Mental Training for Indoor Cycling

The best ways to bring your mind into your ride for maximum benefits

When you think of mind-body forms of exercise, yoga, Pilates, and tai chi probably come to mind. Indoor cycling? Maybe not so much. But indoor cycling is actually a perfect form of exercise for mental training because it’s challenging, repetitive, rhythmic, and free of external distractions, and it requires a continuous refinement of skill.

These are the elements that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found can lead to the optimal experience he calls “flow”, a state of consciousness in which people are so immersed in what they’re doing that nothing else seems to matter.

Mental Training Improves Performance

Besides being fulfilling in its own right, achieving a heightened level of mental consciousness through indoor cycling can improve your physical training and performance, too. This is partly because when you’re in that optimal state of “flow” or “in the zone” (a phrase athletes often use), you’ll achieve a physiological relaxation response even while you’re exercising: Your parasympathetic nervous system gets activated, which leads to a lower heart rate and breathing rate, slower brain waves (a.k.a., alpha waves), and improved muscle efficiency. These changes can in turn elicit feelings of lower perceived exertion, internal calmness, and a sense of true enjoyment.

How to Practice Mind Control

The key to setting this positive mind-body feedback loop into motion is to harness the power of your mind during your indoor cycling workout. An endurance ride, in which you’re pedaling steadily, mostly in the saddle, is especially conducive to this form of mental discipline.

Once you’re in the groove with good form, efficient pedal strokes, and cadence control, use the following strategies:

  • Become “one” with the bike. Instead of jamming the pedals around and around, focus your attention on creating perfect pedal strokes (big and smooth without any dead spots along the way) and feeling as if you’re both an extension of the bike and in sync with it. This will help you work more comfortably and easily with the resistance of the bike and release power, speed, and strength more easily. 
  • Stay in the here and now. Check your worries and your usual thoughts at the studio door. Once you’re on the bike, quiet your mind and channel your concentration into the present—namely, what you’re doing. Focus on how your body feels as you ride, the rhythm of your heartbeat and your breathing rate, and the movement of the pedals around the crankshaft. You might even think of indoor cycling as a form of moving meditation.
  • Relax your body. Survey your body from head to toe, looking for areas of tension with a technique like progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). As you find that your forehead, jaw, neck, shoulders, elbows, hands, and other body parts are carrying tension, consciously tense then relax those muscles before continuing the survey to your lower body. You can also relax your entire body by practicing diaphragmatic breathing.  
  • Find a focal point. Choose something to train your attention on, whether it’s a physiological sensation (such as each breath or each pedal stroke) or a mental tool (such as a personally meaningful or motivating mantra). This is a great way to exert attention-control, a valuable form of mental discipline that can help you persevere when fatigue sets in.   
  • Imagine a prize at the end of your ride. Think about a goal or a dream you’ve had—it doesn’t have to be something tangible; it could be becoming the version of yourself that you truly want to be—and mentally place it at the finish line. Visualize working your way toward that goal and use all your senses to imagine how it will look, feel, and taste to reach that victory. Keeping that dream in sight and visualizing success in your mind’s eye will enhance your ability to ride strongly and powerfully.  
  • End with a positive affirmation. Choose a positive statement that reflects your personal goals—“I am strong” or “I am powerful”—and repeat it to yourself a few times before you head for the door after the ride. Take that positive state of mind back into your regularly scheduled life—and you’ll keep that good mental training going long after your workout concludes. It's the best form of mind control you could possibly have—and it's the mark of a champion. Congrats!


    Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial, 2008)

    Murphy, Shane. The Achievement Zone: An 8-Step Guide to Peak Performance (Berkley, 1997)

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