What is Indoor Cycling?
Indoor cycling is a cardiovascular exercise in an instructor-led class in either a gym or studio. It's also a popular way of exercising at home. Smart-bikes that sync to apps and streaming software allow riders to join live or access on-demand classes remotely. Indoor cycling is a high-intensity and challenging but efficient workout designed to increase lower body strength, burn calories and make riders sweat.
Indoor cycling bikes also have a weighted disc called a flywheel at the front or back. Heavier flywheels make for a smoother ride but, compared to more traditional upright bikes, are more difficult to rotate from stationary. Riders must pedal to build the momentum required to sustain a good cadence (the number of revolutions per minute).
Indoor cycling bikes also have lower handlebars that are almost level with the saddle. This helps replicate the road biking experience as the rider is leaning forward rather than upright.
What are the Benefits of Indoor Cycling?
- Cycling is an excellent example of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise. Not only does it help strengthen the heart (remembering, of course, that the heart is a muscle), but it also increases blood flow, helping to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk of developing heart disease. One study showed that cyclists had 15% fewer heart attacks than non-cyclists. What's more, a 2017 study by the University of Glasgow found that people who cycled to work were 45% less likely to develop heart disease and 46% less likely to develop cancer--remembering, of course, that the important part isn't that they were outside, but that they were cycling.
- And it's not just heart health that benefits from indoor cycling. Regular aerobic exercise boosts cognitive performance, too. People exercising regularly have better blood flow to the brain than those who don't exercise. Martha Pyron MD co-authored a study into the effects of cardio on memory and cognition. She told Runner's World that cardiovascular exercise could help age-related cognitive decline and impairment. Cardiovascular exercise could also help reduce a person's risk of developing dementia. According to Psychology Today, more neurons are produced in the 'parts of the brain that control memory and thinking' as you exercise, increasing brain volume and, potentially, 'help buffer against the effects of dementia.'
Many of us understand that exercise is good for us. Still, it's incredible to think that something as simple as putting an indoor cycling bike into a house or office or taking a class could have such a significant and positive impact on heart and brain health.
- Indoor cycling is a mood booster because it reduces the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline in the body. It also reduces endorphins which make us feel better. Indoor cycling classes are often social occasions, which can help foster better mental health by allowing riders to mix in a friendly group environment.
- Also, cycling is quite repetitive (mainly indoor cycling), which can help put riders into a flow state where they're concentrating on the ride. Like meditation, it helps ground a rider in the present moment where it is much harder to suffer distracting, unhelpful, or anxious thoughts.
- Indoor cycling is safer than riding outdoors. There aren't other road users to worry about in a class or home setup. In 2020, 141 cyclists were killed on UK roads. According to the UK Government, the overriding factor in many of these cases was that 'the driver or rider failed to look properly'. Indoor cyclists don't need to be careful of cars or pedestrians. They're not at the mercy of the weather either. Professional cyclists will often shift their training inside during the winter months due to the low-light and expectation of poorer weather. Others will use a turbo-trainer and ride their road bikes indoors, sometimes using an online training platform like Zwift.
Indoor bikes also have a low barrier of entry. They're a great place for fitness newbies or gym virgins to start on. But a good bike should also future-proof your workout too. Everyone from the complete beginner to the pro athlete can get a good workout on an indoor bike. It's what makes it such a popular piece of equipment. Home bikes have come on a long way in the last few years. You can even get electricity-generating indoor smart bikes that capture and convert the energy you create, turning it into useable clean electricity.
You can enjoy cycling and get an upper body workout in as well. Cross trainers give riders the best of both worlds: the vertical moving bars for the arms are not possible on an outdoor bike.
Indoor cycling bikes are high-intensity but low-impact. It means they give a superb cardiovascular workout without putting undue strain on the body, particularly the joints. It's why many people pick stationary bikes over treadmills—running can be tougher on the knees and hips. Don't be fooled by the low-impact label, though. CNN wrote an article claiming that indoor cycling burns more calories than outdoor riding because fewer hazards and obstacles allow riders to maintain a consistent effort. For example, there are no pedestrians or vehicles to avoid and no changes in terrain or weather for static riders.
Indoor cycling can also help in the workplace. Physical activity can boost productivity and focus whilst decreasing rates of presenteeism, so much so that its popularity in corporate wellness campaigns is growing. An example here is the Bloomberg PWR RIDE in London in November 2021. Over two days, Bloomberg's employees, clients, and the public were invited to daily indoor cycling classes. Companies can also benefit from adding self-contained indoor cycling stations inside open-plan offices or adding bikes to their current stock of fitness equipment.
What are the Disadvantages of Indoor Cycling?
One of the most significant disadvantages of indoor cycling is that it can get repetitive and tedious, especially if you're exercising in your house. Outdoors there are differences in the terrain. You can look at the scenery, and no two rides are the same. Your training can take you along river banks, canal paths, through the countryside, up mountains, down valleys and alongside tourist and historical attractions. You must also pay attention to any hazards or obstructions which can keep the mind busy during long stretches of peddling. Static cycling can't compete with this.
Fortunately, there are ways around this. For example, you could position the bike close to a television or use a tablet to stream entertainment throughout your ride. Creating an exercise playlist can put you in a more energetic state of mind. You can also sign up for an app and take advantage of classes or simulated environments. You can even go head-to-head against friends or strangers. If you're sick of exercising at home, then see if there's a class close to where you live. Group exercise might help create the atmosphere you need to exercise efficiently.
Some serious cyclists may find the switch to indoors unsatisfying for training needs, too. There have been considerable technological advances for the more competitive cyclist—turbo trainers, online platforms, FTP meters, etc., but there's nothing quite like outdoor riding.
Not everyone has room in their home for an indoor cycling bike. Road bikes can be kept outside or in garages, chained up to a bicycle rack or folded down to a smaller size, but you can’t put an indoor cycling bike in a communal hallway, for example. And cheaper bikes can be ugly. If space is a premium in your house or apartment, then a budget branded static bike may be an eyesore.
Indoor cycling bikes can be noisy. The vibrations from the rotating flywheel can irritate neighbours or others living with you. You can mitigate this by using a mat under the bike.
And indoor cycling can be uncomfortable. The saddle's shape may cause pain in a rider’s sitz bones at the base of the pelvis. Most indoor bikes come with a standard saddle, but several factors dictate comfort, including gender, weight, and posture. Check if the bike has a universal post so you can swap one saddle out for another. If you're in a class, learn how to set your bike up correctly. Posture is vital in indoor cycling. Remember, however, that indoor classes can be a killer on the backside for beginners and that after a couple of weeks, the discomfort should pass.
We already spend so much of our time indoors that it's essential to get outside and spend time in the fresh air or nature. Around 1 in 5 UK adults don't get enough vitamin D. Indoor cycling doesn't give us access to the mood and health-boosting benefits that outdoor riding does.
Ultimately, indoor cycling is an excellent example of cardiovascular exercise. It's beginner-friendly and common in both gyms and at-home setups. It's often safer, too. What's more, technological advances mean that it can track and even build training programmes to support long-term goals. You can even create clean power from your workout now and use it to charge your electronic devices. But indoor cycling isn't for everyone. There's no substitute for riding out in the fresh air for some people. And given how much time we all spend indoors, maybe it's not such a bad idea to look more closely at what it means to escape outside.