Indoor cycling is a form of high-intensity exercise that involves using a stationary exercise bicycle in a classroom setting. Ultra-endurance athlete Jonathan Goldberg created the concept of Indoor Cycling in the 1980s. It was later introduced as a commercial program by Mad Dogg Athletics, Inc., a company founded by Goldberg and John Baudhuin.
Participants set goals based on their heart rate, which can be measured by hand or using a heart rate monitor and ride simulated variations in terrain by altering resistance and cadence. If someone is new to indoor cycling and has not yet purchased a heart rate monitor then they can judge their level of exertion on an RPE (relative perceived exertion) scale. This scale has numbers which range from six (no exertion at all) to 20 (maximum exertion). Instructors guide classes by calling out the level of exertion participants should be at.
A typical class involves a single instructor at the front of the class who leads the participants through routines that are designed to simulate terrain and situations similar to riding a bike outdoors. Some of the movements and positions include hill climbs, sprints and interval training. A well-trained instructor uses music, motivation and enthusiastic coaching to lead students through a ride that best suits their fitness level and goals. Most instructors will lead what is called an interval ride, this is where students will sprint, run, climb, and jump all in the same ride but there will not be definable pattern to the exercises.
Each person in the class can choose their own goals for the session. Some participants choose to maintain a moderate, aerobic intensity level, while others drive their heart rates higher in intervals of anaerobic activity. Besides being a great form of aerobic activity (burning between 400-600 calories in 40 minutes), indoor cycling is also beneficial in strengthening the muscles of the lower body. It tones the quadriceps and hamstrings, along with working the back and hips. It can be difficult to stay at the moderate level in a class that is geared towards more intensity. If the exercise is not done correctly, injuries can occur; problems with the lower back and knees are most common. To avoid injury it is important to make sure the seat position is right for the participant's height. The seat should be set at a height such that the leg is fully extended with the foot resting on the pedal. Handlebar height can be adjusted for comfort; less experienced rider may want to set them higher to ease lower back discomfort.
Classes generally use specialized stationary bicycles. Features include a mechanical device to modify the difficulty of pedaling, specially-shaped handlebars, and multiple adjustment points to fit the bicycle to a range of riders. Many have a weighted flywheel which simulates the effects of inertia and momentum when riding a real bicycle. The pedals are equipped with toe clips as on sports bicycles to allow one foot to pull up when the other is pushing down. They may alternatively have clipless receptacles for use with cleated cycling shoes. Stationary cycles used in classroom settings often do not have the electronic features found on some models.
The difficulty of the workout is modulated in three ways:
Each of these positions works the muscles in slightly different ways. Proper form for standing while pedaling requires the body to be more upright and the back of the legs touching or enveloping the point of the saddle, with the center of gravity directly over the crank. The center of gravity or pressure of body weight should never rest on the handlebars.
The three positions used in indoor cycling each work a different part of the body and it depends on the level of exertion whether or not someone changes position or the instructor can tell the class to change. Position one is when the rider in the saddle (seated) and the handles are resting on the center of the handle bars. Position two is when the rider stands up but can still feel the saddle between their legs and their hands are light on the handle bars because they are only there for balance. Position three is used for heavy climbing and the body is extended over the handles. It is important to remember to always be light on the handle bars because they are only there to help one balance and to adjust resistance accordingly when changing positions otherwise one's feet might stick in the pedals.
Most indoor cycling classes are coached with music. Riders may synchronize their pedaling to be in time with the rhythm of the music, thus providing an external stimulus to encourage a certain tempo. Often, the music chosen by the instructor is dance music or rock music set to a dance beat (i.e. 4/4 time), but not necessarily. This tends to help motivate participants to work harder than they might otherwise. The instructor also may choose specific song for sprints, climbs, and jumps. While the music provides a tempo cue, the cadence does not need to be a multiple of the beat in order for the rider to feel in rhythm; the music therefore helps a rider maintain any constant cadence, not just a cadence that matches the beat.
It is recommended when riding in a class to bring plenty of water. Indoor cycling is very energetic and causes a lot of sweating, and a person who is near dehydration can easily be dehydrated by the end of an hour of hard riding. One ounce (30 milliliters) of water consumed for each minute of work is the recommended and safest hydration ratio, but this could be varied depending on your weight.
The flywheel resistance control is also used to brake the flywheel. When changing from fast pedaling to slow, the flywheel brake may be used to slow the flywheel rather than allowing the force of the angular momentum to be applied to ones knees and legs.