Indoor cycling is a great exercise for improving your overall fitness. It’s a great alternative to outdoor cycling during the winter months and on bad weather days. Of course, there are some disadvantages to consider. In this guide, we’ll outline the benefits and drawbacks of indoor cycling. We’ll cover health benefits, safety, convenience, and more. We’ll also outline the different types of indoor bicycles. Finally, we’ll share some tips to help you get started.
Pros and Cons of Indoor Cycling
- It’s easy on the joints
- Good for weight loss
- It’s good for cardiovascular fitness
- It’s safer than outdoor cycling
- Great exercise for days with bad weather
- It’s a high intensity exercise
- Great for mental health
- Good for interval training
- Good for strength training the lower body
- It’s a private and convenient workout
- Indoor bikes are low maintenance
- It can be fun and social if you take a spin class
- An indoor bike takes up a lot of space in your home
- Can be hard on the lower back
- You don’t get to enjoy nature or fresh air
- It’s repetitive
- Indoor bikes can be expensive
- It’s not a full body workout
What is Indoor Cycling?
Indoor cycling, also known as spinning, is a type of exercise that uses a stationary bicycle. It is a high-intensity but low-impact exercise that focuses on endurance, strength, and recovery. Indoor cycling can improve your cardiovascular health, your mental health, and your lower body strength. It can also help you burn calories and lose weight.
You can buy your own indoor bike and exercise in the comfort of your own home. You can also take instructor-led spin classes in a gym or studio. Alternatively, you can participate in online virtual spin classes. These use smart bikes that are connected to an app and streaming software. You view the instructor through a tablet that is mounted to the bike’s handlebars. There are live and on-demand classes available.
Delving into the mechanics, indoor bikes feature a weighted flywheel with some type of brake to create resistance. This brake could be a belt or magnets. The brake is adjustable to change the resistance. This makes pedaling easier or harder.
You can change the resistance to adjust your cadence (your pedaling rate). Adjusting the resistance levels can also help you simulate different types of terrain. You can adjust the resistance by turning a knob or using buttons on a digital screen. Adjusting the resistance allows you to change the intensity of your cycling workout.
These bikes are engineered to mimic outdoor biking sensations. Key components include adjustable seats, handlebars, and pedals. Many of these bikes also boast digital screens, offering performance metrics like speed and distance. Some models have a large screen that you can use for streaming virtual spin classes or watching movies or TV shows while you exercise.
Indoor cycling is a good workout that doesn’t require you to venture outside. This makes indoor cycling a great choice for winter or poor weather. Indoor bikes can simulate a range of conditions including inclines and wind resistance.
Benefits of Indoor Cycling
Cycling is a Low Impact Exercise
Low-impact exercises are activities that put less stress on your joints, particularly the knees, hips, and ankles. These exercises ensure that one foot (or both) remains in contact with the ground or equipment. They also promote a fluid motion, reducing the jarring effects often associated with high-impact workouts.
When you’re on an indoor bike or spin bike, the cyclical motion ensures that your joints, especially the knees, are not under too much strain. The seated position, combined with smooth pedal strokes, ensures that your body absorbs minimal shock.
This fluid motion makes indoor cycling an ideal choice for those seeking an intensive workout without the joint strain often accompanying exercises like running or jumping. It’s one of the main reasons people choose stationary bikes over treadmills. Running is much harder on the joints than cycling.
Low-impact workouts significantly reduce the risk of injuries, making them perfect for people of all ages and fitness levels. Older adults, those recovering from injuries, or those with joint issues can ride a stationary bike safely. It’s easy to dial down the resistance to lower the intensity of the workout. Indoor cycling provides an opportunity to improve cardiovascular endurance, build lower-body muscle strength, and burn calories. It’s a great physical activity for those who tend to be sedentary.
Great for Weight Loss
Indoor cycling is a great way to kickstart your weight loss journey. One of the main benefits of hopping on a spin bike is the potential calorie burn. Depending on factors like your weight, workout intensity, and the duration of your workout, you could burn anywhere from 400 to 700 calories in a single hour-long session.
