Indoor Cycling Basics

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

Most people jump into indoor cycling with a class. Not only is the group atmosphere (and the pumping music) highly motivating, but having an instructor present to lead students through the hills, valleys and flat "virtual" terrain encountered during a workout is really beneficial to a beginning cyclist. Proper instruction and pacing will help riders get the most out of their workouts and it's suitable for exercisers of any level because ultimately, each individual determines the intensity at which they pedal "The fact is you're in charge of your bike and how much resistance you put on it, how fast you move your legs and what RPMs (revolutions per minute) you're riding at," says competitive cyclist Keli Roberts, a Schwinn Indoor Cycling Master Trainer and IDEA International Instructor of the Year. "Even in a class of people going crazy...with indoor cycling you can have an absolute beginner sitting next to the strongest person in the room and they can both get workouts that are appropriate to their fitness level."

"Indoor cycling is a great way to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight because you burn a lot of calories in one class," says Roberts. Another bonus? It's non-impact so it's not joint jarring! And then there's the great-looking legs side-effect. "With spinning you're doing thousands of revolutions per class so it's not going to make legs bulk up, it'll make them shapely and slender," says Roberts.

Bike Setup
An instructor should be able to help "fit" a bike the first time a new student joins an indoor cycling class, but it's a good idea to know the setup basics just in case. To gauge proper seat height, when seated with feet perfectly vertical (like at six and twelve o'clock), the bottom knee should not bend more than 30-degrees (Roberts actually suggests that 10-15 degrees of flexion is best) and the top knee should not jut above hip level. To adjust the fore-aft seat setting, when sitting with feet horizontal on the pedals (three and nine o'clock), the front of the kneecap should be directly over the pedal. Handlebar height, however, is pretty much rider's preference though the lower they're set, the more hunched over the body (so keep lower back fatigue in mind!)

Wear the right clothes. Wear the right clothes. Start an indoor cycling class in running shorts or heavy sweats and you'll likely end up chafed or uncomfortable. Opt for bike shorts -- regular or padded -- for a comfier ride.
Bring water! Indoor cycling can be a sweat fest so replenishing fluids before, during and after is a must!

Always keep resistance on the bike. No freewheeling --it's dangerous and doesn't allow for full workout benefits. "In fact, if you have enough resistance on the bike, chances are you're going to get a better workout rather than the light, super-fast cadences some people favor," says Roberts. The only time resistance may be removed is during the end-of-class cool down period.

Learn to count RPMs. Place right hand above right thigh and every time the leg comes up and hits, count (try 15 seconds and multiply by four to get an RPM reading). For a flat/moderate pace aim for 60-100 RPM. For a hill/high-resistance ride, aim for 70-90 RPM.

Know the zone. Indoor cycling can really spike a person's heart rate so it's important to keep an eye on exertion level. Roberts recommends knowing your "zone." It's okay to spend time in all of the zones, but not too much time in Zone 4 (which can become anaerobic). Without a heart rate monitor, riders can gauge their exertion by the zone descriptions.

Zone 1 -- 50-65% maximum effort. Feels easy.
Zone 2 -- 65-75% maximum effort. Challenging but comfortable.
Zone 3 -- 75%-85% maximum effort. Challenging and uncomfortable. Mouth breathing in necessary.
Zone 4 -- 85-90% maximum effort. Hard! Breathing is more like panting, rapid and shallow.

Don't get carried away. The group atmosphere can drive people to push themselves, which is awesome. However, it's important to stay within an appropriate fitness range. "It's motivating to be in a room of people working really hard, but beginners need to be careful not to get caught up in the competition just yet," says Roberts. But by all means, enjoy the ride!

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a certified fitness instructor and health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in Prevention, Women’s Health, Weight Watchers, and Fitness magazines.

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