The Ride Guide

There are many different indoor cycling rides. Which will you choose today?


You may be on a bike going nowhere but indoor cycling sessions aren't all the same. Some studios refer to hill-climbing workouts or time trials or other types of rides, while the Spinning® program calls these variations “energy zones”.  By any name, group indoor cycling workouts typically fall into similar categories, based on the objectives they’re aiming to achieve. Each one uses the same basic body and hand positions.

It’s the trajectory of the ride, the terrain it simulates, and the intensity that varies from one ride to another. Here’s a look at how they compare:

Endurance rides:  The goal with these rides is to keep your effort steady, with an intensity of 65 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR) and a pedaling style you can sustain for long periods. This is a prime opportunity to refine your pedal strokes and build stamina. Most of your time will be spent in the saddle but there may be brief bouts of riding standing flat roads. With these rides, the steadiness of the effort is a challenge to the body and mind because it requires as much mental discipline as consistent physical effort.

Strength (or hill-climbing) rides: In order to help you build muscular power and endurance and cardiovascular strength, these sessions involve pedaling steadily with fairly heavy resistance on the bike. You’ll spend time doing challenging seated and standing climbs that send your heart rate up to 75 to 85 percent of your MHR, followed by brief recovery periods.

The design of this workout helps you build physical strength (without developing bulky thighs) and mental stamina, too, as you learn to adapt to the increasing resistance and push through your fatigue.

Interval rides: These are just what they sound like—varied rides that incorporate speed and acceleration drills, jumps, hills, bouts of pedaling on flat roads, and recovery periods.

The different segments of the session will send your MHR between 65 and 92 percent—through a wide range of aerobic intervals and anaerobic intervals. The goal is to help you develop a sound level of fitness so that you can recover quickly from intense work efforts (as measured by an appropriate drop in your heart rate) and build an aerobic base that will enable you to tackle new challenges.

Race-oriented rides: These rides are super-intense, designed to help riders achieve peak performance, which is why only advanced, well-conditioned riders (not newbies) should do them. For one thing, sustained time trials and simulated “race days” require cyclists to have a substantial aerobic fitness base. With these rides, you’ll be working at 80 to 92 percent of your MHR, which will push you across the anaerobic threshold. In other words, you’ll be riding at the high end of the 10-point ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) scale, as you push your pace as fast as you can. It’s a great way to boost your physical performance and self-confidence but it’s likely to leave you feeling spent.

So be sure to get plenty of R & R the next day.

Recovery rides: These aren’t commonly offered at health clubs and cycling studios—but they’re a great concept so you should do rides like these on your own, if need be. With recovery sessions, the goals are to relax and replenish your energy, which is why the intensity stays in the range of 50 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate. There aren’t any jumps or hills on these rides; the positions range from seated flats to standing flats. By using visualization exercises and paying attention to your breathing rhythms, these rides are almost like meditation on a bike—an ideal choice when you’re tired or you’ve been exercising hard for several days in a row. But if you’re sick (with fever and/or below-the-neck symptoms), take the day off to hasten your full recovery.

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