How It Works
Indoor cycling classes help you shed fat, improve your heart health, and boost your muscle endurance. Your legs will get a serious workout. By the end of class, you’ll have a steady stream of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins.
Many gyms offer indoor cycling classes. Or you can join one of the popular cycling boutiques, like Flywheel, which combines indoor cycling with a weighted workout for your arms, or SoulCycle, which adds mind-body exercise to its bike routine.
Or, you can do it at home with a stationary bike. Flywheel and another company, Peloton, offer bikes that allow you to stream live cycling classes from the comfort of your home.
Plan to do 3-5 classes a week for best results. Or add 1-2 classes a week into your workout routine. Classes usually last about 45-60 minutes.
An instructor will lead the class through different types of cycling, like uphill climbs, bursts of speed, and short recovery periods with easy pedaling. Sometimes you’ll get off the saddle and pedal in a standing position.
There’s a bike for each person in the class. They usually face the same direction, either toward the instructor or a mirror.
The instructor chooses music to go along with each phase of the class. They may play an upbeat song for 5 minutes as you pedal as fast as you can. Then they may play a slower tune while you catch your breath and pedal slowly. You may bike for 5 minutes with a lot of resistance, to mimic riding up a major hill, with a song to match the mood.
Some instructors use imagery to keep you going. You’ll imagine yourself pedaling fast through a desert straightaway, or steadily up a green mountain on a Caribbean island. It’s a great way to keep boredom at bay.
By the end of the workout, you may feel like you’ve been through a real adventure. And you should be proud of what you accomplished.
Intensity Level: Very High
Indoor cycling is intense. Your heart rate will soar and stay elevated for 45-60 minutes. There will be brief moments of slower pedaling, but most of the class will be steady work.
Areas It Targets
Core: No. This workout doesn’t target your core.
Arms: No. This workout doesn't target your arms.
Legs: Yes. Expect nonstop leg work. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves will feel the burn.
Glutes: Yes. All that pedaling will engage your glutes.
Back: No. This workout doesn’t target your back muscles.
Flexibility: No. This workout doesn’t focus on flexibility.
Aerobic: Yes. Your heart rate will stay elevated throughout this super-charged cardio workout.
Strength: Yes. All that pedaling will boost your muscle strength and endurance.
What Else Should I Know?
Cost: Plan to pay for a gym membership or class fees. One class may cost about $35. You’ll pay less per class if you buy them in a bundle.
Good for beginners? Yes. You should pick a class for beginners, talk to the teacher before the class starts and tell them you're new to exercise, and pace yourself. Don't try to keep up with other people in the room. Focus on your own workout
Outdoors: No. This is an indoor workout you do at a gym or indoor cycling studio.
At home: You can invest in a good stationary bike or opt to go to a gym or cycling studio.
Equipment required? Gyms have specialty stationary bikes. It’s probably a good idea to bring a towel because you’ll definitely sweat. If you’re advanced or a hard-core indoor cycling enthusiast, you may want to get a pair of cycling shoes that are extra sturdy and can clip on to the bike pedals. Expect to pay $150 or more.
What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:
Indoor cycling is a great way to get in your cardio each week. It is a low-impact workout, but it is no ride in the park. Many classes are very high intensity, so talk to your instructor and doctor first if you are out of shape, are pregnant, or have any medical problems. They can help tailor the program to your needs.
Taking classes involves going to the gym or a specialty studio, and this can get pricey.
If you enjoy working out with others in a very structured environment, then indoor cycling is a great fit. If you like to sweat it out alone, then you may enjoy riding your bike outside instead. If you do that, wear a helmet.
Is It Good for Me If I Have a Health Condition?
A good aerobic workout like indoor cycling may be just what the doctor ordered if you have diabetes. Check with your doctor first.
Cycling helps your muscles use glucose more efficiently, so your blood sugar level is likely to go down. If you have diabetes, your doctor will need to adjust your medications. Scheduling your classes at the same time every day will help keep your blood sugars on an even keel. Talk to your instructor before class. Most programs let you vary the intensity of the workout to match your fitness level and your needs by adjusting speed and/or resistance.
If you are at risk for heart disease, a solid aerobic workout like indoor cycling can help bring down your blood pressure as well as your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol while helping raise your "good" (HDL) cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of a good cardio workout each week (which you can split up any way you like), but check with your doctor first. Even if you already have heart disease, an indoor cycling program can often be tailored to your specific needs.
If you have arthritis and think you should pass on exercise, think again. With your doctor’s approval, indoor cycling could be the key to lifting your energy level and your mood, as well as helping to protect your joints.
When you cycle, you will be building up your leg muscles, and this helps support the knee joint. Stick to the seated and limited standing core movements. The jumps and some of the other more advanced movements can be tough on the knee joint.
Don't start an indoor cycling program if you had a back or knee injury. Wait until you get clearance from your doctor.
Indoor cycling can be a good option for you if you are pregnant. You will get a good aerobic workout without further stressing your joints. It is safer than riding a bike outside. You will not have to worry about falls once your center of gravity begins to shift with your growing belly.
If you have already been taking an indoor cycling class, your doctor will likely let you continue unless you are having problems with your pregnancy.