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How to Make the Most of RPM Class for Road Cycling

author image Kay Tang
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.
How to Make the Most of RPM Class for Road Cycling
Efficient pedaling is an acquired skill. Photo Credit kzenon/iStock/Getty Images

An RPM or spinning class is a car-free and pedestrian-free environment in which you can hone road cycling skills, such as climbing and speed work. If you can identify a certified instructor -- a seasoned cyclist who provides sound training and safety -- you’ll get more out of an RPM class than just fitness. Perform five to 10 minutes of leisurely cycling to warm up before you hit the pedals hard and fast.

Set Up and Gear

Before an RPM class, adjust the set, handlebars and fore-aft -- the length between the seat and handlebars -- so the bike suits your body. Set saddle height so your knee is flexed at a 25- to 35-degree angle at the base of the pedal stroke. Position the fore-aft so that when the pedal reaches the furthest point forward, your knee aligns over the ball of your foot. Adjust the handlebar height so you’re comfortable. If you’ve got a strong core and back, you can ride with lower handlebars. If you’re new to spinning, ride higher to minimize stress on your lumbar spine. Invest in bike cleats that allow you to assume proper pedal position. If you lock in a position that compromises your knee, you increase the risk of injury. Wear cushioned cycling shorts to maintain comfort as well as blood flow in your groin area.

Muscle Up on a Climb

Climbing in an RPM class activates all of your leg muscles and prepares you for cycling hills. While you can perform both standing and seated climbing in your RPM class, you need to adjust your body position on an indoor bike to simulate the tipped-up outdoor bike position. For a standing climb, bend forward at the hips and position your face a few inches from the handlebar. Your back should be parallel to the floor and straight. For a seated climb, pull in your navel and sink your glutes into the saddle. Push hard on the pedals, keeping your heels lower than your toes. As you pull the pedal up, keep your heels down until the last possible moment. As soon as your heel rises above your toes, relax your calf muscle.

Change Cadence

By varying cadence -- pedaling speed in revolutions per minute -- in an RPM class, you can hone your pedaling form as well as improve strength and endurance. While higher cadences -- 120 to 140 rpm -- help to develop leg speed and control over your pedaling, lower cadences -- 50 to 70 rpm -- at a higher load build leg strength. Midrange cadences are typically used to develop endurance, according to the IDEA Health & Fitness Association. By using the cadence meter on the indoor cycle, you can easily track your pedaling speed.

Focus on Speed

To work on rapid turnover, you can do speed intervals. Experienced cyclists can typically pedal at 120 to 130 rpm without bouncing in their saddles and losing pedal control. If you’re a beginner, aim for a cadence of 110 rpm. When seated for speed work, contract your abs and sit forward in your saddle, pumping your legs as fast as possible. For standing speed work, you can literally run on the pedals while standing erect, according to Chris Kostman, a professional cyclist and one of the pioneers of indoor cycling programs. Place your fingertips lightly on the handlebars for balance. Concentrate on shifting your weight to your quads, using your abs to stabilize your body. To develop explosive power, seasoned cyclists should aim for 200 rpm, says Kostman.

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