Three-hour spin heart rate workout, but not ready for the Tour de France

Last weekend I did a three-hour spin heart rate workshop at Uforia Studios in Palo Alto. The monotony of spinning for three hours didn’t bother me, but I’m not in shape to ride a bike for that long. Alas, no Tour de France for me — not yet, at least.

Spin heart rate workshop

We did a test to determine our maximum heart rate, then spent the rest of the time working at different percentages of our max — learning how to increase/decrease/maintain different heart rates, etc. I was probably a little crazy to have signed up for the class, and I had to remind myself more than once during the three hours that it was actually something I had chosen to do. After awhile it was easy to ask myself, why am I spending  three hours in a dimly-lit room, peddling a bike that’s doesn’t go anywhere?


Finding your max heart rate

Although testing to find your max heart rate sounds difficult, this was actually the easiest part of the morning. Maybe because it happened first, before I got tired. Everyone was wearing a heart rate monitor, and most of them synced with the bikes’ computers.

We pedaled at specific heart rates (e.g. 120 beats per minute, then 130, then 140, etc.) for 2-minute intervals. At the end of each interval, you gave one of the coaches your perception of how you felt on a “perceived exertion” scale — where “2” is “just warming up,” and “8” is “breathless.” The goal was to stop at 7.5, just before becoming breathless, or anaerobic. This type of test is called a “SubMax HR” test, since you don’t push all the way to your max heart rate. The coaches performed some calculations with our data, and came up with a predicted maximum heart rate for each person.

There are other ways to calculate your max heart rate, ranging from an estimate based on your age to a medically-supervised test where you wear a mask and are hooked up to various monitors, much like a stress test. The SubMax HR test was more precise than age-based estimates but less accurate than doctor tests. This webpage offers some straightforward information, if you want to know more about heart rates.

After learning our max heart rates, we used charts like those often found in aerobic exercise facilities to gauge our personal levels for 70%, 75% and 80% of max. For the workshop’s remaining two hours and a half hours, we learned to work within different heart rate zones.

Spin heart rate workout variety

The workshop offered only subtle variations to keep us from getting bored. Since we had three coaches, we changed instructors (and music styles) every hour. Oh, and once an hour we were allowed to get down from our bikes, walk a lap around the room and return to our bikes — just in case we wanted to unclip from the pedals, I guess. If you brought snacks, you could grab an apple slice or bite of energy bar to keep you going. But our coaches refilled water bottles and brought us fresh sweat towels, so we could continue with our workout uninterrupted.

During the third hour, things got really tough for me. Our coach warned us that we were going to work at given heart rates a little longer (not change so frequently), as our concentration would become strained, and we might even start to feel loopy. Exactly! At one point I knocked my baggie of orange slices to the floor while reaching for my water bottle. I don’t know why I didn’t wait for one of the instructors to come by and hand it to me. It seemed perfectly reasonable to bend down and grab it. “Reasonable,” to someone who was reaching the limits of her physical and mental capabilities. I nearly fell off my bike, but my teacher caught me in time. In all, I probably missed only a few pedal strokes of our workout.



While I can’t claim truthfully that this mega-workout was “fun,” I’m glad I did it. It definitely taught me some things about my heart rate and physical conditioning. Later in the week I’ll put out a post with my takeaways from the experience.

Meanwhile I’m not clearing my schedule for this summer’s Tour de France, except maybe to watch parts of it on TV. For me, it’s enough to cycle indoors on the bikes that don’t go anywhere. Vive le vélo de spin!


Image credits:

Fit Chicks, Wikimedia Commons,

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