After climbing Richter Pass, Sydenham Road, the Muskoka highlands, the Gatineau Hills or the Cabot Trail all summer, riding a bike in your garage or basement just seems wrong and certainly isn’t a motivating thought as you prepare for another long winter.
Purchasing some DVD’s for inspiration may help but, then again, riding in your dungeon of choice watching others riding in their dungeon of choice, with a coach barking orders to go harder, faster and in bigger gears isn’t everyone’s ideal workout.
Which is why, for some athletes, indoor spin, RPM classes or trainer rides are a popular way to stay motivated and get some good winter training done. Although the generic term for these group classes on a fixed wheel stationary bike is spinning, the word is actually trademarked, so we’ll refer to this type of training as indoor cycling (IC).
So what should you look for in an IC class/group ride to make it a worthwhile fitness endeavor and yield some positive fitness results for your invested time?
Have a plan. Talk with your coach. Make sure there is a macro plan in place for each season, and a micro plan for each week or each workout. Be sure to make your IC class fit into this framework. Know what your long term goal is and immediate objectives are. Since many of the IC classes are self directed, you ultimately control these parameters.
Know your equipment. Since muscular adaptation is very specific, ask at your club/gym what bikes they use – fixed or freewheel. Can you bring your own bike, and put it on their trainer? Fixed wheel stationary bikes have pros and cons. You don’t have to haul your bike around all winter or struggle to get that trainer tire off and on. On the other hand, bike fit can be a challenge. Many of the IC bikes have set, incremental adjusters which make the sizing or fit less specific, therefore potentially just a little off. Ask before you sign up
Who’s the boss? Ultimately you, however there is the IC instructor to consider. Are they a cyclist or a Zumba instructor who does aerobics on a bike? Do they have a plan? Do they actually ride outside? Do they have access to some diversions – such as a quality sound system and video options that will get you to focus on what you’re doing? Are they educated in cycling and the physiology of cycling? Are they entertainers? That can make a big difference, too.
Then theres the music question. Hip hop, rap, gospel, post-punk, old time rock – make sure you can enjoy what you hear or you at least learn to enjoy it. This is a great opportunity to expand your musical lexicon.
Make it fun. We spend considerable time all year round on the bike, in the pool and pounding the pavement. If this isn’t fun, you probably won’t stick with the program.
What to Bring to your IC classes
The typical IC class has very little air movement; therefore core body temperature increases are common. (In other words, you’ll get really hot.) These classes may not be recommended for pregnant women or for those who have had a variety of heat related issues in the past. Be sure to come hydrated and bring one to two bottles of fluid for each hour of cycling. If you typically train with a heart rate monitor, remember the increase core temp will result in a cardiac drift. That means your heart may rise up out of your expected training zone proportionally to the workload required, so give yourself some leeway with your heart rate.
Most facilities have bikes with dual pedals – old style cages and SPD pedal system. A more ridged court shoe is better than an old pair of running shoes. Your mountain bike shoes, which typically have the SPD cleats, will also work well. Check with the facility before packing your shoes.
Towel. you are going to have the equivalent of Niagara Falls running down your back so be sure to have a towel for your use and maybe even one to mop up the swamp you will be creating.
Bring a friend or a spouse – peer pressure is a good thing. If you can’t ride together on the road, at least you can workout together on the IC bike.
IC classes can provide some very specific cycling improvements. You should find that you’re faster on the flats, your overall strength increases and you should improve your pedal stroke technique. Enjoy the process and maybe bring your MP3 player just in case you get a metalhead, a article punk instructor or find yourself in an all-ABBA class.
Greg Pace runs Pace Performance and conducts many spin classes a year in Burlington, Ontario. His music list is ABBA free.