In Praise of Cycle Class
An indoor cycle class at my gym was turned out to be a great option to try to maintain some fitness after I broke my arm right before final training for cyclocross season.
I broke my arm July 29 and needed two surgeries to get all the bones back in place.
So for the past six weeks, I’ve had my arm in some kind of cast or splint, making it nearly impossible to do any kind of hard work outside on my bike to prepare for cyclocross season.
Meanwhile, when I started my personal training job at the Wisconsin Athletic Club, I took several cycle classes as well as taught several as a sub.
After the last surgery I turned to the indoor cycle class to maintain some fitness for the season.
While I’m not a big fan of really hot, dark rooms with loud music and a lot of people sweating buckets all around me, there is a lot of value in cycle classes.
(However, we won’t talk about the smell that came from my cast after all that sweating.)
Seven Reasons Why Gym Cycle Classes are Great
Here are seven reasons that cycle classes can be a good substitute for an outdoor ride:
1. High-Intensity Interval Work
In most classes, you’ll get a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout that pushes your limits. You’re working primarily by perceived exertion levels, and, if you’re game, you can really ride as hard as you can.
When I sub for classes, we do a HIIT intervals of 15 seconds hard pedaling and 15 seconds off for just four minutes at a time, and we are all feeling wiped out at the end.
You burn between 420 to 620 calories an hour (according to a Harvard study) and build some muscular endurance strength, which tones muscles. You also strengthen your heart and lungs.
2. The Community
There’s a social element of meeting people, good-naturedly complaining about the suffering that’s about to happen or just happened, and joining in a kind of community willing to do a crazy workout.
Everyone is suffering together, and everyone cheers each other on.
You see each other walking to class in our cycling shoes and shorts and nod, knowing you’re part of a unique bunch.
3. No Need to Worry About Group Ride Dynamics
No one gets dropped.
In many group rides, the pace is too easy or too hard for some riders. In a cycle class, you still ride with people, but you’re entirely at your own pace.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about overlapping wheels, crashes, and that person who always speeds up at the end of a paceline and leaves you hanging.
4. Practice Needed Skills
I can practice breathing.
Sometimes my asthma gets in the way of riding hard.
But by just having to concentrate on the pedaling and not on anything else out on the road, I can really just practice deep breathing while riding hard.
Others can practice pedal stroke, riding while standing, or even just learning to spin at a high cadence.
Cycle classes are convenient. I don’t need to worry about a helmet, where I’m going to ride, the weather, stupid drivers, or any mechanical breakdowns.
I just show up for the class, ride – and then clean up the pool of sweat under my bike.
6. Low-Impact Cardio Work
Cycle classes are also really good for those who want a cardio workout, but have difficulty running or using an elliptical because of hip or leg issues.
Cycling is a very low-impact exercise.
7. Motivating Music
Sometimes blasting EDM or rock music is the best way to motivate yourself through a tough workout, especially when the workout goes in time to the song.
I have some weird sets with heavy metal, Prince, Taylor Swift, and Irish folk punk all mixed in together.
Before You Go to a Gym
Here are some suggestions when you decide to come to a cycle class.
- Get there early to set up your bike. Your knee should roughly be over the spindle of the pedal when the crank arm is parallel to the floor. And your leg should be roughly bent 25 to 35 degrees when the crank arm is in line with the seat tube. If you need help, ask the instructor.
- Bring water with some electrolytes like Nuun. You’ll be sweating.
- Get a towel or two to hang on your bike to wipe away the sweat.
- Start slow with the resistance. Don’t try to muscle your way through just because you know how to ride outside. You’ll pay for the effort a few minutes later!
I’ll Always Prefer Outside, But Cycle Classes Can Be Fun!
I’ll nearly always choose to be outside on my bike if I can.
However, an indoor cycle workout that jacks up my heart rate with some good interval work is a worthy substitute.
(And by the way, I learned that essential oils do a decent job of covering up the scent of wet cast. The clamminess inside, though, never really went away.)
Need Some Indoor Workouts
I also do rides on Zwift and an indoor trainer.
I find these really helpful for doing intervals, especially.
Let’s talk about your interval work!