If you've taken an indoor cycling class in the past, you'd probably agree that it's certainly a one-of-a-kind workout. With their perfectly curated playlists and strategically built intervals, it's no wonder that many studios have developed a cult-like following. However, it's not an inexpensive experience.
Although classes can be a great way to stay healthy and meet new people, they can also burn a big hole in your wallet. Luckily, you can build your own indoor cycling workout — either at the gym or at home if you have your own bike.
How to Structure an Indoor Cycling Workout
While there's no set equation to building the perfect indoor cycling workout, there are a few components every instructor incorporates into each session, says Charlee Atkins, former master SoulCycle instructor and founder of Le Sweat. While classes always start with a warm-up and end with cool down, the middle portion varies, depending on what the instructor wants to emphasize.
When you build your own workout, you get to choose what you focus on. On Monday, you may want to work on your endurance, whereas on Thursday, you may want to build a strength-based cycling workout. Here are some things to keep in mind when creating each portion of your workout.
Start With a Warm-Up
Every indoor cycling workout should start with a five- to seven-minute warm-up, Atkins says. Keep yourself reined in during this part — it should feel like a brisk walk or walking up a small hill, not like an all-out spring. Give your body a little resistance to build some heat and lubricate the joints for the work to come, she says.
Add Hills, Sprints and Jogs
The main portion of your indoor cycling workout consists of hills, jogs and sprints. You can incorporate one, two or all three of these, depending on what you're looking to train. For instance, while hills are great for strength building, sprints are perfect for endurance, Atkins says. Use these strategically for your best workout.
To build strength in your lower body (think: quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves), add artificial hills on your bike by increasing the resistance for a certain amount of time (say one to two minutes), followed by an interval of decreased resistance. Your hill should feel like a push or climb.
Jogs can be used for recovery or endurance, says Atkins. Keep a moderate pace, maintaining your elevated heart rate. In general, you should be able to speak in full sentences during a recovery jug. But if you want to use a jog to build endurance, up the pace to just a bit beyond that point.
The sprint is great for training your endurance or power, depending on how much resistance you place on the wheel. To work your endurance, keep the resistance on the lower side and push a faster pace. If you want to build power, keep your resistance a little higher and push the fastest sustainable pace at that level. No matter which you choose, keep your pace challenging (think moderately breathless).
Recover on the Flat Road
Follow your hills, jogs and sprints with an interval of flat road, which is great for recovery or steady-state endurance. Depending on how tired you are after your previous push, you can choose to either back off the resistance and slow the pace or back off the resistance and keep your pace. You can also incorporate flat roads throughout the workout, as needed.
Finish by Cooling Down
Just as you should begin each indoor cycling workout with a warm-up, always end with a cooldown, says Atkins. But whereas your warm-up starts at a slower pace and builds gradually, your cooldown begins at a quicker pace (near where your workout left off) and slows down until you're close to your baseline. Focus on lowering your heart rate and relaxing your muscles as you finish your workout.
Choose Your Music Strategically
You likely already know that the music you choose can make or break an indoor cycling workout. As you're spinning the pedals in coordination with the beat, preparation is key and it's important to create a playlist before you hit the bike.
When building your playlist, search songs by specific beats per minute (bpm). Apps like Spotify allow you to find playlists or songs based on their tempo. With these general guidelines (thanks to Atkins) you can use bpm to structure the intensity of your workout:
- Warm-up: 70 to 85 bpm
- Hill: 90 to 110 bpm.
- Jog: 7o to 85 bpm (Note: You'll want to double-time your pedal pace to 140 to 170 bpm.)
- Sprint: 128 bpm (but double-time your feet to 256 bpm)
- Flat Road: 120 to 125 bpm (pedals moving double-time at 240 to 250 bpm)
- Cool Down: 60 to 85 bpm (Start pedaling at the faster end and slow as the song goes on.)