I love the calorie burn I get from indoor cycling, but I can never make it to a class on time. Can I design my own?
I love indoor cycling, too! And with a burn of up to 600 calories per class, it’s no wonder this is a favorite fat burner for women worldwide. And, yes, you can absolutely create a great DIY workout, sans instructor. Here’s the lowdown on how to keep your wheels spinning and the calories burning while riding solo.
Factor of Four
There are four class factors to consider when putting together your indoor cycling workout:
1. Body position
A good class has a blend of both seated and standing work. When seated, your butt is in the saddle, hands on the bars, shoulders and back relaxed. When standing, you should hover over the seat a couple of inches with your bodyweight distributed evenly between your feet.
Resistance is added or subtracted by turning a knob on the bike frame. Increase the tension for hills or hard sprints, and decrease it for flats or longer intervals.
Cadence is the number of revolutions you complete per minute, and it should increase or decrease depending on your goal: The faster you’re pedaling (and/or the higher the resistance), the higher your heart rate will go. Determine your actual cadence by holding one hand above your right thigh and counting the number of times your thigh hits your palm in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get your revolutions per minute (RPM).
The idea of indoor cycling is to replicate the challenges of riding on outdoor terrain (but without the bugs in your teeth!). Choose from these “terrains” when constructing a class:
Flats: Imagine the freeing expanse of open road as you set the resistance low while keeping your cadence high (80 to 100 RPM). Riding the flats can be done while seated or standing.
Hills: Grinding up a hill is a butt-blasting fat melter. Increase the resistance and slow the cadence to 60 to 80 RPM and grind it out, sitting or standing.
Jumps: Challenge your endurance and boost leg strength by adding jumps: Stand for several counts or revolutions, then sit for several counts/revolutions.
Sprints: Add sprints to build anaerobic capacity and incinerate body fat: For the sprint, crank the resistance up high and increase your cadence to 90 to 100 RPM for 15 to 30 seconds. Then dial back both resistance and cadence for a 30- to 60-second rest period, then repeat.
Form for Function
No matter which terrain you’re cycling or how fast you’re going, your form should remain the same:
- Your feet should be flat at the bottom of every pedal stroke — in other words, don’t point your toes down.
- Your knees should be in line with your toes, not collapsing inward or bowing outward.
- Your hips should be level — no wobbling side to side, even when powering up a hard hill.
- Your hands and shoulders should be relaxed — don’t lean on them or use them to pull on the handlebars when the going gets tough.
- Your focus should be forward and slightly in front of your bike as if looking at the road.
Pieces in Place
Now that you’ve got the elements down, it’s time to craft your workout according to the goal of the day. If your goal is …
- … Endurance, shoot for a longer riding duration (30-plus minutes) and stick to flats for most of the ride. Add in one or two jump segments for variety and to give your legs (and butt!) a break.
- … Strength, create a moderate-length ride (20 to 30 minutes) dominated by hills, using flats as a warm-up and cool-down and as short recovery bouts in between climbs. (See the chart.)
- … Fat burning, craft a shorter (10- to 20- minute) high-intensity interval training ride that combines hills, jumps and sprints, alternating intense periods with periods of rest on the flat.
Music: The Fifth Element
Music can make or break your workout intensity, and the best classes have carefully planned playlists that match beats per minute (BPM) to intensity and terrain. Rather than struggling to match your class elements with tunes to your music library on your own, use one of these apps to pimp your ride:
- Cycle Companion: Preprogrammed and/or customizable rides made with music from your own library ($3 iTunes).
- Tempo Magic: Changes the tempo of your own music to match your ride elements ($6 iTunes; $5 Android app, Google Play).
- RockMyRun: Free music playlists with adjustable BPM (Free iTunes and Google Play).
- PaceDJ: Chooses songs from your library to match your desired BPM (Free iTunes).
Clip it or skip it?
Hey, we all love shoe shopping, but dropping a couple of Benjamins on a fancy pair of cycling shoes might not be so appealing. After all, you can’t really clop around in them at work. But if you’re a regular rider — indoors or out — there are some valid benefits to having clip-in shoes:
- Your feet are actually attached to the pedals, and they won’t slip off to the side or out of the cages.
- They have a very firm sole, so your feet are less likely to get sore or go numb during your ride.
- You can harness the power of your hamstrings on the upstroke rather than just powering down with your quads and glutes, improving speed and efficiency, and giving your rear view a boost!