Decisions, Decisions: Answers to 5 Common Indoor Cycling Dilemmas

If you can’t do the whole class, is it better to come late or leave early?

Assuming it isn’t a problem to claim a bike, it’s better to be a latecomer and start slowly so you can give your muscles a chance to warm up before you ride full-throttle. If you leave a class early, while it’s still in full swing, you’ll miss the cool-down. That’s a mistake because quitting abruptly could leave you feeling lightheaded or dizzy—a cycling hangover you want to avoid—or lead to muscle cramps or set the stage for stiff, sore muscles later. Always give your heart rate a chance to drop slowly and your muscles the opportunity to downshift gradually.

On a bike with a computer, is it better to focus on RPMs or watts?

Watts. The RPM (revolutions per minute) monitor only tells you how fast your legs are turning the pedals; it doesn’t indicate how hard you’re actually working because the workload is a function of your resistance level and your RPMs. Watts, by contrast, are a measure of how much power you’re generating (a.k.a., how hard you’re working). Push your watts to new heights and you’ll know you’re challenging yourself.

Is it better to compete with yourself or other riders?

Yourself—hands down! Even though indoor cycling classes are a form of group exercise, each ride is ultimately your ride and yours alone so you need to challenge yourself where you are now. Other riders have different fitness levels—some may be more fit, some may be less—so there’s no point trying to outdo them. Besides, you can’t tell how much resistance they have on their bikes so trying to match their pace doesn’t make a lot of sense. That said, it’s fine to use their energy and enthusiasm to motivate you to ride hard and achieve your personal best.   

Is it better to cycle in cross-trainers or clip-on cycling shoes?

When your cycling shoes are attached to the pedals with cleats, you can gain greater power, leverage, momentum, and speed with your pedal strokes. This is largely because you’ll have more control over the upstroke—pulling up on the pedals as they round the bottom of the pedal stroke and return to the top—and you won’t be focused exclusively on pushing the pedals on the down-stroke. This helps promote a more efficient, balanced movement through the entire pedal stroke.. If you regularly do indoor cycling two or more times per week, it’s worth buying cycling-specific shoes. If not, a pair of hard-soled athletic shoes may be sufficient.

If you’re low on energy, should you skip indoor cycling or dog it in class?

If you feel tired and sub par but not really sick, why not give it a try? Getting your blood and endorphins flowing may help you feel better. Start slowly and see how you feel; you might even give it a 10-minute trial at a gentle pace: If you start feeling worse, opt out for the day. Similarly, if you have symptoms of an illness—such as fever, body aches and pains, cough, an upset stomach—you’d be wise to take time off from cycling until you feel well again. Those are signs that your body needs all its energy to fight the illness, not to turn the pedals. Besides, your fellow cyclists will appreciate not being exposed to your germs.

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