Indoor Cycling Classes versus Elliptical Training
Which Cardio is Right for You?
When you walk into a commercial gym, you're assalted with choices: weights, cables, machines, classes, and more. The thing is, all you really want is an efficient solution to something that's been nagging you for years: you don't want to get winded when walking up a flight of stairs, across a long parking lot, or standing in line for a ride at Disneyland.
With that mindset, it's hard to wrap your head around the variety of choices at big gyms, especially when it comes to cardio. At a typical gym, you'll find treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines, rowers, recumbant bikes, stair steppers, and more. You also have the option of taking a variety of group classes. For the sake of this article, we're going to focus on two of the most popular cardio methods: indoor cycling classes and elliptical training.
What is Elliptical Training?
Elliptical machines provide a low-impact cardio workout that is intended to simulate a variety of movements, including walking, running, climbing, and stepping. They can be used by beginners and advanced fitness enthusiasts alike, providing results through both high intensity and steady, prolonged training sets. Elliptical machines also have the added benefit of working the lower and upper body at the same time, rather than steppers, treadmills, and stationary bikes which only work the lower body.
What are Indoor Cycling Classes?
While elliptical training can provide a great cardio workout through routines in the elliptical machine's computer or regimens you make up yourself, nothing beats the motivation provided by fitness classes. Indoor cycling classes were some of the first to be widely used; instructors have been creating awesome cardio routines since the 1980's. Indoor cycling creates a realistic outdoor bike feel through the use of a weighted flywheel which provides momentum. This real-world feel, combined with heart pumping interval training, instructor motivation, and bumping music can make anyone sweat buckets.
Indoor Cycling Classes vs Elliptical Training
Now that you have a little background, let's compare the two fitness training methods and see which one is right for you.
If you've never exercised much before, chances are that you don't know how to push yourself. Instructors are helpful in this regard because they can give you target heart rates, breathing rythems, and other verbal cues to get your heart pumping. Elliptical machines typically have a computer that guides you through hills or sprints, but it won't encourage you like a person will. Which situation do you think would be more motivating, a blinking LED telling you that you have 15 seconds of level 5 left, or a sweaty, motivated instructor pushing you through the workout while they demonstrate themselves?
During indoor cycling classes, you control the resistance of your indoor cycle, making the workout harder or easier as you go. While you can follow the instructor exactly, you could "cheat" if you want to and make it easier for yourself by reducing the resistance when necessary. Even so, indoor cycling classes can be too much work for someone who has never worked out with high intensity before. In this case, elliptical training may be a better, easier solution. The low impact of the elliptical motion is easy on the joints and you can control the workout however you see fit. You can also stop whenever you want without the perceived embarrassment of bowing out of a class early (in fact, there may be a line behind you for your ellipitcal machine anyways).
While indoor cycles are intended to simulate road bikes, they don't typically require any balance. The majority of the them are fixed into place, meaning that anyone can hop on and go for a "ride" without any previous experience. Some indoor cycles, like the Evo Fitness Bike, do require some balance, upper body, and core stability, but even those are easy to ride. Likewise, elliptical machines require no previous experience and almost anyone can start using one without instruction. For this reason, skill level is not relevant when comparing these cardio methods.
Depending on your gym and the time you want to workout, both indoor cycling classes and elliptical machines may or may not be available. Since both are very popular, you may find lines for elliptical machines or indoor cycling classes that are too full to fit you in. If this is the case, I suggest you try to reserve a spot in the indoor cycling class; most gyms never allow you to reserve ellitpicals. Nothing is more demotivating than dragging yourself to the gym only to find nothing available!
As with any training method, you get back what you put in. If you're simply looking to lose a few pounds and increase your conditioning levels, you'll get the most results with the method that you will do the most consistently for the longest period of time. If using an elliptical machine for 20 minutes a day is doable, you'll get results from that. If being motivated on a regular basis by indoor cycling classes, you'll get results from that as well. What you really need to ask yourself (at this level), is "What can I see myself doing for four weeks straight?" That's about the minimum time you need to commit to any given method to achieve some measurable results.
If you're looking for specific performance results, you may need to evaluate the methods differently. For example, if you want to prepare yourself for an outdoor obstacle race, chances are that the elliptical machine will not prepare you sufficiently. Indoor cycling classes provide high intensity strength and conditioning sets. If you do them consistently, you'll be ready to sprint, climb hills, and push yourself through difficult situations.
Which One Should You Choose?
There are many factors you can consider when you decide to start a new training method, however, the only important aspect is this: Are you willing to commit to this for any meaningful amount of time? If you can figure that out, choosing between indoor cycling classes and elliptical training will be easy.