Posted by: Jennifer Sage | March 20, 2009

Using indoor cycling to train for an epic outdoor ride?

Some people might think it’s crazy to use indoor cycling to train for outdoor riding. And I’m not talking about setting up my road bike on a trainer or a computrainer that measures my wattage. It’s not that I wouldn’t like a computrainer, or at least a power meter. I would. But more on that later.

I’m talking about a Spinning bike, or similar.

A purist cyclist would say, “I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Spinning class. Nothing they do would help me on my bike!”

And in many cases, they would unfortunately be correct.

I teach Spinning 4 times per week, and some of you know, I am a Master Instructor (MI) for the Spinning program, which means I certify instructors, teach Continuing Education and present at fitness and Spinning conferences. In fact I recently came back from presenting at ECA New York a large fitness conference in NYC.

As an MI since 1998, I’ve traveled all around the country training instructors. And I’ve seen some, well, I have to be blunt here….I’ve seen some real shit that is taught in so called “Spinning” classes. Crazy, psycho Spin. Classes that have no resemblance to anything you’d do on a real bike. Aerobics-on-a-bike. Dangerous and just-plain silly moves. Instructors who know nothing about cycling, and little about physiology and training principles pushing their classes to pure-exhaustion. Legs blurring so fast it’s like the roadrunner. Jumps so fast they hardly touch the seat.

And their students love it. It’s a sad but true state of affairs about the fitness industry in the US. [Don’t get me going…I’ll have to stop there on that subject, or I’ll be writing for pages.]

It’s not “real” Spinning; that’s not what we teach in our orientations. But it doesn’t matter, instructors invent stuff on their own to be more popular, or because their students want them to “kick their butts” to the other side of town. The purist cyclist would be right, those types of classes would do little to help, and may even hinder, one’s cycling technique and performance.

However, a properly designed and taught indoor cycling class that mimics what you would do on a road bike outside can do great things for your outdoor training. There needs to be a focus on specificity of exercise, as it relates to speed of movement (i.e. a realistic cadence), resistance (what a real hill would feel like), gearing (you can only mimic gears so much) and of course, the movements/positions themselves (i.e. no squats, hovers, pushups, crazy twists and turns, super high cadence, isolations, one-legged stuff, etc). And there needs to be a solid understanding of training principles.

[Note: I write frequently about proper Spinning on my indoor cycling blog.]

In fact I wrote an ebook targeted to cyclists on how to maximize one’s potential in an indoor cycling class. I truly believe that anyone who takes any indoor cycling classes (Spinning or otherwise) who rides a bike outside can benefit from this ebook. It’s called Keep it Real, and I’ll talk more about it in another post, but for now, check here for more information. I also believe that it should be required reading for every single indoor cycling instructor. It’s far more informative than anything in the industry, including what is offered through the Spinning program. [Note: I wrote two continuing ed workshops for Spinning, one on cadence and resistance, and one on “Contraindications” – what NOT to do in Spin class. But this book goes much farther than the two of them combined.]

This passion of mine to bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor cycling led me to Gene Nacey, founder of Cycling Fusion, who, as it turns out, has the same vision. Yes, indoor cycling done right can be a fantastic way to train for outdoor riding! Read his manifesto here.

So here I am, committed to the Giretto, or Little Giro, Gene’s brainchild. He thought it would be fun to train for an epic cycling event using indoor cycling (fun?? maybe he needs his head examined. Or maybe I do as well!)

This will be Lance Armstrong’s first ever Giro, and ours as well. To celebrate, and to give us even more purpose, we’ve turned this event into a Livestrong event, raising money to find a cure for cancer. [Would you consider sponsoring me? Any little bit helps!]

This past week, I taught four 1-hour classes, and on each day, I rode an additional 30-45 minutes. This morning and last night’s class I rode at an intensity that was perhaps too high (threshold and above) for half of the class. Once a week of high-intensity intervals will be de rigeur of course; I just have to make sure I manage my intensity better in the other classes.

Tomorrow will be my first outdoor ride for my training (though much will be done indoors, riding outside is important as well). It is supposed to be very warm up here in the high-country near Vail, Colorado, so I’m planing on a 50-miler. I’ll even post photos!


  1. Good luck on your first ride – it’s ambitious as a first ride, but your level of soreness should give you a good guage of where your strengths and weaknesses are at this stage of training.

  2. […] a properly designed and taught Indoor cycling class that mimics what you would do on a road bike outside can do great things for your […]

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