How to Survive Your First Indoor Cycling Class

Ah, indoor biking. You can burn over 600 calories in 45 minutes, but you'll work for every single one of those. Which makes indoor cycling classes a catch-22: they're a killer workout, but downright intimidating if you're not a pro. I sort of love that wobbly feeling you leave a gym cycling session with — you know you gave it your all, and you have no excuse not to splurge with a little chocolate bar on your way home. But whether it's a zen, dance-y or hardcore athletic class, indoor biking can soundly kick your ass, leaving you winded and sore for days.

Fear not, cycling newbies: We turned to the pros at Flywheel, who'll get even the most timid novice psyched about the bike. Follow these tips from master instructor Danielle Devine-Baum, and you'll kill it in class and be jonesing for another ride the next day.

Fuel your ride.

Don't ever bike on an empty stomach — your best best is to eat a little something about an hour before you ride. "A great option is something simple that includes a carbohydrate and some protein, such as nut butter on whole grain bread," says Devine-Baum. "In a pinch, bananas are a great and filling go-to." And, obviously, don't forget to hydrate all day leading up to your workout!

Wear what makes you feel good.

"Indoor cycling is all about feeling great about yourself, so wear something that makes you feel like your best self!" says Devine-Baum. "That said, avoid extremely loose-fitted clothing, which can interfere with the bike." And don't forget a headband or bandanna: "You will sweat! If you have longer hair, a bandana will keep your hair tamed and sweat out of your eyes."

Ask questions.

If your bike isn't set up right, not only will you be uncomfortable, you're not going to get the body benefits. Don't be afraid to ask for help! "It’s crucial to let your instructor know if you're new at indoor cycling, since bike setup is so important," explains Devine-Baum. "The most common mistake I see involves the height of the seat — make sure you do not have an extreme bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke, it should be a very slight bend. And handlebars are all about comfort level. If you have any kind of back issue or are a beginner, I’d suggest keeping the handle bars a little higher."

Don't cheat!

In every indoor cycling class, your instructor will talk about resistance, and how heavy the pedals should feel. Sometimes, it's easy to go lighter than they suggest, but, again, you're just cheating yourself out of the benefits of the class. "Generally, the right resistance for you will be challenging but something you can hold," says Devine-Baum. "When you push intervals, you should be bought to the point of breathlessness." Flywheel has technology that allows riders to adjust their resistance (they call it torq) to a specific number in a range that the instructor suggests. "It takes the guessing out of indoor cycling and allows riders to know exactly how hard they're working." If you do feel any discomfort in your joints, pay attention: "That might be a red flag that either your bike set up is off, or that your form might need a tweak."

Focus on your ride.

When you're huffing and puffing and then look over and see the girl next to you riding with nary a sign of sweat, it's like uuugh. But, "fitness is about getting strong and bettering yourself, regardless of where you are when you begin," reminds Devine-Baum. "Experiencing a new workout can be intimidating, but know that at some point everybody was new. Flywheel studios are dimly lit to allow riders to forget about others in the class and focus on their workout; it’s just you and the instructor. It is up to you to control how hard you work."

Go back!

"It is completely normal to feel discomfort and/or soreness if you’re riding for the first time. Make sure to drink during and before your ride to avoid feeling dehydrated, and enjoy the post-ride endorphin high!" says Devine-Baum. "After you ride a few times, you will learn to use your abdominals for support and sit lightly in your saddle. Your form will continue to get better. When riders see their progress and see that they are getting stronger, they're motivated to return time and time again."

Image: Igor Mojzes/Fotolia