Spinning: Good for the heart and muscles, gentle on joints

Matthew Solan

Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

As part of my 2018 fitness goals, I have resolved to spend two days a week in what I playfully call “the pain cave.”

No, it’s not a setting for Game of Thrones, but one of the most challenging (and rewarding) workouts I have ever tried: spinning, also known as indoor cycling.

Spinning classes are staples at most gyms, and there are even entire fitness centers devoted to nothing but spinning. A class typically lasts 45 minutes to an hour and is led by an instructor who guides everyone through a series of heart-pumping workouts. For instance, you might do speed work, where you pedal fast for brief periods followed by periods of rest and recovery. You also may do incline workouts, where you increase the resistance so it feels like you are cycling uphill.

If you haven’t tried spinning — or are looking for a way to liven up your exercise routine — you should give it a whirl, as it offers a wide range of benefits for people of all ages and fitness levels.

“Spinning is a great cardiovascular workout and can help build lower-body muscle strength,” says Greg Robidoux, a physical therapist with the Cycling Medicine Program at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

It’s also perfect for people who don’t enjoy, or have difficulty doing, higher-impact cardio activities like running. Spinning is a low-impact exercise that places less stress on your joints, which makes it ideal for older adults with knee or hip issues or those recovering from orthopedic injuries.

Spinning classes are safe for most people, but get your doctor’s okay, especially if you have a heart problem or are recovering from an injury or surgery. “Once you are more comfortable on the bike, you easily can do your own workouts,” says Robidoux. “But you should experience several classes to get a feel for everything before going solo.”

Guidelines for a safe and effective workout

Look for proper credentials. Most spinning instructors are certified to teach spinning. Others may be only certified to teach aerobics, and while they may be experienced with spinning, they might be less knowledgeable about the equipment and how to move smoothly through different positions on the bike. Robidoux says to look for instructor certifications like Mad Dogg Spinning Instructor Certification, AFAA [Aerobics and Fitness Association of America], Indoor Cycling Certification, or Schwinn Indoor Cycling Certification.

Get fitted. Ask your instructor how to adjust the handlebar and seat height and position to ensure proper alignment, so you don’t put too much strain on your lower back and knees. Your legs should move in a circle with no jackhammer-like bouncing.

Take it easy at first. Only pedal at a pace that allows you to stay stable in the saddle, and never feel you have to do what everyone else is doing. “Go at a lower intensity if needed, stay in your comfort zone, and progress at your own pace,” says Robidoux. “It is perfectly fine to skip a workout, recover, and jump back in when you are ready, or do your own thing and just pedal.”

Keep it short. It’s okay to stay for only 20 or 30 minutes of a class at first, until you are more comfortable and your endurance increases.

Don’t forget a towel and water. You will sweat, so always have a towel handy to wipe your brow and a water bottle to stay hydrated.

Sit right. Also, invest in a pair of cycling shorts, which can make sitting on the saddle more comfortable.

Related Information: Boosting Your Energy


  1. Selvaraj kolandayan

    Dear Dr, i am having atriall fibrillation, pulse about 90 per min, im on pradexa 150mg bd and metformin 500 mg bd, i dont have major sypmtoms, i can walk for 1 hour, my question can i spin, if so, how much pulse rate can go up.thanks

  2. Karen Holder

    I absolutely love spinning. Originally, I took it on after having burned out my body with extreme race walking and marathons. I have my own bike and watch videos on utube to have encouragement. I am recovering from my 2nd hip replacement in two years and had knee replacement 10 years ago and expecting my other knee to be replaced sometime this year. I am 60 and did years of damage thru race walking and tennis, mega yardwork and countless other things because I thought I was invincible. Now I am also looking at my diet and eating an antiflammatory diet to see if this will help for the future, like my hands and arms (I swim laps in the summer). I love how strong my legs look and feel after spinning and how strong my lungs are. It is an endurance and endorphin thing for me, obviously, as my past history proves.

  3. Martha

    It is not true that spinning is good for people with knee problems. I have osteoarthritis of one knee due to a cartilage injury e.and have been to physical therapists and all of them tell me I cannot use an exercise bicycle – except for a recumbent one with very little movement of the knee joint and spinning requires much more than that. I didn’t have to be told anyway – I know what pain I will have if I use a bicycle. I would “love” to do spinning but this exercise would be impossible for me to do. Recumbent bikes do not allow for the necessary exercise or work out. To some degree they do, but not nearly like a normal spinning bike does. It is the movement of the joint for me – I cannot bend it and unbend it continually without pain. (No, I do not need a joint replacement. My injury is in such a way that I am still quite functional but I have to avoid riding a bike, for sure.)

  4. Margaret Alkire

    I’ve always heard that these types of exercises are gentle on the joints, however, I’m 73 years old and am unable to do spin class, the eliptical or anything else that causes that kind of movement because of rather severe pain in my knees. I have some arthritis but have never had an injury to my knees. I am able to do intervals on a treadmill with varying inclines at a speed of of 2.7 mph for 2 mins and 1.8 mph for 2 mins for a total of 60 minutes. I do this 3 times weekly and train with weights for 30 mins after. Strangely, this never hurts my knees during or after.

  5. Ray Burnett

    5 minutes standing ride twice a day

  6. Carol

    I can always find an excuse to skip the gym, so I have an airdyne in my house now. I ride four or five times a week to music. I am 67, with arthritic knees, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself!


    • sonia guterman

      I too find spinning hurts the knees, but an exercise bicycle e.g. a Matrix does not. I think it’s the inertia of the flywheel, that the pressure to continue or work against the inertia is the painful part. But indoor cycling on a Matrix machine is a joy.

      • Martha

        For my one cartilage damaged knee (injured when using a so-called trainer!), arthritis has set in and absolutely I cannot bend that knee over and over, resistance – pressure- or not, without causing pain and inflammation. When you have bad enough arthritis, you have a limited range of motion, hence, bending over and over is really bad for you. Resistance is besides the point.

Commenting has been closed for this post.