5 Things You Didn't Know You Didn’t Know About Indoor Cycling

Not all forms of indoor cycling are Spinning®.

Spinning® is a trademarked name for a style of indoor cycling that replicates what you would do on an outdoor bike. It was started in 1994 by Johnny Goldberg (a.k.a., Johnny G), an endurance cyclist from South Africa, and his friend John Baudhuin, a fellow cyclist, as a choreographed group indoor cycling workout that would help riders train for outdoor events. It takes a fairly purist approach to the activity: If you wouldn’t do it while riding a bike outside, you won’t do it in a Spin® class.

This means you won’t find moves like tap-backs, push-ups (a.k.a., presses), or standing isolation moves on the bike nor will you speed to 130 RPMs with little resistance on the bike in a Spinning® class. But you might in a SoulCycle class or other classes at boutique studios. So while they all fall under the umbrella of  “indoor cycling”—just like apples and oranges are both fruits (but different kinds)—there are key distinctions that are worth noting. To be considered a Spinning® class, the instructor needs to be certified by the Spinning® program and heed the basic principles of the workout on Spin® bikes. Other programs have their own certification credentials and lines of cycles.

How much you sweat doesn’t necessarily reflect how hard you’re working.

Yes, you can expect to sweat buckets in an indoor cycling class, which is why it’s important to stay well hydrated during the ride. But your sweat isn’t a measure of how intense the workout is. For one thing, indoor cycling studios tend to be warm and humid (some even have the heat turned on) and without the benefit of fresh air or wind around your body, as you’d have while riding outside, your body’s cooling mechanism will be challenged and you’ll sweat more. Plus, with the close proximity of your fellow cyclists, their body heat can become contagious and make you hotter. A better way to gauge how hard you’re working: Wear a heart-rate monitor.

With little resistance, your legs can keep moving without generating power.

Given the weighted flywheel of an indoor bike, the adage that a body in motion will stay in motion holds true if there isn’t any resistance on the bike. Want proof? Stand next to the bike, take all the resistance off the bike, grab the pedal closest to you and crank it as fast as you can for, say, 8 revolutions; release it and watch how long it takes to slow down. As you’ll see, once there’s a certain amount of momentum, the flywheel basically drives itself. So if your feet are on the pedals and there’s little or no resistance on the bike, the flywheel will essentially take your legs for a ride. To build strength, stamina, and cycling power, your muscles really need to drive the pedal strokes—and you need sufficient resistance to make that happen! 

Climbing a heavy hill isn’t the only reason to cycle out of the saddle.

Some purists believe that the only legitimate reasons to ride in a standing position are during a standing climb and during sprints on a hill, but there are others. For example, when you’ve been in the saddle for a long stretch during an endurance ride or an extended seated climb, you can get saddle fatigue and your efforts can begin to sag. If you add a bit of resistance and rise to a standing position for 15 to 30 seconds at a time, you’ll be able to power up your pedal strokes and rejuvenate your energy before returning to the saddle and resuming your previous effort there. In addition, after an intense climb in the saddle or a series of seated speed intervals, taking a stand for an active recovery allows you to stretch your legs and shake off muscle tension so you can get ready for the next drill or challenge.

The computer feedback about the calories you’ve burned may be off base.

While stationary cycles tend to be more reliable in this respect than elliptical machines, treadmills, and stair-climbers are, there’s still a considerable margin of error. Typically, the computer feedback overestimates calories burned—by an average of 7 percent on stationary bikes, according to one study. That’s because the calorie-burning calculations are often based on a reference weight, which may be quite different from your weight. Plus, the computer won’t account for individual differences in fitness level (beginners will burn calories at a faster rate because the workload will be harder for them) or age or gender. Nor can the calculator account for your cycling position or posture (if you’re leaning heavily on the handlebars during a standing climb, for instance), which could affect the rate at which you burn calories. So don't put too much stock in this feedback.

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