The calorie-torching qualities of indoor cycling are hard to beat—that is, if you're making the most out of your session. Avoid these all-too-common speed bumps for the ultimate—and injury-free—ride.
—Amy Roberts, certified personal trainer
Holding on Too Tight
While it sometimes might feel like it, we swear the bike isn't going to derail and shoot across the room. So try not to cling to the handlebars with the grip of a champion rock climber. "No white knuckles!" says Jessica Bashelor, owner of The Handle Bar indoor cycling studios in Boston, MA. "It's waste of energy as well as the beginning of a greater problem—supporting body weight on your hands and wrists." If yours are sore after a ride, that's a sure sign. Next time, direct that energy toward tightening your core and balancing your weight over your midsection, glutes, and quads.
Another spot riders tend to clench, especially when the class gets difficult, is their upper body. You can picture it: The shoulders scrunched up around the ears, like they're doing their best turtle impression. "The more you loosen your shoulders, relax the bend in your elbow, and keep your neck nice and long, the more you can focus your energy on your lower body and getting the most out of your ride," says Bashelor.
Slacking on Resistance
Sometimes, with those endless "add another quarter turn's," it can feel like your legs might just stop turning entirely, or spin right off your body in protest. While most good instructors will tell you that your ride is what you make of it, it's actually unsafe to zip along, hips bouncing all over the place, with no resistance at all. "This mistake can lead to hip and knee problems," Bashelor explains. "Not to mention the instructor notices this 'cheating' from a mile away." Her advice: Don't show up for a ride just to let the bike do the work.
Pushing Too Hard Without Pulling
The pedals have those toe cages for a reason, and clip-in shoes make it even more clear. The rotation in your legs isn't just about how hard you can hammer through the balls of your feet, but also the power you can exert as you bring each foot back up and around. "If you focus on eliminating the pause at the bottom of your pedal stroke and really drive your knee up and out to complete your rotation, you'll find more power as well as a better hamstring workout," says Bashelor.
Attacking a Climb Right from the Start
When you approach a hill on a regular bicycle, your body position often shifts forward and backward a bit. Take this same tack on your indoor ride. Begin a climb with hands on the lower outside of the handlebars (position 2) with a decent bend at the hips. When it's really starting to feel like a slog, move your hands to the straight part of the bars right in front of you (position 1), which raises the torso and increases your hip angle. You'll notice an energy boost in your legs by the subtle change in your torso, says Bashelor.
Doing Your Own Thing
It's one thing to short-shift a tension increase a teeny tiny bit, but quite another to stand and accelerate when the instructor (and the rest of the class) are seated and slowly climbing a hill. Believe it or not, there's a rhyme and reason to the ebbs and flows an instructor puts into her lesson plan—and it's not just to match Beyoncé's beat—both in terms of calorie burn and muscle use. "You may think going harder for longer than everyone else will give you a better workout," says Cassie Piasecki, an indoor cycling instructor in Orange County, CA. "But it won't. You are burning out your muscles and disrupting the class."
Not Stretching After
You know how your hip flexors feel a wee bit cranky when you disembark your bike? Or maybe it's your calves that are whimpering for a reprieve. Or your shoulders, despite your best efforts to keep 'em calm, are a bit peaked. And, of course, there are your quads, glutes, and hams—done-zo. So do them all a favor and give 'em a good stretch (ideally, even longer than the two-minute break you get inside the classroom). Your future self will be grateful.