Indoor Cycling Workouts

Guide to cycling workouts

Verywell / Zackary Angeline

Who says spinning your wheels has to be a bad thing? Indoor cycling workouts are an excellent way to enhance your physical fitness while meeting new people and trying new things. If you haven't toed up to a stationary bike just yet, what are you waiting for? Chances are there's a cycling studio near you that offers a workout format you'll enjoy.

What Is Indoor Cycling?

Indoor cycling is a specific style of stationary biking that uses a specialized bike designed to mimic the experience of riding a bicycle outside. The workout format rose to fame in the early 90s after Johnny Goldberg, or Johnny G, invented Spinner bikes and the Spinning group cycling class. It didn't take long for gyms across the country to introduce their own classes to their members, and as is always the case with fitness trends, the workout took on a life of its own.

Today's indoor cycling workouts range from group classes at gyms and specialized cycling studios to solo rides at home or on the cardio room floor. Still, the cycling revolution continues to morph with the times. Some forward-thinking studios, such as Peloton, are using the Internet to live-stream their studio-based classes to solo riders at home.  

Choosing Between a Solo Ride or Group Ride

Some people love exercising in a social setting, while others prefer to exercise alone. Neither option is right or wrong. Still, when it comes to indoor cycling workouts, it's important to consider the pros and cons of each option.

  • Solo Ride Pros: One of the biggest advantages of riding alone is the flexibility solo workouts allow. You don't have to plan your schedule around a specific class time or carve out a full hour for your workout. You can start when you want to start, stop when you want to stop, and push yourself as hard as you want during your ride. This also allows you to plan your workout as you see fit, focusing on the aspects of cycling you like the most. For instance, if you love climbing virtual hills, you can load up your solo ride with a continuous pattern of rising and falling resistance.
  • Solo Ride Cons: The downsides of riding alone are especially problematic if you're a beginner. For one, you don't have an instructor there to help you set up your bike, keep an eye on your form, or correct your mistakes. You may not be familiar with common cycling positions or techniques, which could limit the potential of your solo workouts. Finally, and this applies to all levels of cyclists, not just beginners, you don't have a coach there who pre-plans your workouts and pushes you to your limit. It's easy for solo cyclists to get stuck in a rut with a basic routine, failing to push themselves hard enough to continue seeing improvements in performance. When you ride in a group setting, an instructor is there, constantly providing cues and motivation.
  • Group Ride Pros: In addition to having an instructor available to coach you through your workout and keep you engaged, group cycling classes also provide you with a whole team of classmates who are riding alongside you. The sense of camaraderie that develops between other riders as you all sweat and grit your way through a tough class is not unlike the type of bond that develops between members of a basketball team or even members of the same military cadre. And when you develop this type of relationship with other class members, you may start to hold each other accountable while creating a shared culture of well-being. These social perks of group fitness can keep your workout routine on track.
  • Group Ride Cons: There are a few big challenges of group rides, and they all boil down to finding the right fit. For instance, you may not be able to find a class that fits well with your schedule, and even if you do, you may not enjoy the instructor. And while there are often many studios and gyms to choose between, finding one that combines a good class time with a good instructor at a location that's convenient to your home and fits in your budget can be a hassle. You're also at the mercy of the gym, studio, or instructor, so if an instructor gets sick or a class fills up, you may not be able to get your workout in.

At the end of the day, it's up to you whether you elect to try a solo ride, a group setting, or some combination thereof. Generally speaking, it's a good idea for beginners to attend a few classes before taking off on their own. But if you're comfortable with the intricacies of indoor cycling, there's no reason you can't elect to ride solo.

