Why We Teach Indoor Cycling at The Training Room
by Maren Kravitz
By now we’ve all heard about “spinning classes” in which participants ride at cadences of 120–140 RPM’s with little or no resistance. Some of these classes even claim to offer a complete “total body” workout by including choreographed push-ups on the handle bars, as well as a bonus featuring bicep curls and tricep extensions with 3-to-5-pound weights – all while pedaling at supersonic speed. But keep your fingers crossed that your clip in shoes and pedals work.
While you struggle to keep up with the cadence and choreography of the instructor, you envision yourself with shapely toned legs while burning massive calories and dripping sweat. Hopefully, you’ve checked the spinning studio’s website FAQ page to confirm that these classes are indeed designed to shape and build muscle, without adding bulk. #winning
Is your indoor spinning bike pedaling you??
But unbeknownst to many participants, fast heart rates and dripping sweat does not necessarily correlate to increased caloric burn. The truth is: most typical indoor cycling bikes are fixed gear systems with weighted flywheels. The flywheels can weigh anywhere from 25 to 45 pounds. That smooth feeling when the pedals glide around with low resistance is actually inertia at work.
Those who ride indoor cycling bikes with extremely low resistance are essentially being taken for a ride. Even if your heart rate monitor shows an elevated heart rate, the “work” or watts being produced is very low, while the amount of wasted energy is very high. There is absolutely no correlation between calories burned and strength, muscular endurance or aerobic fitness.
This simple experiment will prove the point. Stand next to an indoor cycling bike and turn the dial so there is no resistance on the flywheel. After cranking the pedals around 8-10 times with your hand you should be able to get the RPMs up to about 100. Now stand back, pull out your trusty iPhone and Google Sir Isaac Newton and you’ll see inertia in action.
If you release all the tension on that bike so that there is little to no resistance on the flywheel, the bike will essentially pedal itself. Even if you enjoy bouncing around in the saddle while pedaling at a high cadence, remember that this has no direct correlation to experiencing a harder workout. By turning up the resistance and dropping your cadence to a more sustainable zone (90-100rpms), you’ll immediately see and feel the increase in watts. This directly translates to an increase in power – a much more realistic measurement to determine work capacity and effort.
What is Power?
Power quantifies workouts. Whereas heart rate measurement provides a physiological response, power determines mechanical output. It also measures how hard and at what velocity a rider applies pressure to the pedals; it’s the product of force multiplied by velocity. On an indoor cycling bike, the gears provide force, and velocity is measured as cadence and displayed as revolutions per minute (RPM). Because power combines both force and velocity, pedaling for a set amount of time will generate a certain amount of work, or watts.
Beginning cyclists usually generate about 75-125 watts. A more seasoned biker can exceed 150-200 watts, while pro and elite cyclists typically achieve an even greater output—400 watts and more. Bear in mind that these averages are only estimates. Power varies greatly from rider to rider and depends on fitness level, skill, weight and strength.
What are the benefits of indoor cycling?
Aerobic development, muscular endurance, muscular strength, leg speed improvement and increased threshold/anaerobic ability can all be gained through consistent participation and an understanding of indoor cycling. Unlike running, which is considered a high impact form of cardiovascular activity, indoor cycling gives participants a safe and effective environment in which they can participate in a low impact workout (knees and joints will thanks you later) that is in proportion with their cardiovascular ability.
Whether you’re new to fitness, or a seasoned road cyclist, anyone can control their workout by increasing or decreasing their resistance dial and pedal stroke rate. All indoor cyclists should work on gaining a more effective and complete pedal stroke prior to speeding up their cadence.
You should always feel like you’re in sync with your bike. If the bike is pulling you and you’re bouncing in the saddle, add some small turns to the resistance dial to smooth out your pedal stroke. Conversely, if you have too much resistance and you notice that your body is swaying side to side and that your focus is on crushing the pedal stroke down, take some resistance off and think about pulling up on the pedal while relaxing your upper body and hips.
There is a lot of misinformation in regards to fitness and indoor cycling classes. No matter what your personal goal, make sure that you follow a safe and effective route to attain it. At the end of the day, calories burned and pools of sweat don’t necessarily translate to a tough workout. Remember that the numbers on the meter don’t lie – are you working hard or hardly working?
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