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Cycling And Spin Classes: Your Target Heart Rate Is Key

Feb 1, 2008
If you've added cycling or spin classes to your workout regimen, you're part of a trend that has seen this low impact cardio workout surge in popularity. More and more people are recognizing the cardiovasular and muscle toning benefits of these workouts, while appreciating the minimal impact on their joints. Let's examine a few ways you can get the absolute most out of your cycling or spin classes.

Whether you're cycling to stay in shape or to lose weight, your workout should suit your needs in the most optimal manner possible. You've probably heard or read about the term "fat burning zone". If you're trying to burn fat, you'll need to understand how your target heart rate impacts the amount of fat you'll burn off during your workouts.

If you're interested in spinning classes and decide to participate, you'll go through five distinct levels (zones) of intensity during a class. These zones are warm up, endurance, strength, interval, and race. In a typical one hour class, you'll move between the levels, which will help improve your cardiovascular fitness level.

Understanding your maximum heart rate is an important factor, because your heart rate will essentially tell you how hard you're working and how much fat you're burning. Calculating your maximum heart rate is easy. Just subtract your age from 220. As an example, I'm 46, so my maximum heart rate is 174 (220 - 46 = 174).

Now, back to the five intensity zones. Each of these zones has a heart rate range assigned to it, by percentage. It actually sounds more complicated than it is. We'll use that maximum heart rate we just calculated and take a percentage of that. Let's look at the assigned heart rate ranges for each intensity zone.

The first range is the warm up range, which is also the cool down range. During this range (at the beginning and end of class), your heart rate should be 50% to 65% of maximum. Using my maximum heart rate of 174, that means during warm up or cool down my heart rate should be between 87 and 113. Doing the quick math, 50% of 174 is 87, and 65% of 174 is 113. Yes, it's best to write these numbers down or commit them to memory so you'll know in an instant if you need to work harder or back off on the intensity during class.

Endurance Range: 65% to 75% of maximum heart range (MHR)

Strength Range: 75% to 85% of MHR

Interval Range: 65% to 92% of MHR

Race (also known as Sprint) Range: 80% to 92%

You'll work the hardest during the Interval and Race ranges. The endurance range is actually where you'll spend most of your time during the class. Not so coincidentally, that's the range where you'll burn the most fat!

Lastly, the easiest way to check your heart rate while exercising is with a heart rate monitor. Barring that, you can place your index and/or middle finger on your neck artery where you can feel your pulse. Most spin instructors will do a six second heart rate check. Multiply your count by 10, and that's your heart rate. Compare your heart rate to the range you're at during the class, and increase or decrease your intensity accordingly. Enjoy your workout!
About the Author
Jim Hofman has added cycling and spin classes into his workout plan over the last six months, resulting in a 20 pound weight loss. For more information and tips about spin classes and getting fit, visit Jim's recommended resource site dedicated to indoor cycling.
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