10 Rules for a Safe and Effective Indoor Cycling Workout

10 Rules to Ride By

People using spin machines in gym
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With indoor cycling, you have some latitude in terms of how hard you ride or which types of rides you prefer. But some aspects of indoor cycling are absolutely non-negotiable. You know that proper bike set-up is one of them—without it, you won’t challenge your muscles appropriately and enhance your strength and fitness. The same goes for using proper form. But other rules aren’t so obvious. Fail to heed the 10 riding rules that follow, and you’ll sabotage your workout or your safety. 

You need to replace heavy downstrokes with fluid pedal strokes.

Besides placing excessive pressure on your knees, continuously using a heavy down-stroke (or stomping down on the pedals) is inefficient and can lead to early fatigue. To improve your pedaling efficiency, consider doing strength training: A 2012 study from Denmark found that when well-trained cyclists did four lower-body strength-training exercises twice a week, their pedaling efficacy improved significantly after 12 weeks. It also helps to focus on making big, smooth ovals with your pedal strokes, rather than pushing down and pulling up on the pedals.

Low resistance doesn't ever mean NO resistance!

Riding without resistance offers no benefits whatsoever and it can lead to bouncing in the saddle (and saddle soreness). Without resistance, your legs are simply being taken for a ride, thanks to the weighted flywheel, which will stay in motion once it’s in motion. Always make sure you feel like you’re pushing against something. 

Breathe from your diaphragm instead of your chest.

Breathing deeply from your belly, using your diaphragm, increases your lung capacity, improves blood flow, and helps you stay energized for the ride. Breathe better, and you’ll ride better for longer!

Warm up before riding hard.

A short warm-up period (even just 3 to 5 minutes will do) helps the blood start flowing to the muscles you’re using, so they can get prepared for the ride. Go full throttle right from the start, and you risk poor performance or injury.

Compete with yourself, not other people.

Forget about what the riders next to you are doing. MYOB! Listen to your body and push your limits, rather than trying to outdo other people. This is the safest way to broaden your comfort zone and gain strength. 

There's a difference between pain and suffering.

When you’re pushing heavy resistance or a fast pace, huffing and puffing along the way, you may feel like you’re suffering and that's okay. This is how you'll get stronger and fitter. But you shouldn’t feel physical pain. That’s a sign that you’re overdoing it, using poor form, or flirting with an injury. It's a sign that you need to adjust your technique or take a break.

Resistance plus cadence equals fitness results.

There’s just no getting around it—you need the right synergy between the resistance on the bike and your cadence or pace to get the intensity and the results you want. You control both elements! As the resistance goes up, your pace will slow down but for the sake of fitness-building and safety, try to keep it above 50 RPMs even when you have a lot of gear loaded on. 

Yes, your hand position really does matter.

Shifting your hands from one position to another helps you engage different muscles throughout the ride. It’s not just a random variation. Follow your instructor’s cues to change hand positions—but don’t ever ride with your hands in position three while you’re seated in the saddle because this can lead to back and neck strain.

A cool-down isn't optional.


If you simply hop off the bike right after a hardcore ride, you could feel dizzy, lightheaded, or faint—so don’t do it! At the end of an indoor cycling class or a solo workout, spend a few minutes pedaling at a slower pace while you do upper body stretches; this allows your accelerated heart-rate to come down slowly as you make the transition back to being stable on your feet. Follow up with some stretches for your lower legs, glutes, and hips—and you can legitimately call it a day!  

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