The hardest part of indoor cycling lessons is not the climbs. You are avoiding the many variables (seat height! Endurance! Posture!) That can interfere with your shape, efficiency and overall training.
Whether you are new to cycling or a master of spinning, it is very easy to get in the way of some aspects of this killer exercise – and you may not even notice. To make sure that you are exercising the muscles you need to work on and to prevent injury, avoid making the mistakes that swing instructors see too often.
You’re Not Dressing the Part
Your pants are too loose. Leave your sweatshirt at home – tights are your best bet on the bike, says Marion Roaman, general manager of Peloton Cycle. “While most bikes are designed so that the fabric doesn’t get caught in the crank arm, it’s annoying to have choppy clothes while you ride at the pace,” she says. “Not to mention cycling is such a sweaty exercise – the last thing you want is extra fabric hanging from your body.”
Your sports bra is weak. Sure, a spinning gym class (although not all classes use spinning bikes – a trademark) has no impact (you’re not hitting the sidewalk like you would in a race), but there’s a lot of movement that can make your breasts, well, bounce . Roaman suggests wearing a super comfortable sports bra to keep girls comfortable.
Your shoes are not attached. “Cycling shoes let you connect directly to the pedal, providing a safer course so you can forget about your feet and focus on breathing, form and work,” says Jonathan Carlucci, Master Instructor at Revolve Fitness. “The rigid outsole also gives you more efficiency on the bike, helping you get the most out of your workout.” And when you’re stuck, make sure you pedal properly – your feet should remain flat and neutral rather than pointing your toes down, which can cause strain on your lower back. If you find yourself doing this, Carlucci suggests pressing your heel to level things out.
Your Set-Up Is All Wrong
You showed up on time. Appearing two minutes early, or as soon as the spinning class is about to start, doesn’t allow time to pack your things, pick up the right weights, or ride your bike correctly. Which is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, says Carlucci. The next time you add a class to the calendar, set it to start 15 minutes early so you have plenty of time to sit without feeling frantic.
Your seat is too low. Whether you are a beginner in spinning exercises or an experienced pro, if you have never had time to learn the right setup, you are asking for a multitude of problems – including injuries. “If you woke up the day after a cycling class and felt not so great pain in your hips and knees, sitting too low is probably to blame,” says Carlucci. Not to mention that a very low saddle causes you to lose your range of motion while pedaling, he says, which means you’re not getting the most out of every step and slowing down your workout.
Instead, ask your instructor to find the right setting for your height. A quick rule of thumb: Stand by your bike and position the seat to reach your hip bone height, says Kate Hickl, master instructor and vice president of recruitment at Flywheel Sports. “When in the saddle, make sure you reach the bottom of the pedal with a slightly bent knee and flat foot.” Most bikes have a number associated with seat configurations; so make a note of yours so you can easily make adjustments on your next trip.
You followed the measurement from the elbow to the fingertip to the handlebar configuration. When trying to find out the correct distance between the saddle and the handlebars (for example, where your body will go), ignore the measurement of the elbows. “It doesn’t work because our arms are not always in the same proportion as our torsos,” explains Carlucci. And it’s very common for cyclists to get used to far behind, says Hickl. “This encourages unwanted rounding in the back and a tendency to jump, causing an inefficient ride,” she says. To choose the perfect spot, get on the bike and adjust from there. “Make sure you’re close enough to hold the handlebar comfortably – you don’t have to strain to get it, nor should you feel your body squeezed between the handlebar and the saddle,” says Carlucci.
Your handlebars are also at the wrong time. Do you already know how important bike setup is for exercise classes? Hickl says that when it comes to height, comfort is what really matters. “When the handlebars are high, the rider is erect and elongated at the spine and waist and it is easier to keep the shoulders away from the ears,” she says. If you want an extra abdominal workout, bring them closer to the saddle height. “When the handlebars are low, the rider must work to minimize rounding in the back – it requires a lot of abdominal strength during the ride to maintain proper shape.” No matter what happens, don’t put them below seat height – this will put unnecessary pressure on the groin and cause too much strain on the lower back and shoulders, says Roaman.
Your knee hits the emergency brake. That means you’re way ahead, Hickl explains. Doing so – whether you are in or out of the saddle – means that you are sinking into your joints and putting weight on your thighs or arms instead of engaging in the core. The solution? Push your hips and butt back so your weight is on the saddle.
Your Form Needs Work
You are not following the workout. Your instructor is preparing you for a hard-earned success; so listen carefully to determine how much resistance should be on your steering wheel during the rotation exercise. “A good instructor will describe the terrain you’re walking on – a flat road or a heavy hill, for example – and how hard you should be working,” says Carlucci. This is not the place to march to the beat of your own drum. Follow the instructions and you will probably feel a mental boost as well, as many classes are set up to “pack together” to reinforce team camaraderie. (Try this home cycling workout when you want to save some money.)
