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How far do I go in a spin class?

by Mark Clarke August 27, 2015

How far do I go in a spin class?

I often get asked how many miles/km do we go in a spin class? As with most things related to fitness and physiology, the answer is – “it depends”, and it depends on a whole bunch of variables and assumptions.

Let’s assume that a spin class is equivalent to a relatively flat terrain ride with a good road surface, no stopping for cars or traffic lights, comfortable heat/humidity and no wind. Assume you’re on a standard set-up road bike (not a TT bike), regular wheels and wearing regular cycle clothing with no skin suits, aero helmet etc.

Now let’s examine the variables.

Your work intensity

The best gauge of work intensity is power. If your spin bike has a power meter, the display should give you an approximation for distance covered, so you don't need this calculator. Unfortunately, power meters are a relatively recent innovation on spinning bikes and are not yet widely available. The next best measure of work is heart rate, and many riders regularly use a heart rate monitor when training. The harder you work, the more power you produce and the higher your heart rate. This means that power is proportional to heart rate and therefore, the harder you work, the faster you ride and the greater the distance you cover in a given time.

We could discuss this for hours, as all things being equal, bigger athletes generate more power than smaller athletes because bigger athletes have more muscle mass. Most benchmarks take body mass out of the equation by dividing the power you generate by your weight in kg. This gives us a power to weight ratio (measured in W/kg) and allows comparisons between different athletes of different weight. This is most useful when out on the road, as larger athletes have a significant advantage on flat/downhill sections due to their higher raw power output, whereas smaller athletes have an advantage on hilly, mountainous courses where lighter weight is more of an advantage than raw power when climbing.

However, in a spin studio, we don't have any terrain or aerodynamics to consider. Therefore, a larger athlete who generates more raw power will travel further than a lighter athlete, even if the lighter athlete has a superior power to weight ratio.

Your gender

Males have higher concentrations of testosterone and carry more muscle mass than females. This means that, all things being equal, a male will generate 10-30% more power than a female rider of the same weight. Therefore, it's safe to assume that a male will cover 10-30% more distance than a female of similar weight in a spinning class.

Your age

It's a sad fact of life that muscle mass declines with age. Fitness and weight training can slow the decline, but it's a battle we are ultimately destined to lose. Research has shown that males lose a disproportionate amount of muscle mass as they age, compared to females. We don't really know why, but it could be due to the fact that males have more muscle mass to start with. This means that with less muscle mass, your ability to generate the same amount of power becomes more difficult as you get older. Therefore, the older rider will travel less distance than the younger rider or will have to work proportionately much harder to generate the same power as a younger rider.

Your riding ability

As with all sports, there are gifted athletes and not so gifted athletes. Your riding ability (and the distance you cover) depends on many things, ranging from physiological factors (muscle mass, type of muscle fibres, muscle contractile strength, VO2max, arterio-venous oxygen differential, fat and carbohydrate transport ability, central nervous system etc.) and technique/experience factors.

Riding solo or in a group

You ride quicker and further when riding in a group compared to riding solo. This is because the lead rider(s) can rotate and take it in turns to punch through the air and create a slipstream. This makes it 20-30% easier for the guys riding behind to draft and "sit in the pocket". They can conserve their energy and recover, then take over the work on the front to allow their team mates to recover. This rider rotation (or chain gang) enables the average speed (and distance covered) to be much higher when compared to riding solo, having to do all the work yourself and not having any recovery periods.

Now you know most of the things which affect how far we go when riding outdoors, we'd like to make it easy for you to estimate how far you go in a spin class. Click the icon below to download a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which does all the hard work for you. Enter your gender, ability level, the duration of the class and roughly how hard you worked and it'll give you an approximation of your distance travelled.

Click to download

Happy spinning!

Regards
Mark

Mark Clarke
Mark Clarke


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