Indoor Cycling, America's Hottest Fitness Craze, Geared for the Conditioned, New ACE Study Finds

Posted: Oct 19, 1997 in

SAN DIEGO - Promoted as a "workout for all fitness levels," group indoor cycling, commonly referred to as "Spinning," can be too intense for beginning exercisers, according to a new research study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

The study, conducted by the exercise physiology laboratory at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), and reported in the November/December issue of ACE FitnessMatters, warns that the intensity level of group indoor cycling may go far beyond what most novices or part time exercisers can handle and possibly subject them to dangerous overexertion.

"Pressure to keep up with better-conditioned classmates and direction from instructors to keep the pace compounds the problem by pushing beginners beyond their physical abilities," said Richard Cotton, editor of ACE FitnessMatters. "Beginners shouldn’t be discouraged if they can’t keep up with the rest of the class and they can protect themselves by staying within their limit, in some cases, by tuning in more to their bodies than to a passionate, but overzealous instructor," Cotton added.

Researchers put five participants of various fitness levels through a 30-minute, standardized indoor cycling workout. Each participant was given the same instruction in order to reproduce the wide variety of fitness levels an instructor might encounter in a typical class. (A good instructor, however, will modify the class to accommodate both beginners and more advanced participants.)

CSUN researchers found the heart rates of each of the subjects to be between 75 percent and 96 percent of age-predicted heart-rate maximum, with the majority of the time spent on the higher end of the range. More significant is how difficult participants perceived the workout to be. Regardless of fitness level, test subjects on average rated their perception of the workout as an 18 or 19 on the Borg Perceived Exertion Scale* (which rates physical exertion on a scale from six to 20, or zero to 10) -- a level not only uncomfortable for the low-fit, but perhaps dangerous for people not medically cleared for exercise.

The high intensity levels that make these classes difficult for novices is also what makes them an effective, rewarding exercise for the very fit. The caloric consumption of each study participant ranged from 7.5 to 19 calories per minute (caloric consumption depends on intensity, fitness and body size), equal to a 150-pound person running a seven-minute mile. Indoor cycling burns about the same number of calories as those burned in a typical step class. Compared to running or step aerobics, however, indoor cycling is a considerably lower-impact exercise.

Beyond the lab setting, ACE sent out 10 of its certified fitness professionals and 10 non-professionals (consumers) to participate in indoor cycling classes throughout the country. All participants (20) responded that instructors offered adequate pre-class instruction on how to use the equipment. However, more than half (12) responded that instructors should provide better directions on how to monitor and modify the intensity of the workout.

"Harder and faster is not always better," said Jeff Vandiver, an ACE-certified professional who runs an independent cycling education program. "Find a certain [heart rate] zone and stay there for a certain period of time...and build strength."

Responding to consumers’ growing confusion over misleading fitness claims and a surge in home fitness equipment offerings, ACE continues to be a reliable, unbiased source of credible information to help people cut through the clutter and enjoy safe and effective physical activity. ACE publishes these findings in ACE FitnessMatters, available for just $25 a year.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. As the nation’s “workout watchdog,” ACE conducts university-based research and testing that targets fitness products and trends. ACE sets standards for fitness professionals and is the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certifying organization. For more information on ACE and its programs, call (800) 825-3636 or log onto the ACE Web site at

To learn more about the Borg Perceived Exertion Scale visit the ACE Web site at Information is located in ACE Fit Facts, click on "all article listing" and select Monitoring Exercise Intensity Using Perceived Exertion.

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