Spin, RPM & Peloton: The Calorie-Burning Benefits of Cycling

Nov 25, 2023 | fitness

If you’re a fan of high-energy workouts, jumping on the bike for a spin, RPM or Peloton workout might be the shake-up your fitness routine needs!

As an exercise scientist, I’m always asked about the best type of workout to lose weight or get fit. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, if you’re looking for consistent results, indoor cycling workouts like Peloton, spin and RPM (Raw Power in Motion) are a great choice. 

Especially for beginners, there are always many questions about spinning workouts. I’m always asked, “Will it make my butt look big?” and “How many calories does it burn?” among many other things. 

For this article, I’ve teamed up with James Sutherland, an experienced RPM instructor and bike-riding nut.

Together, we answer some top questions like:

  • What’s the difference between spinning and RPM? 
  • What is Peloton and why is it so popular?
  • How many calories do spinning and RPM burn?
  • What are the benefits of cycling workouts?
  • What do beginners need to know?

Plus many more burning questions about these fat-burning workouts!

Get ready to pedal your way to peak fitness – this article has everything you need to know about indoor cycling. 

Ready, set, and here we go! 

What is Indoor Cycling? Spin, RPM & Peloton Explained

Indoor cycling classes are a type of high-intensity workout using a stationery bike. Spin, RPM and Peloton classes are all popular cycle workouts.

Spin classes vary in intensity, but they typically involve a lot of cardio and some upper body work (depending on the type of bike you’re using). The class is set to fun, upbeat music to keep you motivated, and you’ll be led by an instructor who will take you through a series of exercises.

Indoor cycling has really taken off in the past few years since it’s excellent for improving cardiovascular health and building muscle strength. Intensity levels are adaptable for all fitness levels, so it’s easy to go at your own pace.

Even better, you don’t have to splash out on a Peloton to get the benefits of stationary cycling. Spin classes are offered at countless gyms, fitness centres, and spin studios. All you need to do is show up (and be prepared to pedal!)

What’s the Difference Between RPM and Spinning?  

RPM and spin classes are both indoor cycling workouts focused on high-intensity cardio and interval training. However, there are some key differences, too. 

Spinning is an umbrella term for ‘stationary’ or indoor cycling. Spin classes at a local gym or studio are generally freestyle. This means the experience (and effectiveness) varies depending on the instructor.

Les Mills RPM is a specific type of cycling class offered at gyms worldwide. RPM workouts are scientifically developed and pre-choreographed to music. Each workout involves sequences of simulated terrain, with intervals of flat riding, hill climbs, and sprints to reach your cardio peak. 

I personally prefer RPM over spin classes because I know what to expect from every class. I know instructors are trained to a certain standard, and every RPM workout has been scientifically designed.

However, whether you choose spin or RPM classes, both provide a fun and upbeat way to break a sweat. 

What is Peloton and Why is it Popular?

Peloton is known for its online cycling classes, which exploded in popularity during pandemic lockdowns. When people refer to ‘a Peloton’, they usually mean the bike itself – designed for use at home, it’s compact and convenient, with a built-in screen to stream on-demand and live workout classes.

Here’s what many people don’t know: you don’t have to buy a Peloton+ bike to join the classes! You can actually use any stationery bike – at home or at the gym – with a Peloton app membership. The app gives you access to a range of fitness classes, including treadmill workouts, yoga, strength training, running and more.

Buying a Peloton or Peloton+ bike does level up your cycling workouts, with perks like on-screen metrics, automatic resistance adjustments, and muscle activity analysis. However, you don’t have to make the upfront investment just to try a few Peloton classes.

Online spin classes can be fantastic, as the convenience helps kick excuses to the curb – whether it’s a rainy day or you’re pressed for time, all you need to do is hop on and pedal! As well as the iconic Peloton, you can find online RPM classes on LES MILLS+ and even a few videos on YouTube.

Whichever class you choose, stationary bike workouts are a fun and upbeat way to break a sweat. Keep reading for ten great reasons to give cycle classes a spin! 

10 Benefits of Indoor Cycling Classes (Peloton, Spin and RPM)

Cycle classes offer a range of physical and mental benefits. As stated on the Les Mills fitness site, RPM and other indoor cycling workouts increase your fitness levels and burn fat. Over time, it tones and shapes your legs, hips and butt without building bulk – but you will gain leg strength and muscular endurance.

I asked RPM instructor James Sutherland what cycle classes will do for your body:

“Increasing cardiovascular fitness is the biggest benefit. Of course, along with that is weight loss and increasing the overall tone of your body. In a single RPM class, you can burn from 400 to 900 calories!”

