Health & Fitness

20 ways you're indoor cycling wrong

And ruining your own workout.

By Elizabeth Narins
indoor cycling fitness

Don't let silly mistakes make your indoor cycling sessions less effective. The next time you park your butt on a bike, right these wrongs, demonstrated by Bree Branker, an indoor cycling instructor at Flywheel in New York City, to reduce your risk of injury and get a disgustingly sweaty but utterly amazing workout.

1. You arrive for class right on time. The problem: This leaves you approximately zero time to set up your bike and test out the settings before class begins. Arrive at least five minutes early to settled. That way, you'll have time to flag down an instructor to help with any extra-tight knobs and give your setup a once-over if you're unsure about it. And even if you're a pro, you won't have to spend the first song awkwardly readjusting.

2. You death-grip the handlebars.

The handlebars are only there to help you balance — not to bear the weight of your entire upper body. When you grip the handlebars too tight, you end up with unnecessary tension in your shoulders and back. So shift your weight into your lower body by bringing your hips back and release your fists to reduce tension.

3. Your seat is too high or too low. Too low, and you won't be able to fully extend your legs, which detracts from the power of each pedal stroke. Too high, and your hips will rock back and forth to reach the bottom of each pedal stroke, which slows you down and can end up bruising your groin. To get the perfect seat height, stand next to the bike, hold your palm parallel to the ground, and place it at the top of your hipbone. The seat is the right height when your hand is in line with the seat (below) and you can pedal comfortably.

4. Your handlebars are higher than the seat. When you set your bike up like you're about to take a joyride around the neighborhood, you miss out on the benefits of low handlebars, which force you to activate your core to stabilize the upper body. That said, lower handlebars aren't always better. When the handlebars get way lower than the seat, you'll have to hinge forward to reach them, which can put uncomfortable pressure on your groin, aggravate back pain, and prevent you from performing at your peak. Ideally, the handlebars and seat should be even with one another:

5. Your knees graze the emergency brake. If this happens while you're out of the saddle, it means your hips are too far forward instead of over the seat (where they should be).

While out of the saddle, keep your hips as close to the seat as you can to isolate your core, quads, and butt most effectively.

And if the knee-graze thing happens while you're seated? It means the seat is too close to the handlebars. This can lead to terrible knee bruises and makes things easier for your abs, so you don't build core strength while you ride. The farther your seat is from the handlebars, the more your core needs to work to stay upright. So slide the seat backward as much as you can to still comfortably reach the handlebars.

6. You bend your elbows out to the sides when you "tap back." The "tap back" is designed to activate your glutes by driving your hips backward and hovering right over the seat, without sitting. But when you bend your arms and fling your upper body forward to accentuate the movement, instead, you put tension on your shoulders and miss out on the butt-busting benefits of the exercise. To correct your form while you travel back and forth on the bike, keep your arms long and close to your sides, with a very slight bend in the elbows.

7. You sway from side to side while you pedal. Sometimes an awesome playlist can make you want to dance right in the saddle. But before you get all "party on a bike!" remember that swaying challenges your balance, so you have to hold on to the handlebars extra-tightly. This puts harmful pressure on your shoulders. Instead, channel the beat into the cadence of your pedal strokes, and focus on keeping your hips over the seat.

7. You sway from side to side while you pedal. Sometimes an awesome playlist can make you want to dance right in the saddle. But before you get all "party on a bike!" remember that swaying challenges your balance, so you have to hold on to the handlebars extra-tightly. This puts harmful pressure on your shoulders. Instead, channel the beat into the cadence of your pedal strokes, and focus on keeping your hips over the seat.

7. You sway from side to side while you pedal. Sometimes an awesome playlist can make you want to dance right in the saddle. But before you get all "party on a bike!" remember that swaying challenges your balance, so you have to hold on to the handlebars extra-tightly. This puts harmful pressure on your shoulders. Instead, channel the beat into the cadence of your pedal strokes, and focus on keeping your hips over the seat.

7. You sway from side to side while you pedal. Sometimes an awesome playlist can make you want to dance right in the saddle. But before you get all "party on a bike!" remember that swaying challenges your balance, so you have to hold on to the handlebars extra-tightly. This puts harmful pressure on your shoulders. Instead, channel the beat into the cadence of your pedal strokes, and focus on keeping your hips over the seat.

8. You stomp down on the pedals, but don't pull up. This fatigues your quads and neglects your other muscles. When your shoes are clipped into the pedals (or your feet are securely strapped in), you'll get extra power from pulling up and pushing down.

