About the second half of the 1990s saw the emergence of many motor activities, including indoor cycling – which literally means “indoor cycling”.
Almost always used as a synonym for “spinning” – which is based on the use of a spin bike – it should more correctly show a form of pedalling that does not involve any advancement (i.e. also exercise bikes, horizontal exercise bikes, cycling on rollers).
Compared to cycling itself – a traditional activity from which it derives – in whatever form one may find, one could say that indoor cycling is not a sport in the strict sense of the word, but a group of fitness and possibly wellness activities. This statement stems from the fact that, at least in Italy, indoor cycling competitions are quite limited; this has nothing to do with the difficulty or the level of training they may require.
In this article we will go into detail about the advantages and benefits, but also the disadvantages and contraindications, because of indoor cycling.
What is indoor cycling?
We often talk, with good reason, about the physical and psychological benefits that motor activities can bring to the body. The world of sport and fitness is vast, so why choose indoor cycling rather than another discipline?
More than most group fitness activities (courses), indoor cycling can guarantee all this through specific and personalised training regardless of the level of the group. This is possible primarily because the spin bike does not move, whereas in cycling it would not be possible to very certain training parameters without detaching yourself from the “herd”. Second, thanks to the real-time help of the instructor who will take care of:
- Instructing on regulating the spin bike;
- Teach basic pedalling techniques;
- Educating on the importance of the training load, given by the volume (time) and intensity (perception of fatigue in acute, measurable with the control of the heartbeat by a heart rate monitor or a smartwatch); we exclude the density of work as spinning should not involve passive recoveries, i.e. real pauses, but only a variation in rhythm.
Basically, indoor cycling is an activity of resistance to fatigue. This is not totally focused on aerobic or lactic anaerobic metabolism, because they are very present but in varying percentages depending on preferences, training level and objectives.
Unlike the usual practice of exercise bikes, indoor cycling is based on the principle of High Intensity Training (HIT). However, this is not interspersed in the strictest sense of the term, as with Interval Training (IT), which is why spinning is excluded from the circle of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).
What happens is an activation of the basic aerobic metabolism, i.e. that which exploits the use of oxygen, and the jumping recruitment of lactic anaerobic metabolism, i.e. that which – because of its higher intensity – determines the production of lactic acid and creates a limit dictated by its accumulation. The percentage of one or the other changes from one training to another, as we have said, depending on many variables.
What does a Spin Bike look like and how does it work?
The spin bike is not an exercise bike. It is a tool that allows you to simulate the position and effort of cycling more easily. Compared to an exercise bike it is more uncomfortable with an ergonomic point of view but more suitable for intense work.
The resistance of the spin bike is given by a flywheel made to rotate by pedalling which, as we have said, does not affect the movement of the tool on the surface – instead it can be moved from one side to the other of the room thanks to small wheels in the base. The saddle is adjustable and distance from the handlebar. The pedals are non-slip and equipped with straps or quick attachments for cyclist’s shoes. The pinion transmits motion to the flywheel crown by means of a chain or belt. The central headstock, besides the flywheel change, can contain the bottle holder, where the thermal water bottle can be stored. The handlebar, which offers various grip positions, is adjustable; the knob is positioned at the front. We can find other adjustments or electronic instruments on the handlebar.
Indoor cycling allows you to consume a lot of calories, train your aerobic and anaerobic lactic metabolism – with all the cardio-vascular, respiratory and metabolic benefits of the case – and strengthen your lower limb muscles. The femoral quadriceps and posterior thigh muscles are more involved – thanks to the use of cycling shoes or pedal straps. In addition, when standing on the saddle, spinning also significantly activates the abdominals and secondarily the pectoralis and triceps.
The benefits of indoor cycling are greater in the neophyte who start the activity and in those seeking a progressive increase in training load. We could say that indoor cycling:
- It improves cardio-vascular and respiratory fitness: this is because of a greater efficiency of the heart, which pumps more blood with less effort, and an improvement in circulation, which boasts more arterial elasticity and venous return;
- It decreases the heart rate at rest;
- Blood pressure normalises – especially when excessive;
- Increases tissue oxygenation;
- Increases coronary circulation of the heart;
- Improves respiratory fitness: thanks to a more effective dilation response of the bronchi and better perfusion of the alveoli;
- Some forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can therefore be improved;
- Improves muscle fitness and tendon specifics: in terms of strength, strength, endurance, speed, general endurance, aerobic power, anaerobic power, etc. Tendons become more resistant and less prone to injury;
- Besides the above, the following are also not insignificantly recruited: large gluteus adductors, abductors, calves, foot extensors.
