Cycling With Intention

Thinking about why you're there can help you get what you want out of the class.

Showing up for an indoor cycling class means your fitness-related intentions are good. Kudos for that! But have you ever paused to consider: Why are you really there? That may sound like an existential question but it’s not meant to be. I’m not suggesting that you need to have a super-ambitious agenda, either. But rather than just winging it, it’s a good idea to know what your intentions are so that you can make sure you get what you want out of the class.

Even if you’re there to have fun and blow off steam, it’s helpful to acknowledge that ahead of time.

So after you climb onto the saddle, ask yourself: What’s my goal? What am I working toward? What do I want to get out of the class? Once you’ve identified why you’re there, you can check in with yourself periodically throughout the class to make sure your efforts are on target.

What follows are six common reasons people take indoor-cycling classes. Pinpoint why you’re showing up so you can focus on the factors that will ensure that you get what you came for. Here’s how:

If you’re there to get a kick-ass cardio workout: You’ll want to ride hard consistently. Your cycling intensity should bring your heart rate up to 75-85 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). (To find out, you should wear a heart-rate monitor.) Periodically check in with yourself and see if you’re expending the effort you should be.

Don’t be afraid to go breathless now and then.

If you want to defuse stress and boost your mood: You can push yourself hard so that you sweat out your frustrations or take a gentler approach that resembles a recovery ride. The choice is entirely yours, and it depends on which intensity is likely to help you de-stress best.

(If you take the recovery ride route, you’ll want to stay between 50 and 65 percent of your MHR.) You can also alternate between the two approaches.  

If you’re there to torch lots of calories in order to lose weight: You can burn 400 to 600 calories in a 45-minute indoor cycling class, depending on your cadence (or pace) and how much resistance you have on the bike. To maximize your calorie burn, keep your resistance in the moderately high range (not super high) and your pace brisk (ideally, above 80 RPMs). Give yourself a reality check occasionally to make sure your effort is where it should be. 

If you’re seeking fitness motivation from an instructor: Make sure the instructor’s style suits you. Some people respond well to vivacious rah-rah cheerleader types, others to drill-sergeant types, while others appreciate calm, positive, encouraging instructors. Each style has its place but if you’re really relying on an instructor for motivation, it’s especially important to find an instructor whose style resonates with you.

If you’re there to build endurance or train for a long distance cycling event: You’ll want to keep your effort steady and your pedal strokes smooth. The goal is to cycle at an intensity (which equals resistance + pace) that keeps your heart rate up between 65 and 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. Make your mantra steady all the way and repeat it to yourself periodically as you ride.

If you want to have fun and socialize with cycling pals: How you achieve this is largely a matter of personal choice. Some people will want to keep their effort in the moderate zone so they have plenty of energy and attention to chat with their fellow cyclists. Others will want to groove off other riders’ energy and use it to push themselves harder. Think about which approach suits you best then find the sweet spot (between socializing, having fun, and riding) that works for you during the class. Either way, the perks of pedaling together are substantial.

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