Indoor Cycling 101 – Resistance and Cadence

Indoor cycling is an effective, low-impact way to break a sweat, but you want to make sure you are getting the most out of every session. Like I say it is a democracy in my session, I suggest the speed via the song and the resistance, you decide if you wish to do the work.

Training principles apply to indoor cycling sessions Individuality, specificity, adaptability, progressive overload, adaptation, recovery, reversibility (more on these in another post). Working against an opposing force builds muscle, so in order to increase your strength capacity, you need to add resistance. Pedaling with very low resistance may feel like you’re working hard because you’re moving so fast, but it will do little to strengthen and tone your legs. This is the SAID principle – SPECIFIC ADAPTATION TO IMPOSED DEMAND. You however do not want the resistance so high that you can’t move the bike at the required speed. It is important to make sure your bike is properly set up at the start of your ride and you are in the correct posture.

Resistance

I prefer to look at the resistance on an indoor bicycle on a scale of 1-10. 1 being almost no resistance and 10 being where you cannot move the bike. The bicycle may have and usually has more capacity than us riders. The resistance is based on feel rather than a dial on the bike, so each rider can choose resistance based on their current ability. To make it easier to understand see the table below.

Instruction Resistance LevelResistance CategoryTerrain Comparison
1LightAlmost no resistance
2LightFree-wheeling downhill
3Light to ModerateFlat road
4Light to ModerateSlight incline
5ModerateSlight to Moderate incline
6Moderate – HeavyModerate incline
7HeavyModerate to Steep incline
8Very HeavySteep incline
9 Rock climbing
10 Stop

I rarely dial the resistance up to 8 and never get to 9 or 10. Understanding the resistance and getting a feel for your current work capacity allows you to experience the session at the intensity which the instructor or designer intended.

Speed

Don’t let the bike ride you. Majority of indoor bikes have a fixed flywheel that gives some assistance when one rides. Riding with little or no resistance means the bike is doing a lot of the work.

You could be sweating by moving your legs quickly but doing very little work. There are times where you will want to focus on speed. Music plays a big role in how we determine the speed at which to pedal.

It is recommended that we pedal at the following cadence

  • Flat Roads: 80 – 110 RPM
  • Hills 60 – 80 RPM

RPE – Rate of Perceived Exertion

As it is with many things the key is balance. Finding the right mix of resistance and speed. You need to be moving your legs fast enough, with the right amount of resistance, to increase the amount of work you are doing overall. The work is usually referred to as RPE – Rate of Perceived Exertion. This is how hard you feel like you are working. A Light resistance with Low speed will be low on the RPE, a heavy resistance with higher speed will result in a high RPE.

The scale for RPE goes from Easy – Moderate – Hard – Very Hard depending on the combination of resistance and speed from the instructor.