Interestingly, indoor cycling can burn more calories than outdoor cycling, according to this article from CNN. In their test, outdoor cycling burned 570 calories per hour while indoor cycling burned 761 calories per hour. This may be because you can maintain a more consistent pace while cycling indoors because you don’t have to slow down for traffic or other obstacles. You can maintain your cadence and intensity.
It’s Great for Cardiovascular Fitness
The cyclical motion of pedaling demands consistent effort, pushing your heart and lungs to work harder. This provides a range of health benefits.
One of the main benefits of indoor cycling is the strengthening of the heart and lungs. Cycling is a great cardiovascular workout. As you challenge yourself on the spin bike, you’re effectively training these vital organs to function more efficiently. Cycling is an aerobic exercise.
Consistent cardiovascular exercise also increases blood flow, ensuring every cell gets the oxygen it needs. Over time, this can lead to reduced blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. This is pivotal in warding off cardiovascular diseases. Indoor cycling is great for those who suffer from high blood pressure.
According to this interesting study from the University of Glasgow, “cycling to work is associated with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of heart disease, compared to a non-active commute.” According to this interesting article from Harvard Health Publishing, cyclists had 15% fewer heart attacks than noncyclists.
Moreover, with improved circulation comes enhanced brain function, as better blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients reach the brain. This can improve your memory, reduce stress, and improve your mood.
Engaging in regular indoor cycling sessions not only conditions the body but also lays the groundwork for long-term health. From aiding in the management of blood sugar levels to boosting the immune system.
Great for Your Mental Health
Beyond the physical gains, the mental health benefits of indoor cycling can be profound. The very act of cycling stimulates the brain to release endorphins, those feel-good neurotransmitters that combat feelings of stress and depression. In addition, cycling can reduce the amount of cortisol in the body. This is a stress hormone.
As you ride, the rhythmic cadence of pedaling coupled with the concentration required to maintain pace serves as a form of meditation. It offers a momentary escape, allowing you to set aside your worries. This can reduce stress.
The community aspect of indoor cycling, especially in spin classes, adds a unique social dimension. Sharing the collective energy of a class, syncing your movements with pulsating music, and chatting with fellow enthusiasts can do wonders for mental health. Human beings are social creatures. The interactions fostered in these classes can alleviate feelings of isolation or loneliness. Taking a spin class is a great way to get out of the house. It’s also a great way to make friends.
Safer than Cycling Outdoors
One major advantage of indoor cycling is the elimination of the dangers associated with outdoor cycling. The biggest danger of outdoor cycling is traffic. When you cycle indoors, you don’t have to worry about getting hit by a car. According to this article from NPR, cycling deaths are increasing.
There are plenty of other hazards that you avoid by cycling indoors. You don’t have to worry about running into a pedestrian who isn’t paying attention. You don’t have to worry about potholes, slippery roads, loose gravel, or other obstacles on the road that can knock you off your bike. There won’t be any aggressive dogs chasing you. You won’t have to deal with unexpected flat tires leaving you stranded.
The controlled environment of an indoor setting offers peace of mind. There’s zero chance of crashing and injuring yourself. You can focus solely on the workout without the anxiety of external factors.
Indoor Cycling is a High-Intensity Workout
High-intensity exercises are defined by short bursts of vigorous activity, interspersed with periods of rest or low-intensity activity. This type of exercise is often called high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
This shift pushes the body to its limits, challenging both stamina and strength. When you increase the resistance, spinning becomes a great high-intensity exercise. Pwerful pedal strokes rapidly increase the heart rate.
High-intensity workouts, like indoor cycling, offer a number of benefits. Firstly, they are exceptional calorie burners. By pushing the body to its maximum aerobic capacity, even if just for short durations, you’re igniting the metabolic furnace. According to this study, people burned 25-30% more calories when doing a HIIT exercise than when doing other types of exercises.
