The Best Ways to Warm Up for Indoor Cycling

Easing into your workout will help you ride stronger and more comfortably.

Once your cycling shoes are on, it’s tempting to hop on the bike and pedal hard. But that’s a mistake because your muscles need a chance to warm up. Some indoor cyclists seem to have no patience for warming up. But with indoor cycling, a warm up is perhaps even more important than it is with an outdoor ride because you’ll be trying to get to a high intensity in a relatively short period of time. (That’s why it’s important to warm up on your own if you arrive late to a class.) By starting out with light resistance and a moderate pace, you’ll enhance blood flow to your leg muscles, which will help prepare them for the workout you’re about to do.

For starters, warming up with gentle cycling increases your core body temperature, decreases muscle stiffness, and improves nerve-conduction rates, all of which can improve your range of motion and flexibility. While research has provided mixed results on the subject, some experts firmly believe that warming up can decrease your risk of injury, perhaps because muscles, ligaments, and tendons become more pliable and are less prone to tearing as a result. Research has also found that warming up before going full throttle can improve your exercise performance by up to 79 percent. A brief warm-up also gives your mind a chance to prepare for the challenge ahead.

Here’s the truth: The warm up doesn’t have to be a big deal; it can be short and sweet. You want to do just enough to prepare your muscles and cardiovascular system for the ride ahead but not so much that you’ll start to get tired before you’ve hit the heart of the workout.

Let’s say you’re in a 45-minute indoor cycling class: The warm-up can consist of 5 to 10 minutes of pedaling at an easy intensity, gradually moving into the moderate zone (based on your ratings of perceived exertion). Your resistance should be fairly light (as if you were riding on a flat road) and your cadence (or pace) should be between 80 and 100 RPMs.

Whether or not your instructor cues you to do this, the warm-up is a good time to practice refining your pedal strokes:

  • First, focus on making your pedal strokes smooth, hitting every point on the circle with each leg at it comes around, eliminating any dead spots along the way. Don’t just focus on the pushing motion, going forward; be sure to pull up from the knees on the back side of the pedal stroke, too.
  • After 2 to 3 minutes, I usually have my classes do a single-leg pedaling exercise, in which they transfer all the work to their right leg for 30 seconds (while the left leg simply goes around for the ride), then switch the work to the left leg for 30 seconds (while the right leg relaxes); this helps prepare you to push off with either leg, particularly on breakaways or attacks. If your cycling instructor doesn’t have you do this, you can do this drill on your own.
  • During the second warm-up song, I often have people hit all three positions (from a seated flat to a standing jog with hands in position 2 to a light standing climb with hands in position 3). This gives you the opportunity to get comfortable moving around on the bike and enhance blood flow throughout the body.

    Once you’ve completed these moves, you’re sufficiently warmed up and ready to ride hard! You can save the stretching routine for the end of class, which is when it will really do your body good.

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