9. You OD on resistance. When you amp up the resistance so much that you can't keep up with the instructor's pace or feel like you can't pedal without swaying from side to side, your body has to recruit weaker muscles and joints (like your hip flexors and ankles) to help your butt, quads, and core trudge ahead. But when you need your entire body to get through every stroke, your form completely goes to shit, which increases your risk of injury — especially in the lower back, knees, and hips. If you can't keep proper form at the resistance the instructor calls out, dial it back a bit.

10. You skimp on resistance. You are only cheating yourself. And making every pedal stroke more dangerous, since you need at least a little resistance to stop you from spinning out of control, hitting your knee on the brake, accidentally unclipping your foot from the pedal, or otherwise embarrassing yourself.

11. You totally neglect your core. Just because your abs don't touch the pedals doesn't mean they're not involved in every stroke. The core plays a major role in indoor cycling — which means actively engaging it could help you benefit from your workout even more. To do so, lengthen your spine, roll your shoulders back, and envision lifting your ribs off your hips. (Proper form, as it happens, forces you to activate your core.)

12. You overdo it on the hand weights. In most indoor cycling classes that involve upper body action, instructors recommend 1- to 3-pound weights. That's because the exercises tend to involve lots of reps. "Muscle fatigue is the goal," Branker says, "but within reason. You'll get more out of doing exercises correctly with light weights than doing them incorrectly with heavy ones." You can always lift more later.

12. You overdo it on the hand weights. In most indoor cycling classes that involve upper body action, instructors recommend 1- to 3-pound weights. That's because the exercises tend to involve lots of reps. "Muscle fatigue is the goal," Branker says, "but within reason. You'll get more out of doing exercises correctly with light weights than doing them incorrectly with heavy ones." You can always lift more later.

13. You open your elbows out to the sides during triceps exercises. Keep your elbows close to your head and your wrists directly behind your elbows — otherwise, the muscles behind your arms will miss out on all the action.

14. You stop breathing during the upper body exercises. You and your muscles need the oxygen to perform. So breathe in. And breathe out. (It'll be the easiest part of your workout, by far.)

15. You stop pedaling during the upper body exercises. When you sit upright and pedal with resistance throughout the entire arms workout, there's no way around engaging your core. Keep your legs moving to benefit from that extra burn and keep your leg warm.

16. You take off all the resistance during the arm exercises. Pedaling with no resistance is dangerous as it is — and especially when your hands are off the handlebars.

17. You wear loose pants. When you forgo tight leggings for loose yoga pants, the excess fabric can bunch up between the bike and the pedals. Anything that needs adjustment (like pants that fall down or shorts that ride up) messes with your focus and deters you from getting the most out of your workout.

18. You wear a flimsy sports bra. Just because there is a bike seat doesn't mean you'll be sitting in it throughout the workout. You actually bounce around a lot when you spin. Wear a supportive sports bra that's suitable for running to keep your girls in check.

19. You unclip your shoes while you sit in the saddle. This puts undo pressure on your hips. Instead, stand up on the bike with your hands on the handlebars, with one pedal up and one down. With your highest foot, twist your heel out to the side or in toward the bike:

Next, swing the loose foot over the seat and place it on the ground on the same side of the bike as your clipped foot. Swing your clipped heel out to the side to release the foot.

Next, swing the loose foot over the seat and place it on the ground on the same side of the bike as your clipped foot. Swing your clipped heel out to the side to release the foot.

Next, swing the loose foot over the seat and place it on the ground on the same side of the bike as your clipped foot. Swing your clipped heel out to the side to release the foot.

Next, swing the loose foot over the seat and place it on the ground on the same side of the bike as your clipped foot. Swing your clipped heel out to the side to release the foot.

20. You skip the stretch. Facts first: There's not much science to prove that stretching reduces injury, helps muscles recover, or improves physical performance, according to L. Bruce Gladden, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Auburn University in Alabama. But stretching out your hips, calves, and quads still feels pretty freaking good — and you deserve to treat yo'self after putting your body through the wringer. "Think of the post-class stretch as part of your 45-minute class," Branker says. "Even two minutes of stretching is immensely better than not stretching at all. Sealing your ride with a moment of calm is priceless."

Bree is wearing a Floral Sports Bra, JOGHA, $39.02, and Floral Leggings, JOGHA, $83.62; with hair and makeup by Shqipe Gocaj for Stylisted.