Skip to Content

Indoor Cycling: Benefits and Disadvantages of Spinning

Indoor cycling is a great cardiovascular exercise. It’s also a great way to burn calories and lose weight. Indoor cycling is a perfect alternative to outdoor cycling during the winter months and on rainy days. You can cycle in the comfort of your own home or take an instructor led class in a gym. Of course, there are some disadvantages to consider. It’s repetitive, exercise bikes are expensive, and it’s not a whole body workout. In this guide, I’ll outline the benefits and drawbacks of indoor cycling. I’ll cover health benefits, safety, convenience, cost, and more. I’ll also outline the different types of indoor bicycles available. Finally, I’ll share some tips to help you get started.

An animation of a man riding an indoor bike
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Pros of Indoor Cycling

  • It’s easy on the joints
  • Good exercise for weight loss
  • It’s good for cardiovascular fitness
  • It’s safer than outdoor cycling (no traffic)
  • 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 workout
  • You can do it at home
  • Indoor bikes are low maintenance
  • It can be fun and social if you take a spin class

Cons of Indoor Cycling

  • 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 and boring
  • Indoor bikes can be expensive
  • It’s not a full body workout

What is Indoor Cycling?

Indoor cycling is a high-intensity but low-impact cardiovascular exercise. It can improve your heart health and your mental health. It can also increase your lower body strength and help you burn calories and lose weight. The exercise focuses on endurance, strength, and recovery. Indoor cycling is also known as spinning.

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. There are also online virtual spin classes available. These use smart bikes that are connected to an app. You view the instructor through a tablet that is mounted to the bike’s handlebars and stream the class. There are live and on-demand classes available.  

Most indoor bikes feature a weighted flywheel and a brake to create resistance. This brake could be a belt or magnets. The brake is adjustable to change the resistance. There are also different flywheel weights. Bikes with heavier flywheels are smoother but it takes more effort to spin the wheel up to speed.

Usually, you adjust the resistance by turning a knob or using buttons on a handlebar-mounted display. Adjusting the resistance allows you to change the intensity of your workout. Increasing the resistance makes pedaling harder and lowering the resistance makes pedaling easier. You change the resistance to adjust your cadence (your pedaling speed or rpm) or to mimic different conditions you might experience outside like inclines or wind.

Indoor bikes usually have adjustable seats, handlebars, and pedals. This allows you to adjust the ride position. Many of these bikes also come with a screen and built-in computer that allows you to track performance metrics like your speed and distance. Some models have a large screen that allows you to stream virtual spin classes or watch TV while you exercise. 

Benefits of Indoor Cycling

A group of women participating in a spin class

Cycling is a Low Impact Exercise

Low-impact exercises put less stress on your body. Particularly your joints. Cycling is easy on the knees, hips, and ankles. This is because cycling uses fluid motions. There is no jarring effect. When you’re on an indoor bike, your knees and hips are never under too much stress due to the smooth, cyclical motion. Thanks to the seated position, your body doesn’t need to absorb much shock.

This is one of the main reasons people choose to ride a stationary bike rather than run on a treadmill. Cycling is much easier on the joints than running. Running is hard on the knees and hips.

Low-impact workouts reduce the risk of injuries. This makes them perfect for people of all ages and fitness levels. Older people, those recovering from injuries, or those with joint issues can ride a stationary bike safely.

Even though indoor cycling is low impact, it can still be high-intensity. It’s a great way to improve cardiovascular endurance, build lower-body strength, and burn calories.

Great for Weight Loss

Indoor cycling is a great way to burn calories and lose weight. While spinning, you could burn anywhere from 400-700 calories per hour, depending on your weight, your workout intensity, and how long you work out. You may be able to burn even more calories with interval training.

Interestingly, indoor cycling can burn more calories than outdoor cycling, according to this article from CNN. In a test, a cyclist riding outdoors burned 570 calories per hour while the cyclist riding indoors 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 requires continuous effort. This is what makes it a great cardiovascular exercise. It really gets your heart rate up and makes your lungs work. This strengthens your heart and lungs. Regularly exercising these organs makes them function more efficiently.

Consistent cardiovascular exercise also increases blood flow. This helps your cells get the oxygen they need. Over time, this can reduce your blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. This reduces your likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, which is one of the leading causes of death. It also reduces the likelihood of strokes.

There is proof to back this up. 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 non-cyclists.

There are other benefits as well. Improved circulation enhances brain function. Better blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients reach the brain. This can improve your memory, reduce stress, and improve your mood. Regular exercise can also help your body manage blood sugar levels to boost your immune system. These are all benefits of aerobic exercise, like cycling.

Great for Your Mental Health

Indoor cycling can also help improve your mental health. Cycling stimulates the brain to release endorphins. These are feel-good neurotransmitters that block feelings of stress and depression. In addition, cycling can reduce the amount of cortisol in the body. This is a stress hormone. 

