Indoor Cycling By the Numbers

Following certain number-based guidelines can help you get the results you want.

Remember those paint-by-number kits you had as a kid? They gave us the impression that success could be so simple: Just follow a formula and you’ll arrive at a brilliant destination. Life doesn’t always work that way but sometimes it does. When it comes to indoor cycling, following certain number-based guidelines can help set you up for achieving optimal performance, avoiding injuries, and getting the results you want.

As you’re pushing the pedals, here are the key numbers you should know about:

Minimum RPMs you should stick with: This is a bit of a moving target. To avoid straining your knees, hips, and lower back, the Spinning® program advises keeping your revolutions per minute (RPMs) above 60 when climbing a hill. If you want to train yourself to climb steep hills outdoors or build your strength indoors, my feeling is that if you’re climbing a heavy hill, it’s okay for your cadence to drop down to 50 RPMs, for a brief time (up to two minutes).

Maximum RPMs you shouldn’t exceed: The Spinning® program says 110 RPMs is as high as you should go. Others say up to 120 RPMs is fine. The important thing is to always feel like you’re pushing against some resistance at faster paces and to stay in control of your pedal strokes; otherwise, you’re not doing yourself any favors. 

Your target heart rate: The numbers to aim for vary depending on the goal behind different rides.

If you’re trying to build endurance, you’ll want to cycle at an intensity that brings your heart rate up to 65-75 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). If your focus is to build strength, your cycling intensity should bring your heart rate up to 75-85 percent of your MHR. And if you’re doing a recovery ride to relax and replenish your energy, you’ll want your heart rate to be between 50 and 65 percent of your MHR.


How much to drink during a class: A common rule of thumb is to consume 45 ounces of water or a diluted sports drink before, during, and after a 45-minute cycling class. That may sound like an awful lot but remember: You’ll be pushing yourself to the max, breathing hard, and sweating buckets so you really do need that much.

Ideal count for jumps: Jumps are a great way to boost your heart rate and build muscle endurance and power—but they can be exhausting and hard on your knees and your lower back. To keep them safe, jumps should be performed at a pace of 16 counts, 8 counts, or occasionally 4 counts. That means, 16 counts up followed by 16 counts in the saddle, 8 counts up then 8 down, and so on.

How often to do indoor cycling to build an aerobic base: When you first start indoor cycling, it’s wise to do it twice a week for six weeks to build up your fitness and strength. To prevent overuse injuries, the general rule of thumb is to increase the frequency or duration of your workouts by no more than 10 to 20 percent per week.

Since that’s difficult to do with 45-minute indoor cycling classes, my advice is to work up from taking two 45-minute classes per week to doing a 45-minute and a 60-minute class per week for a couple of weeks. Once you get comfortable with that, feel free to add a third 45-minute class. Continue this gradual but progressive approach to building up your frequency and you’ll keep your workouts in the safe zone.

How many calories you can burn: In a 45-minute indoor cycling class, it’s possible to burn 400 to 600 calories and sometimes more, depending on the intensity of the class, your fitness level, and your body weight. Anywhere in that range constitutes a pretty great payoff! 

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