The Skinny on Training for a Triathlon / Duathlon with Spin Classes

Wondering if triathletes and duathletes should use spin bikes, or if spin bikes give you as good (or better) a workout as riding your bike outdoors? Here’s the skinny…

Spin Bikes Are Different6ef16836dbebce7096bf3f7c0de89862

The majority of spin bikes are different than normal road, mountain or triathlon bikes because they have a “fly wheel”, which is a 30-40 pound wheel that provides the resistance as you pedal (and which is also the reason that the pedals on a spin bike keep moving after you stop pedaling). Because of this fly wheel, your hamstrings work harder to slow the pedals as they come around. But when you’re outdoors, you’re pedaling against the friction of road resistance and wind resistance, and this motion requires more work from your hip flexors and quadriceps. That fly wheel keeps the pedals spinning after you get the pedals moving, so it’s also very easy to let a spin bike do the majority of the work for you, which is why many people in a spin class appear to be pedaling very fast when they’re actually not doing much work at all.

So, now that you understand the difference between spin bikes and regular bikes, let’s look at whether triathletes/ duathletes will get a bang for their buck actually use spin bikes.

Spinning vs. Cycling – Overall Fitness

Spinning: A study by the American Council On Exercise (ACE) found that indoor spinning on a regular spin bike can keep you at around 75-95% of your maximum heart rate, which is more than adequate for a triathlete to build cardiovascular fitness. Of course, a big part of this heart rate boost could be the heat of an indoor spin room, the peer pressure of spinning classmates, and the motivation of an instructor barking orders in your face. However, as you’ve just learned, spinning tends to use primarily your hamstring muscles because of that fly-wheel, which A) means more help from the spin bike and fewer overall calories burned or muscles strengthened and B) you using far different muscle groups in a different way compared to what you’d experience with outdoor cycling.

Cycling: As you know if you’re a serious triathlete or cyclist, you can easily get your heart rate as high and higher as those in a spin class. But if you’re new to the sport and have a hard time pedaling that fast while balancing the bike, navigating, and not having the motivation of a crowd and an instructor, you may find it easier to build skills on the bike, and then build your cardiovascular fitness in a spin class. But in contrast to a spin bike, you use your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, shins and calves more when you’re on a bike outside – so your muscular fitness will likely be higher (as long as you don’t spend much of your time “cruising”). But once again, you need to be working hard enough to hit those muscles with adequate force to make them stronger and to burn significant calories, and some people just have a hard time riding a bike that hard unless they’re racing.

Fitness Summary: The average triathlete, and especially the beginner triathlete, can get pretty fit in a spin class. But they shouldn’t neglect outdoor riding skills, and if you can get your heart rate high with outdoor rides, you’ll be better served keeping things on the road, or throwing your tri or road bike on an indoor trainer (which doesn’t have a fly wheel like a spin bike does).

Spinning vs. Cycling – Perceived Difficulty
Spinning: When you’re riding a bike indoors, spinning can get boring (this does not apply to Ashland’s fun spin instructors), and it can also use the same muscles over and over again (no ascents and no descents). This can certainly make spinning seem more difficult than cycling. But the pounding music and group/instructor motivation can help with this. Plus, note that a spin class can make time go by much faster compared to just throwing your bike on an indoor trainer.

Cycling: Unless you’re in a race or training with a fast group, cycling goes by much faster and generally feels much easier from an effort standpoint compared to a spin class. But as you take your cycling to the next level, there are technical skills required that can quickly make cycling become more difficult than spinning.

Summing it UP! :

You’re going to get a great workout with both spinning and cycling. But if you’re a triathlete, you’re going to want to be primarily training the muscles you’ll be using during the race, and also getting used to handling your road bike. Especially if you’re a beginner triathlete/duathlete, a spin class is going to give you great motivation and improve your fitness – but unless you’re just doing spin classes because you enjoy the heck out of them (and really WHO DOESN’T?!) – you’ll get more bang for your triathlete buck by riding your bike outdoors the 3 months a year that you are able to in northern Wisconsin!

Thanks to http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com for most of the above information!

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Thinking of Doing a DU?

2012-10-07JustDuItpic (1)If you are like most people you may find the idea of a triathlon intimidating because of the swim portion.  There is something very scary about an open water swim if you do not consider yourself  the equivalent of Michael Phelps.  For most of the population an open water swim with hundreds of other people is terrifying.

 

ENTER: the duathlon.  All the fun and none of the fright

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2012 Northern Grrrl Finishers at Iron Girl- Bloomington!

Do not confuse a duathlon with a biathlon (the Olympic term for skiing and shooting at the same time).  A duathlon is a run-bike-run combination and they vary in length from short to ultra distances.  Duathlons are growing in popularity and popular events series like the Iron Girl have added them to their line-ups.  The Iron Girl- Bloomington duathlon is one of my favorite annual “must do” events!

How do you train for a duathlon?

Good news… if you can run and bike you can complete a duathlon.  I have found at many of the duathlons there is not any rule to the kind of bike and gear you need.  You need a bike- be it a cruiser, mountain bike, or road bike, running shoes, and a helmet.  Some  basic bike maintenance knowledge is helpful in case you get a flat, but there are always support vans on the course too just in case!

As with any event you do need to train.  The kind of training will depend on the length of the duathlon course.  A 12-week training program such as this one will get you started, but as with any new training program be sure to get the A-OK from your physician.  To train properly you should plan to spend 9-12 hours per week to training.  This is only a recommended amount of training time- depending on where you fall in the fitness spectrum you may need more or less. Strength training, over the winter months will also be beneficial to your overall fitness.

This is also an excellent link for a  beginner training plan.  You will begin to get the idea as you look through these.  Don’t get caught up in the message boards about  expensive gear and what you will need unless you plan to try to place in your age group or will be aggressively racing.  Just have fun with it.  The ladies I have trained for the duathlon have loved every minute of the race and it really is for anyone.  I think I love the Athleta Iron Girl Series so much because it is overflowing with positive inspiring women of all ages and abilities.

SO GO DU IT!