In 1994, Rolling Stone magazine named Spinning the “hot exercise” of the year. This form of group exercise has remained a popular mainstay in commercial gyms long after the other relics of 1994 — Ace of Base, step aerobics — have been laughed into obscurity. The impressive staying power of indoor cycling, as it is now colloquially known, is a testament to its calorie-burning efficiency and its congenial inclusiveness. Indoor cycling liberated gym classes from the tyranny of Day-Glo dance routines and gave it to the masses.
“The best thing about indoor cycling is that you can jump in at any level,” says Michelle Basta Speers, NSCA-CPT, and an American Council of Exercise–certified group fitness instructor who has been teaching indoor cycling in Southern California for more than 15 years. “You don’t have to be an expert. You don���t have to know choreography. You don’t have to be super fit. It can be adapted to whatever level you are.”
Indoor cycling attracts all types, says Speers, whose classes are filled with men and women trying to burn fat, cyclists looking to train out of the rain and cold, and athletes of all types who want to boost their sports conditioning without adding more wear and tear on their joints.
The Right Gear:Indoor cycling is sweaty business, so bring a towel and at least 16 ounces of water. You can wear a basic athletic shoe and use a stirrup, but a dedicated cycling shoe that locks onto the pedal can make the experience more pleasant.
“It’s more comfortable when your feet are firmly in place and you don’t feel like your foot is going to come out of the stirrup,” says Speers, who points out that new riders rarely think about pulling up on the pedal stroke, which is far easier when you are clipped into the pedals. “You want to ride flat-footed, like you are scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe as you are coming out of the 6:00 position and moving through the back part of that circle. Being able to pull up will make you more efficient.”
The Setup:Each bike has a few fitting options. Adjust the seat height so that when you sit down, your knee has a 10- to 15-degree bend in it when it’s extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke. When it comes to moving the seat forward and backward, make sure that your knee is not in front of the cranks when your foot is in the 9:00 position. That will keep some pressure off the kneecap.
The Tension: Each bike has a dial that lets the rider set the tension on the pedals. According to Speers, too many riders are afraid to increase the resistance because it feels so difficult initially and, unlike riding a bike outdoors, you can’t coast and give your legs a break. “When a rider comes to a standing position and there’s not resistance on the flywheel to support their bodyweight, they go head over heels,” Speers says. “I like songs that are about 65 to 70 beats per minute, which require pretty high tension.”
Find Your Muse: Indoor cycling classes vary wildly, depending on the personality of the instructor and his or her choice of music. Some classes might be half empty, while others have a waiting list and a cult-like following. Try a few different classes to find a coach whose tastes line up with your own. <