On Indoor Cycling


At the end of this week, I’ll teach the last of the indoor cycling classes I’ve led every Tuesday and Thursday for almost four years. It has been a wonderful experience, because my students have been so special. Most came to the class from other indoor-bike classes, expecting a rip-roaring workout, and sometimes they got it. But usually, we went through a workout with more complicated goals and more subtle effects.

Not everyone who dropped in realized it, but the regulars knew that we were going through periodized cycles, laying an aerobic base in the winter, building on it in the spring, riding hard in the summer (we had lots of fun with Tour de France–inspired workouts), returning to base in the fall, and having a blast each December with themed playlist and greatest-hits workouts from the year. Each day was part of a bigger picture, and once students grew used to the rhythm of my teaching—and comfortable with the idea that you don’t have to go hard all the time—we had a full class of great people. (I do the same thing in yoga, periodizing the practice, and spending more time encouraging students to relax than I do exhorting them to work harder.)
Best of all, many of my students have been inspired to buy road bikes, or dust off their old ones, and have begun participating in charity rides and races. Who could ask for more as a teacher? At some level, teaching is planned obsolescence. We impart the tools so that students can implement their own practice. (Obviously, this obtains in yoga, too.)
In just the last week, two students who’d taken classes when out of town reported on what a different experience it was. Both had been encouraged to turn extremely high cadences—120 and up—without any breaks. This may be exercise, but it isn’t true to cycling, unless you are training for short track races in a velodrome! Jennifer Sage has written a nice e-book, Keep It Real, and created a whole site around this concept: indoor cycling should mimic workouts for outdoor cycling. If you ever ride on a spin bike, or if you teach indoor cycling, you should check out her work.
In pondering my retirement, I reflect that these have been my main points, week in and week out.
  • Form and breath. Continually come back to the most efficient form you can muster, and breathe as deeply as you can in the circumstance.
  • Push it down, scrape it back, lift it up, kick it forward, Disco Lady.
  • Don’t stand 80 percent of the time. Stand 8 percent of the time, or less.
  • A sprint doesn’t last for minutes on end. It’s a true max effort. A nice workout is to put on some music you like, then sprint the breaks between the songs (presuming they are 8 to 12 seconds or so).
  • You’re either a masher or a spinner; spend some time working on your weakness, and we can meet in the middle, near 90 rpms.
  • The more you think you need a hard workout, the more you probably need to have an easy workout.
  • Even if studies show the cool-down isn’t that important, it helps you feel closure. We liken it to choosing “Shut down” for your computer, rather than simply unplugging it.
  • Tuesdays, do pushups. As many as you can with good form. Eight is enough for me.
  • Thursdays, do core work. Planks are good, but change it up occasionally.
  • At least once a year, listen to a full hour of ABBA. If you like ABBA, it will be a treat; if you don’t, it will be a great way to develop equanimity.

How nice to retire feeling like my work in the cycling room is complete. I’m moving on to other exciting projects, on which more here soon, and looking forward to riding my bike outside during the week!

One Response to “On Indoor Cycling”

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