Does Video + Music = A Better Ride?

In what may be a matter of mind over muscle, both seem to benefit


Whether it gets you pumped to ride harder or it distracts you from how hard you’re working, watching a video while you’re cycling can help you reap more benefits out of your workout and get greater enjoyment out of the ride. After all, it gives you something to focus on besides the instructor, your own image in the mirror, or the level of effort you’re exerting (and the fatigue you may be feeling) as you pedal.

In fact, research has found that viewing a video while you’re cycling can help you work harder while feeling like the effort is actually easier. In a pair of studies, researchers at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, found that when people pedaled while watching a cycling video, they were in better moods after 35 minutes and they exercised at a significantly higher intensity than when they did the same workout without the video.

Combining video and music may pack an even more powerful punch: When researchers in Taiwan instructed cyclists to “bike as hard as possible” for 12 minutes under four different conditions, it was while listening to music and watching a video that the cyclists exercised harder (based on their heart rate and the distance they covered), and yet they had lower ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) than those who only listened to music, solely watched a video or had neither distraction.

Meanwhile, in a study published in October 2014, researchers from Brunel University in the U.K. compared the effects of listening to music and watching parkland video footage on the psychological aspects of riding a stationary bike at two different intensities—moderately challenging and very challenging.

Under both intensities, those who rode to music only and to music plus video had the highest level of positive emotions and derived the most enjoyment from their rides.

Videos that are used for indoor cycling typically range from instructional DVDs (such as those from the Spinning® brand) that guide you through the moves with instructions and expert coaching to others that have footage of road races or mountain biking competitions. Another category offers virtual adventures, with scenery from around the world (including Bike-o-Vision’s cycling DVDs featuring the California Coast, Tuscany, the Grand Canyon, Puerto Rico, and other areas) that’s intended to motivate you and keep you focused. This way, you can imagine yourself pedaling down the road or along the trail that’s depicted on the DVD and dissociate from the fatigue you may be experiencing on the bike.

One of the main benefits of watching scenic videos has to do with the distraction factor—diverting your attention from the difficulty of what you’re doing to something more pleasant; this enables you to persevere during the ride with greater enjoyment.

Some of it has to do with the power of exposure to the natural environment: A 2012 study from the U.K. found that when people cycled while watching green video footage of a cycling course, their moods were more upbeat and their RPEs were lower than when they rode while viewing the same scene with a gray or red filter.  

Ultimately, though, everybody’s different and some people may not respond well to watching a video while cycling. In my indoor cycling classes, there are a few people who feel nauseous or dizzy when they watch videos while riding. It’s a phenomenon that’s similar to the motion sickness some people experience when playing console video games like Xbox or PlayStation. If you’re susceptible to this effect and an indoor cycling class you’re taking features videos, your best bet is to choose a bike that doesn’t face the screen or to angle a bike away from the screen. After all, the goal is to help you feel better, not worse, so you can ride hard and reap serious fitness benefits from the experience.

Continue Reading