Outdoors. Indoors. On a moving platform that allows for side-to-side maneuvering. Whatever your flavor, cycling is one of those workouts that doesn’t necessarily feel like a workout. Indoor cycling, in fact, is so much fun that – paired with the right music and appropriate lighting – can sometimes look more like a night out on the town. You may have seen this for yourself: the tight-knit group of lulu-clad sweaty bodies, the “thump-thump” of club music blaring from the speakers at ear-splitting levels, black light or strobe light adding to the mix. And all of this at noon on a Saturday. Naturally, not all classes are like this, but life takes all kinds, doesn’t it? Some indoor cycling classes take on a highly technical, almost clinical approach. These participants are often seen in full gear: the padded shorts, the specialized shoes that clip in to the pedals; some even sporting sponsor logos on their shirts. This group is often concerned with RPMs and mileage. You will see them committing hours on the bike in preparation for their next big ride. Still, there are those of us who just show up in whatever we have on, strap on the pedal cages, and go for a spin.
Indoor cycling involves an organized group being led by an instructor, using stationary bikes with a weighted flywheel. Variations on this idea take on whatever form creativity allows. The most common class format focuses on interval training, which uses every possible pattern to create an engaging, always-changing course. I have taken classes where the instructor is an avid outdoor cyclist, and translates these visuals to create a “terrain-emphasized” experience. Others choreograph their intervals to the music selected for that class.
Riding a bike is a low-impact way to keep your muscles strong and your joints healthy. There are, however, bad habits to look out for. If you’ve ever taken a class of mine, you have doubtlessly heard me say, “wiggle your toes”. If your weight is pitching forward, into the toes, you are applying loads of shear pressure to your knees. Wiggling your toes is a simple trick to assure that your weight is properly distributed. Another common habit I try to correct is the misalignment of the knee. Too often I see riders’ knees pointing inward or out, regardless of the fact that their feet are anchored. A rule of thumb I live by is to always point your knees in the direction of your second and third toes. This awareness will, over time, correct any detrimental habit you may have picked up along the way. Done correctly, indoor cycling is appropriate for all fitness levels and all ages.
Decide for yourself what type suits you and commit. There is little else that will give you this level of workout in such a short time. Considering that the average 45-minute ride will expend anywhere from 400-700 calories, your efforts will be rewarded. The beauty of the concept is, you decide how hard you go. I regularly see people come to my class simply to recover from the previous day’s race by setting the resistance to a low-to-mid level. Some riders come in to punish themselves for the previous day’s indiscretions. They are the ones grunting and grumbling and trudging along a la Sisyphus. The level of difficulty is entirely up to you.
Don’t let these classes intimidate you. Believe me, I definitely felt a bit unsure before I started. Get yourself in there, and give it all you’ve got. Better yet, sign up for one of my cycling classes at DumbBells Too. You’ll be hooked, I promise.
Jodilyn Stuart is the owner of ModaBody Fitness and has been a fitness professional since 1997. She currently contributes to 303 Magazine as a Fitness and Health writer.