Indoor Cycling Workouts

Get your heart pumping and build strength with these 3 training plans for all fitness levels.

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Person pedaling on a stationary bike in a sunny indoor space.

No matter your fitness goals, indoor cycling is a low-impact workout that boosts stamina and builds strength. And it’s great for all fitness levels.

For beginners, stationary cycling provides a chance to get acquainted with how the pedals move, how to shift gears and how to grip the handlebars while in different riding positions, says Jacque Crockford, who has a doctorate in health science and exercise leadership and is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). For riders with more experience, stationary workouts are great for improving cardiovascular fitness and leg strength without worrying about stop signs or errant tree roots.

But don’t just hop on the stationary bike and expect to blast the calories. You can get more out of your workout if you have a plan in mind, Crockford says. Crockford designed these three workouts below to complement one another. Think of them as a pyramid, each building on the next:

  • a longer endurance ride to help build foundational fitness 
  • a strength ride to help build muscle
  • a speed ride to help you get used to increasing intensity for a short duration

She adds in core work at the end of each training session “because your core is what’s going to hold you up and stabilize you on the bike while your legs are doing all of that great movement.” For maximum benefits, aim to complete this trifecta of workouts once per week.

Before You Get Started

Before beginning any training plan, check in with your doctor or a certified training professional.

The workouts below are suitable for any kind of indoor cycling set up. Monitor your heart rate zone by your ability to talk in full sentences. If you can do this without pausing, you’re in Zone 1. If you struggle to say five words at a time, you’re in Zone 3. (More info here.) You’ll also see references to revolutions per minute (RPMs), which most stationary bikes track. If yours doesn’t, consider investing in a cadence sensor or using songs as a baseline.

Tip: You can often find songs by their RPMs by searching online and also on music services. The right music, at the right speed, is a huge motivator to keep you going. Find or create a playlist of tunes that are the right beat for your cadence throughout the workout.

The Endurance Ride

Key benefit: Helps you go farther and longer

In this endurance ride, you pedal continuously for a long time at a lower effort level—and eventually longer, as your fitness improves. While that might not seem terribly exciting, it is terribly important. “Continuous pedaling really gives you the opportunity to focus on your form, focus on your technique and do it the right way so that when you get to those hill climbs and speed workouts, you’re prepared,” Crockford says.

First, ensure your foot is in the correct position with the pedal directly underneath the ball of your foot (note that this will be automatic if you’re clipped in). When pedaling, be sure to use your hamstrings (the muscles at the back of the thigh) to pull back as your foot comes down and back, through the pedal stroke, and up again as the pedal returns to it high point. “I coach people to pretend like they’re getting gum off the bottom of their shoe at the bottom of the pedal stroke, so that way their foot stays neutral, their heel isn’t dropping way down [and] their toe isn’t pointing way down.”

The Warm-up

5 minutes of continuous pedaling

  • Cadence: 70 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

The Workout

The Slow Burn

45 minutes of continuous pedaling

  • Cadence: 90-100 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

The Cool Down

5 minutes of continuous pedaling

  • Cadence: 70 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

The Mat Work

Perform each of the following exercises on each side for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.

The Strength Ride

Key benefit: Strengthens your legs and core for everyday life

Strength workouts tend to be butt-kickers, but in the best way possible, Crockford says. “The intervals are a bit longer—as well as the recovery between each interval. But over time, you’ll begin to recover faster, which will help you be able to go longer and farther on those endurance rides.”

Crockford designed this strength ride as a classic interval workout. You alternate positions, spending time standing on your pedals, out of the saddle; and also seated in the traditional cycling position. Focus on using your hamstrings to pull up on the pedal during the back of the pedal stroke, as mentioned earlier. Adjust the bike’s resistance accordingly so that you can maintain the suggested RPMs while remaining in the HR zone described.

The Warm-up

5 minutes of continuous pedaling

  • Cadence: 70 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

The Workout

Hill #1

5 minutes (last minute out of the saddle)

  • Cadence: 80 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 3

5 minutes in the saddle

  • Cadence: 70 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

Hill #2

5 minutes (last minute out of the saddle)

  • Cadence: 90 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 3

5 minutes in the saddle

  • Cadence: 70 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

Hill #3

5 minutes (last minute out of the saddle)

  • Cadence: 100 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 3

5 minutes in the saddle

  • Cadence: 70 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

The Cool Down

5 minutes of continuous pedaling

  • Cadence: 70 rpm
  • Heart rate: zone 1

The Mat Work

Perform each exercise on each side for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.

The Speed Ride

Key benefit: Boosts performance in other endeavors (jumping, sprinting, etc.) that require use of fast-twitch muscles

Increasing your speed is akin to increasing your revolutions per minute, which in turn strengthens the fast-twitch muscle fibers responsible for jumping and sprinting, Crockford says. Getting faster on a bike can help you in all sorts of ways—it can help you sprint after the bus you just missed, perform better in your recreational baseball league, or just keep up with your kids as they run around the backyard. “These workouts will get into the higher end of our cardiovascular zone,” Crockford says. “You’re getting a little bit more training past your lactate threshold for a shorter period of time, then coming down and recovering.”

The Warm-up

5 minutes of continuous pedaling

  • Cadence: 70 RPMs
  • Heart rate: Zone 1

The Workout

Sprint/Recovery Repeats

Repeat the folllowing sequence 10 times: 1 minute sprint, 2 minutes recovery

1 minute sprint

  • Cadence: Up to 120 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 3

2 minutes recovery

  • Cadence: 80 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

The Cool Down

5 minutes of continuous pedaling

  • Cadence: 70 RPMs
  • Heart rate: zone 1

The Mat Work

Perform each exercise on each side for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.

Article written by Courtney Holden. Courtney moved to Boulder, Colorado, to pursue her dream of hiking, biking, skiing and writing about it. So far, things are working out. In the past four years, she’s transitioned from 100-mile days on her road bike to backpacking with a stuffed rabbit, Tonka truck and toddler in tow. Her husband comes, too. She confesses to preferring Diet Coke to craft beer. REI member since 2011.