If you want to take advantage of the benefits of cycling without strapping on a helmet or dodging traffic there are plenty of indoor options. Two of the most popular are:
- Indoor cycling at home—using a trainer or smart bike—in conjunction with a training app.
- Spin classes at a gym or cycling studio.
Depending upon your fitness goals, budget, and schedule you might achieve better results with one versus the other. Let’s take a look at the primary differences.
Designed primarily to help improve your overall cardiovascular fitness as opposed to your real-world cycling performance, spin classes have seen an increase in popularity over the past few years. The benefit of your typical spin class comes from the energy in the classroom. Thumping music paired with an enthusiastic instructor can make the time spent on the bike seem to fly by.
If you want to improve your fitness in a way that directly impacts your speed and power on the bike, spin classes might not be the best option. Though some spin bikes do come equipped with power meters, most spin classes are based not on your individual performance targets but on a 1-10 scale of relative perceived exertion. Meaning, the instructor will ask you to put out an effort that is, say, 6 on a scale from 1 to 10. It’s up to you to figure out what that means to you.
There’s also the matter of replicating your bike setup for each class. Unless you are in the habit of carrying a tape measure to the gym, getting your bike set up before each class can be tricky. Even subtle changes in saddle position can impact your range of motion, which can hamper your progress.
It’s not individual workouts that improve your fitness, but consistency and how workouts build on each other. To get stronger, volume (the amount of time spent training) and intensity (how challenging a given session is) should increase over time. Once your body adapts to a given workload, mix it up to continue improving. Making sure that you have an active recovery period scheduled every three to four weeks will give your body time to consolidate all of the workout gains over the past weeks. While an individual spin class might be a hard workout, it ultimately comes down to consistency and managing your workload over time to ensure that you continue to make progress.
If being packed into a small room with twenty other people isn’t your thing, don’t worry. With the right equipment, you can skip the spin class scene and get fit in the relative comfort of your own living room. Indoor trainers like the KICKR and smart bikes like the KICKR BIKE make it easy to set up your own indoor cycling studio. When used in conjunction with an indoor training app like The Sufferfest, you can get the benefit of workouts and training plans designed by the best coaches in the world.
Indoor cycling benefits the modern athlete in three primary ways:
- Your setup: Set it up and forget it. If you only have a limited window for your workout, you won’t be wasting precious time getting your bike set up. Your fit is dialed, which means all of the effort you put into your workout goes towards making you stronger, making better use of your time.
- Your schedule: Having a dedicated indoor cycling set up in your home means you are in control of your workout schedule. If you are an early riser you can get in a session while everyone else is snoozing. Night owl? Use the time after dark to get a good hour in. Remember, consistency is key.
- Your goals: Indoor training apps allow you to personalize your workouts and training schedule to match your unique fitness level and goals. Follow a structured training plan that progressively builds your fitness over time while ensuring that you get ample recovery so you steer clear of burn out.
Ultimately choosing between the gym based spin class or indoor cycling requires you to consider a couple things:
- What are your fitness goals? Do you want to perform at a specific discipline of cycling or multi-sport or are you looking to mix cycling in as a cross-training exercise?
- What resources do you have currently or what are you capable of adding? Do you have a bike you can put on an indoor trainer or are you interested in adding a KICKR BIKE to your indoor fitness set up?
These two questions will set you on the right track. Here at Wahoo, we believe in the power of indoor cycling to make each athlete a more complete athlete, stronger athlete, and ultimately a better version of themselves. If you want the community that a gym environment provides we encourage you to engage with other Wahooligans out there on social media and share your indoor progress with us by using #Wahooligan.
Learn more about how to build the ultimate indoor training set up
Mac Cassin is the Chief Cycling Physiologist at Wahoo Sports Science. He holds a degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and has won multiple National Championships. The experience of juggling athletic goals with collegiate and career responsibilities has taught Mac that peak performance is achievable even for those who cannot focus exclusively on training. While concentrating on exercise physiology in an academic setting, Mac competed at the World Championships, Pan American Championships and World Cups on both the road and track.