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If there’s anything I’ve learned about fitness, it’s that you have to find something you genuinely enjoy doing to make a consistent habit out of working out. I’ve found that kind of enjoyment within the dark rooms of indoor cycling classes. Every time I pedal against the highest resistance my legs will allow to the thumping bass of a hit song, I’m reminded of why I continue going back—it’s an engaging workout and a fun time.

But it wasn’t love at first clip-in. It took commitment, patience, and finding the right instructors, who encouraged me to continue coming back. But once I did, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else in the fitness realm, at least not as often as I find myself going to a cycling class.

Boutique workout classes have become something of a phenomenon, with indoor cycling taking the lead. There are over ninety SoulCycle studios, over two hundred CycleBar studios, and dozens of other cycling boutiques across the country that cater to those who want an hour to sweat, dance, and maybe even shed a few tears.

Tap Back to Basics

Katie Alverez, a cycle instructor at Life Time Athletic, summarizes the experience perfectly, stating, “Cycling is magical.” I’ve felt this myself after a few classes, when you really start to lose yourself in the workout, and in the motivational speeches that are weaved into each class. But Alverez agrees that it does take time. “Give yourself three weeks to decide whether or not you like cycling,” she says. “It takes a few rides for all of the components to come together and make sense. I always reassure new riders that they are not alone if they felt like their first ride was really long or if they’re confused by the lingo. The barriers melt away with time.”

Many studios offer classes and packages for first-time riders for a lesser charge. This is a great option because, as is true for many boutique studios, these kinds of classes tend to be pricey. But the top-level service and feel-good vibe of indoor cycling make it worth it—as does, of course, the workout itself.

Classes vary in length and style, depending on the instructor and the studio you go to. An average class is forty-five to sixty minutes, with exercises ranging from intense climbs, meaning the resistance is increased during the length of a song, to sprints, during which you challenge yourself to increase the revolutions per minute (RPM) on the bike. Across the board, indoor cycling is about riding to the beat—it’s a very music-focused workout. The key to getting the most out of a cycling class is knowing proper setup, which Alverez says is “critical to support optimal performance on the bike.”

Setting Up Your Bike

• Stand next to your seat (called the “saddle”), and adjust the height so the seat is aligned with your hip bone. This helps position your legs (once on the bike) correctly. There should be a small twenty-to-thirty-degree bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. In layman’s terms, make sure you’re not hyperextending when you pedal.
• To prevent lower back pain, adjust the handlebars so you can easily reach them. They should be positioned slightly above the height of the saddle.
• Hop onto your bike, and try pedaling a few times to make sure you feel comfortable. And don’t hesitate to ask an instructor if you need assistance.

The Physical and Mental Payoffs

“Riders see a change in body composition and overall mood when they incorporate cycling into their fitness routine two to three times a week. You’ll also improve your endurance, cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and joint mobility,” says Alverez. Some studios incorporate a weights section during the class, so don’t think you’re only working the lower body. By engaging your core—and trust me, if you forget, your instructor will likely enthusiastically remind you—you are actually doing a lot for your upper body, too.

To maximize your workout, Alverez stresses the importance of staying for the cooldown. In every class I attend, I personally see a few riders leave during this time, and it always strikes me as odd. She agrees, saying, “Mentally, it may not feel like you’re doing much, but it helps transition your body out of the workout. Easing out of the high intensity should be considered top priority in order to amplify the work you’re doing.”

The cooldown is also when the instructor will leave you with his or her final words of wisdom. Having something to walk away with—besides just burning calves—is embedded in the DNA of indoor cycling. For many, it’s a form of therapy. When asked about how indoor cycling has personally impacted her life, Alverez states, “I continue to fall more in love with cycling each time I do it. I teach and ride both indoors and outdoors, and it has really evolved into a dynamic relationship. I’ve developed so much strength, and it helps with my stress and overall mood, too.”

I can attest to her sentiments, and I know many other riders who can as well. Whether it’s the calories burned, the mood-boosting playlists, the mid-class pep talk that is always somehow exactly what you need to hear that day, or the community feel, indoor cycling is so much more than just a sweat session.

The Lingo to Know Before You Go:

• Clip-in – Clipping in simply means securing your shoes onto the pedals. This ensures a safer ride and can help maximize the efficiency of your pedal stroke. Make sure to check to see if the studio you’re going to provides shoes.
• Tap-back – This term refers to the action of being in third position (hands positioned at the top of your handlebars), engaging your core, and quite literally tapping back by pushing your hips and glutes backward as you stand on the pedals.
• Pedal on your right/left – When instructors say,
“On the left for this song” or something similar, they mean that you’ll be pedal stroking with your left foot hitting the downbeat of the song.
• Resistance – Each bike has a knob that you can turn throughout the class to make the resistance on your bike harder, which gives you the feeling of pedaling uphill, resulting in more calories burned.

Be sure to consult with a physician before trying any new workout. For more info, visit indoorcyclingassociation.com.