Fitness / Cycling

How to Use Indoor Bikes at the Gym: Types of Bikes and How to Set Up a Spin Bike

Ever wondered what all those bikes at the gym were for? We've got the answers!

Cycling workouts continue to be all the rage, and for good reason—not only do they offer a low-impact alternative to running, they can also help you lose weight while working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. But, you don’t have to be a SoulCycle junkie or a vacationer leisurely biking to the beach to incorporate cycling into your daily exercise routine. Here’s everything you need to know about indoor bikes, so you can figure out the best way to customize cycling to your fitness goals and challenge yourself appropriately.

What types of bikes exist, and what are the similarities or differences?

Most gyms offer several different types of indoor bikes. This can be confusing to the average rider. Mike Heim, Fitness Manager III at 24 Hour Fitness in Huntington Beach, CA, helps break it down for us.

“There are upright bikes, recumbent bikes, cycle bikes, and airdyne bikes,” he explains. “When using each of these bikes, you are in a seated position. The point of differentiation between the bikes is the position that the bike has you seated in, but all provide a user-friendly cardiovascular exercise that is low impact on your joints.”

According to Heim, these bike choices offer a wide range of benefits, and impact your muscles in specific ways:

Upright/Cycle (This includes spin bikes)

Recumbent

Airdyne

Finally, you’ll often see a standard stationary bike (no flywheel) in workout facilities. While these are technically not moving, indoor bikes that can be used for cycling. Caryn Lee Meeks of Power Life Yoga says these are different than cycle bikes as a whole. “Stationary bikes have a more upright sitting position that is non-aerodynamic, which uses other muscles different—primarily  your quads. Stationary bikes are also more commonly used for therapy after an injury; they tend to have bigger, more comfortable seats and aren’t focused on actual power-produced watts.”

What are some tips and tricks for using a bike in your exercise routine?

Aaptiv trainer Ben Green says there are three things beginners need to focus on when it comes to indoor cycling: proper bike fit, the right resistance, and keeping your RPM below 110 to avoid injury. Heim also suggests incorporating a bike into your workout circuit as a great way to keep your heart rate up and lose weight. Plus it can help you cross-train which keeps your cardiovascular conditioning at any level while avoiding overtraining.

“I prefer to ride outside on an outdoor or cycle bike, which allows me to use my glutes, hamstrings, and quads, and builds more strength in that position,” says Meeks. “It all comes down to preference: what you are looking for and what you are used to. Overall, cycle bikes (or spin bikes) are built stronger with smoother, better pedaling technique for cardiovascular fitness. They have more adjustments for a safer ride, and you can customize the aft/fore and height for both your handlebar and seat. Home trainers are another good option, where you use your outside bike and set it up to be stationary (i.e., not moving), so the dynamics remain the same.”

What sorts of workouts can be done on a bike?

“Indoor bikes provide you with the opportunity to do a range of workout types, such as steady state cardio and interval cardio circuits,” says Heim. “You also have the flexibility to pick a manual workout—one that you create on your own which could consist of pedaling at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for 30 seconds and then decreasing to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate for 60 seconds. Finally, you can also select from one of the bike’s own programs such as weight loss, performance, variety, or heart rate.”

Green loves cycling for cross-training, particularly when he’s training for a running event, as it provides a low-impact, aerobic or anaerobic workout. He’s partial to all the Aaptiv cycling workouts, of course, whether he’s in the mood for intervals, climbing, or steady state exercise.”

Is there anything you should avoid when cycling?

“Form is key,” emphasizes Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. “Make sure you softly hold the handles (no death grip). Core engagement is crucial for a smooth ride. Eat something before you ride and make sure to stay hydrated. Clip in by pushing your toes forward until you hear and feel the click. Focus on pulling up with each pedal instead of the down stroke to maximize your ride.”

Lack of resistance, too low seat height, and fully stretched arms are a couple other common cycling mistakes Green often sees. Ask a trainer or another rider for help putting your seat and handles are the correct adjustment when you use an indoor bike, as poor adjustments can create pain or injury.

“Also, try and avoid just pushing the bike pedals,” says Heim. “The strap on the pedals will allow you to pull the pedals for the revolutions, instead of just pushing. Pulling the pedals will assist in engaging your hamstrings, and not just your quadriceps.”

“Also, try and avoid just pushing the bike pedals,” says Heim. “The strap on the pedals will allow you to pull the pedals for the revolutions, instead of just pushing. Pulling the pedals will assist in engaging your hamstrings, and not just your quadriceps.”

How do I set up a spin bike at the gym?

1. Adjust your seat or saddle height. Stand next to the bike facing the front. The seat should hit right at your hip bone. Another way to check the height is lifting one leg up at you stand next to the bike. Bend your knee and hold your leg at a 90 degree angle. The saddle should line up with your bent leg.

2. Move your saddle forward or backward. This determines your distance from the handlebars. Sit on the bike to figure out the right placement for your saddle. A neutral, middle position does work for most but the most accurate way to adjust is by making sure your knee is in line with your toes when you pedal. You should be able to draw a straight line down from your knee to your toes. Just make sure your knee isn’t extended over your toes.

3.  Adjust your handlebar height.  The key here is that your spine should never curve or arch while you’re using the handlebars. Put them at a height that allows you to keep your spine neutral even if you’re leaning forward during a hill climb.

4. Make sure all your adjustments are locked in.  You don’t want to slip or slide during your workout.

5. Strap in or clip in your shoes.

What sort of options are available on indoor bike types?

The best part of biking? You just start pedaling, no fancy buttons needed. However, on indoor bikes, you’ll notice options to pick set workouts, create manual workouts, or press a quick start button to control as you go, says Heim.

“A pause button allows you step off of the bike without losing your workout. And, a knob is available to increase or decrease the pedal resistance. On some stationary bikes, there will also be a number sequence, 0-9, and an ‘enter’ button. By pressing the button, you can be taken straight to the chosen number level of resistance, instead of cycling through. This option is especially beneficial if you are doing intervals on the bike.”

Why are cycling workouts effective?

For Green, it’s all about the lack of distractions. Indoor cycling lets him hold different power and intensity levels for set time periods, he says, without worrying about outside factors, like cars crossing the street.

“Bike workouts increase your calorie burn, which can help with fat loss,” says Heim. “They also help with muscular endurance for the lower body, and potentially the upper body, depending on which bike is chosen for a workout.”

“Cycling is a great workout that torches a ton of calories, but is low impact and easy on the joints,” shares McFaden. “It is a great way to have fun as well as enjoy excellent instructors and music. In about an hour, you combine cardio and strength training to burn over 600 calories . . . yes, please!”

Cycling Fitness

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