What To know About Cycling Studios

As the days become shorter and colder, indoor cycling, and especially studio instructor-led group cycling classes, are an excellent way to enhance your cardiovascular fitness and improve your lower body strength while keeping the winter pounds off. As with all forms of exercise, though, it's not right for everyone. For the past year I have used studio indoor cycling classes to enhance my cycling fitness and lower body strength. While I prefer to #OPTOUTSIDE on my bike, I'm not lucky enough to have the time to be outdoors to train while it's starting to get colder and darker earlier these days so I've started taking my rides indoors.
There are many ways to train indoors during the colder seasons but if you're like me where you enjoy the setting of a class to motivate and push yourself in with a structured training session, loud music, nice classmates and instructors, then indoor cycling classes are for you. If you're dabbling with the idea of keeping your fitness levels up with an indoor cycling session, here's what you should know before you sign up for your first studio class.

Classes Are Expensive
Most large gyms offer group fitness classes as part of a membership or for a nominal additional monthly fee. The same can't be said for cycling-specific studios though. Because group cycling classes are these studios' only form of bread and butter, they charge a premium for each class, often between $15 and $35, depending on the studio and location. Most cycling studios offer some form of a "first class free" benefit so you can test-drive an instructor or location before laying out a lot of cash. And if you decide you're in love with this type of cardio, there are ways to save money on studio classesSome smaller gyms may have monthly unlimited cycle classes only memberships, which I recommend as you can attend as many classes and pay less than what most studios offer.
Studio Bikes Are Different
Spin bikes are designed to mimic the full experience of cycling outside. As such, the seat is narrower than a traditional stationary bike, and the handlebars and seat can be adjusted vertically and horizontally to better accommodate your body shape and riding posture. Spin bikes also feature a heavy flywheel at the front of the bike that's connected directly to the pedal. This mechanism is similar to a traditional bike, placing the power of the pedal in the rider's hands—literally. The rider controls the speed of each pedal stroke, as well as the resistance of the flywheel, which is manually adjusted with a knob or handle. You can switch in an instant from no resistance at all—as if you were riding down a hill—to heavy resistance, as if climbing a steep mountain. Also, your feet are clipped into a set of pedals, fixed to the bike, making it possible for you to fully engage through an entire pedal rotation—both the downward pushing motion and the upward pulling motion. 
Classes Are Intense
If you're not a fan of sweating or high-intensity workouts, group cycling classes may not be for you. These classes are specifically designed to take you on a "hilly" ride as instructors call for regular changes in resistance and intensity, coaching you up and down a series of virtual slopes often to the sound of blaring, heart-pumping tunes. The experience is a combination of challenge and excitement that leaves you with aching legs and a sweat-soaked body. 
You may be able to burn between 400 and 600 calories per class due to the challenging nature of the workout. The actual number of calories you'll burn is highly individual and varies based on your height, weight, sex, muscle mass, and age, as well as how hard you push yourself during a workout. Try using a heart rate monitor and calorie burn calculator like the FitBit Charge to get a better estimate for your height and weight. 
Form Is Critical
Like cycling, indoor cycling is a voluntary form of physical stress, and more specifically, it's a voluntary form of high-intensity physical stress. This means injuries are possible, particularly if you push yourself too hard, fail to use proper form or cadence, or ignore the importance of rest and recovery. For instance, poor posture can lead to shoulder, hand, and knee pain; leaning too heavily on your bike can diminish calorie burn as you reduce muscle engagement; and failing to breathe properly can limit the flow of oxygenated blood to working muscles, causing performance deficits, dizziness, and other unpleasant symptoms. It's always important to listen to your instructor notes on form and your body to avoid overdoing it, especially if you're new. 
There's a Right Way to Set Up Your Bike
One of the benefits of indoor cycling is the ability to adjust a bike's handlebars and seat to fit your body's frame. Since not all bodies are the same, even minor adjustments to the seat height or the forward/backward positions of the handlebars can make for a more comfortable and safe ride. Correctly making these adjustments, however, isn't always intuitive. This is one of the reasons it's a good idea to take a few classes before starting to ride on your own. A group cycling instructor can help you adjust your bike the first few times you ride, providing you with pointers and tips for finding the right fit on your own.
One big pointer: When you stand next to your bike, the seat should be roughly the same height as your hip bone, like your normal bike. This allows for a full extension at the knee during each pedal stroke. 
Saddle Soreness Is Normal
If you haven't been on a bike in awhile because of the season change, you may be surprised to discover a bruised-like feeling through your groin on the days following a class. This is normal. While initially uncomfortable, you'll discover that you no longer develop the same bruised feeling as your body grows accustomed to the workout, which will take a few classes. If, however, you'd like to avoid feeling sore altogether, you can try wearing chamois shorts or tights.
Indoor Cycling Etiquette Is Real
Just as there is proper gym etiquette, there's also proper indoor cycling etiquette, particularly when it comes to group cycling classes. For instance, it's considered bad form to be on or answer your cell phone during class, or to leave without wiping down your bike. Brush up on the basics before you take your first class, and if you're heading to a new studio, ask the instructor if there are any studio-specific rules you should know in advance.
Not All Instructors or Studios Are Created Equal
Some studios and instructors are better than others, and sometimes "better" is a matter of personal preference. For instance, some studios rely on loud music and beat-based, almost dance-like choreography, while others focus more on traditional cycling form based on heart rate, RPM (rotations per minute), or watts. Likewise, some instructors provide clear and crisp cuing and modeling, while others have a more "fluid" approach to riding a bike (and still others model poor form and poor instruction). It's a good idea to try several studios or instructors before settling on your favorite or deciding indoor studio cycling isn't right for you.
Indoor Cycling Offers Many Benefits

After your first studio class, you'll have no doubts about the activity's ability to increase your heart rate while making your lower body burn. Classes and workouts are seriously tough, and as with all forms of cardiovascular exercise, cycling can enhance heart and lung function and help improve body compositionIn short, if you enjoy the workout and are prepared to stick with it (consistency is really the key in any exercise program), indoor cycling can pay off big time when it comes to total wellbeing in the winter.

While I know most cyclists prefer the outdoors and indoor bike trainers, there are benefits to a studio structured class that you can't get in your garage or online. Every time I leave class, I not only leave drenched in sweat but I feel energized and flushed with happiness. Spin has helped me keep my health strong, weight normal, and has blasts those seasonal blues away all while keeping my legs strong for that QOM that I'm dreaming of next season. 

In another post I'll share with you gear for studio classes cause like cycling kit, I like my studio cycling kit to be functional and stylish too.

Images @IHG

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