I tried indoor cycling for a month - and these are the benefits I experienced

Indoor cycling has so many benefits and can be the key to keeping up your fitness, as health editor Grace Walsh discovered after 4 weeks

View of woman's hands over the handlebars of a bike on a trainer against a blank wall, representing the benefits of indoor cycling
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many people have started to look at indoor cycling in a new light in recent years, thanks in part to the pandemic introducing us all to new ways of exercising. As health editor at woman&home, I've always been familiar with platforms like Peloton and Zwift but never given them much thought. Although I love spinning, I didn't see the point of simulated cycling outdoors, indoors, when you could be outside. 

However, I recently had the chance to test out the Zwift Hub Smart Trainer. Somewhat sceptically I went into the trial, considering that I spend a lot of time cycling outdoors, and committed myself to the platform for a month to see if it could help improve my fitness and be part of my regular routine - and I was surprised by the results. 

Here, we speak to a personal trainer and cycling specialist about all the many benefits of indoor cycling you can expect to experience if you're interested in trying it out. Whether you're looking to do cycling as a workout from the comfort of your own home or start spinning for weight loss, this is what you need to know. 

Benefits of indoor cycling

1. Indoor cycling is a full mind and body workout

Simply put, if you're looking to improve your fitness as part of a lifestyle change, indoor cycling is the perfect activity. It's not necessarily better than running, walking, or swimming, for instance, it's just another great option. 

"There are a myriad of benefits you get, such as improved cardiovascular fitness, a great variety of workouts, mental health benefits, and increased lower body strength," says Elle Linton.

I've been cycling indoors on the Zwift Hub Smart Trainer for the last four weeks every other day and it's completely changed my routine for the better. Not only is Zwift one of the best workout apps overall thanks to its video game-like function and great connectivity, but the great variety of workouts has kept me interested for longer than I initially thought it would. 

Naturally, one of the other key benefits of indoor cycling is that most people do it from home in a private space, so if you feel nervous about cycling on busy roads, running as a beginner or going to a gym, it could be a good place to start. 

Woman experiencing benefits of indoor cycling with trainer and screen at home

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. It's a low-impact activity

When it comes to cycling vs running, the main difference is in the impact the activity has on our bodies. Running is high impact, meaning it can take a toll on our bones, muscles, and joints over time, increasing the potential for injury. Cycling is low impact as your feet don't hit the ground.

"This means it's a great sport to enjoy when you're injured or trying to look after your joints," says Linton. "Plus, you don't need any other experience than being able to pedal."

Personally, I run almost every day and I feel a lot of this impact on my hips, knees, and ankles, so I'll be working some indoor cycling sessions into my routine in the months to come to try and give myself a break.  

3. It's great for beginners

Recently, I purchased my first-ever road bike. Before this, I mainly cycled as part of a spinning for weight loss programme or on a stationary bike at the gym. I've run around a few times on friends' bikes but nothing quite like a proper road bike - with drop handlebars, shifters, and a larger range of gears. 

Needless to say, the last couple of weeks have been a task of learning how to use my new ride and start cycling for beginners again. Drop handlebars, brakes, gears and all. This is where I found my indoor cycling trainer to come in unexpectedly useful. The trainer automatically adjusts the difficulty of the ride based on the 'terrain' and 'elevation' of the cycling route you've chosen and you can shift between the gears on your bike just as you can on the road in 'real life', so it's a safe and stress-free way to practice. 

"Using indoor trainers can be a great way for newcomers to get to grips with cycling and to learn about building fitness for the sport," says Linton. "Using indoor cycling apps like Zwift, Wahoo, Strava, and so on, are also great for recording and monitoring your training and progress."

That being said though, there is one key downside to indoor cycling linked to this benefit. "There are some things you won't be able to learn from indoor cycling, such as building confidence on the road, group riding skills, or working on core strength and balance," the personal trainer tells us. "Sometimes, the tech side of things can be a lot to get your head around [too], but there are plenty of different platforms to try. So, switch it up until you find the one that suits you best. And there’s usually a women-specific social space (e.g. on Facebook) for each platform where you can ask any questions you have, to get help setting up." 

4. Indoor cycling is great for improving your fitness

Cycling does require you to go relatively far (or fast, you choose) to make any progress. While cycling around your local area on two wheels will get you out of the house, it's likely you'll need to go a little bit further if you want to get fit with cycling. You'll need to be able to pick up the pace, tackle some hills, and practice downhill gradients to truly experience all the overall benefits of cycling

As a lifelike simulation of a real bike ride, you can do all of this using a cycling trainer at home. Alternatively, going for an indoor cycling brand like Peloton, which I've also tried and tested previously, keeps you accountable and moving through trainer-to-trainee interaction and motivation. 

