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Best Practices for Recovery During Spinning® Class

By Phil Joffe

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From picking the right music to teaching the right breathing technique to maximize a student's training time and effort, a Spinning instructor’s choices largely determine class success. Daily and throughout the world, Spinning enthusiasts attend classes to participate in a workout that improves their overall health and they rely on their instructors to lead them through a class that is challenging both physically and mentally. Instructors spend hours preparing playlists that will vary based on the class makeup and their experiences on how best to motivate the class. As instructors, these playlists are unique to each class and customized to fit the fitness levels of the students and the intensity of the workout. Music composition is an instrumental tool used to guide a rider’s aerobic levels through the speed and duration of the songs. The levels of energy created through music drive our heart rates up, allowing us to gain endurance and strength. We all recognize that Spinning classes include time spent in different Energy Zones™. Our goals are to maintain heart rates within a healthy range to improve fitness and ultimately allow students to perform increasingly demanding exercises with increasing ease. The dilemma facing instructors everywhere is finding the best practices on the timing and length of recovery during a class, given the different athletic fitness levels of the students. 

It is universally recognized that riders need to be cognizant of their heart rate throughout the class. Of course, heart rate monitors are a must to maximize training and effort, and they assist the rider with when to increase or decrease intensity. However, my personal experience over the years tells me that many riders do not use heart rate monitors. This places a greater responsibility on the instructor to monitor the class participants even more closely, not only for proper form, but just as importantly, their breathing, to prevent overtraining and burnout. 

I have found that many students have a hard time breathing through the nose and exhaling out the mouth. Riders have difficulty getting enough air through their nose, so instead, they ride with their mouths wide open. Ideally, airflow is designed to come in through the nose, where the air is warmed and filtered before it goes into the lungs. According to Brett Kilika, CSCS, Director of Athletics at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, proper breathing helps the body handle higher intensity cardio and weight training and recover more quickly. With the high intensity of a Spinning class, students will need to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth because of the large volume of CO2 they have to quickly expel. 

So, the question becomes, when are the ideal times for riders to recover? Should recovery be a group or an individual process?

Clearly, if the instructor is challenging the class with breakaways, Sprints or long, steep climbs, they may follow that with music that has a slower BPM for an active recovery. It is important for the rider to stay informed and measure their ability to recover from a high heart rate.

Often times in Spinning class, some riders show signs of initial fatigue 12-15 minutes into class, while others are feeling great and strong. I have observed that instructors provide time for their students to recover between songs where all students are expected to recover together by slowing down cadence or reducing resistance to prepare for the next energy burst. I have also observed instructors that provide time within a song to bring the heart rate down usually when the beat slows down or the volume of the music is decreased. These are both good options. 

Best Practices

My experience tells me that there is no universal rule on when riders should recover during class, however, proper recovery most often depends on the goal and the Spinning Energy Zone of the class. For example, if you are teaching a Strength Energy Zone ride, recovery will be minimal, as the goal is to remain within 75-85% of your maximum heart rate. Yet recovering from an anaerobic heart rate at the proper times and recovering more quickly improves an individual’s aerobic base and strength. Here are some important recovery guidelines to follow to avoid overtraining and possible injury:

• Don’t separate recovery from relaxation. Relaxation is defined by both a mental state (calmness without anxiety or nervousness), as well as a physical state (the absence of muscular tension). Each rider controls their own workout intensity, so remind students throughout the class of the importance of relaxing for a period of time after they reach fatigue. 
• Form over effort. Emphasize to students that once form is compromised, they must recover to the proper heart rate zone to achieve proper form. 
• Riders must train at the level of resistance and intensity in which they feel comfortable. That includes bringing their heart rate down and recovering to a healthy working zone when necessary.
• Emphasize efficient, deep breathing through the abdomen.

As instructors, we can educate our students that focusing on controlling their heart rate ranges and recovering when necessary benefits their aerobic training and maximizes their Spinning workout. Although there are times during class when recovering as a group may be appropriate, we should educate on the individuality of recovery so that each rider gets the most out of their Spinning class and enjoys the workout.   

Author: Phil Joffe

Phil is retired from a 20-year career as a corporate executive and he currently co-owns a family business called Symphony Farms with his wife Margaret. Symphony Farms, located in Auburn, California, breeds Spanish sport horses for dressage. Since Phil and his wife were fortunate to retire at fairly young ages, they have dedicated a significant part of our lives to the physical and mental well-being of themselves and their horses. In his fitness research, Phil realized that Spinning® was his cardio avenue to wellness. Taking advantage of his love of music, playing the clarinet and observing international training methods of dressage riders and their horses, he realized he could motivate and teach an upbeat challenging Spinning class by mixing the best of training techniques. Phil teaches at the Courthouse Athletic Club and his classes are "true" to the Spinning models, with an emphasis on music that synchronizes movements to a musical beat and increases the participants strength and endurance. 

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