- It improves joint fitness: especially in sedentary, preventing or slowing down the onset of rheumatic disorders, arthrosis, etc.; well-developed muscle mass also helps to keep the joints in place, protecting them especially in the event of capsule or ligament impairment;
- It helps to maintain good bone density: in the absence of other risk factors, spinning can help prevent osteoporosis;
- It reduces platelet aggregation and therefore, in theory, also the risk of thrombosis, embolism and related ischemia;
- Optimises body recomposition: it favours caloric expenditure and therefore, with the same amount of energy introduced with the diet, promotes slimming and ensures muscle tropism. It is good to remember that motor activity also increases appetite, which is why not always moving more you can lose weight quickly;
- Metabolism homeostasis: when practised regularly, spinning increases good HDL cholesterol, helps keep blood sugar levels under control and combats type 2 diabetes mellitus – thanks to an increase in glucose tolerance – reduces triglycerides, normalises blood pressure, decreases – especially after slimming – uric acid in the blood and the possibility of gout or kidney stones from uric acid, etc;
- Maintains good balance: especially in people approaching old age, motor activity helps to maintain functions such as balance – but not only that, it also benefits cognitive functions and reduces the possibility of senile dementia;
- Promotes a good mood: by relieving nervous stress and releasing endorphins.
Calorie consumption and slimming with indoor cycling
The caloric consumption of indoor cycling varies according to intensity, duration (total load) and training level; the greater adaptation, the fewer calories are “burned”; the more intense and prolonged the session, the more energy will be spent. The level also has a big impact on the mix of energy macronutrients used, although most of them are muscle glycogen.
The caloric consumption coefficient of indoor cycling is different depending on the bibliographical source. We could say that the less encouraging data suggest an expenditure of 300-500 kcal / h (calories per hour), while the more optimistic ones reach 550-900 kcal / h.
Indoor cycling can promote weight loss by improving the energy balance, i.e. increasing the calories spent compared to those introduced with the diet.
To lose weight, it is essential that the balance is negative; therefore faced with higher expenditure, take the food to cover only part of the burden faced during training. In the long term, it is advisable not to go below 90%.
Let’s not forget that this is a high-intensity workout, which therefore consumes mainly glycogen and (even in trained subjects) only marginally fatty acids – excluding the principle of lipolysis during EPOC*. This requires that the diet is normally distributed and absolutely not low carb; this would be to the disadvantage of the muscular tropism of the legs.
*POPOC is a good idea to remember that the post-workout oxygen debt, which leads to an increase in basal metabolism, increases as the training load increases.
Do not make the mistake of believing that glycolytic activities make you lose less weight than low intensity and high volume activities – as was once believed. Especially in subjects with a “precarious” glucose metabolism, emptying glycogen reserves with an intense and medium prolonged effort results in greater glucose tolerance and better insulin sensitivity. Ergo: all the carbohydrates eaten will be stored efficiently within the muscles, avoiding lipogenesis and adipose deposition. This aspect, too does not disregard the overall diet.
We have already mentioned the advantages of personalisation and effort management.
Compared to outdoor cycling, indoor cycling has the same advantages as cycling and all indoor activities:
- Less risk of getting sick, because of less exposure to the weather;
- Lower risk of injury because of accidental fall;
- Lower risk of road accidents;
- Lower risk of breakdown, remaining “on foot” away from home.
- The major disadvantage, however, is that it cannot a substitute for outdoor sessions. The cyclist who has to train but, as with the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, believes he can do it on a spin bike, is wrong. The effort of the two activities is not super imposable.
Risks of indoor cycling
The risks of indoor cycling for a healthy person are mainly limited to tendon or joint inflammation of the knee – patellar tendons disease is common – and hip, or back overload. However, most of these are related to the contraindications mentioned above.
Therefore, to reduce these dangers, we should first carry out a competitive medical examination. Otherwise, you are potentially at risk of:
- Cardiovascular compromises;
- Worsening of rachis disorders;
- Inadequate bone regrowth;
- Aggravation of joint disorders;
- Worsening of underweight.