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Indoor Cycling Instructors’ Observation of Frequently Made Mistakes

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

You’re Not Dressing the Part

Yes, your attire matters in cycling class. Here are a few ways your attire might be hindering your progress:

Your trousers are too loose.

Leave the loose sweatpants at home — snug-fitting leggings are your best choice on the bike, says Marion Roaman, the principal content officer of SWERVE Fitness. “Though most bikes are designed so fabric cannot get caught in the crank arm, it’s bothersome to have clothes flailing around while you are riding to the rhythm,” she explains. “Not to mention, cycling is such a sweaty workout — the last thing you want is extra fabric hanging from your body,” adds Roaman.

Your sports bra is inadequate.

Sure, an indoor cycling exercise class is non-impact (meaning that you’re not out pounding the pavement as you would when running), but there’s a lot of movement that can make your breasts, well, bounce. To minimize discomfort, try wearing a super-snug sports bra to keep your chest comfortable, suggests Roaman.

Your shoes aren’t clipped in.

“Cycling shoes allow you to connect directly to the pedal, providing a more secure stroke so you can forget about your feet and focus on your breath, form, and work,” says Jonathan Carlucci, a Schwinn-certified indoor cycling instructor. “The rigid sole also gives you more efficiency on the bike, helping you get the most out of your workout,” he explains. And once you’re clipped in, make sure you’re pedaling correctly — your feet should remain flat and neutral, rather than pointing the toes down, which can cause tension in your lower back. If you catch yourself doing it, try pressing down in the heel to level things out, suggests Carlucci. (In case you didn’t know, they even make cycling shoes for wide feet — if that’s been a barrier to purchase.)

Your Setup Is All Wrong

As you probably know, an indoor bike is not a one-size-fits-all machine, whether it’s a SoulCycle at-home bike or a Peloton in a structured in-person class.

Here’s the way your arrangement might be failing:

You arrived just in time.

Showing up two minutes before, or right as your cycling class is about to start, doesn’t allow any time to pack your belongings away, grab the correct weights, or arrange your bike properly — which is one of the biggest errors you can make, says Carlucci. Next time you add a class to your schedule, set it to commence 15 minutes earlier so you arrive with an abundance of time to situate yourself without feeling frantic.

Your seat is excessively low.

Whether you’re a cycling novice or a seasoned expert, if you never took the time to learn the appropriate setup, you’re inviting numerous issues — including injury. “If you’ve ever woken up the day after a cycling class and felt that not-so-great stiffness in your hips and knees, sitting too low is likely the culprit,” explains Carlucci. Additionally, a seat that is too low restricts your range of motion in your pedal stroke, meaning you’re not maximizing each stride and shortchanging your workout, he notes.

Instead, ensure to ask your instructor to find the appropriate position for your height. A quick guideline: Stand next to the bike and adjust the seat to align with the height of your hip bone, says Kate Hickl, a master indoor cycling instructor and co-founder of KKSWEAT. “Once you’re on the saddle, ensure that you can reach the bottom of the pedal stroke with a slightly bent knee and flat foot,” she advises. Most bikes have a number associated with the seat height settings, so take note of yours to easily make adjustments for your next ride.

You followed the measurement from elbow to fingertip for your handlebars setup.

When attempting to determine the correct distance between your seat and handlebars (also known as the position where your body will be), disregard that measurement from elbows. “It doesn’t work because our arms aren’t always proportionate to our torsos,” explains Carlucci. Consequently, it’s all too common for riders to position themselves too far back, says Hickl. “This encourages undesired rounding in the back and a tendency to bounce, causing an inefficient ride,” she says. To find the ideal position, get on the bike and adjust from there. “Ensure that you are close enough to comfortably grip the handlebars — you shouldn’t have to stretch for them, nor should your body feel cramped between the handlebar and the seat,” says Carlucci.

Your handlebars are at an incorrect height as well.

Can you perceive the significance of bike setup for cycling exercise classes now? When it comes to handlebar height, comfort is what truly matters, says Hickl. “When the handlebars are high, the rider is more upright and elongated through the spine and waist, and it’s easier to maintain proper shoulder alignment,” she says. However, if you desire an additional core workout, set them closer to the height of your saddle.

When the handlebars are positioned in a downward position, a rider needs to exert effort in order to reduce the curvature in the posterior region — it necessitates a significant amount of core strength throughout the duration of the ride to uphold correct posture,” clarifies Hickl. Regardless of the situation, avoid adjusting them to a level lower than your seat’s height — this action will exert undue pressure on your groin and result in excessive tension on your lower back and shoulders, cautions Roaman.

Your knee collides with the emergency brake.

This implies that you are positioned too far forward, clarifies Hickl. Doing this – whether you’re in or out of the saddle – means you’re sinking into your joints, and you end up transferring weight into your thighs or arms instead of activating your core. The solution? Push your hips and behind back so that your weight is directly over the saddle.

Your Technique Requires Improvement

Proper technique is essential when it comes to cycling. Make sure to avoid these errors:

You’re not adhering to the workout.

