Indoor cycling, aka spinning, is an incredible cardio workout. With proper form, spin is high-intensity and low-impact, but there is some potential for things you're doing wrong in spin class without even realizing it that may be compromising the quality of your workout. Spinning is a great high-stimulation cardio option for those who need a little external motivation or who are simply bored by running or traditional cardio. Cycling classes vary from more traditional interval rides to the dance-party-on-a-bike style most famously attributed to SoulCycle, but the method as a whole is quickly becoming one of the biggest trends in fitness.
However, it can be so easy to get carried away with just how awesome spinning can make you feel that you might not even realize you're doing some things wrong. If your form is off, you could potentially injure yourself and you may not even realize what happened. It can be confusing to figure out exactly how to spin, whether you're brand-new to the workout or have been at it for years. There aren't always clear explanations to beginners of what indoor cycling is supposed to look and feel like, and you may miss the instructor's cues if you're too focused on matching the beat to worry about what your hips are doing. As a cycling instructor at SparkCycle in La Jolla, California, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to spinning, and want everyone to look just as badass as they feel when on the bike. Here are the nine most common mistakes I see in spin class and how to fix them.
1. You Didn't Set Up Your Bike Correctly
This is where bad form is born. If you hop directly onto a bike without bothering to adjust it to your specific height requirements, there's no way you're going to cycle correctly, and the likelihood of you injuring yourself is highER. If possible, have a staff member at your studio walk you through the proper adjustments for you with their specific brand of bicycle. You may need to arrive extra early to class, but the time spent will be well worth it.
Here's what you need to know: Your seat needs to be at hip level (try raising up your knee to make it extra clear where exactly your hips are). Having your seat too low will put major strain on your joints and will force your quads to take over for your glutes and hamstrings. If the seat too high, you'll hyperextend your knees. You want to have a 25 to 30 degree bend in your knee when it's fully extended. You also need to adjust the bike seat (aka the saddle on a horizontal plane, so that when both pedals are parallel to the ground your front knee is directly above the center of your front pedal. Adjust your handlebars so that your forearm fits right between them and the seat. Place your elbow at the front tip of the seat and adjust the handlebars forward or backward so that your fingertips touch the back of them. The handlebar height should be in line with your seat or higher. Typically, the higher the handlebars, the easier on your shoulders and back, so just make sure you don't have them too low.
2. You Don't Have Enough Resistance
Sure, your instructor is insisting that you match the beat of a song that has a BPM of basically 1 million. But if you turn down your resistance down to zero just to keep your legs flying as fast as they can go, you're not actually riding correctly. It's always better to ride a little slower with more resistance than faster with none at all. The flywheel on your bike will keep spinning around from its own momentum, making you think you're working a lot harder than you are. Turn up that resistance to avoid extra strain on your joints and to give yourself an actual workout.
3. Your Upper Body Is Moving Around Too Much
Stop bobbing around like a rubber ducky and keep your upper body still. Yes, cycling is a near total-body workout, but that's because your core has to work to keep your body upright and centered. It may feel fun to dance to the music, but unless you're doing specific moves on the bike as instructed by the teacher, keep the movement channeled into your legs. Stay still. Pull your abs in. Keep your back straight. Drop your shoulders down. And just move your legs.
4. Your Butt Is Too Far Forward
Get your butt back. When you're in a standing position, your butt should always be hovering right over the seat. This is actually something you should really want to focus on, because if you get your glutes back, they're going to have to work harder, which means a better workout for your entire body. If you find yourself starting to creep forward towards your handlebars, it may be because you're fatigued. Don't be ashamed to take a moment, sit down, check in with your body, and then get back up when you're ready to ride correctly. Plus, if you lean into your handlebars, you may find that you start to do the next big mistake.
5. You're Gripping The Handles Too Tightly
Spin is not supposed to be a shoulder-intensive exercise. If you're gripping your handlebars like someone is trying to wrench away your last box of Girl Scout cookies from your hands, chances are you're also too far forward and your shoulders are likely all the way up into your ears. Your hands are there to help you keep your balance, but you should be holding yourself up from your core with your hands there for a little extra help. Try thinking about pulling your bellybutton in and up to keep your abdominals engaged the entire ride. Keep a slight bend in your elbows with your hands just lightly holding onto the far ends of your handlebars.
6. Your Head Is Hanging Down
Ouch. Keep your head up! You want your neck to be in line with your spine, so don't let it drop down, even when you're getting tired or you're trying to get meditative during a steep climb. Conversely, don't hold your neck all the way upright, either. Try to pick a bike where you know you'll be able to see the instructor without craning your neck, and if that's not possible do your best to follow along to the class while listening as you keep your head in a neutral position.
7. You're Too Focused On Pedaling Down
It feels natural to want to push down on your pedal, but you'll actually get even more of a workout and engage your hamstrings more if you try to think about pulling your feet up. Keep your feet flexed, lift up your knees to get more momentum and to increase your speed, and lead with your heels on the way down. Also, if you haven't made the switch to cycling shoes, this is where they really come into play. If you are still stuffing your sneakers into pedal cages, make the investment or find out if your studio loans them. Cycling shoes (like the pair in the photo) clip into the bike's pedals, allowing you to make this upward pull motion, giving your pedal strokes a lot more power.
8. You're Wearing The Wrong Clothes
Props to you for rocking those shorts, but they probably aren't going to make you feel super awesome when they start riding up during class. You also need to leave any loose-hanging or baggy clothes at home, as they can easily get caught in your bike. The best clothes are tight, 3/4-length workout pants, a supportive bra, and a moisture-wicking tank (see what the above Victoria Secret's models are wearing). You can also rock some padded bike shorts, which are typically longer than regular running shorts, to add some cushion to your butt, which will make your ride a little more comfortable. And by all means, the shirt is optional if the studio you like to ride at keeps the room warm. Your body is smoking hot (and the room is too), so don't be ashamed to show it off and ride in just your bra!
9. You're Ruining Your Fellow Riders' Experience
Remember that indoor cycling is a group activity. Unless you are riding a bike in the comfort of your own living room or are tucked away in the corner of a gym, you have to respect the people you are sharing a class with or you run the risk of completely ruining their workout, which is just about the worst thing you could ever do. Don't be a jerk. Jerk-y things include the following: bringing your cell phone into class (even worse if it's on or if you decide halfway through class that you really need to send a text message), coming into class late (and being super disruptive while doing so), talking in the middle of class (especially when the instructor is talking), and not maintaining your personal hygiene (you'd be surprised). Everyone deserves to get the most out of their workout, so be respectful while you pedal away.