At one of my old indoor cycling studios, there was this guy. No, this isn't that kind of story. It wasn't his looks that kept me staring at him throughout class, it was his technique. I'm not a certified instructor (I may be obsessed, but even I'm not that hardcore), but his seat was too low, his knees too high, and his speed way, way too fast. As everyone else was trudging up a hill to Depeche Mode, this guy looked like he was about to spin himself right off his bike.
My point is, as much as I love indoor cycling, the benefits — major calorie burn without too much of a time commitment, plus endurance and strength training — are totally negated if you aren't doing it the right way. It sounds obvious (and is true of pretty much any workout), but many people don't realize exactly how important the right technique and preparation is in order to get the most out of a great cycling session. So, we called up Jessica King, a coach at the NYC cycling studio Peloton, to school us in all the common indoor cycling mistakes — and how to fix them.
1. Your seat isn't at the right setting.
Having your seat too high or low can throw off your whole ride. "When the seat of your bike is too low, there is potential damage to your knees and lower back, plus your quadriceps work harder in this position leading to a labored pedal stroke and muscle fatigue early on in the ride," explains King. "If your seat is too high, it forces the knee to hyperextend and, in time, will cause damage and pain to the knee joint, hips and back." Um, it's also super uncomfortable, right?
"To find the sweet spot for your saddle, stand next to your bike with your feet flat on the floor," says King. "The seat post height should be adjusted so that it comes right up against your hip. Have a seat and clip into the pedals. When your foot is flat and at the six o'clock position (the base of the pedal stroke), there should be a very slight bend in the knee. Be sure to keep your foot parallel to the floor and avoid pointing your toes. If the leg is straight, adjust the seat so that it is slightly lower. If your knee has too much bend, position the saddle higher."
2. Your handlebars aren't at the right setting.
This one isn't as serious as the saddle setting, but can still affect your ride."If you have a history of neck, shoulder, or back issues — or you're new to cycling — raise the handlebars slightly," suggests King. "This will alleviate the stress to injury-prone areas, keep your body in proper alignment and allow time for beginner cyclist to develop the 'core' strength needed to ride with correct form. As you progress and get more comfortable on the bike you can play around with dropping the handlebars down a bit, keeping in mind they are only there to "assist" your ride. Be weary of leaning into your handle bars and stressing your wrists. Send your weight back into your legs and hips and keep the grip soft."
3. You're not riding in the right position.
Every rider is different, but here's the general rule of thumb when it comes to sitting on the bike, according to King: "Keep a slight bend in the knees, with tush on saddle. The nose of the saddle should be sticking out between your thighs, and your tail should be hanging slightly off the back. With your hands resting gently on the sides of the handlebars, relax your elbows towards the floor. There should be a slight lift of the pelvic floor — your belly button pushes back towards to spine to offer added core support. Lift your heart and eyes and relax the shoulders down and away from the ears. This is starting position."
4. Your hips aren't in the right position.
Ah, position three — it always feels easier. But, if it feels easy, you're probably not doing it right (sigh). "I always feel the most powerful here and I know that my glutes (AKA booty) are working, keeping my parts high and tight!" says King. "You should feel the saddle flirting with your inner thighs as you ride out in third. Be sure to keep the energy initiating from the core and working in opposing directions: forward out of the head and back out of the tail. If your hips are not back, your body will lean forward and the momentum of your climb will subsequently pull from your lower back and eventually your neck and shoulders."
5. You're cheating on resistance.
First of all, we've got a cycling myth to dispel: "Super high resistance will not give you bulkier thighs," says King. So, no more cheating! "At Peloton, we use metrics that allow you to define resistance and interval train with precision. When your coach is calling out a target resistance to meet, most of the time, this is not a suggestion, but a calculated formula to achieve maximum results and keep you safe on the bike. You would have to ride improperly for an extended amount of time to overdevelop the quadriceps. Correct positioning and training at high resistance allows more toning and shaping of the muscles throughout your entire body."
6. You're going too fast.
Some classes can feel like a race, especially if you've got a speed demon next to you (ahem, see above). But faster isn't always better. "If you're anything like me, you love the thrill and epinephrine rush provided by firing up those fast twitch muscles," says King. "However, anything above 120 revolutions per minute is not a smart place to ride for an extended amount of time — it's is not very efficient either. A well-taught spin class should only have you at a super high cadence for a short amount of time. Otherwise, you should be on the beat!"
7. You're not paying attention to the beat.
There's a reason indoor cycling classes are known for their music — most instructors plan their playlists very carefully, in order create a killer workout. "I stay very connected to the rhythms and allow the music to dictate the cadence and mood of the ride," explains King. "I use music to keep riders motivated, connected to one another and even pull emotion on steep climbs or intense moments. My soundtracks are strategically planned to follow the ebb and flow of a ride, and beats per minute are catered to match a target RPM. I say, let the music move you, inspire you and drive you to keep pushing!"
8. You're wearing the wrong gear.
It seems like a no-brainer, but I've seen people show up to studios in jeans or flip-flips. C'mon. "There is no such thing as right and wrong gear; it's more about a level of comfort and confidence on the bike," says King. "Stay away from baggy shorts or pants that could become distracting as you ride. Wear a sports bra that provides ample support and keeps the girls in check. I strongly suggest wearing cleated cycling shoes that clip into the pedals — this allows you to maximize your workout and feel completely immersed in the experience. Keep in mind that you will walk out (of my ride, anyway) completely drenched in sweat, so be sure to wear athletic type clothing that doesn't lose shape when wet. The three most important things for a successful ride: towel, water, and proper shoes."
9. You're cutting out early.
I get it, you're busy. We're all busy. But leaving two minutes early is more harmful to your body than it is helpful to your schedule. "Stretching is an important piece of the puzzle. Like anything, it's all about balance," explains King. "It's very important to counter all of the intense work that you just did by allowing the muscle to release and elongate. When we ride, we shorten the muscle groups via contraction to maintain proper form. In particular, the Psoas muscle (in your spine and pelvis) and the Iliotibial Band (IT Band) get overworked and, if not addressed, can lead to loss of power and poor function on the bike — not to mention, tightness and pain of the lower back, hamstrings and knees. When stretching after class, be sure to give your calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and pecs some extra love and attention. A foam roller is a great way to massage tight muscles and release lactic acid buildup without the added cost and time of a massage. Although, wouldn't that be nice?"
Main image: gstockstudio/Fotolia. Other images: Courtesy of Peloton.