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All in a spin

THE exercise class that has taken the country by storm can actually make your body bigger, writes Pat Henry.

I am sure you have heard of spinning classes in your local gym -- they have taken Ireland by storm over the past few years and are practised in most gyms. You will hear the screams of the instructor as you pass by.

So what is it exactly? Spinning is an exercise class that simulates a cycling experience on a stationary bike in a class setting. It was created by Jonathan Goldberg in 1987 in the US. No gym or instructor is allowed to use the term spinning unless they are authorised by Goldberg's company.

What happens in a class? The instructor will be leading the class on his or her bike and will have loud music in the background. Using music and microphones you will be pushed to do your best. The effort level varies and the changes happen in three main ways:

By varying the resistance on the flywheel.

Cadence -- by pedalling faster/ slower.

By sitting or standing in different positions.

You will generally have a heart monitor during the class to track your heart rate and see what training zone you are in. The instructor will vary the class by changing positions, etc, and spinning. It's a tough class.

So what's the verdict? Some trainers, myself included, think that if you do too much of spinning that your calves, legs and bottom can actually get bigger.

The problem is that as you push the resistance higher the muscle has to react to the pressure being put on the legs and hips. To balance this out you will need to change your diet, as the body will accumulate fat in certain areas to protect you from overloading the muscle.

So while it does have benefits, you have to be aware of the shape you are going to end up with. Particularly for women who don't necessarily want large calves and thighs. Guys mostly want to build up these areas, and so rather than doing squats, etc for this, they often substitute them with spinning.

As I said, the odd spinning class is fine but if you do it every day -- and some people do it twice daily -- it may not have the result you want. I feel it will take away from your overall shape and symmetry, which I believe most women want, rather than being out of balance with bulk on the thighs.

You will know if this is happening by your regular assessment, i.e. measurements. If you see the proportions going the wrong way, stop and change your routine. Go for balance.

Next time you see a cyclist on the road have a look at their legs, as generally cyclists have big chunky calves. Big calves on women can make legs look shorter and stumpy, and very few women I know want that. Now I don't mean that by doing one class a week, or every two weeks, will make you get bigger, but I do think that doing too many spinning classes in a week can do this to you. Yes, you will be burning a lot of calories, getting fitter and reducing stress, but it's important to vary your exercise.

The other issue I have with spinning, as well as with many other classes and personal trainers, is quality control. In some circumstances a one or two-day course can get you qualified to teach spinning. Getting a good instructor is crucial to these classes and you need to ensure that you have one!

Do they assess each individual on their bike to make sure they are correctly adjusted? Do they just go hell for leather, feeding their egos by showing how fit they are? Or do they actually tailor the class to suit the group's goals? Are they constantly correcting people during the class to make sure they are in the correct positions?

Spinning, if used properly and not too often, is a good thing. However, if you overdo it or do not do it correctly it can be counter-productive. Problems such as back and knee injuries are associated with overdoing it, as well as gains in leg size that I mentioned before.

The other important element to remember is that you should drink lots of liquid during your session. If you sweat a lot and only drink water this can be dangerous as you lose too much sodium. Take drinks that rehydrate your body.

And remember, vary your exercise. You will develop a much nicer figure.