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Resistance vs. Speed in Spin Class

This Cycling Expert Has the Answer For When to Prioritize Resistance Over Speed

When you're sweating it out by cycling to work or hitting a Spin class, you're sure to be getting a killer workout. For instance, you can burn between 350 and 550 calories during an indoor Spin workout, on average, with 550 being at a maximum effort (think 85-95 percent physical capacity). Sounds pretty good. However, when you're in the groove and approach a hill or climb, should you be speeding up and taking off that resistance or slowing down and cranking it up? Of course, it's important to use both speed and resistance for a full-body Spin workout; yet, it's worth considering if one is better than the other under certain circumstances.


"The higher the resistance, the harder your body needs to work against it. You thereby burn more calories and can create lean muscle mass," explains Rebecca Gahan, CPT, owner and founder of Kick@55 Fitness, a HIIT gym in Chicago that has a Bike and Burn class that blends boot camp and Spin. "Instead of your standard two-hour post-cardio afterburn, you can possibly increase your metabolic rate for 24-72 hours. The key is to increase the resistance but still maintain a speed that is fast enough to keep your heart pumping," she explains. "We base our resistance off of torque on a Keiser bike that has 10-12 ideal for sprints in first position [focusing on speed], 14-16 ideal for high knees in second position [can be either/or], and 18-20 for climbs in third position [greater focus on resistance]," she says. Giving yourself enough resistance to power through sprints and climbs will help increase that burn and add lean definition to muscles. Resistance can be especially beneficial for climbs in third position, with butt back and legs standing, Gahan says, fighting through the force.


However, there are times where you'll want to forgo excess resistance and focus on speed, instead. "If you're in first position, you might stay between a 10 and 12 for sprints, where you're not focusing on resistance, but more on speed, and you're going as fast as you can for a given period of time," Gahan says. When you're listening to a supercatchy, upbeat song, you'll probably want to go fast rather than slow down with a higher resistance and head to climb, she says, meaning music can play a role in determining which aspect will warrant more focus. What's more, consider what you were doing a few moments before. "It's a good idea to switch back and forth between speed work and resistance work, or between sprints and climbs, to blast your body," Gahan says. If you had just gotten off a climb with high resistance, it's a good idea to focus on speed for the next song, instead.

Which Is Better?

"Neither speed nor resistance are more important than the other. It is about shocking the body and never completing the same workout twice," Gahan says. "You need to be moving your legs fast enough, with the right amount of resistance, to increase the amount of work you are doing overall. But, it is pointless to increase resistance to a point where you can barely pedal," she says. If you can't move at a fast enough pace, you'll need to scale back.

"If you are in first position sprinting, your speed should be between 100 and 120 rpm. If you are in second position in high knees, your speed should be in the 60s. Finally, if you are completing a slow climb in third, your rpms should be in the 40s," she recommends, as a guide.

"If you are in a slow climb, but you see your speed in the 50s, it is time to increase the resistance. If you have completed 20 minutes of climb intervals, it's time to shock the body, lower the resistance to 14-16, and sprint in third position. Now it is a fast climb," she says.

"Use a heart rate monitor to determine how many calories you are burning and what is best for torching those muscles and bringing in something new. Let this be your guide vs. a number on a screen," she says.

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