Aerobic exercise, like spinning, can also be good for your memory and cognitive performance by improving blood flow to the brain. This can help improve productivity. If you’re working on a hard project, riding an indoor bike for a few minutes might help you think through the problem.

Cardiovascular exercise, like indoor cycling, may also help reduce age-related cognitive decline, according to this interesting article. You may be less likely to suffer from dementia. It is believed that more neurons are produced when you exercise.

Cycling can also be a form of meditation thanks to the cyclical nature of pedaling and the concentration required to maintain pace. While you’re spinning, it’s hard to focus on anything else. This can reduce stress and help to ease anxiety.

Indoor cycling can also be a social experience if you take spin classes. Before and after class, you can chat with the other people in the class and the instructor. Human beings are social creatures. The interactions can reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness.

During the class, you’ll also listen to fast paced upbeat music while you’re surrounded by other spinners. The instructor will motivate you to pedal harder and faster. This can improve your mood. Taking a spin class is a great way to get out of the house. It’s also a great way to make friends with similar interests.

Safer than Cycling Outdoors

One major advantage of indoor cycling is that it is safer than 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. You also don’t have to deal with unpredictable weather such as strong winds or heavy rains.

Cycling indoors brings peace of mind. There’s zero chance of crashing and injuring yourself. You can focus on the workout.

Indoor Cycling is a High-Intensity Workout

When you increase the resistance, spinning becomes a great high-intensity exercise. Powerful pedal strokes quickly increase your heart rate and make you sweat.

High-intensity workouts offer a number of benefits. It’s great for burning calories and losing weight. When you push your body to its maximum aerobic capacity, you increase your metabolic rate. According to this study, people burned 25-30% more calories when doing a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercise than when doing other types of exercises. There is also an increased calorie burn post-workout. This phenomenon is commonly known as the afterburn effect or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). 

High-intensity stationary bike workouts also improve cardiovascular health. They also increase stamina and strength.

Another benefit of high-intensity exercise is that it is time efficient. All you need is 45 minutes to an hour to get a good workout in.

Good for Interval Training

Interval training is a specific style of exercising. It involves alternating between periods of high-intensity exercises and periods of lower intensity exercise or rest. You really push your body for a short period of time then allow yourself to rest and recover for a short period of time. You cycle back and forth between high and low intensity multiple times. This type of exercise is extremely efficient. You can get a great workout in a short amount of time. This type of exercise is often called high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Indoor cycling is perfectly for interval training because the resistance on spin bikes is easily adjustable. You can turn up the resistance to replicate the intensity of an uphill climb, cycling into a headwind, or a sprint. You can turn down the resistance for the recovery interval. On most bikes, you can easily adjust the resistance by turning a dial or pressing a button on the handlebar mounted display.

Many spin classes use interval training techniques because they are intense and efficient. Interval training improves cardiovascular fitness, speeds up your metabolism, and improves endurance. It also allows for greater calorie burn in shorter timeframes.

Good for Strength Training for Your Lower Body

Cycling is a great way to tone your lower body and core muscles. For building muscle, you’ll want to use a high resistance. For toning, you’ll want to use a lower resistance and a higher cadence.

The main muscle groups you’ll target with cycling are the quadriceps and hamstrings. Cycling is also great for the glutes. Particularly during out-of-the-saddle climbs or when increasing resistance. You’l also exercise the calf muscles, or gastrocnemius and soleus. In addition, cycling is a great core workout. You’ll exercise the rectus abdominis, obliques, and lower back muscles. These muscles are important for maintaining your posture and balance on the bike. Of course, indoor cycling also strengthens the heart (which is also a muscle). 

Riding a regular upright bike doesn’t exercise your upper body. If you want to work out your upper body muscles, you’ll have to use a bike with moving handles, like an elliptical machine. 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 of bad weather. The Mayo Clinic recommends indoor cycling for days when the weather isn’t cooperating. Professional cyclists regularly use indoor cycling for training when they can’t cycle outside due to bad weather.

You can still ride outside in poor weather if you choose. Check out my guide to cycling in the rain for some tips. Also, check out my guide to cold weather cycling.

It’s an Efficient Workout

For busy people, finding time to work out can be a challenge. Spinning offers you a quick and flexible workout. Even the busiest person can squeeze in a quick spin session. 

All you need for a full workout is 45-60 minutes. If you don’t have much time, even a quick 15-minute ride is enough to get your heart rate up and burn some calories. 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. You can get your workout in at any time of day.

It’s Convenient 

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, garage, 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. 

It’s Private

Some people don’t like being watched while they’re exercising. Maybe they feel self-conscious. In this case, indoor cycling is a great option. You can get a great workout in the privacy of your own home. Nobody will be watching you or judging you.

