Cycle your way to fitness without braving the weather

Indoor cycling at Crunch Fitness Photo: Crunch Fitness

If you love to ride your bike, but between the hills and the fog, you never make it out the door, or you’re looking for a low-impact way to get fit that will burn tons of calories, indoor cycling could be the workout for you.

Jonathan Goldberg (Johnny G) and John Baudin developed the original indoor cycling concept in a garage in 1991, and trademarked it “Spinning.” The two cyclists wanted to develop stationary bikes that had some of the key components of road bikes — clip-less pedals, aerodynamic handlebars, and racing saddles. Between 1991 and 1994, the two manufactured about 150 stationary bikes under the name Mad Dog Athletics, Inc., and shipped them to a few gyms in L.A. and New York. The company started training fitness professionals as Spin instructors, and soon Spinning became a mainstay at gyms and fitness centers across the country.

While Spinning is a brand name, there are plenty of bona fide indoor cycling classes taught at gyms all over the Bay Area. Both the Presidio YMCA and the San Francisco Jewish Community Center offer a variety of studio cycling classes, and all San Francisco Crunch Fitness locations have indoor cycling classes called “The Ride.”

The benefits to indoor cycling are numerous. First and foremost, a 45-minute studio cycling class provides a cardio workout burning up to 500 calories depending on its intensity. Indoor cycles are adjustable for your height and weight and for resistance with various tension levels, so you can push yourself at a pace that feels right. Studio bikes also have devices that track the number of calories burned, miles ridden and even pulse rate. And, as with all cardio workouts, indoor cycling promotes weight reduction, lower blood pressure and reduced stress. Because the workout is done sitting on a bike with no weight placed on joints, there is also a reduced risk of injury.

Indoor cycling classes are taught by instructors, usually a combination of drill sergeant and cheerleader, who motivate riders throughout the workout augmented by upbeat music like rock, hip hop and pop. Instructors plot out a “course” that includes hills and sprints and urge you on, boosting your heart rate as you ride. Some indoor cycling studios, like those at Crunch on Union Street, provide video monitors that display intensity levels to inspire your workout, and many indoor cycling classes combine strengthening exercises like abdominal work, Pilates or free weights to provide a complete body workout. For those who crave even more intensity, some gyms – Crunch, for example – offer longer rides up to 60–80 minutes.

Carl Hall, Crunch group fitness training manager, says, “Spinning is a great cardio workout. There is no jumping up and down, so it is easy on the joints. Both men and women like this class, because it doesn’t require dancing skills. For the most part the average spin class burns 400–500 calories. I personally like to get my students to burn at least 600–800 per spin class.”

Many indoor cycling fans enjoy the feeling of competing against fellow riders to be the first up a virtual hill or straightaway; others simply relish the feeling of pushing their body to its limits. But almost all participates enjoy the camaraderie and the new friends they meet sitting on the next bike.

To avoid injury and soreness, ask your instructor to help adjust the seat, handlebars and tension of your indoor cycle for a comfortable fit so your wrists, knees and feet are in the proper alignment. Most studio cyclists wear padded bike shorts and biking shoes for the most comfortable ride.

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