4 Types of Indoor Cycling Workouts

Generally speaking, indoor cycling can be broken down into four different cycling structures that help define the workout. These structures provide riders with cues for increasing intensity, resistance, power, and speed, and they vary from class to class and studio to studio. You may discover you prefer one approach over another, which ultimately can help you find the right studio and instructor for you, or it may help you develop your own solo rides. In a nutshell, these four structures are:

  • Beat-based structure: During beat-based classes or programs, you pedal in sync with the beat of the music. Songs for the workout are selected based on tempo to help promote RPMs (rotations per minute) that align with the class's goals. For instance, slower tempos are perfect for higher-resistance hill climbs, and faster tempos work for lower-resistance speed work. It takes a little finessing to choose the right music, but even if you're riding solo, there are ways to cue up the right beats. The general rule of thumb is to select songs with beats per minute ranging between 130 to 170.
  • RPM structure: When a workout is based on RPMs, you adjust the resistance of the bike to a cycling cadence that's appropriate for the workout's goals. For instance, an RPM between 60 and 80 is appropriate for hill climbs; when climbing, a rider should adjust the resistance so the RPMs calculated by the bike's computer fall within that range.
  • Watts-based structure: Watts are a unit of measurement that calculate power output, which ultimately correlates well with intensity level. In essence, watts-based workouts are intensity-based workouts. Most programs are designed to help riders determine their baseline watts, then they increase or decrease intensity in relation to the baseline. For instance, they might increase or decrease intensity by 10 watts to either side of the baseline. Watts are typically calculated by a computer attached to the bike.
  • Heart-rate training: During heart rate-based workouts, riders are typically required to wear a chest-strap heart rate monitor or another, similar monitoring device. With a monitor in place, riders can accurately adjust their intensity level as a percentage of their estimated maximum heart rate. Riders might aim to hit different heart rates at different points during their ride depending on the type of ride they're completing.

Indoor Cycling Workouts to Get You Started

Quick Tips to Use Before Your First Indoor Cycling Workout

If you're new to indoor cycling, there are just a few things you should know before saddling up. Some of these tips apply to all new riders, while others apply only to those attending group cycling classes. 

  • Consider investing in padded cycling shorts. You will get saddle sore after your first few workouts. This is normal, but it's not exactly pleasant. Padded cycling shorts can help mitigate the ache.
  • Familiarize yourself with common cycling positions and bike set up. If you're riding solo, it's especially important to educate yourself on the intricacies of cycling positions and bike set up so you can get the most out of your ride. Even if you plan on exercising in a group setting with the coaching of an instructor, it never hurts to have a good idea of what you're getting into before you go.
  • Research the studio before you show up. Studios have different rules, regulations, and guidelines for their riders. Familiarize yourself with the studio's website or call in advance to ask what you should know before your first class. For instance, popular classes often fill fast, so studios often suggest that riders sign up and pay in advance. In the same vein, some studios are so popular that they charge a fee if you fail to show up for a class you signed up for. To avoid wasting a lot of time and money, it's important to know the rules.
  • Arrive early. If you're taking a class, it's a good idea to show up at least 10 to 15 minutes before the class is slated to start so you have time to introduce yourself to the instructor, change clothes or shoes (if needed), and adjust your bike. This also gives you the opportunity to let your instructor know you're new without announcing it in front of the whole class.
  • Learn about basic cycling etiquette. Especially if you're riding in a group format, it's important to understand the "rules of the road" when it comes to indoor cycling etiquette. For instance, chatting incessantly with a friend throughout class is considered distracting and rude. Even if you're riding solo, it's also a good idea to learn some of the general dos and don'ts of indoor cycling so you don't fall into bad habits that could detract from your workout. For instance, multitasking on a bike (doing things like texting or reading a magazine) can distract you, reducing your intensity and limiting your results.

A Word From Verywell

Indoor cycling is a fun and challenging way to boost your physical fitness, especially your cardiovascular endurance, and lower-body muscular endurance and strength. That said, it's important to supplement a regular cycling routine with other forms of exercise to enhance flexibility and upper body strength. If you're committed to using cycling as your primary workout, round it out by adding a few stretching or yoga routines each week (you can even tack these on to the end of your cycling workout), then consider adding a few short resistance training routines for strength development.

6 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.
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By Laura Williams, MSEd, ASCM-CEP
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.