Power Up Your Indoor Cycling Workout

Discover the perks of powering up your indoor cycling workouts

Woman indoor cycling
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When it comes to certain sports and other athletic activities, the word power is often tossed around quite easily in reference to someone's performance. Have you ever stopped to consider what it really means? And what does power mean in the context of indoor cycling specifically?

What Does 'Power' Mean in Indoor Cycling?

Some people describe power as the amount of work you’re doing or the amount of energy you’re expending in a given time frame while cycling. But it’s not that quite simple. When it comes to indoor cycling, it helps to think of power in terms of this equation:                        

Force x Velocity = Watts

In other words, power measures how hard (or how forcefully) and how fast (at what pace or cadence or at what velocity) a cyclist is applying pressure to the pedals to keep them turning.

  • The gears provide the force or resistance.
  • Velocity is measured as cadence (or RPMs, revolutions per minute).
  • Power is measured in watts, which is a measure of your exercise intensity in real time (looked at another way, it's the product in the power equation).

Individual Measures

Power output varies considerably from one indoor cyclist to another, and even from one professional (outdoor) cyclist to another. So comparing power variables from one rider to another isn’t valuable.

Measuring and tracking your own power output can tell you how hard you’re working and what you’ve already accomplished during a given workout, whether your performance and progress are improving over time, and what you should do next to keep getting stronger.

Some computers on different indoor bicycles offer measures of power output, usually in terms of watts, but there are exceptions.

The bikes at Flywheel, for example, use a Power Score which measures how much effort you’re exerting based on the level of resistance on the bike and the speed at which you’re pedaling (this is displayed on a Torqboard in the studio, but only if you opt to share your stats).

By contrast, Indoor Cycling Group IC7 bikes use a “Coach By Color” training system to indicate what power zone a cyclist is riding in: White represents very light, blue is somewhat light, green is moderate, yellow is very hard, and red reflects maximum power. These zones are personalized to each rider, and they can be linked to watts and a person’s functional threshold power (FTP, the highest power an individual can sustain steadily for 60 minutes), or to their heart rate and percentage of maximum heart rate (MHR).

Doing It Your Way

If the indoor bicycles you use don’t have a power meter, don’t sweat it. You can put these principles to work for you by creating your own numerical power zone system based on your heart rate, the amount of resistance on the bike, and your pace or speed.

  • Zone 1 would be very light.
  • Zone 2 would be fairly light.
  • Zone 3 would be moderate.
  • Zone 4 would be very hard.
  • Zone 5 would reflect your maximum effort.

With any power metric, tuning into your power output and using it to push your efforts during a given indoor cycling session can help you monitor your performance more precisely and objectively than, say, paying attention to your level of perceived exertion does.

Simply put, measures of your power output provide you with regular, ongoing feedback that can help you adjust your technique or strategy and improve your ability to climb hills with strength, stamina, and speed. It also can help you excel with sprints and time trials, with better pacing, and accelerate to break away from the pack during an attack.

What's more, it can help you build leg strength for a variety of riding conditions and challenges.

Tips for Optimizing Your Power

Keep in mind that in order to optimize your power output, it helps to develop strong, smooth pedal strokes in which both of your legs are fully engaged. Increasing power output and maximizing mechanical efficiency depends on having strong muscle coordination at the top and bottom of the pedal cycle, according to a 2015 study from Simon Fraser University in Canada.

When building and maintaining power, it also helps to use recovery bouts strategically during intervals: Active recovery (in which you pedal at a slower pace) between sprints allows cyclists to maintain a higher average power output compared with passive recovery (as in, resting) when several cycling sprints are performed in succession on a stationary bicycle, according to a 2014 study.

Ultimately, power training can help you set quantifiable goals and measure improvements in your fitness level as you become better able to sustain a higher power output for a longer stretch of time.

For example:

  • You can aim to push your power output by 25 watts for 20-second intervals, then for 30-second intervals, gradually building up to longer ones.
  • Or, you can try to sustain your weight in watts against moderately challenging resistance for a specified period of time (perhaps 20 minutes), and gradually try to increase your watts to 1.25 times your weight, then 1.5 times your weight for the same duration.

Being able to achieve any of these benchmarks is a quantifiable accomplishment!

As you change your workload by adding resistance, increasing your pace, or boosting your average watts during a ride, you'll also develop greater body awareness, a keener sense of how your body feels in motion under different circumstances. By focusing on these aspects of your burgeoning power, you will come to more fully appreciate what your body can do, which is just as it should be.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Blake OM, Wakeling JM. Muscle coordination limits efficiency and power output of human limb movement under a wide range of mechanical demands. J Neurophysiol. 2015;114(6):3283-3295. doi:10.1152/jn.00765.2015

  2. Lopez EI, Smoliga JM, Zavorsky GS. The effect of passive versus active recovery on power output over six repeated Wingate sprintsRes Q Exerc Sport. 2014;85(4):519-526. doi:10.1080/02701367.2014.961055

By Stacey Colino, AFAA-GFI
Stacey Colino is a certified spinning instructor and group exercise instructor through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).