Pretty impressive, huh? Let’s unpack those perks in a bit more detail below. 

As an exercise scientist, here are ten reasons I love cycle workouts: 

1. High calorie burn for weight loss

RPM classes burn more calories than any other Les Mills program – and I dare say any other class on your timetable! Thanks to their high calorie burn, indoor cycling workouts are fantastic for anyone aiming to lose weight and burn body fat. High-intensity training also boosts your metabolism over time, further speeding up weight loss. 

2. Boosts cardiovascular fitness

Cycle workouts like spin and RPM classes really help to increase your fitness levels. The interval training style takes your heart rate up, then gives you a (short) rest so you can do it all again. This is scientifically proven to be one of the most efficient ways to increase your fitness.

As a high-intensity exercise, spinning can improve your overall cardiovascular endurance, strengthening your heart and lungs. Increased fitness also equals more energy and a faster metabolism – win! 

3. Offers a full-body workout

Cycle classes can be a fantastic full-body workout, depending on how you tackle them. Of course, all that pedalling really targets your legs and butt, helping to tone and tighten. 

While the lower body does most of the work, your core and upper body are still in the picture! Maintaining proper posture and balance on the bike is a great way to build core strength. If you use a spin bike with handlebars, you’ll also get a workout for your arms and upper body.

4. Low impact and safer on your joints

Cycling with your feet secured on the pedal is called a closed kinetic chain activity. This keeps your hips, knees and ankles in alignment, reducing and preventing injury while allowing your muscles to be loaded in the right places.

If you are a little on the heavy side, running might make you feel like your joints get the hardest workout, not your muscles. Indoor cycling workouts provide better joint support for a more comfortable workout. 

5. Motivates you to work harder

Between the pumped-up music, encouraging words from your instructor, and knowing that everyone else is sharing your pain, you’ll feel like trying that little bit harder. After all, you always have a class full of workout buddies to keep you motivated

Yes, classes tend to be self-paced – so you can rest, slow your pedal speed, and reduce your resistance, but you’ll get going again. When you look around the room, look at your instructor and see everyone working hard, it’s not as tempting to slack off! 

6. No coordination required

Boys, finally a gym class where you don’t need a dance certificate to participate! Spin classes are a great option for the less coordinated.

During a cycling workout, you’re locked in, the bike won’t fall over, and you only need to twist the resistance dial and sometimes stand up in the saddle. In fact, if you know of someone who has fallen off, they deserve a medal – and I’d love to hear about it!

Cycle classes like RPM improve your balance and improve core strength over time, too. After some consistent training, you might be ready to tackle that yoga class after all. 

7. Adaptable to all fitness levels 

Cycle classes grow with your fitness, accommodating all fitness levels within one class! Other gym classes may need you to be fitter, stronger, coordinated, or flexible, but when you hit the saddle for an RPM workout, you can take it at your own pace. 

Don’t be daunted if a buff athlete straps in next to you. The resistance knob can be adjusted to your level, and if you can’t keep up with the instructor’s pedal revolutions, it’s no big deal, just slow down. 

The resistance feature on spin bikes allows you to adjust the intensity of your ride, helping build muscle tone and endurance over time. The fitter you get, the faster you pedal and the higher you dial up your resistance.

8. Suitable for all weather 

Whether you’re also an avid cyclist or just prefer to work out in air-conditioned comfort, cycle classes are a year-round activity. Come rain, hail or shine, there’ll be no excuses not to work out.

Even avid cyclists – like RPM instructor James Sutherland – rate indoor cycling as a fantastic way to work out. As a scientifically designed interval workout, RPM classes provide targeted fitness benefits not matched by outdoor cycling. 

9. Adds excitement to your workouts 

Cyclen classes come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s something for everyone. While you can adapt your pace in any class, cycling studios also offer a range of classes tailored to different needs. 

You can even find cycle classes that focus on different types of music or special themes like disco or 80s workouts. So, if you’re looking for a slightly left-of-centre fitness class, why not explore what your local spin studio has to offer?

10. Relieves stress and boosts your mood 

Cycle classes are also a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. Not only does a high-intensity workout give you a fabulous endorphin boost but there’s something special about spinning. 

Between the intense workout and the upbeat music, cycle classes can help you forget your troubles and focus on the here and now.

According to RPM instructor James, “It’s an experience that takes your mind outside the confines of the four walls the studio is in. A great instructor will make you forget about your problems and give you an experience that may just change your life – well, for a little bit, anyway!” 