There is also an elevated calorie burn even post-workout. This phenomenon is commonly known as the afterburn effect or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
Furthermore, stationary bike workouts aid in improving cardiovascular health, bolstering both heart and lung function. They also play a pivotal role in increasing muscle endurance and strength. The
Another benefit of high-intensity exercise is time efficiency. With indoor cycling, you can reap significant fitness rewards in a relatively short period of time. All you need is 45 minutes to an hour.
Good for Interval Training
At its core, interval training alternates between bursts of high-intensity exercises and periods of lower intensity or rest. This pushes the body during short, rigorous phases, followed by moments of recovery, maximizing workout effectiveness in shorter durations.
Indoor cycling aligns perfectly with the philosophy of interval training. The controllable resistance settings on spin bikes make them perfectly adaptable to this training approach. With a simple adjustment, you can replicate the sensation of an uphill climb for a high-intensity burst and then ease into a flatter, more relaxed cycling phase for recovery. On most bikes, you can easily adjust the resistance by turning a knob or pressing a button.
This cycle can be repeated multiple times, making indoor cycling sessions versatile and challenging. Moreover, many spin classes are structured around interval training techniques, ensuring participants benefit from structured, instructor-led, high-intensity workouts. These workouts are hard but the instructors offer plenty of motivation.
The benefits of interval training are numerous. It’s a proven method for enhancing cardiovascular fitness, boosting metabolism, and improving endurance. The alternating intensity levels can also lead to greater calorie burn in shorter timeframes.
Good for Strength Training for Your Lower Body
Spinning is a great exercise to sculpt and tone various muscle groups. A session on the spin bike engages a multitude of muscles. For strength training, you’ll want to use a high resistance.
The primary drivers are the quadriceps and hamstrings, which get a robust workout as they push and pull with each pedal stroke.
The calf muscles, or gastrocnemius and soleus, are also actively involved, providing power during the upward and downward phases of pedaling.
But it’s not just the legs that benefit. The glutes are consistently engaged, especially during out-of-the-saddle climbs or when increasing resistance.
Additionally, the core, encompassing the rectus abdominis, obliques, and lower back muscles, plays a pivotal role in maintaining posture and balance on the bike.
This full-body engagement ensures that indoor cycling doubles up as an effective strength training regimen. Cycling is a great way to tone your lower body and core muscles.
Of course, indoor cycling also strengthens the heart (which is also a muscle).
If you use a bike with handles, like an elliptical machine, you will also work out your upper body muscles. Pushing and pulling the handles exercises your biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles.
Indoor Cycling is a Great Exercise for Days with Bad Weather
Indoor cycling is a great alternative to outdoor cycling for bad weather days. When it’s snowy, rainy, windy, or extremely hot, you can still get your workout in. You don’t have to miss a day, just because the weather is poor. This makes indoor cycling a great choice for the winter. The Mayo Clinic recommends indoor cycling for days when the weather isn’t cooperating.
Professional cyclists use indoor cycling for training when the weather is bad. Professional cyclists know that consistency is key to maintaining peak performance.
It’s an Efficient Workout
For many busy people, finding time for extensive workouts can be a challenge. For those who are short on time, spinning offers a robust workout that’s both flexible and time-sensitive. Even the busiest person can squeeze in a quick spin session.
The beauty of indoor cycling lies in its adaptability. All you need for a full workout is 45-60 minutes. A full-length session can engage every major muscle group, offer cardiovascular benefits, and even provide intervals of high-intensity training.
If you don’t have much time, even a quick 15-minute ride can elevate your heart rate, burn some calories, and reduce stress. A short workout is better than nothing.
If you have your own bike at home, you can save even more time. You don’t have to drive to the gym. You can simply walk to your living room.
If you have your own indoor bike, you can exercise in the comfort of your home. You can set up your bike in your bedroom, living room, basement, or office.
You can customize your workout schedule. If you want to exercise in the morning, you can. If you prefer evening workouts, you can do that too.
Some people don’t like being watched while they’re exercising. Some people feel self-conscious. Indoor cycling is a good option for this. You can get a great exercise in the privacy of your own home. Nobody will watch you or judge you. Indoor bikes are great for home workouts.
