Pro Pedalers Answer Your Burning Indoor Cycling Questions

Heading to your first indoor cycling class? Here's what to expect—and how to troubleshoot some common newbie issues.

By Allison Jones February 25, 2015

Image: StarCycle

With the local explosion of unlimited fitness apps like Fitmob and Classpass, many Portlanders are trying out new exercise options for the first time. Indoor cycling classes—which have a heavy presence on the all-you-can-sweat services—are a blast (I for one am totally hooked) but they can admittedly be intimidating for those new to the sport.

I sat down with StarCycle's Erin Moone and Dionne Del Carlo, two former Barre3 and yoga pros who opened the boutique cycling studio in Lake Oswego* in 2013, to give us a lesson in indoor cycling 101. 

I'm new to indoor cycling. What should I bring to my first class? What should I wear?

Definitely bring a water bottle so you can hydrate before, during and after class. And wear leggings or cropped pants that won’t get caught in the pedals. Most indoor cycling boutiques now offer clip-in shoes so make sure you call ahead to check. You will sweat, so moisture-wicking fabric is always a plus. And be prepared to have fun!

How long should I wait after eating?

It’s best to avoid heavy meals before class, but if you take a class right after breakfast or lunch, be sure you’re done eating at least 30 minutes before class starts. Something light like a smoothie or fruit and toast is a safe bet if you take a morning class. If you work out right after lunch, keep it light with a salad and some lean protein. Bananas are also great! 

How do I choose the proper seat height?

Your seat (saddle) should come be at hipbone height and handlebars slightly higher than your seat. The distance from your seat to your handlebars should be about the same distance from your elbow to fingertips. Before your first class, be sure to grab your instructor or tell someone at the front desk to help you get fitted on your bike for the first few classes until you get the hang of it. They are there to help you have a good time and a safe workout.

Do I have to already be in good shape to enjoy an indoor cycling class? 

Not at all. We designed our classes at StarCycle for everybody and every body! You don’t have to be an athlete before stepping into an indoor cycling studio, but it's good to be sure you don’t have any active injuries and get cleared to exercise by your doctor. But the beauty of indoor cycling is that you are in control of your resistance and you can turn it up (or down) at any point during the class, depending on your fitness level. 

If I want to buy my own indoor cycling shoes, how do I know where to start?

We use Shimano shoes with a look delta cleat to ensure a comfortable and safe ride. This is important! Also check if your studio sells shoes (like we do here at StarCycle).

How many calories can I burn in a session?

This varies from person to person depending on factors such as weight, effort, etc. But you can expect to burn at least 400 - 600 calories (maybe more!) in a typical class. Be prepared to sweat!

My toes go numb in class. What am I doing wrong?

You are probably putting too much weight in your toes. Try focusing on pushing down through your heels and really concentrate on pulling your knees up with as much effort as you put into pushing down into your pedals. You want nice, even pedal strokes for optimal balance and alignment—and to avoid injuries! Be sure to have your instructor show you an ideal pedal stroke before your first class. Also, your shoes could be too small or too tight at the Velcro strap. You should have about a half-inch of room at the top for movement.

Are there any stretches I should always do after indoor cycling?

Stretching in all forms is always healthy for the body and is especially complimentary to a cycling workout—we stretch from head to toe at the end of each class! Indoor cycling really works the major muscles in your quads and glutes, which is great for boosting your metabolism and burning calories well beyond your ride! But because of the extra effort on the legs, you want to make sure you really stretch out those hamstrings, Achilles, glutes and do some hip openers like figure-four stretches or lunges. We also focus on relieving tension in the neck and shoulders and doing some deep breathing exercises to bring your heart rate down. As tempting as it may be to cut out of class early during the cool down and stretching period, don’t! We put just as much thought into our stretches as we do our sprints and upper body workouts! So stick it out all the way and if your class doesn’t include stretching, make sure you take a few minutes to cool down and stretch those legs. You earned it!

*StarCycle news! Moone and Del Carlo will open their Timberland Town Center studio in Southwest Portland/Beaverton before the end of March, and have franchised a new studio in the Vancouver/Camas are, set to debut in April 2015.

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