Image: Kari Perrin

Before stepping into a cycling studio where you are greeted by thumping dance music, flashing lights and smiling faces of fellow cyclers, learn about the benefits of this trendy exercise. Bianca Ventura and Aimee Howe, the owners of the Sarasota cycling studio Off the Handle, explain the benefits of spin cycling, whether you are recovering from an injury, looking for a recreational workout routine or are a professional athlete needing some cardio training.

Ventura started Off the Handle as a passion project in May 2019. Her love of cycling helped her develop a studio that is free of competitiveness fed by leaderboards, which at other studios show everyone's ride time and calories burned at the end of the class. Ventura wants cyclers to focus on having fun and doing something positive for their health, rather than on beating other people's times.

Each ride lasts 45 minutes, and includes warmup and cool-down periods, with varying levels of difficulty in between.

"Each bike tracks a cycler's revolutions per minute, RPMs, or how quickly you are pedaling in a given amount of time," says Howe. "The higher the resistance of the bike, the more difficult the ride and the more your muscles will work."

Ventura says it is common to burn anywhere from 500 to 600 calories in one 45-minute cycling class. This can be equivalent to a two- to three-mile run, without the stress and impact on your joints. Men can burn between 700 to 800 calories. Even if you are recreational rider, you can still burn 300-400 calories. "You can spin every day and not burn out," says Ventura. "You can even spin when sore from other workouts, to give muscles a break."

Anyone can get into cycling, no matter your age or ability level. While bikes do not record target heart rates, cyclers tend to hit their target heart rates for exercise at faster portions of the ride. The target heart rate during exercise for an adult between 45 and 60 years old ranges from 80 to 150 beats per minute. For ages 65 and up, aim for 75 to 136 beats per minute. If you do not have a watch or device that tracks your heart rate, a good rule of thumb to calculate is by subtracting your age from 220.

"Heart rate depends on what you are looking to achieve," says Ventura. "Some people prefer fat burning or cardio workouts, where calorie count is more important, but if you are training for a longer race, you'll look at endurance and heart rate."

There is a misconception that spin cycling will not help you build muscle. Each bike is equipped with gear shifts that adjust the resistance, making your muscles work harder. Cyclers bike to the beat of each song, and with 12-14 songs each 45-minute session, there are varying levels of resistance to achieve. There are also moves where you lift out of the "saddle" (the seat of the bike), a move that activates similar muscles during a squat, or do pushups with your arms, providing an upper body workout. Off the Handle even dedicates one song to lifting light weights.

"This exercise is great for your heart, helps with breathing and vascular strength," says Ventura. "But even more so can be the mental benefits that come with spinning." Stress can increase heart rate in unhealthy ways. Exercise that gets the heart pumping healthily will make your heart rate more steady when resting.

How many classes can you take? Off the Handle and most other cycling studio franchises offers daily rides, and memberships can allow for unlimited classes per month or limited numbers of rides per month or week. Most cyclers come three times per week, especially if they are trying to achieve a weight loss goal.

"People tend to look at fitness as a luxury, but it shouldn't be a luxury. It should be necessary and considered a form of self-care," says Ventura. "You've only got one body, and keeping it in good shape can help you live a long and healthy life."

Off the Handle is located at 4061 Clark Road, Sarasota. For more info, call (941) 923-5100 or visit the studio's website.

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