Indoor Bikes are Low Maintenance
One major advantage of indoor bikes is that they require very little maintenance. Especially when compared to the maintenance that is required to maintain outdoor bicycles.
Basic maintenance for an indoor bike typically involves occasional wiping down to remove sweat and dust, ensuring the flywheel remains free of debris, and checking the resistance systems for smooth operation. Once in a while, you may have to lubricate the resistance pads or re-torque a bolt. These are low-maintenance machines.
With indoor bikes, you’re largely shielded from the wear and tear of external elements. There’s no mud to wash off, no rain-induced rust to battle, and no tire punctures to fix. You never have to replace tires, chains, cassettes, brake pads, etc. You never have to adjust brakes or derailleurs.
Outdoor bikes require regular maintenance to keep them running smoothly. This takes time and costs money.
It can be a Fun Social Experience
Spin classes can be incredibly fun and motivational, if you find the right instructor. There is upbeat music playing. The instructor will motivate you to pedal hard and fast. The other people in the class will also bring energy. Everyone is working hard. There is a lot of energy in the room.
Before and after the class, you can also chat with the other people attending as well as the instructor. This is a great opportunity to socialize and meet people. You might make some friends to grab a coffee with after class.
Many people feel isolated these days. Getting out of the house, getting some exercise, and meeting some people can be incredibly healthy.
Disadvantages of Indoor Cycling
Can be Hard on the Lower Back
A common issue that indoor cyclists face is discomfort or strain in the lower back. This can be caused by the ride position (the way the bike is adjusted), your posture, and prolonged periods of sitting in a forward-leaning stance.
Road cyclists sit in a forward-leaning position with part of their body weight resting on the handlebars. Many indoor bikes are set up to mimic this ride position. This position can cause discomfort for some riders.
Improper bike setup or incorrect posture can also place undue stress on the lumbar region, especially during intense rides or during out-of-the-saddle stints. If the saddle height or handlebar position isn’t adjusted properly, you can feel discomfort.
Hunching your back or overarching can strain the spine and surrounding muscles. Similarly, reaching too far to grasp the handlebars or sitting too far back can misalign the spine, leading to potential discomfort.
Fortunately, these challenges can be mitigated with proper bike adjustments. Indoor bikes offer a number of adjustment points so they can fit riders of different shapes and sizes. You can adjust the saddle up and down and forwards and backward. Oftentimes, you can adjust the handlebar height as well.
Ideally, the saddle height should be set so your knee has a slight bend when the pedal is at its lowest point. This can prevent overarching. The handlebar height and distance should be adjusted to allow a comfortable grip without overstretching or hunching. Regularly checking your posture during the ride and engaging the core can further alleviate lower back stress.
While indoor cycling offers a myriad of benefits, it’s important to prioritize ergonomics and proper postures. By giving attention to your bike’s adjustments and maintaining awareness of your body alignment, you can ride without lower back discomfort.
An Indoor Bike Takes Up a Lot of Space
For those with space constraints at home, accommodating a stationary bike can present a challenge. You can’t just chain it up outside or tuck it away in a garage like you can with an outdoor bicycle. Indoor bikes demand indoor real estate. This is a problem if you live in a small apartment. There may not be enough space.
Furthermore, the aesthetics of indoor bikes can’t be ignored. Particularly with more budget-friendly models. These bikes, with their often bulky frames and less refined finishes, might not seamlessly blend with the decor of a room. They’re ugly.
Leaving your stationary bike in the middle of your living room or bedroom can feel like placing a piece of gym equipment right amidst your carefully curated interiors. It might be seen as an eyesore, disrupting the flow and vibe of your personal space.
The solution is to attend spin classes rather than owning your own indoor bike.
You Don’t Get to Enjoy Fresh Air, Nature, or the Great Outdoors
One part of cycling that indoor cycling can’t replicate is the rejuvenating experience of cycling amidst nature. When you cycle outdoors, you enjoy the fresh air and nature around you.