This resistance is very low. “I often see people walking with little resistance,” says Carlucci (yes, it’s obvious when you do that). “Resistance is where magic happens. If you are looking to burn calories, do it by strengthening endurance, increasing your challenge, increasing your workout output.” In other words, the more you push the button to the right, the stronger it gets. Not to mention that a very low resistance makes your cadence very fast, putting you at risk of damaged joints. How can you say there isn’t enough during spinning exercise class? “If the hips are bouncing or the accelerator pedal is too loose or the shoe comes off the clip, these are sure signs,” he says.
On the other hand, its resistance may be very high. If you are unable to match the pedal tone to the beat of the song or remain within the RPM range your instructor is training, turn this knob to the left until you can. “If your instructor is training you to feel breathless and work hard while you are in rhythm, your stamina should be high,” says Roaman. “If they are suggesting that you take it easy while following the pace, it should be light.”
You throw your elbows out during a tap back. It is currently one of the most popular movements in rotational gymnastics classes and is designed to activate the buttocks and core by pushing the hips back, “striking” the saddle without sitting fully. But if you tilt your elbows sideways (let’s be honest, this is usually done to accentuate movement when you’re feeling the music), you add tension to your shoulders and take away some of the explosive effect of the exercise, Roaman says. Instead, keep your arms at your sides, with a slight flexion at the elbow as you strike back.
You party very hard on the bike. We understand – a rock playlist makes you want to enjoy that bike like it did in 1999. But rocking back and forth makes your body unbalanced, forcing you to hold the handlebars tightly. Instead, channel that energy to perfectly match your cadence to the beat (and increase the stamina if it sounds too easy) – and add a bit of a head beat for good measure.
You shake your hand on the handlebars. These babies are there for stability, not for support. Relying on them to support your weight removes the core and quad that you’re looking for, says Carlucci. Shake or flex your fingers during the hard parts (we do a lot during the saddle runs) to check the form throughout the class.
You do not pull the pedals. It’s about finding the perfect balance on your pedal press to make your step as efficient as possible. “If you’re just pushing, you’re overloading your muscles,” says Hickl. “The kick will happen naturally, so if you focus on lifting the opposite foot, you will be engaging the hamstrings and buttocks and balancing the work on the front to back legs.” Don’t let your quads do all the work – letting your hammies participate in the action gives you more power.
You don’t let the music mess with you. “A good instructor will know how to select a playlist that is true to itself while appealing to the widest possible audience,” says Carlucci. “Like a good meal, it should have hints of various flavors. They will know how to refine the musical phrasing and dynamics of physical activity on the bike, seeming to be in charge of that beat.” So if you’re not really playing with the songs, try a new spin class until you hear a click. You will feel even more refreshed.
You skip the stretch. It is one of the most important parts of training, so choose not to start your leap in the recovery process. Also, it’s annoying. “You’re opening the door and letting all the light flow into a dark room, disrupting the experience the instructor is working so hard to create,” says Carlucci. If you do this according to the rules, consider attending a previous class for less time. And if you need to leave early for something unexpected, just signal to the instructor that you’re fine; otherwise, they will worry about the injury.
You Overlook Your Upper Body
You save on the weights. Just because you are only lifting one to three pounds does not mean your muscles will not tremble. “Choose a challenging but sustainable weight,” says Carlucci. “At first the weight may seem comfortable, but in the end you should be well overworked and ready for work.” In other words, if you are not mentally begging you to be the last rep (while still being able to keep fit), try jumping to the next weight level. That said, Roaman recommends not exceeding six pounds for this workout. “Weights of two or three pounds in each hand are perfect for a good, toned set of arm work,” she says. “If you go above that, you will probably start pulling your lower back, neck and shoulders and sacrificing the proper shape.”
You open your elbows while working on triceps. They are essential in every spinning class, but if you do it wrong you will lose the muscle-building action. Start with the elbows at a 90 degree angle, the weight directly behind the head. As you lower and extend, keep your elbows close to your head – we like to think of rubbing our ears for reference – to make the most of every rep.
You hold your breath. Remember, your muscles also need to breathe. Inhale through the nose during the eccentric part of the exercise (when you “release” the muscle during repetition) and exhale through the mouth during the concentric portion when the muscle is doing the hardest part of the movement.
You stop pedaling or take off all resistance. Focus is on the upper body during this segment, but stopping all movement in the lower half will make it much harder to continue again. Roaman suggests maintaining light to medium resistance – it shouldn’t be too hard to keep pedaling – and focus on keeping the core involved to stabilize the upper body while working.