What Are the Best Types of Shoes for Spinning and Indoor Cycling

What Are the Best Types of Shoes for Spinning and Indoor Cycling

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Have you ever found yourself at the gym or spin class watching everyone’s feet going furiously round and round and wondered, “do I have the right shoes for this?” Exercise bikes have so many different types of set-ups and pedals; it’s no wonder we are confused!

There’s no doubt that cycling is great exercise - it has a following of famously fit celebs from Lady Gaga to Kelly Ripa. But the fact is the type of footwear you choose for your indoor cycling routine can significantly change the quality and intensity of your workout. If you’re looking for celeb-level results you’ve got to get your gear right, and that includes the shoes. 

The Pedaling Motion

It’s important to understand how you’re working and where your shoes come into play. As you go through the pedalling motion on an exercise bike upright or recumbent you have two basic things happening: push and pull.

The “push” part of your pedalling is when you push down from the top of the circle (12 o’clock) to the bottom (6 o’clock). This part works your quadriceps muscles and calves, and, depending on your position, your glutes.

The “pull” part is when you pull up from the bottom of the circle (6 o’clock) back up to the top of the circle (12 o’clock). This part gets your calves and hamstrings working, but without the right shoes and settings, you won’t get the same resistance.

The right set-up with cages or clipless pedals adds significant power and intensity by adding resistance to the “pull” motion. Since indoor cycling - especially spinning - is often about intervals and HIIT, this is a serious benefit. Same workout, same time, more power. That’s what the right shoes and pedals can do! 

Types of Pedals

There are generally three kinds of pedals you see on indoor bikes:

  • Flat Pedals: This is what you probably remember from your childhood bicycle. It’s a rectangular, flat surface that usually has some texture or treads for traction.

  • Caged Pedals: These have a small muzzle-like cage where you put the front half of your foot and use adjustable straps to secure the cage to your shoe.

  • Clipless Pedals: Despite the name, these are, in fact, the pedals you “clip in” to. They are a small, smooth pedal with less surface area than a flat or caged pedal.

Sometimes you will see a combination (like a clipless pedal with a cage) that accommodates any kind of athletic shoe. When it comes to the quality of your workout, a clipless pedal is the best, and a flat pedal is the worst. This is because the clipless pedal gives you the most leverage throughout your entire pedal stroke.

But what are the best shoes for the job?

1. Sneakers

Sneakers like those used for running, walking, or playing basketball can be used on most indoor bikes. This is a safe bet for anyone who is planning on an indoor cycling session. You can technically wear sneakers when riding a bike that has clipless pedals and ride it like a flat pedal bike.

The only issue with this is that clipless pedals are smaller and slicker than flat pedals so your sneakers may slip if you try standing up or vigorous pedalling. Just use caution if wearing sneakers on clipless pedals.

Pros: They can work with nearly any type of pedal. They are comfortable. Can be used for other forms of exercise.

Cons: They do not allow the rider to clip in on clipless pedals. They may be a bit clunky and difficult to fit into caged pedals.

Pedals that can work with a sneaker are:

  • Flat Pedals
  • Caged Pedals
  • Clipless Pedals

2. Cross Trainers

Cross Trainers can usually be used with any indoor bike. Because the design of cross trainers tends to be a bit slimmer than sneakers, they often are easier to fit into caged pedals. The same advice for sneakers applies to cross trainers when it comes to clipless pedals. Use caution because you don't have as much traction.

Pros: Comfortable fit. Can be used with all types of pedals. Easier to use with caged pedals than sneakers. Can be used for other forms of exercise.

Cons: They do not allow the rider to clip in on clipless pedals.

Pedals that can work with cross trainers are:

  • Flat Pedals
  • Caged Pedals
  • Clipless Pedals

3. Athletic Sandals

Some people prefer to workout in athletic sandals like Teva’s. It is possible to get a great workout with this type of footwear, but you should take care with your toes, especially on caged pedals.

It’s easy for the toes to catch on the cage material when inserting or removing the foot from the caged pedal. It’s also possible to scrape or hurt the exposed part of your foot on any pedal if you slip.

Athletic sandals usually have a pretty stiff, thick tread similar to an athletic shoe, so it's possible to push a clipless pedal while wearing these sandals. Just use extra caution because of the risks of slipping and the exposure of your toes and feet. If you're wearing athletic shoes and clipless pedals, this is perhaps best for a slow steady-state ride or cool down.

Pros: Comfortable fit. Can be used with most types of pedals. Can be used for other forms of exercise.

Cons: Higher potential for injury. They do not allow the rider to clip in on clipless pedals.

Pedals that work best with athletic sandals are:

  • Flat Pedals
  • Clipless Pedals

4. Cycling Cleats

A cycling shoe with a special kind of cleat is special footwear designed to be used with clipless pedals. Cycling cleats for indoor spinning have recessed “SPD” cleats built into the soles. The cleat fits with the clipless pedal to attach your foot (hence “clipping in”). You can easily disengage the cleat by twisting the foot off of the pedal at the correct angle. This can take some practice but becomes easy in no time.

Cycling cleats provide the most leverage for the “pull” in your pedal stroke because your foot is attached to the pedal. They also make stand-up pedalling easier, providing more variety and range of motion for your workout.

Off the bike, cycling cleats may be difficult to walk in, and are often slippery on hard floors. These designs are also stiff and narrow, which may be uncomfortable for people with wider feet.

Pros: Best for maximizing workout intensity. Provide the best precision for proper cycling form. Can be used for outdoor cycling.

Cons: Cannot be used for other forms of exercise. May be uncomfortable for some. Difficult to walk in.

Pedals that work best with cycling cleats are:

  • Clipless Pedals

So, there you have it. You can get away with a regular athletic shoe on most indoor bikes, but if you’re hitting spin class on the regular, it’s worth investing in a pair of cycling shoes with cleats. Happy trails!