Intro to indoor cycling

Looking for a way to stay fit while indoors this winter? Try a group indoor cycling class. Here's everything you need to know to get started.

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  • When the weather gets cold, it's hard to exercise outside. The wind can be biting and road conditions hazardous. Exercise will help you stay fit and able to keep up with all your family activities, so don't give up; just get creative.

  • Heading inside for an indoor cycling class is a great option to keep up fitness during the winter months. Indoor cycling, which might be called by a branded name like Spinning, is a great exercise, whether you regularly ride a bicycle or not. I interviewed Marisa Michael, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Spinning Instructor who lives in California. She gave me several tips for the beginning indoor cyclist.

  • 1. What should beginners expect as they start spin classes?

  • Brand new indoor cyclists should expect to have a good time. Class can be intense or easy, depending on how you decide to ride your bike. The bike is designed to have varying resistance levels, which means you can adjust it to your own preferences.

  • A good bike fit is crucial before starting any cycling class. Be sure to ask the instructor to help you adjust the seat (called a saddle), the handlebars and the pedals. Poor bike fit can lead to injury at worse, or discomfort and an inefficient workout at best. The instructor can tell you anything you need to know about the bike and how to follow along in the class.

  • Classes are usually structured to offer variety. Resistance on the bike is adjusted to simulate scenarios you might encounter riding outside. For example, you might up the resistance to climb "hills," lower it for some "flat roads" and then pedal faster as you sprint to raise your heart rate. Music is played to cue you as you ride and to make the class more interesting.

  • 2. What should you wear to class?

  • Good shoes are important. You might notice some people in the class have special cycling shoes, which clip into the pedals and have very stiff soles. Beginners can wear a normal type athletic shoe or trainer; the stiffer the sole, the better. Avoid flimsy shoes or flip flops.

  • Your clothing should be suited to exercise. Some people prefer special technical clothing that wicks away sweat. You might notice the "regulars" wearing padded cycling shorts as well. These clothes are nice, but not necessary, to indoor cycling. What you usually wear to the gym will be just fine.

  • It's also important to bring a water bottle so you can stay hydrated during your workout. Many people also bring a towel to wipe their dripping faces. Indoor cycling can generate a lot of sweat!

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  • 3. Why is indoor cycling good exercise?

  • Indoor cycling is a great way to build fitness. The instructor will cue the class to go harder or faster at certain times — called intervals. Intervals increase cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory fitness better than a single, consistent speed. This is great for people training for events, or people just wanting increase fitness.

  • You can burn a lot of calories during an indoor cycling class, depending on your weight, gender and effort. The average woman will burn about 500 calories during a 60 minute class. A man will burn more, but that doesn't mean you can't keep up with your husband.

  • Indoor cycling is also a great alternative for those that have been injured in other ways. Runners often cycle when their knees can't tolerate running anymore. Many people that dislike high impact exercises find the bike a nice cardio alternative.

  • 4. What should new riders know about the indoor cycling bike?

  • There are many different brands of bikes, but they are all similar. They have a heavy metal wheel, called a flywheel, which turns when the rider pedals. Each bike has a method of increasing and decreasing resistance, which allows the athlete to make their workout harder or easier. All bikes are adjustable in the saddle and handlebars, so if something feels uncomfortable, ask the instructor for help with making sure you have the right fit.

  • Indoor bikes' pedals are made to accommodate cycling shoes and normal trainers. Some bikes have computers that give data like how fast the bike is being pedaled and how many calories the rider is burning.

  • 5. Is indoor cycling fun?

  • Getting into the music and letting it dictate your tempo or inspire you to go faster is a great way to bring enjoyment to your workout. Be sure to relax intermittently, keep your upper body loose and smile a little. Remind yourself of why you are there and how being fit will help you in life.

  • Don't be intimidated. Many people avoid indoor cycling classes because they see people come out exhausted and dripping with sweat and think, "Wow, I can't do that." People of all ages and fitness levels attend and have a great time. Bring a friend or family member to class with you so you aren't the only newbie. Indoor cycling is a class for teenagers on up.

  • If you're looking for an experience, check out different gyms in your area. Some have video footage of cycling events (like the Tour de France) that you watch as you ride along in your own class. Some have bikearoke — yes, you read that right, biking and karaoke all in one! Some dim the lights while you ride, some bike studios overlook a fantastic view. Each instructor has her own style, so find one that appeals to you.

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  • 6. Anything else beginning indoor cyclists might want to know?

  • It's good to know that you don't always have to follow the instructor. If you feel dizzy or too fatigued, or like you might pass out, slow down or stop pedaling. You can always adjust the workout to your own fitness level if it seems too hard.

  • Finally, there is a certain technique involved to getting good cycling form and a good pedal stroke. So for those that might think there is nothing to learn, there's more to cycling than just pedaling.

  • According to Michael, nothing beats cycling to good music with a friendly crowd who is into the ride. My first indoor cycling class was taught by Michael. She gave me a great workout that was also a lot of fun. Give indoor cycling a try and see if this fun fitness class leaves you looking forward to your next ride.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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