Depending on your fitness goals and level of conditioning, you have three basic choices for indoor cycling routines. Beginners should perform a moderate intensity, steady-state cardio workout. Intermediates should raise their speeds, change resistance levels and add sprints, or spinning, to cardio workouts. Women training for sports should use a stationary bike for sprint training during the season and aerobic workouts during the off-season.
At the gym, you might see upright and recumbent versions of exercise bikes. Recumbent bikes allow you to lean back and recline during your workout, taking stress off your back. You won’t have the opportunity to stand on the pedals when you use a recumbent and you’ll burn fewer calories through decreased muscle use. With an inexpensive bike stand or trainer, you can turn your road bike into an stationary bike, but you won’t have the programs, heart rate and calorie features of an exercise machine.
To get started with indoor cycling, avoid high resistance settings and pedaling speeds that will fatigue you to failure after a few minutes. Your goal in the beginning is to get your heart, lungs and muscles used to exercise, building stamina and endurance that will help you create longer workouts. Choose a low-resistance setting and pedal at a speed that raises your heart rate, which makes you breathe harder but lets you continue without stopping. Aim for a 30-minute workout, five times each week, or two 15-minute workouts each day. Each week, add more minutes to your workouts, raise your speed or do both. If you have dumbbells, perform resistance exercises to increase your calorie burn and to target your arms for toning.
Working at the higher end of your cardio heart rate, you’ll be breathing heavily and sweating. Don’t work so hard that you need to take frequent breaks. Try talking every few minutes to gauge whether or not you’re working too hard. If you can’t talk, you’re pedaling too hard or fast and won’t be able to continue much longer. Experiment with different resistance levels during your workouts. Pedal faster when you use less resistance and harder when you set the resistance higher. Stand on your pedals while using a higher resistance setting to challenge your muscles differently. Reduce the gear setting on your road bike or the resistance level on a machine and sprint for 30 to 60 seconds, followed by a low-resistance recovery of two minutes. Add these sprints throughout your workout.
If you play sports, moderate-intensity, steady-state workouts aren’t the best choice before a big game, match or tournament. This type of exercises uses primarily slow-twitch muscle fibers, burns more fat than glycogen and doesn’t train you to recover after highly intense bursts of activity such as a volleyball play or a tennis point. Create an interval workout by using a low to moderate resistance setting to pedal very fast for 30 to 90 seconds, depending on your conditioning. Recover with a slow pedal for two or more minutes, depending on the length of your sprint, then start another. You might only be able to do these types of workouts for 15 minutes or so.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.