Mixing It Up: Spinning & Strength Training

Our tricep push-ups did not look this hard core, but the form is still the same. Photo by Colonel Bob.

Our tricep push-ups did not look this hard core, but the form is still the same. Photo by Colonel Bob.

When I first started going to spin class I thought for sure I wouldn’t last. I thought I might get bored or never build up a tolerance for the intense work-out it provides at the crack of dawn. Now I’ve already lost track of how many classes I’ve gone to (though I could check it in my Runner’s World training log) and I have come to appreciate the intensity of spinning and I am certainly not bored. Just as no one run is the same, neither as any one spin class and it’s not just because of having different instructors. The class is entirely about what you put into it, how much extra gear you’re willing to add to your bike, and how hard you’ll try to sweat a little more each time.

The variety of spinning is what keeps me coming back and I recently got even more than I bargained for with a fantastic instructor. She called the course SSOB–Spinning Strength Off Bike. Normally the courses run for a full 60 minutes of spinning. According to the triathlon training schedule I’m using I technically only needed a 35-40 minute foundation ride, meaning a ride at a moderate pace. I figure it’s in my favor in the long run if I can already ride longer and at a higher intensity. This course gave me a good 40 minutes of spinning in addition to a strength work-out which I have been somewhat neglecting.

For 20 minutes we did sprints, out of the seat sprints, a seated climb, and a series of 20 second sprints at gear 6 with 20 seconds of rest. Then it was off the bikes and over to the wall. We did wall sits for a solid 2 minutes (ok approximately, I didn’t pay attention to the clock, just the songs) and I don’t think I’ve done wall sits since high school volleyball. My quads were barking! While against the wall we did upward, sideways, and out front movements with our arms mostly to distract ourselves from the shaking in our legs. I think I could have managed those movements with 3-5-lb. weights had they been available and that would have boosted the strength training component just a little more. Without any transition we went right into standing lunges, one of the things I hate most. We only did 15 reps on each leg with a 10 second isolation hold at the end, but the move still killed and it was obvious (again) how I’ve slacked off from strength training.

We were back on the bike immediately for a fantastic sprint to a song by The Killers and then a series of out-of-the-seat and back down moves every 4 counts. Our legs were able to “shake out” from the wall sits but we were also able to keep our heart rates up. The instructor had us check our heart rate several times throughout and mine seemed to average 152 which is about right for my average HR. More interval riding, a seated climb, more sprints, out of the seat sprints, and down on the ground for push-ups.

Push-ups are not my strong suit. I read once in Runner’s World that an Olympic runner did 20-30 push-ups after each run and I have tried to be consistent with that and have not quite graduated from doing push-ups on my knees. In this spin class, the instructor said to start out in standard push-up position, so I did. For 30 reps I stayed off my knees but I couldn’t go down the whole way. Then we switched to tricep push-ups for 30 reps putting our thumbs together, bringing the arms in, and lowering down. Here I had to switch to my knees and even then I couldn’t go the whole way down. I noticed I’m pretty bad at tucking my chin in during push-ups and the instructor said a couple times to keep the head up which did feel like better form.

Back on the bike we were surging at gear 6 immediately. Then we backed down the gear and started another slow, steady climb getting all the way up to gear 9. A short rest time was followed by intervals: 30 second sprints, add gear, up for 10 seconds, take off gear for 30 second sprints, add gear and repeat. We did a couple more drills and came off the bike for 100 repetitions of the criss-cross exercise for the abs–this I could do all day long!

We finished with another 3-4 songs switching it up with base, tempo, sprints, and climbs. I didn’t mind at all having a little less time for cardio and I think I sweat more than I have yet in spin class. It was reassuring to feel my muscles work during the wall sits and lunges and then know that I could power through more spinning drills. The forward leaning movement of riding requires a certain level of core and upper body strength and while I know that not all the weight should be put on the arms, it is definitely helpful to have some strength in the triceps to support the upper body when on the bike.

This combination of cardio and strength is what cross-training is all about. And when it’s combined with alternate days of running and swimming I think the body can only get stronger and perform better all around. I like mixing it up and it’s a good reminder to not get too comfortable in a routine.

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