How hard is a spinning workout?

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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The latest Jockology column takes a look at “Spinning” — the indoor cycling classes whose popularity has rocketed over the past few years.

[T]he ingredients of a typical indoor cycling class somehow combine to lift workouts to heights that most participants wouldn’t achieve on their own. The alchemy of group exercise is well known to runners and aerobics classes, but spinning has found a recipe so powerful that researchers studying it have been forced to re-evaluate their definition of “maximal” exercise – and sound a warning for beginners who may wander into a class unprepared. [read the rest of the column]

I have to admit, the research on this topic surprised me. I knew people considered spinning to be a tough workout, but not “supra-maximal”! In the column, I focus on spinning compared to riding a stationary bike on your own — but I’d be interested to hear from serious cyclists about how spinning compares to a hard group ride on the roads. Does the same group dynamic apply outdoors?

Commuting calories: walk, run or bike?

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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New Jockology column now posted here:

THE QUESTION

Will I get a better workout by walking, running or biking my 5K commute to work?

THE ANSWER

Most commuters strive to be as efficient as possible. To get the best workout (specifically, to burn the most calories), you’re better off being inefficient. [continue reading]

A couple of interesting points have already been raised in the comments section, including one about what “net” calories refers to. In brief:

“Net” is referring to the total calories burned while moving a kilometer MINUS the number of calories you would have burned during that time just by being alive (your “basal metabolic rate”). Otherwise walking gets credited with burning a bunch of extra calories just because it takes longer.

As a rough approximation, running burns about 50% more GROSS calories per kilometre than walking, but twice as many NET calories.

Bonus supplements: beta-alanine

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

As promised, we’ll look at a few athletic supplements that didn’t fit into the two-part Jockology series, starting with beta-alanine:

The supplement: Beta-alanine.

Used for: Short-duration maximal exercise.

The claim: The mechanisms responsible for muscle fatigue are still highly controversial, but one factor is thought to be increasing levels of acidity in the muscles. This is particularly relevant for short (one to two minutes) bursts of intense effort. Beta-alanine is taken orally to increase levels of a substance called carnosine in your muscles. Carnosine’s primary function is to buffer the acidity in muscle cells, delaying fatigue and enhancing power. (Another way of buffering the acid is to take baking soda, which has also proven to be effective but can cause diarrhea.)

The evidence: It’s clear from many studies that beta-alanine does help buffer muscle acidity. What’s less clear is how this translates to performance benefits. The short, high-intensity bursts of effort are most relevant to elite athletes in events like the 800-metre run, which lasts just under two minutes, and are less relevant to most recreational athletes. However, an interesting study in the upcoming April issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that beta-alanine can also help sprint performance at the end of a long endurance race. The double-blind study had cyclists take part in a 110-minute simulated race, then do a 10-minute time trial and a 30-second sprint. Those who had received eight weeks of beta-alanine improved their final sprint by 11.4 percent.

The verdict: This supplement fills a specialized niche: only fairly serious competitive athletes are likely to have interest in it. But there’s no denying the appeal of having a little extra gas in the tank for a finishing kick — or the significant mental edge that is gained by believing you have some extra gas left in the tank. Clearly, there’s still more research to be done on things like dosage (the cycling study, for the record, started at 2 grams per day and gradually ramped up to 4 grams per day), but there appears to be a real effect here.

Bone density, this time for cyclists

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

Another new study on bone density, in this month’s Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Since cycling isn’t weight bearing (except when you stand up out of the saddle), it’s often thought to be worse for building bone strength than alternatives like walking. And sure enough, the study I wrote about here found that competitive cyclists had lower spine bone mineral density than controls.

But the new study, from researchers at Manchester Metropolical University in the U.K., concludes that “sprint cyclists and to a lesser extent distance cyclists had greater tibia and radius bone strength surrogates than the controls.”

So, completely contradictory results from two studies measuring slightly different aspects of the same thing. Sounds like we don’t really know what’s going on yet (and don’t even know exactly which questions to ask).