You’ll also get a healthy dose of vitamin D, which plays a pivotal role in bone health, immune functions, and mood regulation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “About 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency, while 50% of the population has vitamin D insufficiency. Approximately 35% of adults in the United States have vitamin D deficiency.”
Beyond the physical benefits, there’s the undeniable mood boost that comes from being outside. Nature has a therapeutic effect, with studies suggesting that spending time outdoors can reduce stress, anxiety, and even symptoms of depression.
Yet, in our increasingly digital and indoor-centric lifestyles, many individuals find themselves starved of these vital outdoor experiences, spending more time under artificial lighting than under the sun. Watching a screen while you cycle indoors doesn’t have the same feeling as watching the trees and mountains as you cycle outdoors.
While indoor cycling boasts efficiency and consistency, it does come with the trade-off of missing out on nature and fresh air.
It’s a Repetitive Workout
Indoor cycling can feel monotonous. The static environment, combined with a fixed view, can make sessions feel very repetitive. You don’t get to enjoy the changing scenery and unpredictability of outdoor rides.
One of the best ways to overcome the monotony is by joining a spinning class. These classes, often led by energetic instructors, offer music, motivational speaking, and varying intensity levels to create a charged atmosphere.
For those who prefer the solace of their homes, technology offers a reprieve. Watching TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, or even cycling-centric videos can transform a mundane session into an engaging one. Some bikes have a built-in screen. You can also use a tablet or watch TV from your bike.
Indoor Bikes are Expensive
On average, a mid-range indoor bike can set you back anywhere from $400 to $800, depending on the brand, features, and build quality.
For those on a tight budget, three are entry-level bikes available starting at around $250. Another great option is to buy used. Lots of people buy these bikes, never use them, then sell them in like-new condition. You could find a nice used indoor bike for around $100-$200.
On the other end of the spectrum lie the premium indoor bikes, with brands like Peloton leading the charge. These machines are often priced around $1500-$2000. These bikes provide an immersive experience, complete with large touchscreen displays, live classes, detailed performance metrics, and more. Keep in mind that these models often have a monthly subscription fee for the online classes.
The point is that an indoor bike can be a big investment. Particularly if you don’t know whether or not you’ll use it. Many indoor bikes end up sitting around unused.
It’s Not a Full-Body Workout
Indoor cycling primarily targets the muscles of the lower body including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Indoor bikes might leave some muscle groups under-engaged.
If you’re looking for a full-body workout, you’ll have to supplement indoor cycling with some upper-body and core exercises. You’ll want to do some exercises that target the arms, chest, back, and abdominal muscles. This could involve integrating free weights, resistance bands, or body-weight exercises like push-ups and planks into your fitness regimen.
That being said, some indoor bikes have moving handlebars designed to provide some level of arm workout while you pedal. While they don’t replace targeted upper body exercises, they do offer riders an opportunity to engage more muscle groups during their cycling session. Overexertion Can Be a Problem in Indoor Cycling Classes.
Types of Stationary Bicycles
There are three different types of indoor cycling bikes including upright bikes, elliptical machines, and recumbent bikes. Each offers its own benefits and drawbacks. Many gyms have all three so you can try them all out and see what you like. In the following sections, I’ll outline each.
The upright bike is probably the most popular type of stationary bike. These bikes closely resemble traditional road bikes in terms of design and ride posture. With a seat positioned directly over the pedals and handlebars at seat level, they offer riders an authentic cycling experience. This design allows you to sit and pedal or stand and pedal to mimic uphill cycling.
Upright bikes can give you a great cardio workout. They’re also great for strength training the legs and core. Most spin classes use upright bikes for these reasons.
While these bikes offer an authentic cycling feel, they can be challenging for those with back issues due to the forward-leaning ride position. This position can also put too much pressure on your hands and wrists, which can lead to discomfort. Moreover, compared to their recumbent counterparts, some users might find the saddle less comfortable during extended rides.
A recumbent bike features a laid-back seating position with a chair-like seat and a backrest, positioning the rider’s legs forward and parallel to the ground. The pedals sit out in front, enabling the user to pedal in a horizontal plane rather than the vertical motion associated with traditional bikes.
