Washington

    I’m a recent member to the “family” of Certified Spinning Instructors, and I have been involved in indoor cycling since being introduced to it in 1995 at BodyBusiness Fitness in Austin, Texas. I’m 5’10” tall. At my heaviest (post Hurricane Katrina), I weighed 260+ pounds; I’m at 155 now. You know why I had big thighs and weighed 260lbs? I ate too much and moved to little!

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