In a Spin

When American cyclist Johnny Goldberg was knocked off his bike one night while training for the 3000-mile Race Across America, he decided to recreate the training conditions indoors. Goldberg developed a training programme he called Spinning, designed an indoor bike based on his road bike and took it to gyms around the world.

While Spinning is Goldberg’s trademark – only accurately used for classes run by instructors who have attended official Johnny G Spinning instructor training – indoor cycling classes have taken off in gyms across the UK, and they can offer a great alternative to road training.

In a fix

Classes take place on a fixed wheel bike, the pedals tied to a weighted wheel, and you have a lever to alter resistance. Typically, about eight cyclists line up in a semi-circle around the instructor who will take the class through a routine. While routines and instructors vary hugely, music tends to play a big part in any session, to set the pace and speed and create the right atmosphere to motivate people. A class can accommodate a variety of fitness levels because you work as hard as you want to.

“You can have an Olympic athlete in the same class as a beginner and if the instructor is good they should all be able to work at a perfect level because they are in charge of leg strength and speed,” says indoor cycling trainer Debbie Kneale.

Because indoor cycling was developed to replicate outdoor cycling, it uses the same muscles, namely the quads, glutes and hamstrings, to apply downward pressure, and the hamstrings and calf to flex the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke, to pull the foot back. Hip flexors are also used to help raise the leg so the opposite leg can push down on the pedal. At the top, the quads are used to extend the knee and push the foot forward.

Jennifer Sage, a master instructor for Spinning since 1998 ( says, “By focusing on proper synchronisation of the muscles used in the entire 360-degree pedal stroke when training indoors, a cyclist can help perfect their pedal stroke outdoors.”

Mind games

Competitive outdoor cyclists also use indoor cycling to focus on their inner game, as it enables them to concentrate on a specific route or a particularly challenging part of a route without the distraction of traffic or other external factors. Some instructors will use visualisation as part of the session, telling you to close your eyes and go where your mind takes you, perhaps using more monotonous music to encourage the sense of escapism as you cycle.

Classes can range from endurance classes for developing the aerobic system, to strength classes to train for hill climbing, while Race Day classes aim to simulate time-trials. Other classes tend to be based on variety and having fun while you train, incorporating a little of everything.

Make sure you find a class that’s geared specifically towards outdoor cyclists, because some more general ‘aerobics style’ classes will incorporate other exercises such as pedalling backwards and push-ups on the handlebar, which is something that’s frowned upon by many indoor Spinning instructors and ‘traditionalists’.

Step it up

Like any fitness regime, intensity and frequency depends on your individual health, fitness, motivation and objectives. Indoor cycling allows you to spend a lot of time in the aerobic endurance zones in the winter and, as Sage says, sessions are good for interval training because it’s harder to motivate yourself to do high intensity training alone. But she advises cyclists to follow hard days with easy days: “You don’t have to do what the instructor is asking – you can sit at the back and ride easy at a low heart rate when it’s time for you to recover.”

Increasingly, instructors are advising that participants wear heart rate monitors during sessions to ensure effective training, instead of just going hard and fast and using predominantly anaerobic fitness (depleting the body of protein instead of burning carbohydrate). Maintaining your heart rate within various training ‘zones’ enables you to reach your individual endurance-based or strength-based goals more easily.

Spinning Top Tips

As experienced a cyclist as you might be, spinning can take some getting used to. Follow our five essential pointers for success…

Try several different classes and bikes, to see what suits you.

The instructor should explain about the fixed gear and how to set up the bike. You might wish to adjust their recommendations so that they’re closer to your usual riding position. In indoor cycling there’s no wind resistance so you tend to ride with a higher handlebar and also encourage a greater knee extension at the bottom of the pedal stroke than the one you might be used to.

Wear your cycling shorts to ride, as they’ll be more comfy, always take water to class and drink at least 1 litre per 45-minute session.

Work on a smooth pedal stroke, use resistance that really feels like the road outside, whether it’s a flat road or a climb, and pedal at your preferred outdoor cadence (it’s okay to do cadence drills on a spinning bike to train the neuromuscular abilities of the legs, but remember that indoors it’s so much easier to pedal faster than outdoors).

Train with a heart rate monitor (HRM) to ensure you have an effective workout tailored to meet your own goals.

Discover more great features on every aspect of cycling and get ahead of the pack with a subscription to Cycling Plus magazine. Prudential RideLondon participants can click here for an exclusive offer.