Anyone Can Do It

Indoor cycling has a very low barrier to entry. There is really no learning curve. You can do it even if you don’t know how to ride a normal bicycle. You never have to worry about balance or shifting gears. You just sit and pedal. Anyone can do it. Even if you’ve never been to a gym before, you can hop on an exercise bike and get a decent workout in.

Indoor Bikes are Low Maintenance

One major advantage of indoor bikes is that they require very little maintenance. They are much lower maintenance than outdoor bikes.

Really all you have to do to maintain an indoor bike is wipe it down to remove sweat and dust. Once in a while, you may have to lubricate the resistance pads or re-torque a bolt. These are low-maintenance machines. 

Outdoor bikes require regular maintenance to keep them running smoothly. You have to replace the tires, chains, cassettes, brake pads, etc. as they wear out. You have to keep the brakes and derailleurs adjusted. You have to regularly clean and lube the chain. If you get a flat, you have to stop and repair it. This all 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. There are also other people in the class spinning with you. 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 is healthy. 

It’s Easy to Track Your Performance

Most higher-end exercise bikes can track your performance over time. You can track your power output, cadence, cycling time and distance, heart rate, etc. You can use this data to monitor your performance and make adjustments to your workout.

Disadvantages of Indoor Cycling

A man riding an indoor bike

Spinning Can be Hard on the Lower Back

Indoor cycling can cause some strain in the lower back. This is usually caused either by the forward-leaning ride position or your posture.

Most indoor bikes are set up to match the forward-leaning ride position of road bikes. During a long workout, this position can get uncomfortable.

Improper bike adjustment or poor posture can also cause back pain. For example, if the saddle height or handlebar position isn’t adjusted properly, you may feel some strain on your back. Hunching your back or overarching can put strain on the spine and cause discomfort. Having to reach too far to hold the handlebars or sitting too far back can misalign the spine and cause pain.

You can eliminate these issues by properly adjusting your bike and maintaining good posture while you ride. Indoor bikes can be adjusted to fit riders of different heights and body types. You can adjust the saddle up and down and forwards and backward. Usually, you can adjust the handlebar height and position as well. 

Ideally, the saddle 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 so you have a comfortable grip without overstretching your arms or hunching your back. If you’re experiencing any discomfort while riding, stop and adjust the bike or correct your posture.

An Indoor Bike Takes Up a Lot of Space

An indoor bike is a big piece of equipment to store. It takes up a lot of space in your home. This is a problem if you live in a small apartment. You can’t just lock it up outside or stash it in a shed like you can with an outdoor bike.

An exercise bike also isn’t really attractive. It won’t blend in with your home’s decor, unless you have a designated gym in your home. Leaving your stationary bike in the middle of your living room or bedroom won’t look nice. It’s kind of an eyesore.

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

When you cycle outdoors, you get to breathe fresh air. You also get to enjoy nature and take in some nice views.

You’ll also get some vitamin D when you cycle outside. This is important for bone health and immune function. 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.”

Being out in nature is also a mood booster. Nature is therapeutic. Spending time outdoors can reduce stress, anxiety, and even symptoms of depression. 

When you cycle indoors, you’ll be under artificial lighting instead of the sun. Chances are, you’ll be staring at a screen during your workout. You’ll be breathing stagnant indoor air. It’s not as pleasant.  

It’s a Repetitive Workout

Indoor cycling can feel monotonous. The static environment and fixed view make spinning feel very repetitive. The scenery never changes. It’s very predictable.

One way to make your workout a little more exciting is to join a spin class. These classes are led by energetic instructors. There will be music, motivational speaking, and other people around. This makes the workout a little more exciting.

If you prefer exercising in your home, you can watch TV shows, movies, or YouTube videos while you spin. Some bikes have a built-in screen. You can also use a tablet or watch TV from your bike. You could even read while you spin. Of course, you could also listen to music.

Outdoor cycling is much less repetitive. You can take in the views as you ride around. You could ride by the beach, through the city, through mountains, or along a canal. You can take a different route every day. It’s also less predictable. You’ll have to look out for people and cars. The terrain can change. There are hills, curves, bumpy sections, etc.

Indoor Bikes Can Be Uncomfortable

The saddle shape can cause some discomfort in your sit bones. You can improve comfort by swapping out the saddle. Choose a saddle that is designed for your gender, weight, body shape, and ride position. For example, a wider saddle can provide more support if you have wide sit bones. You can only swap the seat out if the bike has a universal seat post. You can also improve comfort by adjusting the bike for your height and body proportions. If it’s still uncomfortable, you could wear padded cycling shorts.

If you haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, it will be uncomfortable at first, even if everything is set up properly. You should get used to it after a few weeks.

