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Indoor Cycling – Help or Hindrance?

As the last of the autumn leaves swirl around your tires, you resign yourself to the inevitable: it’s bitter cold and soon the snow will fall. It’s time to store your bike for the winter and turn your thoughts to keeping fit in the off-season. But the thought of endless hours on the trainer almost brings tears to your eyes.

If you’ve ever used a trainer to maintain your fitness over the winter months you know the biggest challenge is boredom. Indoor cycling classes alleviate some of the snooze factor, and offer a camaraderie similar to club rides.


Spinning classes are offered at just about every fitness facility across the country and indoor cycling “boutiques” are popping up everywhere. Yet Chris Carmichael’s advice is to approach these classes with caution:

“Spin classes can hurt cyclists as easily as they can help them. For the majority of cyclists, the training goals in the fall and winter include aerobic development and weight training. People tend to forget what time of year this is and throw open the throttle in spin classes.”

Many cyclists crave the intensity of a hard group ride or race and try to recreate the same endorphin rush indoors. But high intensity riding several times per week can leave you exhausted and over-trained by early spring. Most indoor cycling class routines work in zones 4 and 5 (85-95% MHR) several times each class. Add that intensity to three or more classes per week and you’re setting yourself up for disaster come spring.

Instructors need to learn how to plan spinning classes to meet cyclists’ off-season fitness needs, in addition to the other participants in their classes. For cyclists, the best winter training is progressive, with a systematic approach that follows the principals of specificity, overload, recovery and adaptation. Here’s what that looks like:

Indoor Cycling Training For Cyclists

October/November:
Focus on aerobic base building, with emphasis on faster cadence and back-to-basic single leg drills at 70-75% MHR, with lots of time spent on pedal mechanics and spinning at the higher end of your cadence range (90-110 rpm). This is also a good time to lift weights.

December/January:
Focus on power. Do “climbs” at about 70-75 rpm with a fair amount of resistance on the studio bike at an MHR of about 80%. The idea is to build muscle endurance. You do this by sitting for the entire climb. Most indoor cycling classes will have you “climb” out of the saddle for the better part of the ride. If your cadence is high, your heart rate will shoot through the roof. It’s too early in the season for this.

February and March:
Focus on fine-tuning your cycling skills by repeating drills at and above lactate threshold. When lactate accumulates in the muscles faster than it is removed you’ve reached your lactate threshold. The tell-tale signs are laboured breathing coupled with burning in the legs. Lactate threshold is individual but usually occurs at around 85% MHR.

Use this method for your winter training and your legs will feel ready and full of snap when spring finally arrives.

- Clair Cafaro
C.O.R.E CYCLING - Creating the Optimal Ride Experience
Indoor Cycling Instructor Certification

Clair Cafaro is the president of C.O.R.E CYCLING,
an indoor cycling instructor certification program
with an emphasis on authentic road riding principals.www.corecycling.ca

John Macgowan, host of Indoor Cycle Instructor Podcast, recently interviewed Clair for his Internet radio show. Listen to her interview here.

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