What You Need to Know about Indoor Cycling

by Greatist
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What You Need to Know about Indoor Cycling

Greatist-Logo.jpgHop on a bike with out a helmet? Mom would definitely shake her head. But there’s an exception to every rule: Indoor cycling (aka “spinning,” its trademarked name) is a cardiovascular, butt-kicking workout that takes us on a stationary but sweaty ride of our life. Read on to learn what makes this bike different than hopping on an ordinary two-wheeler.

You Spin Me Right Round—The Need-to-Know

More intense than a stationary bike (and that 3rd grade tricycle), indoor cycling keeps things cool with bumpin’ music and a killer class atmosphere. Expect to sit tight for 30 to 75 minute sessions, which can burn up to 900 calories. The intensity varies throughout the class, thanks to changing up body position, pedal speed, and resistance. And get ready to listen up: The instructor will yell out instructions to imitate a real ride of climbs, sprints, and coasts. The best part? Most bikes can track mileage, pulse, and calories burned to record progress throughout the class. In some special classes, the pedaling is even mixed with upper body workouts, resistant bands, or a themed adventure (Michael Jackson tribute, anyone?).

Spinning® is definitely no ride in the park, though. It guarantees to amp up VO2 max (the rate oxygen is carried to the muscles), a sign the body is being pushed. All that pedaling will tone up muscles, too, working the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. Studies have also found that indoor cycling can help shed unwanted pounds and potentially ward off migraines, while keeping impact on the joints to a minimum. Now that’s a #winning combo.

Ride or Die—Your Action Plan

Whether you’re a spin class newbie or simply brushing up on the etiquette, here are some tips for a successful joyride:

  • Suit up The body will definitely work up a sweat, so throw on moisture-wicking clothes to keep cool and dry. As for the feet, cycling shoes are required for some classes, but normal athletic kicks will work fine in most cases.
  • Take a seat If it’s an option, reserve a bike online to guarantee a spot in the class. Otherwise, get there early to snag a seat! And newbies, don’t head straight to the back: Getting a bike up front will make it easier to follow along.
  • Adjust your saddle Create the perfect fit on the bike. The right height on the seat is when one leg is at a 30-degree angle at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The seat should also be able to slide forward or back depending on what feels best. As for the handlebars, position them so the neck and back doesn’t strain. And strap or clip in the feet: The balls of the feet should rest on the center of the pedal and the kneecap should be aligned directly with the center, too.
  • Know the numbers These bikes have a different kind of lingo: Some instructors call out numbers for different hand positions on the bars. Gripping the center of the bar is usually “Position 1,” home base for warm-ups and cool downs. “Position 2” is where the hands will be for most of the class—right on the bar that crosses the body. And “Position 3” is normally only used when standing and climbing up those “hills.”
  • Insist on resistance There are no real gears to change, but there is a resistance knob (or computer!). This will control how hard the muscles need to work to increase RPM (that’s bike talk for revolutions per minute).
  • Towel off Keep a towel draped over the handlebars for easy access—we’re sure that face may need a wipe off here and there. And swigging water is encouraged mid-ride to stay hydrated (although the spin n’ sip may take some coordination…).
  • Choose wisely Love the club? Choose sessions with dimmed lights or a disco atmosphere. Or, if seeking more adventure, opt for classes that bring the outdoors to the studio. Studies show the fun factor is increased when the mood is juuust right.

Indoor cycling puts things in full gear with its awesome tunes, control over resistance and speed, and overall intensity. Hop on to the nearest bike and give this class a go!

Have you tried indoor cycling—what did you think? Are you planning to try it soon? Tell us about your experiences below!

Photo: Jordan Shakeshaft

About the Author


Greatist helps you find what’s good for you. Not like “eat your vegetables, they’re good for you.” More like “here are some choices you can realistically make, stick with, and feel really good about.” Because in the end, you don’t have to choose between being happy and being healthy; they’re really the same thing.




31 responses to “What You Need to Know about Indoor Cycling”

  1. Avatar Evgeni says:

    There are also rollers and home trainers – thought this might have mentioned them…

    • Avatar Spinaddict says:

      The whole point of spin class is that it is a CLASS I.e. you experience it together and encourage each other. The best bit is the interaction with the instructor so doing it at home will never be the same. Spin is awesome with the right instructor.

      • Avatar C73 says:

        Agree entirely, I tried spinning years ago and hated it…then I thought I would give it another go in my local run gym and I am now completely converted because of the instructors..I love it so much that am booked on the next spinning instructor course! Can’t wait to teach it! Love mixing spinning with resistance training I have def toned and got fitter as my VO2 max was 29 and it is now 33.

  2. Avatar Andy North says:

    If you want real “Spinning” make sure you look for a studio with qualified “Spinning” instructors – not all gyms have them – but it’s worth finding them! It’s a great workout and loads of fun as well. It’s also addictive! :0)

  3. Avatar Tik says:

    Don’t be intimidated by the bike set up portion. The instructor, or even other classmates are more than willing to help you set up the bike to your specs. Everything is marked with numbers so next time you come back, simply adjust your seat / handlebars to those settings and off you go! Oh and one more thing… don’t forget your water!