Indoor Bikes are Expensive

On average, a mid-range indoor bike costs around $400 to $800, depending on the brand, features, and quality. If you’re on a tight budget, there are entry-level bikes that start 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. 

Premium indoor bikes, like Peloton, can get very expensive. Expect to spend around $1500-$2000. These bikes offer large touchscreen displays, live classes, detailed performance metrics, and more. These models often have a monthly subscription fee for the online classes.

Spin classes can also get expensive if you go often. Each class usually costs $10-$30 depending on where you live. Sometimes you can pay a monthly gym fee and attend as many classes as you like.

It’s Not a Full-Body Workout

Indoor cycling is a lower-body exercise. While spinning, you’ll work out the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. It’s also good for the core. Your upper body muscle muscles won’t get much of a workout from spinning. Some indoor bikes have moving handlebars. These engage more muscle groups.

If you’re looking for a full-body workout, you’ll want to do some exercises that target the arms, chest, back, and abdominal muscles. For example, you could use free weights, resistance bands, or do body-weight exercises like push-ups and planks.

Overexertion Can Be a Problem in Indoor Cycling Classes

Spinning classes can get extremely intense. When you’re just getting started, you have to be careful not to overexert yourself. Pushing yourself too hard could lead to exhaustion. It’s also easy to injure yourself if you push too hard.

Indoor Bikes Can Be Noisy

Riding an indoor bike could annoy people living in your house. The spinning flywheel makes some noise. The bike may also make some vibrations that could annoy your neighbors if you live in an apartment. You can put a mat under your bike to absorb some of the vibrations. Higher-end bikes are usually quieter.

It’s Not As Good As Real World Training

If your goal is to become a better cyclist, indoor cycling is not as good as cycling outdoors. Indoor bikes can replicate riding hills but they can’t replicate the effects of different terrain, road conditions, weather conditions, temperatures, etc. Indoor cycling can improve your fitness but it won’t teach you all of the cycling skills you need to know. If you’re just riding for exercise, this doesn’t really matter.

A group of women doing a spin class outside

Types of Stationary Bicycles

There are three different types of indoor cycling bikes including upright bikes, elliptical machines, and recumbent bikes. In the following sections, I’ll outline each. 

Upright Bikes

Upright bikes are probably the most popular type of stationary bike. They are designed to offer the same ride position as road bikes. The seat is positioned directly over the pedals and the handlebars are at seat level. This design allows you to sit and pedal or stand and pedal. 

Upright bikes can give you a great cardio workout. They’re also great for strength training the legs and core. They also have a familiar ride feel if you’re used to road biking. Most spin classes use upright bikes.

These bikes can be uncomfortable 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 because your arms have to support part of your body weight. The saddle can also be uncomfortable for long rides.

Recumbent Bicycles

Recumbent bikes feature a laid-back seating position with a chair-like seat and a backrest. When you ride, your legs extend forward parallel to the ground. The pedals sit out in front.

The main benefit of recumbent stationary bikes is the comfort. The wide, padded seat and backrest take strain off your back. This design takes pressure off the knees and hips. This makes recumbents a great choice for older individuals, those with joint issues, or those who are recovering from certain injuries.

There are some drawbacks. The workout you get on a recumbent is a bit less intense. These bikes are also large and bulky to store.

Air Bikes

Air bikes, sometimes referred to as fan bikes, use air to create resistance. The flywheel is a fan. As you pedal harder, the fan spins faster, increasing the air resistance. The faster you pedal, the more resistance the air creates. These bikes usually have movable handlebars. This is great if you want a full-body workout.

Elliptical Machines 

These aren’t really bicycles but they offer a similar workout. An elliptical machine has two long pedals and a set of moving handlebars. The pedals move in a smooth, gliding, circular motion. The handlebars allow the rider to push and pull for some upper-body exercise.

One of the benefits of elliptical machines is that they offer a low-impact, full-body workout. Some believe that these machines don’t provide as natural of a movement as running or cycling. The belief is that they cause your body to twist unnaturally. These are also expensive machines. 

A road cyclist riding on the shoulder of a highway

Final Thoughts About Indoor Cycling

Indoor cycling offers a range of benefits. It’s a great cardiovascular and weight loss exercise. Exercising indoors is safe and comfortable. You can exercise when the weather is poor. It is also a high intensity and time-efficient workout that you can adapt to your fitness level. The first time you ride a stationary bike, you can reduce the resistance to make it a low-intensity exercise. When you become more advanced, you can up the intensity. There are some disadvantages. Indoor cycling can be repetitive and uncomfortable. You also won’t get to enjoy the fresh air and views that you get when you cycle outdoors.

Do you ride an indoor bike? Share your experience in the comments below!

Pin it for later!

More From Where The Road Forks

Sharing is caring!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, including links from the Amazon Serivices LLC Associates Program. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. I only recommend products and services that I use and know. Thank you for reading!