Your instructor is setting you up for a successful and strenuous workout, so pay close attention to determine the appropriate resistance for your cycling session. “A competent instructor will describe the type of terrain you’re traversing – a level road or a steep hill, for example – and how hard you should be exerting yourself,” says Carlucci. This is not the time to go against the rhythm. Stick to the instructions and you will likely experience a mental boost as well, as many classes are designed to “ride as a group” and foster team camaraderie.

The resistance level is too low.

“I frequently see people riding with insufficient resistance,” says Carlucci (yes, it’s obvious when you do it). “Resistance is where the magic happens. If you want to burn calories, you need to power through the resistance, challenge yourself, and increase your workout intensity,” he explains. In other words, the more you turn that knob to the right, the stronger you become. Not to mention that inadequate resistance causes your pedaling speed to become too fast, putting your joints at risk of injury. How can you tell if there isn’t enough resistance during your cycling class? “If your hips are bouncing, your pedal stroke is too loose, or your shoe pops out of the clip, those are clear signs,” notes Carlucci.

Conversely, your resistance might be too high.

If you are unable to synchronize your pedaling with the rhythm of the music or stay within the recommended RPM range provided by your instructor, adjust the resistance to a lower level until you can. “If your instructor is instructing you to reach the point of breathlessness and work hard while maintaining the beat, then your resistance should be high,” says Roaman. “If they are encouraging you to take it easy while staying on beat, then it should be light,” she adds.

You extend your elbows outward during a “tap back.”

This is one of the most popular movements in cycling classes nowadays, designed to engage your gluteal muscles and core by pushing your hips backward, “tapping” over the saddle without fully sitting.

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You enjoy a wild ride on the bike.

It’s understandable — a rocking cycling playlist makes you want to groove on that bike like it’s 1999. But swaying side to side throws your body off-balance, forcing you to clutch the handlebars tightly. Instead, channel that energy into perfectly matching your cadence to the beat (increase the resistance if that feels too easy) — and add a little head-bang for good measure.

You clutch the handlebars tightly.

Those babies are there for stability, not support. Relying on them to support your weight takes away the core and quad work you’re after, says Carlucci. Flutter or flex your fingers during the tough parts (such as during sprints out of the saddle) to check in on form throughout the class.

You don’t pull up on the pedals.

It’s all about finding the perfect balance in your pedal stroke to make your stride as efficient as possible. “If you’re just pushing down, you’re overtaxing your muscles,” says Hickl. “The downstroke will happen naturally, so if you focus on lifting the opposite foot, you’re engaging the hamstring and glute muscles, and balancing the work in your legs from front to back,” she continues. Translation: Don’t make your quads do all the work — letting your hammies in on the action gives you more power.

You don’t let the music guide you.

“A good instructor will know how to curate a playlist that is true to himself or herself, while simultaneously appealing to as wide an audience as possible,” says Carlucci. “Like a good meal, it should have hints of several flavors. They’ll know how to finesse the musical phrasing and dynamics in relation to the physical activity on the bike, appearing to have command over that beat,” he adds. So if you’re not really feeling the instructor’s tunes, try a new class or another cycling instructor until one clicks. You’ll leave feeling even more invigorated.

You skip the stretch.

Stretching is one of the most important parts of the workout, so opting out eliminates your jump start on the recovery process. Plus, it’s annoying. “You’re opening the door and letting all that light stream into a dark room, disrupting that experience the instructor is working so hard to create,” says Carlucci.

If you find yourself engaging in this behavior regularly, contemplate attending an earlier class so that you are not pressed for time. And if you have to depart early due to an unforeseen circumstance, simply indicate to the instructor that everything is fine — otherwise, they will be concerned that you are injured.

Overlooking Your Upper Body

Cycling involves more than just working out your lower body – you also engage your arms! Make sure you’re maximizing the benefits for your upper body with these tips:

Neglecting the Dumbbells

Just because you’re only lifting one to three pounds doesn’t mean your muscles won’t feel the burn. “Choose a weight that challenges you without being too overwhelming,” recommends Carlucci. “Initially, the weight might feel comfortable, but by the end, you should be pushing your limits and ready to finish,” he adds. In other words, aim for that last rep where you feel mentally exhausted but still maintain good form. If you’re not feeling that, consider increasing the weight slightly. However, avoid going above six pounds for this workout, advises Roaman. “Using two or three-pound weights in both hands is perfect for toning your arms. Going beyond that may cause strain on your lower back, neck, and shoulders, and compromise your form,” she explains.

Elbow Flaring During Triceps Exercises

Triceps exercises are fundamental in any cycling workout, but if you perform them incorrectly, you won’t reap the benefits. Start with your elbows at a 90-degree angle, keeping the weight directly behind your head. As you lower and extend, ensure that your elbows remain close to your head – think of brushing your ears – to make each repetition count.

Holding Your Breath

Remember, your muscles need to breathe too. Inhale through your nose as you release the muscle during the eccentric part of the exercise, and exhale through your mouth during the concentric portion when the muscle works the hardest.

Stopping Pedaling or Reducing Resistance

While the focus is on your upper body in this segment, completely stopping the motion in your lower half will make it harder to regain momentum. Maintain a light to medium resistance level – it should be challenging but manageable to keep pedaling. Additionally, focus on engaging your core to stabilize your upper body during the workout, as advised by Roaman.