Indoor Cycle Class FAQs

I’ve asked James Sutherland, an experienced RPM instructor, to help me answer a few common questions on indoor cycling. Look out for his responses below!

Are cycle classes a good way to lose weight? 

Absolutely! Due to their high intensity, spin classes can burn a significant number of calories, aiding in weight loss. Although I believe running to be the best form of exercise for weight loss, I rate cycling classes as a close second and much gentler on your joints.

Instructor James Sutherland doesn’t hesitate to recommend RPM: “It’s the best way to lose weight! Low impact, fun and effective – what more could you want!’

How many calories does a typical cycle class burn?

The calories you burn during indoor cycling will depend on the intensity of the class and your fitness level. Research says about 400 to 900 calories is typical for an RPM or spin class. 

RPM instructor James says, “I have seen evidence of both ranges. To burn over 800, though, you will have to ride hard!”

Does a cycle class change your body shape? 

One of the biggest questions about spin class or RPM class is, ‘Will my butt get big?’ or ‘Will my legs or calves get big?’. Thankfully, I have some good news for you. 

Spinning is great for toning your muscles, and no, it won’t give you a big behind! Contrary to popular belief, cycling classes actually help build muscle strength without adding bulk, giving you a lean, toned bum and legs.

As RPM instructor James puts it, take one look at the riders in the Tour de France. They spend hours riding a bike every day, and there are no big butts (but plenty of toned bodies). 

How many times a week should I do a cycle class?

If you’re a beginner, try taking one class a week and see how you feel. If you feel like you can keep pace, you can increase that to two or three spin classes a week.

Instructor James Sutherland agrees, saying, “I have always felt that 2-3 is the right amount, but if you can only fit in one, that is still great!”

Cycle workouts aren’t the kind of class you should take daily, as it’s high-intensity. Taking a daily class puts you at risk of injury or overtraining, which increases inflammation levels in the body. If you experience joint pain, muscle soreness, and fatigue, these are all signs to dial it back a bit. 

What is the best handlebar position for spinning? 

The best handlebar height is where you feel comfortable – typically, this is 2 to 5 centimetres below your saddle, but it can vary from person to person. 

According to James, this is spot on – you can (and should) adapt to what suits your body:

“Years ago, I read that the best handlebar height was 2 – 5cm below your saddle. In the 25 years I have been riding bikes, I have always found this true. However, if you’re riding for the first time or have lower back trouble, equal to or higher than your saddle is fine. Where you feel comfortable will always be the best place.”

Any tips for preventing a sore butt when spinning?

As an experienced endurance cyclist – including 24-hour rides! – James has some expert advice on preventing pain during spin classes:

“Sit your bum right back in the saddle. The saddle is designed so you sit on your sitting bones, so pushing your butt back a little will help relieve pressure. Also, remember there are millions of different bottoms but not millions of different-shaped saddles, so try a gel seat protector if you can’t get comfy.”

What should I wear to a cycle class? 

Cycle classes are typically high-intensity workouts, so you’ll want to dress accordingly. Wear comfortable, breathable clothes that won’t restrict movement and supportive shoes. Be sure to bring a towel and water bottle, too – keeping both handy means you don’t have to dismount mid-workout. 

Why am I not losing weight with spinning?

You’ll need to increase the intensity to get the most out of your cycle classes, especially as your fitness levels increase. You’ll also need to consider other factors in the weight loss equation, like a healthy diet and caloric intake. 

Instructor James Sutherland agrees that you need to keep pushing yourself to get the most from spin or RPM Classes:

“Your first challenge is just to finish, but as time passes, look at trying to work harder each time. It might never get easier, but your recovery will get faster. Lots of people use heart rate monitors to track their workout and try to gradually increase their calories burnt. You should always avoid the post-training fat crave and replenish your body with plenty of fluids and proteins.”

Next Steps 

The bottom line? Yes, spinning is great for toning your butt – but there are plenty more perks to be had! Indoor cycling is a fabulous fitness booster, burns tons of calories, and is flexible enough for all fitness levels. 

If you’re looking for a challenging workout or something fun and different, spin classes are worth checking out. And if you’ve had a lukewarm experience in the past, I urge you to persevere. 

My bum gets sore… I feel claustrophobic… it’s too hard… my legs will get big! These are some comments often heard after a first attempt at a spin or RPM class. Personally, I think it takes at least three attempts to get into the swing of a cycle class.

I challenge you to go and book in for three cycle classes. Give it a go and find out whether you love or hate it!

If it’s not for you, consider these alternatives for your high-intensity workout: 


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