Spinning the Wheels on Indoor Cycling

By Bill Hauser, USAT Level II Certified Triathlon Coach

indoor cycling

Mid-Atlantic winters can be particularly harsh. Unless you are one of those die hard cyclists who actually seem to take pride in the fact that they bike outdoors in frigid, icy, dark, unappealing conditions, you probably have been doing the bulk, if not all, of your cycling indoors. Many options for riding indoors exist and I am frequently asked which training option is “best” for preparing for the race season. There is no right or wrong answer, as each option has its pros and cons – and each athlete has his or her own training considerations.

One option that many cyclists consider is riding at home with their bike set up on an indoor wind, magnetic or fluid resistance trainer which can be purchased at most bike shops for less than $300. The obvious advantages to this option, of course, are convenience and comfort. This option also allows you to completely control your ride. Unlike riding outdoors, you are constantly pedaling (no “coasting” downhill) and, unlike riding in a structured class, you can make sure that you are riding at the appropriate intensity for your own particular training plan. If you are in a base phase of your training which many athletes are during this time of year there is no easier way to make sure that you stay in your aerobic zone than riding at home while watching Netflix. Similarly, if your training plan calls for intervals or hill workouts, you can select a training DVD (such as the ever-popular Spinervals) that is appropriate for the type of workout you need. The downside to riding at home, aside from the fact that your significant other might not appreciate your bike being a permanent fixture in your family room, is the motivation factor. No matter how many good shows you have DVR’d, and no matter how big your Spinervals library is, riding at home alone can get just plain boring. You may find that the frequency and duration of your workouts start to dwindle over the winter months. This brings us to our next option . . .

Coach led cycling classes have become increasingly popular in recent years. This option allows you to bring your own bike to a training center and ride on a trainer in a structured class setting. Depending on the class, the workout may be based on perceived effort, heart rate zones, or wattage. The advantage of this option is that you generally get quality instruction from a coach and you can enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow riders. Compared to “Spinning” type classes, this option also has the plus of allowing you to train on the same bike (with the same bike computer) that you will be training and racing on “in-season”. On the flip side, riding your own bike means that you have to load up and carry your bike to each class which, at least in my experience, is never a fun project. Also, like any other structured class, the coach led workout may not be appropriate for your particular training plan, so you need to do some research to find out what type of workout is being offered for a particular class. If you are in your base phase, for example, or if you have a 5k run scheduled for the next day, you don’t want to show up unknowingly for a class that has you doing a high resistance, high intensity workout.

Finally, spin classes are another option that cyclists are making part of their training routine. Like coach led classes, spin classes offer the advantage of motivation from an instructor and the camaraderie of other riders. These classes also offer the advantage of not having to lug your bike to a training center. The biggest factor to consider when deciding to take a spin class is the instructor. While many instructors these days are knowledgeable, certified instructors and may even have a triathlon or cycling background, others may be essentially “aerobic” instructors who have never ridden a bike outdoors – and who may not know how to properly structure a class. Based on past experiences, some good signs that you have the latter type of instructor are that she has you pedal backwards, puts her foot on your bike wheel for “extra resistance”, or has you do yoga moves on the bike. As with other structured classes, you need to make sure that the type of class is suitable for your particular training phase – it may be difficult to stay in your aerobic zone if the rest of the class is hammering out of the saddle to the latest Lady Gaga song. Since you are not riding your own bike, you also need to make sure that you are properly set up on your spin bike. Your key considerations here are the height of your seat, the fore/aft position of your seat and the height of your handlebars. For your first couple of classes, arrive at least five minutes early and seek assistance from your instructor for proper bike set up. Finally, you also need to keep in mind that spin bikes have a weighted flywheel and a fixed gear – to avoid injury, you need to make sure that you never stop abruptly on the bike.

Keep in mind that whatever training option you choose, what’s most important is that you are getting on the bike during these colder months and building your fitness for the outdoor season, which is just around the corner.

Bill HauserBill Hauser, Founder & Head Coach of Mid-Atlantic Multisport

Bill has been active in endurance sports, both as a coach and competitor, for more than 20 years. He has experience coaching athletes of all ability levels, from beginners to elite-level competitors. Bill is one of a select number of coaches in the United States to have received Level II certification by USA Triathlon (USAT), the national governing body of the sport. He is also a USAT-certified Youth & Junior coach and served as the Head Triathlon Coach for the Southern New Jersey Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training Program. Bill was selected to the 2001, 2002 and 2003 Triathlon All-American Teams by USAT and represented the United States at the 2002 Long Course World Championships in Nice, France. He has competed in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii three times and has run nearly 20 marathons around the world. His Ironman PR is 9 hours 38 minutes and his marathon PR is 2 hours 42 minutes. Bill has served on the USA Triathlon Board of Directors for the Mid-Atlantic Region since 2002.