Over the past few months, I’ve had a lot of brand new people try my Friday 5pm indoor cycling class for the first time. The conversation before class starts is always the same: the new person is always super nervous and unsure if they will be able to get through the class, while I reassure them that they’ll be absolutely fine. I then help them set up properly on their bikes, explain a few basic concepts, and ask them if they have any questions. I always want my newbies to feel as comfortable as possible before starting class so they are set up for success and continue coming to class for the long haul.
Today I want to share a list of tips geared toward those new to indoor cycling because that first class can definitely be super intimidating. From adjusting the seat and handlebars, to clipping in and out of the pedals, to keeping up with the beat of the music, there’s a lot going on! Here are my personal tips for ensuring your first indoor cycling ride is a smooth one.
7 Tips for Your First Indoor Cycling Class
1. Dress for success.
Choose clothes and footwear that will make your first ride comfortable. Since you are guaranteed to get sweaty, moisture wicking tops will help you keep cool. For bottoms, I prefer to ride in three-quarter length cropped pants. If you’d rather wear shorts, the padded kind aren’t the most attractive, but will be much more comfortable than regular shorts are. I do recommend staying away from anything super baggy, as I find the excess material tends to get in the way as I’m moving through different positions on the bike.
2. Choose proper footwear.
For shoes, I recommend calling the gym or studio ahead of time to ask about what kind of pedals their bikes have. Most studios will have bikes with pedals made for special clip in cycling shoes. If you don’t have cycling shoes, ask if the bike pedals have the option to strap in regular sneakers. Some places do and some don’t, so you will want to be prepared. If you end up wearing regular sneakers, choose ones that have a hard sole for the best support. You can also ask the studio if they rent shoes. Most boutique studios do and might offer you a free shoe rental for your first class. Last year I bit the bullet and purchased my own pair of indoor cycling shoes, and I can honestly say that the quality of my rides has totally changed. The arches in my feet are a lot less sore as well. For local readers, I recommend Farina’s in Watertown. They are fabulous!
3. Make sure to fuel and hydrate properly.
I don’t recommend going into class on an empty stomach. Since most indoor cycling classes are 45-60 minutes long, you will need some fuel in the tank to power you through the class. I personally recommend eating a nutritious pre-workout snack about 60-90 minutes prior to the start of class so that you have the energy necessary, but also some time to digest. On days where I don’t have time to eat until right before class, I just opt for something smaller such as half a banana or a homemade energy ball. Make sure to also drink plenty of water before, during, and after the class.
4. Get to class early and introduce yourself to the instructor.
I can’t stress this one enough: if you are new, do not arrive right as class is starting. You will want some extra buffer time to arrive, park, check in, get your bearings, choose a bike, and get acclimated. Absolutely introduce yourself to the instructor, and don’t be shy about it! Tell them it’s your first class, and ask for assistance with bike setup. A good instructor will be psyched you are trying class for the first time and should be more than happy to help you. However, if you arrive late, it will be hard for the instructor to get class started on time while simultaneously giving you a little extra individualized attention.
5. Don’t let the bike intimidate you.
It can definitely be overwhelming to figure out not only where the seat and handlebars should be positioned, but simply what knobs and pieces of the bike control what. This is definitely something that the instructor should assist you with at the beginning of class and why you should arrive early, but here are some basic rules of thumb for bike setup:
- Seat height: When standing next to the bike, your seat should be at hip height. Once seated on the bike, your leg should be bent at a 25-30 degree angle at the bottom of your pedal stroke. The knee bent at the top, should align over your ankle as if it would when in a squat. The extended leg should never be locked out at the knee. If it is, you may need to lower your seat.
- Handlebar and seat distance: A good trick for this is the forearm test: place your elbow at the front tip of the seat and then move the seat forward or backward until your fingertips just touch the handlebars. When your arms are stretched forward while in the seat, your elbows should never be locked out. If they are, you may need to move the seat closer to the handlebars.
- Handle bar height: Just play with it so that it feels comfortable to you! The lower the handlebars are, the more strain on your lower back, but you don’t want them too high that it’s hard to reach all the way out.
- Shoe clip in: I remember being SO nervous the first time I ever had to clip in with indoor cycling shoes. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to get back out, but I survived just fine. Clip in one foot at a time by pointing your toe downward on top of the pedal until you feel your shoe clip in. To undo this, use some force and basically push your heel outward so it unclips. If you can’t get it, don’t worry – just take your foot out of your shoe. This is something that will get easier with time and practice, I promise!
6. Learn the lingo.
Every studio and instructor will be a bit different, but it can help to understand some of the common words you might hear during a class prior to taking your first class. Here are some of the basics:
- Gear: This is how much tension or resistance you have on the bike, typically controlled by a knob or lever at the front of the bike. During class, the instructor will give you some gear/resistance numbers to try to match, depending on whether they want you to feel like you are either climbing up a hill or riding at a faster pace on a flat road. Depending on the bike technology, sometimes these numbers are ones that display on the bike, but other times they are more subjective and according to your own level of perceived exertion.
- RPM: RPM stands for revolutions per minute, or how fast you are going. Another word that instructors might use for how fast you are going is cadence.
- Watts: Watts are a unit of measurement that measure your power output while riding. Some people confuse cadence and wattage, but the best way to differentiate is that watts are more about your overall intensity (combo of resistance and speed) whereas the cadence is more about how fast you turn the pedals on the bike.
- Position: A lot of indoor cycling classes will have you moving and jumping all over the bike, especially if the class is more choreography based rather than one that mimics an outdoor ride. Your position on the bike refers to both where your hands are placed on the handlebars as well as whether you are in or out of the seat, and this is something the instructor should explain at the beginning of class. You will often hear first position for in the seat, second position for standing upright, and third for extending your arms out on the handlebars with the hips over the seat.
- Saddle: Just another word for the seat!
7. Do what works for you.
Finally, one thing I always tell my newbies is to not expect perfection on day one. I actually think it takes at least three classes to not only somewhat get the hang of it, but also for your crotch to get used to the seat. Not sure how else to say that, but it’s true! Practice over time will help you get better, but for your first few classes just remember that everyone is there for their own ride and was new to class once. Once the lights go down, just get lost in the music and take it at your own pace. Nobody cares what you do! If you want to stay in the seat the entire class instead of jumping around, then so be it. If you aren’t exactly on the beat, it doesn’t matter. Also, you have full control over how much resistance you apply to the ride. It’s perfectly fine to be more conservative with your effort if you are not ready to work at the level your instructor is recommending. Their instructions are always just a guide, and you should most definitely scale in either direction. Just make sure you have enough gear on that bike so that you are always “feeling the road.” If you don’t, you’ll end up like my husband did during his first spin class. 😉
I hope these tips help you feel more confident going in to your first group indoor cycling class! If you ever want to try a class with me, let me know. I am more than happy to get you a guest pass and help you through your first indoor cycling experience.
Feel free to leave a comment below sharing any first time indoor cycling stories or other tips for newbies I may have missed!