While we might not have considered bike riding a physical form of exercise when we were kids, it’s actually one of the best ways to stay active. It builds endurance and strength all while getting your energy up high and burning tons of calories. That’s why indoor cycling has gained increasing popularity among fitness fanatics and spawned countless variations of the workout catering to all age groups and experience levels. It’s become a hybrid fitness craze in its own right and even combined with weight- and resistance-training to serve as a total-body workout. Today, you can hardly find a gym that doesn’t house stationary bikes or offer spinning classes to their customers.
What is indoor cycling?
Indoor cycling is a group-fitness class where students cycle in unison on stationary bikes. By varying the speed, intensity and resistance, the class focuses on endurance, strength, interval and high-intensity training. Through these variations, the class structure mirrors the experience of riding a road bike over natural terrain.
Instructors will typically lead the class through a series of different types of biking—from uphill climbing to bursts of sprints and easy paddling that serves as a brief recovery period. There are three main positions used in basic indoor cycling: first position, which involves you seated flat and simulates driving on a flat terrain; second position, where you stand up on the bike and simulate a standing run on an incline; and third position, where you push your buttocks back in the saddle as you increase your resistance and the theoretical hill is steepened.
Who does indoor cycling work for?
If you’re looking for a cardio workout that’ll get your energy up high without placing significant impact on your hips, knees and ankles, you may come to love indoor cycling. That said, it’s one of the more challenging types of exercise out there and requires you to be in decent shape. If you’re pregnant, have medical problems or are new to fitness, speak to your doctor first before signing up for an indoor cycling class. There’s a good chance that it might be just what the doc ordered.
For example, if you’re at risk for heart disease, getting in a good aerobic workout may even lower your blood pressure and up your body’s levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol. And if you’re prone to arthritis, cycling can help build your leg muscles, which will then place less pressure on your knee and other lower extremities. Your hands also have their own positioning for each of these three movements.
The physical benefits of indoor cycling:
It might not seem like it, considering how hard you’re working and how fast your heart is pounding, but indoor cycling is a low-impact sport. That’s why those with orthopedic injuries find themselves with a diagnosis from their doctor to sign up for cycling. Because there’s less pressure on the joints compared to other high-intensity sports, like running, cycling is a great alternative.
When your muscles are continually worked and challenged with weights and intensity, they build strength. In an indoor cycling class, you’re pedaling hard against the resistance of the bike, which strengthens the muscles in your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week for a healthy adult, in 30-60 minutes intervals. An average indoor cycling class is around 45-60 minutes, making it an ideal and convenient way to sneak in a heart-pumping workout.
The mental benefits of indoor cycling:
It reduces stress
Any time you’re exercising and releasing feel-good endorphins, you’re also releasing cortisol, the hormone in your body that produces stress. These endorphins and reduced levels of cortisol also contribute to a healthier immune system—meaning you’ll feel better and are less likely to come down with an illness.
It’s good for your brain
Several new studies have found that cycling can actually improve brain function by helping you think faster, feel happier and even enhance your memory.
It reduces depression
A study published in the Journal of Diabetes Complications found that after just 12 weeks of cycling, participants experienced lower levels of both anxiety and depression.
Not sure if you should take the ride? Give it a try. So long as you’re healthy, in good shape, or have checked in with your doctor to see if cycling is right for you, you’ll find yourself cruising to a new place on the fitness scale in no time.