The allure of recumbent stationary bikes primarily lies in the enhanced comfort they offer. The ergonomic seating, combined with the supportive backrest, allows users to work out with less strain on their back and buttocks. This design also alleviates a considerable amount of pressure from the knees and hips, making it an excellent choice for those with joint issues or individuals recovering from certain injuries. Furthermore, the seated posture can make longer workout sessions more tolerable and inviting.
However, this comfortable design does not come without its own set of drawbacks. For those used to the intensity and posture of upright bikes, a recumbent bicycle might feel less engaging or intense, potentially leading to a perception of a less effective workout. Additionally, the extended size and footprint of these bikes might pose storage challenges in space-constrained settings.
Air bikes, sometimes referred to as fan bikes, air bikes harness the power of wind resistance. This is achieved through a large fan situated at the front of the bike. As a rider pedals harder, the fan spins faster, increasing the air resistance and consequently the workout’s intensity. The harder you push, the more challenging the exercise becomes.
One of the intriguing aspects of air bikes is their incorporation of both lower and upper body movements. Accompanied by movable handlebars, they offer a full-body workout, engaging not only the legs but also the arms, back, and shoulders.
These aren’t really bicycles but they offer a similar workout. An elliptical is characterized by two long pedals and a set of moving handlebars. These pedals move in tandem, allowing users to glide their feet in a smooth, circular motion. The handlebars, usually synchronized with the pedal movement, allow the user to push and pull, engaging both the upper and lower body simultaneously.
One of the standout benefits of elliptical machines is their ability to offer a comprehensive, low-impact workout. The dual action of pedaling and pushing or pulling the handlebars ensures a balanced workout, targeting both upper and lower body muscle groups.
Some believe that the machine doesn’t provide as natural a movement as running or cycling. It causes your body to twist unnaturally. These are also expensive machines.
Indoor Cycling Vs Outdoor Cycling
Indoor cycling and outdoor cycling both have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Cycling in doors gives you a consistent and predictable workout. Rain or shine, cyclists can hop on their stationary bikes, tune into instructor-led spin classes or simply pedal away while catching up on their favorite shows. This form of cycling eliminates the variables of weather, traffic, and terrain, allowing for focused and uninterrupted sessions. Moreover, the safety quotient is undeniably higher, devoid of potential road hazards or unpredictable elements.
On the flip side, outdoor cycling allows you to experience the real world. The dynamic landscapes, the varying terrain, and the unpredictable challenges give outdoor cycling an edge. The experience of feeling the wind, soaking in the sun, or navigating a challenging hill is something that indoor cycling can’t replicate. However, with this authenticity comes the task of contending with traffic, potential weather shifts, and ensuring personal safety. Road accidents are a risk. There are several different types of outdoor cycling to choose from including road cycling and mountain biking.
Both indoor and outdoor cycling share many similarities. Both are great exercises for your cardiovascular system. They are great for strengthening your lower body muscles and building muscle mass. In addition, they can also have a positive impact on your mental health. They can help you achieve significant improvements in your overall health. Regardless of which kind of exercise you choose, regular cycling is a great way to avoid a sedentary lifestyle and relieve a little stress. These are both great forms of exercise.
Final Thoughts About Indoor Cycling
Indoor cycling offers a range of benefits from cardiovascular enhancements to weight loss. The controlled environment of spinning ensures safety from outdoor hazards, all while delivering an intensive workout that can be tailored to your fitness level. The first time you ride a stationary bike, you can use low resistance and make indoor cycling a low-intensity exercise. When you become more advanced, you can up the intensity.
However, as with any form of exercise, it’s crucial to recognize its inherent disadvantages, whether that be the potential for monotony, the discomfort of the seating position, or the lack of fresh air.
For those contemplating diving into the world of spinning, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons, ensuring the activity aligns with personal fitness goals and preferences. Whether you’re seeking an efficient calorie burn, a weatherproof workout option, or a community-driven exercise experience, spinning is a great exercise option.
Do you ride an indoor bike? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and incites based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.