An Instructor Gets Real on Why You Aren't Seeing Results From Indoor Cycling

POPSUGAR Photography | Benjamin Stone
POPSUGAR Photography | Benjamin Stone

Indoor cycling is one of the best forms of exercise, and I am not just saying that because I'm an instructor. I have been a runner, a swimmer, and an HIIT fan. Cycling provides what I like best about all of those activities. It has the intensity of a boot camp, the cardio and toning elements of swimming, and the challenges of running. And like swimming, it is easy on your joints so it can be a lifelong sport. Most of us don't walk into an indoor cycling class with expert knowledge, so today's coaching session is going to help you get the most out of your ride every time.

It's All About the Prep

You should never walk in off the street and jump on a bike and start pedaling. It starts with wearing the right gear, like moisture-wicking clothing. Cycling shoes, while not a requirement, are recommended since sneakers are not designed to take the constant pressure of cycling in and out of the saddle. You also need to adjust your bike properly, have water and towels handy, and arrive early enough to get set up. Also get some pedaling action in before class. If your legs aren't lubricated and warm by the time the first drill begins, you will be working from a deficit.

Listen to the Instructor

Instructors design a class to maximize several factors: muscle conditioning, heart rate training, muscle endurance, power, and speed. Whether your bike has a lever or a knob, you should be adjusting it pretty much the entire class, listening to your instructor's cues. The ride should simulate a real outdoor experience, which even if you live in the flatlands of Texas like me, you'll find a hill or two around. So when your instructor tells you to add or subtract resistance, listen and obey. They have a specific training goal in mind for you. Isn't that why you're there, instead of sitting on a bike in the gym, training yourself? Let us guide you! Of course, if it becomes too hard or you need a break, always feel free to slow down until you are ready to go again. Cycling, like yoga, is a practice, and you need to listen to your body above all things.

Know How to Pace Yourself

In a closely related topic, you achieve more in class if you can figure out if you are working TOO HARD. That's right, you may be overdoing it, which can impact your efficiency and fitness development. This goes back to following the instructor's lead. If you come to the class, crank up your resistance from the get-go, and do every drill with the heaviest load possible, you are going to burn out — not just your legs, but your cardio and energy systems. You need to be able to operate in both the aerobic (oxygenated) and anaerobic (without oxygen) state. You burn the most fat in the aerobic zone. If you are killing it the entire class, guess what you stop burning? That's right: fat. Your body starts pulling energy sources from the quickest available places, and your fat stores are not that. If you operate in that completely out of breath, muscles burning, close to vomiting zone the entire class, you are overtaxing your systems. You will lose endurance and fatigue much faster the rest of the ride. And you won't see the results you are looking for. So definitely listen when your instructor guides you to turn down the resistance, and take breaks if you ever feel overworked.

Keep It Simple

The last way to help you get the bang for your buck in class is to keep it simple. This may not be the most popular advice, but trust me, there's a reason all you should do on a bike is cycle. We have all seen the videos of the choreographed dancing or studios where they allow you to do weight training while on the bike. I'm going to urge you to leave that stuff where it belongs: in another class, on another day. Cycling works two major systems: cardiorespiratory and the lower muscles. Indoor cycling shouldn't be where you go to work on your upper body. When we twist or bounce or lift weights on the bike, we run the risk of tweaking our alignment and negatively impacting our spines, especially if we are lifting weights over our heads. It is impossible to protect the integrity of our ride and perform weight drills properly at the same time.

You are also losing a major benefit of weight training if you do it sitting on a bike: you are not undertaking load-bearing work. Load-bearing exercises require your body to work against gravity, and indoor cycling does not allow for that. If you want both, find a class that does half cycling, half resistance training — I promise they exist! Just please leave the dancing to Zumba and the weights in gym, and you will get more from your cycling.