NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) Who says they're just spinning their wheels?
As indoor cyclists ride stationary bikes up and down simulated hills, they might not be going anywhere, but they're controlling every push of the pedal.
"It's a group setting but really you're doing your own thing," said instructor Bethany Lyons. "In spinning the knob that controls resistance is right in front of you.
"You don't have to look like an idiot in class. That's a huge factor," explained Lyons, a group coordinator for the Crunch fitness chain, which offers 275 indoor cycling classes per week nationwide.
Lyons said spinning appeals to teenagers and 80-year-olds alike "because everyone works at their own rate."
"If the instructor suggests you turn it up, you don't have to," she said. "In some other classes, an instructor will say 'beginners stay here' but a beginner will try it anyway because they don't want to stand out."
In the absence of weather and potholes the cyclist can go a lot farther, theoretically of course, than in the inconveniently changing real world.
"In 45 minutes you'll ride a lot more miles in a spin class than you would on an outdoor bike," Lyons explained.
Spin classes are the brainchild of Johnny G., a South African-born marathon cycler who in 1987 designed and built his own stationary bike so he could practice indoors.
When he began teaching friends out of his Venice, California, garage, the modern spin class was born.
"Indoor cycling programs offer a high-energy, low-impact means of cardiovascular exercise," Shannon Crumpton, spokesperson for The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), said in an interview.
Even better, spinning can burn a whopping 300-500 calories per 45-minute session.
"It's one of the few group exercise programs that meet ACSM recommendations for improving cardio respiratory fitness and weight management," the exercise physiologist said from Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
But good as it is, experts say spinning is not enough.
"Spinning lacks upper extremity and core strengthening, so one should supplement with stretching or yoga for flexibility," said. Dr. Alexis Chiang Colvin, Assistant Professor of Sports Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Colvin said she recommends it to her patients "who cannot tolerate high-impact activities, such as running."
Crumpton, an avid runner and triathlete, agreed: "It does a lot of work in a short amount of time and can be a great choice when cross-training in an activity program."
Lyons says even if the scenery doesn't vary, the ride can.
"There's the interval ride, the hills class, the climbing class," she said. "Different instructors do different things. And of course the music, anything with a steady beat, is a driving force"
All agree on the importance of the seat.
"It can take several sessions and some additional adjustments to find your preferred riding position" Crumpton cautions.
"Take a towel and a bottle of water!" she advises. "Sometimes just small adjustments can make a world of difference."
Of course, even the virtual journey has its irritations. "Make sure to have a well-padded seat to avoid saddle soreness," Colvin said.
Evidently it's important to sit tall in the saddle even if there's no sun, no wind, no rain, and the sunset you're riding off into is only in your mind.