Fit Minute: Going for a spin with Sarah McCormack

Spin instructor at the Lynch Van/Otterloo YMCA Sarah McCormack demonstrates a standing spin workout on a stationary bike. Photo by Ryan Vermette

What better time of year than now to pick up a bike, or hop on a stationary one, and get a great spin workout in? Whether you are dealing with an injury and need to exercise on a bike as cross training, training for a big race, or simply just riding to get a good workout in and enjoy the summer weather, cycling can provide many physical and mental benefits. Spin instructor at the Lynch/Van Otterloo YMCA Sarah McCormack cycled through the different ways you can get a bike workout in for this edition of Fit Minute.

She started the demonstration on a stationary bike by showing how an individual should properly set up their bike.

“You want to be properly aligned,” she said. “When you’re coming onto your bike and you’re setting up next to the seat, the hip bone is close to the saddle.”

McCormack then says to hop on the bike as safely as possible, making sure that the handlebars are not too low or too high as the posture could hurt your back.

She then moved into how to position your legs as you begin to pedal.

“You want to push down against the pedals. You’ve got a nice little bend and extended leg. With your bent knee, you want it to kind of be toward the middle of your foot. That’s important because you don’t want to hurt your knees,” she said.

With the narrow seats, she said that many who are just beginning to cycle for the first time might be a little uncomfortable with the positioning. However, she says getting used to pulling from your belly in order to not sit as far down can help. 

When beginning the workout, she says to warm up for roughly eight to 10 minutes at a slow pace. One of her favorite workouts uses intervals, where the cyclists will pedal hard for a duration, and then take a resting period.

“We start out on a flat road, which means we don’t have a lot of gear, just like we’re going down the causeway with a little bit of wind, and then I’ll say ‘go!’” McCormack said. “I’ll do a 20-second progressive interval, a 30-second, a 40-second, a 60-second.”

She then said the ratio of the workout to rest period should be around 2:1, meaning if you do a 20-second interval, you take 10 seconds of rest, and so forth. 

McCormack also said if you are able and willing to increase the workout, you can take a rest after the interval exercise and do a standing workout. 

“This can be progressive too because every once in a while you can add gear and keep your speed, and then add a little more gear and keep the speed,” she said. “As you do that, and you’re trying to keep the speed and adding gear, you’re building on your watts and it’s getting harder and harder.”

Overall, McCormack says you can make the workout last roughly an hour between the two workouts. Cycling, McCormack says, works your inner and outer thighs, legs, and even your core as long as you have good posture.

“If you’re not paying attention to your abs, you’re screwing up your back. You are always working your abs when you’re working out,” she said.

When teaching her classes, McCormack says that modifications for exercises can be super easy. If you need to exert less energy, you can either keep the gear and pedal faster, or go for a short period of time at a faster speed or harder gear, and vice versa for those looking to add difficulty. 

  • Ryan Vermette is the Item's Marblehead reporter. He graduated from Springfield College in 2021 with a Bachelor's degree in Communications/Sports Journalism. While in school, he wrote multiple sports articles for the school newspaper, the Springfield Student, and joined Essex Media Group in August, 2022. Ryan is a college basketball fanatic and an avid Boston sports fan and in his free time, enjoys video games and Marvel movies.