Spinning has become all the rage, with spin studios like Soul Cycle and Fly Wheel opening up exponentially. Indoor cycling is a great low impact cardiovascular workout that increases both strength and endurance. However, as with any exercise program, it is important for the cycling enthusiast to make sure she/he is burning calories efficiently while simultaneously decreasing the risk for injury. And, as with many other routines, it can be too much of a good thing.
Proper alignment and biomechanics are the most important part of spinning effectively. Form starts with ensuring that the bike is set up correctly. First, make sure the seat height is correct by clipping your feet into the pedals (or putting your feet in the toe cages) and rotating your feet until one leg reaches the bottom. You should have a 25-35 degree bend in that leg when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke. It is common for people to sit too low, which can be dangerous for ligaments and joints. After adjusting the height of the seat, the seat needs to be adjusted fore-aft. The idea is to have your kneecap directly above the center of the pedal or when both pedals are level with each other, so that the front of your knee is right in line with the ball of your foot when the pedal is farthest forward. Lastly, the handlebars should be set so it is comfortable for your back and neck. A new cyclist should raise the handlebars to take the stress off his/her back or neck. However, those with a stronger core and lower back can lower the handlebars.
Form on the bike is also extremely important to avoid injury. Because cycling is a non-impact exercise, it might take longer for injuries to present themselves, and our goal is to prevent recurrent stress to the body. Make sure the balls of your feet are directly over the pedal and do not lock out your knees. In fact, your knees should be slightly bent towards the center of the bike. Also, try to pull up with your legs instead of only pushing down.
Keep your head high and look in front of you at the road ahead to keep your neck aligned. Further, if you keep your abs tight, you can strengthen your core and help maintain your hips in proper alignment over the pedals. Additionally, it is important to keep your upper body relaxed; the handlebars are meant for balance and you should not be leaning too far forward or using your upper body to support your weight. You do not want to feel sore or tight in the forearms or triceps. As far as upper body movements on the bike, keep in mind that leaning while clipped in puts a lot of stress on the hip and knee joints and increases the risk for injury.
When biking out of the saddle, be sure to add resistance to the wheel to maintain balance from seated to standing. Also, your hips should be back on the saddle so your butt is only 1-2 inches above the nose of your saddle to ensure you are using your legs. Also, keep your upper body as still as possible with as little swinging or bouncing on the pedal to focus on core and leg muscles. You don’t want to pedal too fast or too slow; if you pedal too fast without the proper resistance, you will start bouncing in your seat and if you pedal too slowly you will be inefficient. It is more important to focus on intensity than on leg speed.
To maximize your workout, what you do off the bike is just as important and what you do on the bike. Resistance training to strengthen your core, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and back is extremely important to maintain proper form on the bike. The goal is to use exercises with a similar motion to cycling with lower and upper body while simultaneously increasing muscular endurance and core strength. Lack of glute strength is a major cause of muscle injury. Planks, lunges, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and rows are all good exercises to utilize to improve your spinning experience.
Don’t forget to stretch! Don’t rush out of the studio after class; the two to three minutes of stretching is the bare minimum necessary to prevent injury. Spin classes can leave you feeling tight and sore, and stretching helps prevent muscle soreness by increasing blood and nutrient supply to the muscle and improving flexibility. Concentrate on the hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves and hips. Spinning causes a tight psoas, which causes back pain and discomfort.
Moderation and diversity are key to any exercise program. Spinning 5-7 days a week will undoubtedly lead to repetitive stress on the same muscles and joints since your body is in the same position doing the same motions. Injuries caused from spinning range from lower back pain due to tight hip flexors and knee pain due to imbalances in surrounding muscles.
Spinning can be a fun and effective part of any exercise program. If you do choose to spin, be sure to complement it with other exercises, especially those that strengthen the core and glutes. To be truly fit and functional, remember proper form on the bike, muscle strengthening, stretching, and changing up your exercise routine.