Getting Disciplined: Training on a Spin Bike

News & Results

01/27/2005| 0 comments
by James Herrera, MS

Getting Disciplined: Training on a Spin Bike

While outdoor buffs find it difficult to train indoors, the great features of a spinner shouldn?t be overlooked.

Often times, multi-discipline athletes have difficulty locating the time to get it all in. There isn?t enough daylight to swim, ride, run, paddle, climb, and trek in a given week. Keeping our fitness at an optimal level and focusing on essential disciplines while dealing with the shorter evenings and colder winter weather dictates taking our training indoors. A stationary indoor spin bike is a great way of maintaining and improving hard earned fitness.


While outdoor buffs find it difficult to train indoors, the great features of a spinner shouldn?t be overlooked. The adjustability of indoor spinners allows you to mimic the position of your outdoor rig. While most health clubs have a wide variety of electronic-resistance based machines, positioning and comfort are often drastically different than what a cycling enthusiast is used to. Saddles are customarily extra wide and handlebars at awkward angles. These bikes are designed to let you dial your position to your outdoor measurements. Brands may vary, but adjustability and positioning is similar. Saddle and bar positions are closer to the real deal.


Resistance on a spin bike is self-adjusted, just like shifting your bike.  Different workouts will dictate varying levels of heart rate, resistance, cadence, and perceived exertion. The self-adjusting nature of a spin bike is quite conducive to targeting those goals (whether self- or coach-prescribed) and staying within workout ranges. The lack of the ability to freewheel/back pedal on many spin bikes creates the benefit of fixed gear riding which can improve an imbalanced pedal stroke.


Indoor cycling group classes are popular in many health clubs around the country. Suffering with goal-oriented friends provides incentives to tough it through a training session. Just like a weekend group ride, there?s strength in numbers. The camaraderie of the group, upbeat music, and a motivating instructor makes time fly. Seek out a quality instructor that trains or races a bike outdoors. True cyclists doubling as indoor cycling instructors will always include more realistic cycling-specific work in their classes. Non-cycling instructors often include drills that are successful in raising the heart rate, but have no cycling practicality.


While group classes typically offer a high intensity workout in a short period of time, longer intervals performed close to your lactic threshold are much more beneficial for aerobic system development. Enjoy a group hammer session on occasion, but remember that longer lactic threshold based intervals are your keys to laying a strong aerobic foundation. Perform 2-4 intervals of 10-20 minutes at 75-80% aerobic effort. To make workouts more exciting or event-specific, include over-under efforts in your session. For an over-under effort, you begin the interval at a pace below your lactic threshold. Spend 8-12 minutes riding at 75-80% aerobic pace. As you end this block of time, ramp your exertion up to a maximum 1-2 minute effort. Transition back to an 8-12 minute block at 75-80% pace. This completes one cycle. Perform 1-3 cycles based on your current fitness level and past experience. Modify resistance to simulate climbing or flat ground riding, offering additional variety in your workout.


While outdoor junkies might rather be bombing twisty single-track or doing a city limit sign sprint on the weekend group ride, a spin bike can be a valuable training tool when a lack of daylight or weather forces us indoors. Follow these tips to maximize your progress indoors.


?          Transfer measurements from your personal bike to a spin bike. Measure your effective top tube length (center of seat tube to center of handlebar), saddle height (center of crankbolt to top of the saddle, along the seat tube), and handlebar to saddle height difference. An experienced cyclist can ballpark these measurements just by jumping on the bike. Less experienced riders should carry their measurements and a small measuring tape in their gym bag. Matching measurements of your outdoor bike will minimize the risk of a poor bike fit, which can result in injury.

?          Take a group class and seek out a quality instructor.

?          Perform longer intervals around your lactic threshold.  This assists aerobic development, making a more efficient use of training time. You?ll finish your workout feeling pleasantly fatigued as opposed to exhausted.

?          Include over-under intervals in your workout sessions. These efforts will train your body to endure large doses of lactic acid while jumping from a steady pace to a maximal effort and back to a good steady cruising pace, similar to a group ride.

?          Use entertainment (music, movies, training DVDs) as tools to increase your indoor time on the bike.

?          Focus on any cycling deficiencies you may have picked up during the race season or summer months. Many cyclists need to focus on high cadence work to improve their leg speed while others need to push heavier muscle tension gears, focusing on strength building on the bike.

?          Keep workouts short when concentration is fading. Two hours of total ride time broken into a morning and evening one-hour sessions might be more productive. Many athletes have a mental shut-off valve when it comes to indoor training. Some can ride for 4-5 hours indoors, while others last 1 hour.

?          Variety is the spice of life. Use new workouts, invite friends for suffer fests, expand your video or music library, and ride into spring with your best fitness ever.


James Herrera is an Elite Coach and Director of Coaching for Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). To find out what James and CTS can do for you, please visit


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