Fitness Tips

You’re Not Imagining It—Adding Weights Really *Does* Make Your Spin Classes Harder

Zoe Weiner

Photo: Getty Images/RichLegg
The arms section of any spin class is meant to serve as active recovery to give your legs a quick break while you work your upper body. And as you’re doing it, it can feel like a nice reprieve from trying to keep up with the instructor’s pedal pace. But if you’ve stepped off of the bike after a weights-heavy class feeling totally exhausted and thinking, “that was a lot harder than a class without weights,” you’re not imagining it.

“Adding an arm series is a great way to keep your entire body active and engaged while you are doing a cycling class,” says Claire Jones, a SoulCycle instructor on Equinox+. She explains that although most spinning workouts are leg-dominant, strengthening your arms is essential for being able to do choreography on the bike and maintaining solid form while riding.

Spinning, in general, is a triple threat workout of strength, cardio, and endurance. “It allows you to implement high-intensity interval training in order to build your muscles and better utilize oxygen,” says Jones. “With a boost in your endurance, you’re able to maximize your strength training gains.” And by adding a dedicated arms section, your spin session becomes a more complete full-body workout, which makes it more challenging overall.

“It’s absolutely the case and you are working harder [when you’re using your arms],” according to Jones. “The arm series in class serves as an active recovery, so even though your legs get a chance to reset, we’re still actively sculpting and toning the upper body.” Though your arms might be getting their toughest work when you pick up your weights in any given spin class, that’s not the only time they’re being put to the test. Moves like push-ups and slow presses on the bike are also working to strengthen your arms, though you may not realize it because you’re so focused on pedaling to the beat of the music. “The choreography during SoulCycle classes that utilizes your arms is meant to elevate your heart rate, and may leave you feeling like you got a tougher workout than a class without choreography,” says Jones.

Because the muscles in your arms are smaller than the ones in your lower body, they tend to fatigue more quickly, which is why a few on-bike push-ups plus five minutes with two-pound weights can be enough to burn them out. “I like to use basic arm exercises and play with the tempo at which you’re executing them to make it a little spicier,” says Jones. “For example, four one-count bicep curls, one four-count bicep curl, and repeat—with a full extension every time. Trust me, it’s going to burn.”

Need a post-spin stretch for those fatigued upper-body muscles? Follow along with the video below. 

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