Metrics vs. Music: What’s the best way to train?

Metrics vs. Music: What’s the best way to train?

Across the many design pillars that inform the structure of an indoor cycling workout, here at Shimano, we’ve observed a recent trend of modern rides becoming increasingly tied to one of the following principles:
shimano indoor cycling classes

(1) Numeric Goals: A metrics-driven ride is composed of drills with measurable goals around intensity of effort distributed over timed intervals, wattage output and zones, distance covered, heart rate zones, and other measurable outputs; (2) Rhythmic Alignment: A rhythm ride directs participants to align their pedal strokes with the beat of the music, often including other movements choreographed to the flow of the music as well.

This trend has surfaced one of the most heated debates within the indoor cycling community: whether the best workouts are designed around Metrics vs. Music. On the one hand, we have diehard fans of the data-driven ride. They argue that training with numbers is the only way to get an intelligent workout done. On the opposite end of the debate are the rhythm riders: music makes the workout. Riding to the beat is the only kind of riding that makes sense to them! So who’s right?

Spoiler alert: the science enables both to win - especially when both methods of workout design are blended together. With that said, much of what’s “best” boils down to the individual rider.

Let’s dive into the facts on each side of the debate, with an eye towards questions that can help decode the best method for you:

The Argument for Metrics

Shimano SH-IC501 Indoor Cycling


One of management guru Peter Drucker’s most famous quotes is, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.” This belief rings especially true for those who debate that numbers-driven workouts are superior. These advocates elevate important questions:

How do you achieve concrete results without defining measurable goals and creating quantifiable steps along the path to achieving them?

How is a ride safely and effectively designed without defining the ratios of work and recovery?

How can a rider know the amount of effort to exert during a stretch of the workout without understanding how long they’ll be pushing for?

How does one understand progress without any kind of quantifiable measurement?

And as we discuss in Overcoming Adversity through Indoor Cycling, if you’re feeling like your challenges in life are dragging you down, it’s a proven fact that getting yourself some trackable goals helps propel you forward.

Man indoor cycling metric based training shimano indoor cycling

All of these questions are great ones, and certainly the music-centric riders have their own answers to them, but the fact stands: numbers absolutely provide the simple answer.

Are you training for a competitive event? Training with drills around distance, speed, power output, and/or other quantifiable progress are essential to just about any riding event.

Are you simply training to improve your health and lifestyle? Tracking still affords you so many ways to prove the healthy progress you’re making in every pedal stroke. You automatically achieve measurable metrics as you move, so simple tracking can propel personal momentum.

With that said, what if your desired outcomes in your movement routine don’t have anything to do with numbers? Or what if the effects of music actually help you ride faster, better, and stronger?

The truth is this: metric- and metric-driven rides actually are not mutually exclusive.


Shimano Indoor Cycling dancing to the music

Those who argue that music can drive the most effective workouts are also entirely correct. A number of meta-analytic reviews of hundreds of studies observing thousands of subjects working out with and without music in different ways (a large chunk of whom are indoor cyclists) only reinforce their point.

Let’s revisit the metrics-based argument that goal-setting, progress, and effective ride design are best done around numbers. A recent study by Mintel, however, shows that mental and emotional wellbeing (78%) has overtaken physical fitness (76%) as the top reason for exercising. Do these findings resonate with you? If so, moving to music is proven to help exercisers achieve both.

In this recent discussion on the topic, the founder and CEO of fitness studio & instructor software company Struct Club synthesizes a number of supporting studies, including how specific attributes of music like song tempo and lyrics can trigger workout- and wellbeing-enhancing responses in the body. For example, did you know that a relatively mid-tempo song in a playlist can induce more rapid recovery than the slowest songs? And even beyond exercise, music is being used as therapy for individuals diagnosed with Dementia, demonstrating the long-term neurological as well as physiological health benefits to utilizing music in the right way day-to-day.

So, what’s the best way to train?

Shimano Indoor Cycling SH-IC501 shoes

If you were to ask us, we’d pick - both! But first and foremost, what are you trying to achieve in your rides? What motivates you and helps you sustain your workout routine? Are you more of a numbers person? Are you more of a music person? Are you a bit of both? Along your riding journey, we recommend  trying different styles to find your perfect match.

Happy riding!