  4. Avatar Noreen Schuh says:

    i use to spin and loved it I just have not found a workable class. thinking of investing in a 400 dollor bike,,, and use DEEKRON the fitness dj and do spin coach on my phone. anyone know of other good tune that will help??

  5. Avatar Noreen Schuh says:

    what the different between a spin bike and a cycle bike??

    • Avatar JoanneSchoturd says:

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  6. Avatar Fa Ngaluafe says:

    what if your feet can’t really fit the pedals?

    • Avatar Sweet button says:

      Get some spinning shoes but try a place that has some to rent before you dedicate to it. A lot of places have shoe cages you can adjust. It’s important to have a good shoe for cycling or your feet will start to hurt from pushing all that resistance!

  7. Avatar Jp says:

    This class has changed my life and my body weight, shape and strength. Can recommend it highly enough.

  8. Avatar Colleen Faler says:

    I’ve been wanting to try this, but gym equipment and I are not typically friends. I take kickboxing, yoga and Zumba pretty regularly (ok, I’ve been slacking on the kickboxing due to scheduling issues), but I think I’m needing to incorporate other options. Thanks for the feedback:)

  9. Avatar Princess says:

    I am an avid cyclist. I do spin classes during the winter months to keep my legs in shape. Although the workout is slightly different because I do long distance riding vs. high intensity riding in the class, it keeps my legs in great shape for the spring rides. The classes are fun also. Great stress reliever after a hard day at work.

  10. Avatar Jill says:

    Although my husband loves these classes, I found them to be boring. In addition, it really hurt my back!! I asked the teachers several times to check my form and was told that I did it correctly. I literally could walk straight for 2 days.

    • Avatar Minus 45 says:

      Took me awhile to correct my upper body form so my back would stop hurting. Try more height in the handlebars. Don’t lean on the handlebars. They are for balance, not to hold your weight. All your weight should be on your lower body. Keep your chest up and look ahead of you like you would if you were riding on the road.

      I think of it like my upper body is not even supposed to be involved. No leaning, no movement, just a few changes in position that facilitate exercising different muscles in the lower body.

      Once I taught myself to completely relax my upper body and do all the work from the hips down, my back pain disappeared

  11. Avatar Zayn says:

    I took my first spinning class about two weeks ago, my butt hurt for about a week, but the class was awesome!

  12. Avatar Nettle says:

    I am addicted to spinning but after a year of dedicated classes, I find that my body has hit a plateau. I am now incorporating some walking/jogging and resistance training intervals too. Anyone else have this experience?

  13. Avatar Minus 45 says:

    Cycling shoes are really important. Worth the investment if you are going to spin regularly. With stirrups you have a kind of push-down-pull-up motion using the front of your foot. When you are clipped in, you can do a smooth flat-footed circle, using the same resistance throughout the movement.

    Your knees will thank you.

    • Avatar jmck says:

      totally agree. you can find shoes and cleats (the part that connects to the shoe and then to the pedal) online and on amazon for a reasonable price. the cleats in spin class are typically SPD. You can google spd cleats and spd compatible shoes for more info. agree with minus 45 that the pulling up motion mentioned above can make a huge difference. however, for the first 6mos or year i used regular running shoes and the stirrups.

  14. Avatar jelly belly says:

    Until your gooch develops a callus you may want to buy a seat cushion.

  15. Avatar GS says:

    Does anyone recommend any online spin classes? I have tried studio sweat in the past and its not bad, just seeing if there are any others worth trying.

  16. Avatar Tina Auriemma says:

    I am 30 pounds overweight. Is this still something I can do? I know I can’t keep up with the class.

  17. Avatar jmck says:

    When my wife told me that she would like to do the MS150 i was pretty terrified. however, we got all the gear and started preparing. Spin class at a large franchise gym was part of getting our legs in shape for the long weekend rides. We bought the shoes, cleats, shorts (with pad), etc so that we would be prepared. we used those things in both the road rides and the spin class as well. after riding the ms150 and taking some time off, i’m back at it. i do spin class at our work gym during lunch. the group is awesome, the instructor is awesome and the spin bikes are awesome (computer with rpm, watts, miles, etc). I do this class 2x a week and love it! I also tried a spin class at a spin studio here in houston. it was pretty awesome too (different, but awesome). The spin studio class was part dance class, part lifting (while on bike) and super high intensity. overall, as a runner at heart, spin is a really amazing way to get (stay) in shape and cross train!

  18. Avatar peter says:

    i have had a partial knee replacement and i suffer with three disc in my lower back. which indoor training bike would be best for me?

  19. Avatar RAmelia Nolasco says:

    Tried it once but wasn’t impressed. I have managed to burn killer cals on the treadmill (400+ in 30 mns) by starting at level 20 and a speed of 3 to 3.5 and increasing speed with each song on my Pandora playlist. Same results, I’m in control of time/length and without the stress of reserving a spot, arriving earlier than I need to, etc.

  20. Avatar Mel says:

    A great workout, but you definitely control what you do. Follow along and push yourself with the resistance.

  21. Avatar Angela Patricia Fernandez says:

    I’m a avid Spinner! I knew the first time I took a spin class, I was hooked!! The music is vital as well as a vibrant instructor. If your first class doesn’t inspire you, musically. Find a different instructor or gym. It helps me fight stress, drop pounds when needed, tones my entire body and gives me immense stamina. Good luck!

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