Where should my gears be? The basic spinning 101 guide.

According to research from Duke University, exercise is as effective as antidepressants. That means you can consider spinning your way to a good mood! People who exercise perform better at work and have been shown to increase their memory and learning by 30%.

Years ago, I joined a gym specifically to take as many cycling classes as I could. I found that the classes allowed me to work up a sweat and leave feeling energized and powerful. Nearly a decade later, my obsession has continued to grow and I now get to lead people in this awesome form of exercise.

The thing I love about cycling is that no matter your fitness level or energy level, you can kill it. You get to ride corporately but as an individual you get to make it your own. It’s the perfect combo. The hundreds of calories burned is a pretty nice plus too. You’ll leave class feeling like you’ve accomplished something great and you may even find it easier to smile!

Basic Spinning 101 Guide: It’s All About the Gears

“Bring your gears to flat road and increase your RPMs to 100.”

If you’ve taken a spin class, especially mine, you’ve definitely heard this phrase. On more than one occasion I’ve had someone come up after class and ask, “Where should my gears be? What gear is flat road?” I explain in class that flat road is when you begin to feel that little bit of tension when you pedal You could maintain flat road and 90-100 RPMs (Revolutions Per Minute) for the whole class. Yes, your butt may get numb but you could do it.

“Okay, but what number should my gear be at?”

As human we are creatures who look for patterns and concrete ideas. We even like to be told what to do, sometimes. We want to make sure we are working hard enough, but not too hard that we won’t be able to finish the workout. So we beg for a definitive number that will get us to our goals.

That being said, if I instructed that 11 was considered “flat road” it could be difficult for someone new to riding, or new to the gym. On the flipside, that same number could be a walk in the park to someone who has been spinning for years. In fact, there is a gal in one of my classes who’s training for a 400 mile ride who starts her flat road at sixteen! We are all at different places in our fitness journey and that means we have to take charge and play around with those numbers until we find our sweet spot.

If I asked everyone to hit gear eighteen for a hill I may have beginners who walk out discouraged – thinking the class is far too difficult, while that same gear may be the beginning of a hill for someone who is more seasoned. The aforementioned girl starts her hill at twenty! This is why giving exact numbers can do a rider a disservice. Don’t lose hope, there is a better gauge for your workouts.

Related: feel like you’ve mastered spinning and want to try something new? Check out this inspirational story on how one FFC member completed her first triathlon at 70!

The Difference Between RPMs and Watts

Watts, or power combined with RPMs, are the best indicators as to how hard you are working. The higher the watts/power number the more energy output, and the better benefit. Think of the watts number as a light bulb – the higher the number, the brighter the light. The way to get that number higher is to increase resistance and cadence (RPM) at the same time. Increasing one without the other will give you a slightly higher wattage while increasing both at the same time will cause the number to explode, in a good way.

The Keiser bikes will blink at the end of a workout showing you your average RPMs and average watts. Pay attention to these numbers. You want your wattage, or power number, to increase every few weeks. High RPMs doesn’t necessarily mean that you are working hard. You may literally just be spinning your wheels and I know you came to class to do more than that! You want to be able to match the RPMs the instructor gives while increasing your resistance to get a larger power/watt number.

Related: want to check out a spin class? Click here to try FFC free!

5 Tips To Getting The Most Out Of Your Spin Workout

Here are 5 troubleshooting tips to getting the most out of your spinning workout with RPMs and watts. Remember, gear numbers will differ for everyone!

  • If your RPMs are staying consistently high and your watts are stagnant try adding on a bit more resistance to your flat road and continue adding from there.
  • Each time the instructor asks you to gear up, make sure your watts are increasing or at least staying consistent. As best, you shouldn’t let your RPMs drop so much that your watts suffer.
  • When climbing, pay close attention to where your gears are. Pay attention to the feeling you are getting from the pedals and where the instructor wants your RPMs. For example, if you are hitting 70-80 RPMs, play with your gears. Can you keep your cadence steady while adding another gear? If so, continue to gear up until you can no longer hold the requested RPMs.
  • When sprinting, add on a few more gears as soon as the sprint starts. It will increase your watts and may even increase your pace! As long as your behind isn’t bouncing in the saddle and you are staying under 130 RPMs, you’re good! If you do not have enough gear on during a sprint, the flywheel may take over, depending on the bike. If this happens, you are no longer working – the spinning bike is actually pulling your pedals around. It may seem like you’re going fast, but really you are out of control and wasting energy.
  • Make sure that when you come out of the saddle to stand, your gears are appropriate. There is a sweet spot. Too little or too much gear can cause knee and joint problems. While too little gear causes the legs to spin out of control, too much gear can create a choppy effect to your cadence and a lower RPM. If you get choppy and/or can’t hold the requested RPMs, take a gear or two off. It’s better that you keep a smooth cadence and hold the RPMs than have a higher gear.

Note: If you do have an instructor who gives exact numbers, go with it, if you are able. But know that you can always gear up or down depending on your level of ability. Don’t let it discourage you. This is your workout, your treat to yourself. We all want you to leave class feeling like the rock star that we are. Look at what your body just did! Isn’t it amazing? Now love it!

About Jessica

Jessica is a group fitness and spin instructor at many different FFC locations. Jess has a few obsessions that include fitness, nutrition, Starbucks, and her family (not in that order of course, coffee would be much higher). :) She is wife to a fantastic husband and mama to two happy little boys. She was raised in Georgia but has lived in multiple cities across the Eastern seaboard.

She’s been in Chicago for two years now and is loving the people here. Chicago has that perfect mix of down home and city. Her playlists often include the Top 40 with a few eclectic tracks thrown in. You can find her on Facebook here or follow her on Instagram here. Want to try a class out for yourself? Check out the group fitness schedule for Jessica’s classes!

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