Outdoor vs Indoor Cycling: Must We Choose?
By Joan Kent, PhD
Several years ago, I stumbled across an online discussion among fitness professionals about the relative merits of indoor cycling. The question that started it was, "What do you like and not like about Group Cycling most?"
Sure, I cringed at the grammar, but I cringed even more at the answers. They were all variations on a common theme:
"I want to be outdoors, but if I'm not I need great music."
"I hate to sit in one place."
"I need beautiful scenery."
"I love fresh air."
And those came from fitness professionals.
Let me point out that indoor cycling was the brain child of Johnny G, who was training for the Race Across America (RAAm) and looking for a way to stay close to home because his wife, Jody, was pregnant.
Johnny built some prototypes that were designed to feel like real bicycles. His first completed bike was so successful, he built 2 more and invited a couple of friends to train with him.
If indoor cycling was able to get Johnny through RAAm, maybe there's something to it. You think?
But Back to the Online Discussion!
All of the answers in the discussion ignored the benefits of riding indoors. So I decided to reply and address a few of them. Below is pretty much what I wrote:
Riding outdoors is fantastic. Indoor Cycling (IC) isn't meant to replace it. But IC does have some definite benefits. Here are a few.
Benefit 1. There's no riding skill involved, so everyone can participate in the same ride and feel part of a group experience without feeling inferior – or literally being left behind when the group takes off without them.
That's huge. It's also exactly what Johnny G wanted when he created Spinning®, which started the entire IC movement. It changed the industry and is still going strong.
IC is safe. That helps people with physical limitations, balance issues, low fitness levels, or no knowledge of how to ride a bike. This, of course, ties in with the first point above.
IC allows people with disabilities to participate. That's also what Kranking® – another Johnny G creation – does. Kranking gives people who can't ride a bike (those with obesity, injuries, wheelchairs, and so on) a chance to experience the excitement and camaraderie of a cycling class.
The concept is known as Inclusive Fitness.
At the suggestion and encouragement of the late and very talented Jim Karanas, Inclusive Fitness became an important feature of Johnny G's Kranking. It's also why EVERY cycling studio should have at least 2 to 4 Krankcycles® in it.
If your studio doesn't, start nagging!
And Last But Not Least
Indoor training has advantages even for the skilled outdoor cyclist because the variables – such as climbing intensity or duration – can be controlled. That allows the training intervals to be as long and as tough as the athlete wants. A knowledgeable cyclist or instructor can design intervals that are extremely difficult, so they lead to results that transfer to outdoor riding.
John Howard, 3-time Olympic cyclist, winner of 14 US national championships, and the man who set a 1985 land speed record of 152.2 mph on a bicycle, says, "Indoor cycling is not a poor substitute for the open roads and trails, but an indispensable ingredient for penetrating deeply into body/mind integration. It can actually bring benefits attainable in no other way."
Obviously, John Howard "gets" indoor cycling. And, like Johnny G, he's absolutely right about its value.
That people don't see beyond their personal preferences is somewhat myopic. When those people are fitness pros, they may be missing clear-cut advantages for their own class participants or clients.
Brought to you by Dr. Joan Kent, best-selling author of Stronger Than Sugar: 7 Simple Steps to Defeat Sugar Addiction, Lift Your Mood, and Transform Your Health. To contact Joan, just email drjoan@LastResortNutrition.com .