Ask the expert with fitness industry veteran Doris Thews
By Doris Thews
The pandemic created a whole new community of fitness fans looking for safe ways to work out and get in shape. Indoor cycling has been one of the top choices for these new enthusiasts and the industry has seen increased equipment sales and heightened demand for content and online classes.
While at-home workouts or new studio setups may be the “new normal,” the number of people riding bikes that go nowhere is growing in popularity with no peak in sight. And after 20+ years of teaching indoor cycling globally, I’ve found that one thing remains constant: no matter what country I am in, I get the same top five questions from new indoor cyclists. Here are my answers to these questions.
1. How many indoor cycling classes should I take each week?
The answer to this really depends on your fitness goals. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends the average adult should get 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week to develop and maintain cardio-respiratory health and fitness. This works out to be about 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise five days per week. That mean, about 2-3 cycling classes a week is an appropriate amount for cardiovascular health.
However, I believe it is important to cross train to complement your indoor cycling. Adding resistance training for total body muscular strength and structure and a stretching practice such as yoga is beneficial. This well-rounded approach will help keep your body strong, flexible, and injury free.
2. What can I expect at my first class?
If you have access to a gym or studio, arrive early and introduce yourself to the instructor. Make sure you’re set up with a proper bike fit and learn where the resistance dial and brake knob or lever is located on the bike. Also, if the bike has a console, review what the metrics will be displayed during class and what those mean.
If you are starting your first class at home, make sure you have a proper bike fit – you can find “how-to” videos on YouTube. Before you start the workout, take a few pedal strokes to learn the feel of the bike and practice adding resistance and how to use the braking mechanism. Again, the goal of the first class is simply to get through it and enjoy the new challenge.
Have fun with your first class and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t execute each detail perfectly. On average, it takes participants at least three classes before they get the hang of it and fall in love with this low-impact (not hard on your joints) cardio workout.
3. In an average class, how many miles do you ride and how many calories do you burn?
This all depends on how hard you work. There are many factors that go into predicting miles covered and calories burned, including level or resistance, your cadence, sex, weight, experience, and the length of the class.
Generally speaking, you can expect to burn 350 to 600 calories in a 60-minute class per American Council of Exercise. In regard to distance, it is common for participants to ride anywhere from 10 to 15 miles per hour in class. Because indoor cycling bikes are fixed, the distance shown on a console is a predicted value calculated by your power or wattage output, which is the combination of resistance and cadence.
The simple answer to this question is that if you want to burn a lot of calories and increase your distance, you need to work hard. Increasing resistance and cadence to increase your output and this will add to your results.
Keep in mind that mileage and calories alone do not determine your success in a cycling class. Other criteria include the mind-body benefits from the accomplishment of getting through the class or reaching your fitness goals. Movement also causes increased endorphins that help you feel successful and make you want to return to the bike.
4. What should I wear and what gear do I need to take to an Indoor cycling class?
Looking and feeling like a pro matters in any situation, even when taking an indoor cycling class at the gym or riding at home. Several surveys have shown that owning quality gym apparel is an important first step for people in accomplishing their fitness goals. Simply putting on that gear helps motivate people to work out, even when they weren’t feeling up to it.
One thing you can depend on for an indoor cycling class is that you will sweat! It is important to wear moisture wicking fabric to help keep you cool and dry longer. In addition, wear clothes that offer support and avoid loose clothing that can get caught up in the pedals or cranks. It is common for riders to wear outdoor “cycling kits” (cycling specific short, tights, jersey) for indoor classes. If you are not a fan of wearing padded cycling shorts and want to find comfort in the saddle, try using a gel seat.
A pair of tennis shoes with a hard sole can get you through an indoor cycling class but once you catch the cycling bug and continue taking classes, consider investing in a set of cycling specific shoes. These shoes can significantly increase comfort, performance, and enhanced the overall experience. When you’re comfortable, you’ll ride longer and more often. And cycling shoes, along with proper bike set up, promotes good alignment of the foot, ankle and knee during the pedal stroke.
If you want a strong ride, you have to have strong biomechanics, and the right cycling shoes are a BIG part of that. Simply put, clip-in shoes improve performance by allowing the participant to have a secure connection to the pedals, which promotes good cycling biomechanics and impacts power transfer.
Indoor cycling shoes like Shimano’s IC Shoe lineup are made with breathable materials, such as mesh, and designed to allow air to circulate around the foot. Also, the days of a limited selection of bland, black and white cycling shoes are over. Shimano’s IC lineup offers some fun, bright colors and studio styles that go from the bike to any fusion class like rowing, resistance, and balance training. These shoes can also be worn after class in a gym or studio when you need to walk to and from the changing rooms, or to get coffee with your crew.
5. How do you select an instructor or class whether it be in-person or virtual?
Four things drive indoor cycling attendance. First is the instructor, second is the time of the class, third is the music, and fourth is the cycling tribe. When looking for the right in-person class and instructor, do your research! Pick a gym or studio that works for your location and check out what classes are offered and what works for your schedule.
The next step is to ask around. Check with the front desk or faithful members, what instructor they like and why. Try classes offered by the top instructors during your desired time and go early to introduce yourself to the instructor and other participants. These steps will set you up for success, enjoyment and make you part of a cycling tribe.
At home, if you’re using an app that offers on-demand or live classes, the same steps hold true to find your instructor. Most apps will offer statistics and reviews about their instructors so you can choose what style works best for you. One of the beauties of using an app is that you have options to ride on-demand classes if the live class times don’t work for you or if you’re running late to a scheduled class. Another great feature of on-demand classes is that you can select them by music genres, and this often helps you find your “tribe” of like-minded participants.
As gyms and studios reopen, riders now have more options than ever to keep fit with indoor cycling. Home cycling workout options will continue to expand thanks to the overall convenience of these workouts. Studio and gym classes will also continue in popularity because of the personal connection and community support fostered through these classes. While both types of indoor cycling grow in popularity, these top five questions remain the focal point for many new riders. Now it’s up to all of us to share our knowledge and experience as we all get back to the new normal on bikes that go nowhere.
Doris Thews is a fitness Industry veteran and an International award-winning Fitness Educator, including World IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. She is a Senior Master Trainer and Global Mentor for Schwinn. In addition to training fitness professionals and lecturing internationally, she is also a Keynote speaker well known for her motivational and athletic coaching style. She finds joy in completing triathlons and her memories of running 4 of the 6 world major marathons with her husband Bob.