When cycling indoors, you can also push for harder sessions - meaning you don't have to work out for as long - as you don't have to face navigating traffic on the roads and these shorter sessions are hugely beneficial, Linton says. 

"Shorter, harder sessions will have you working in specific 'zones' like threshold for endurance," she says. "Each has their own fitness benefits and wearing a heart rate monitor while working out will ensure you hit the zone efforts." 

Woman leaning over stationary bike on trainer looking at screen while cycling

(Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Indoor cycling is time efficient

Indoor cycling can be a particularly great workout if you're short on time, says Linton. "You can dial up the intensity in a shorter time for greater gains in your fitness," she explains. As you don't have to battle with traffic on the roads, you can accelerate and ride at a higher speed, pushing yourself physically harder during your session. 

You can also just jump on the bike and go, that's one of the many benefits of indoor cycling. No need to worry about mapping a route, not leaving yourself enough time to complete your session, or having to travel over to a cycling studio for a spin workout, meaning you can make the most of your hour or less in the saddle. 

This is especially true for the likes of Peloton - one of the best workout apps around as tried and tested by woman&home - and similar stationary bike workouts where you don't even have to tackle the setup of a bike trainer. Turn on the bike and go. 

6. It can help you build a community

As a sport, cycling is one of the most community-driven activities out there. You only have to look to those who believe Peloton is worth it still in 2023 to see that, as the brand has fostered a community of dedicated millions around cycling all over the world in just a few years. If you get into indoor cycling, chances are, you'll find yourself linking up with friends who love it too or joining your local cycling club to find others to ride with. 

I found that apps like Zwift make this easier. Having used my trainer for the past four weeks, it's an unexpected benefit I didn't see coming. As you ride through the virtual worlds on Zwift, you'll see other Zwifters around the real world (with a flag and username next to their avatar) on the same track as you. These are real people, doing just as you are. Join a public ride or create a private one and gather your friends together who also have Zwift and you can ride together side-by-side virtually, message via the box on the screen, and see where you place in the rankings next to them. When I did this with my friends, I ended up staying on the bike for two hours - a lot longer than any other session. 

The benefits of social community in exercise for our motivation levels is well-researched too, with studies from Oslo Metropolitan University and the University of Missouri finding that adults who work out with their friends or as part of a group are more likely to stick at it than those who go it alone. 

It's also something that coach Linton recommends. "Train with friends and find a community [if you're going to start cycling indoors," she tells me. "Cycling with others will help add fun to your training and, most importantly, keep you motivated to continue."

Is 20 minutes of cycling indoors enough?

You certainly don't need to cycle every day to get the benefits of indoor cycling. Cycling for as little as 20 minutes per session can help you see many of the major benefits of indoor cycling, Linton confirms. "You can start with as little as 20 minutes per session up to around 45 minutes if you're new to indoor cycling workouts," she says. 

But how long you spend each week really is determined by what time you have available and what other training you’re doing, she notes. "You can even see a benefit from as little as one 30-minute cycling workout each week, mixed in with your other workouts." 

If you're looking to start indoor cycling though, be sure to build up gradually. "As with any sport, in order to avoid overtraining or injury, you should build up your distance and time spent on the bike gradually," says the coach. "Following a training plan for your fitness level should also help with this as you'll be able to build in some rest days. Always listen to your body."

Tips for cycling indoors

  • Make sure your space is ventilated: "Get a fan," suggests Linton. "I promise you, no matter how cold it is or how well-ventilated your space is, indoor cycling gets sweaty...quickly."
  • Stay comfortable: Equally setting up your bike for ultimate comfort will be the way forward. "Whether you’re using your bike indoors or are on an indoor bike, it should always be comfortable and this includes the saddle. If you’re experiencing any discomfort in areas such as knees, lower back or shoulders then you might need to tweak your set-up," she says. 
  • But expect some discomfort at the beginning: Most of us are not sitting down on a saddle for hours at a time - and if you are, you're probably used to it by now. "At the start, a little bit of saddle discomfort is not unusual but this should settle once your body gets used to being in the saddle. Padded shorts and chamois cream are your best friends!"
Elle Linton
Elle Linton

Elle Linton is an Essex based personal trainer, cycling coach, running coach and menopause coaching specialist with over 18 years of experience in the fitness industry. 

Also a writer and the creator of the award winning health and fitness blog, keep it simpElle. She’s a runner and a cyclist who likes to keep mixing up the way she moves whilst sharing her passion for movement through writing.  

Grace Walsh
Health Channel Editor

Grace Walsh is woman&home's Health Channel Editor, working across the areas of fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental health, relationships, and sex. She is also a qualified fitness instructor. In 2024, she will be taking on her second marathon in Rome, cycling from Manchester to London (350km) for charity, and qualifying as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. 

A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace has covered (almost) everything in the world of health and wellbeing with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more.