Your feet press down hard on the pedals, your heart races, and the bass drops on your favorite song. The instructor tells you to sprint and, lost in the moment, the figurative wheels begin to come off. Your hips rattle into earthquake-mode, your knees and elbows flail outwards, and your hands clench the handlebars for dear life. If scenes like this sound all too familiar, it’s time to revisit proper form on the spin bike. Nailing down perfect technique will not only help you avoid injury, it’ll ensure you’re burning calories and building muscle (win, win).
Unless you’ve been pedaling under a rock, you’ll know that SoulCycle is all about enforcing efficient and effective movement on the bike. Plus, the spin studio giant recently rolled out a next generation of spin bikes designed to give you a smoother ride complete with better hand and foot adjustments. So it was only natural that we tapped them for their advice.
Alex Kanter, a SoulCycle instructor based in New York City, says, “Spinning isn’t all about cardio. There are several elements that go into practicing good form on the bike that’ll help you sculpt and tone up muscles. You get more out of your workout when you’re able to engage several muscles at once.” To ensure you’re spinning with soul, follow Kanter’s lead with her tips below.
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7 Tips for Proper Form on the Spin Bike
1. Engage your core.
Whether you’re sitting in first position during a climb or sprinting in second, Kanter says recruiting your core muscles will help you spin efficiently. Your legs and feet tend to fatigue fast during a spin workout, but using your core with each stroke will give you more stamina. “Your core is where you’ll propel most of your movements on the bike. Imagine an invisible string pulling you from the center of the body when you ride,” she explains.
2. Add resistance.
Don’t be afraid to reach for the small knob in the middle of your bike — it allows you to adjust the resistance. Turning it to the right will ramp up the resistance, while turning it to the left will dial it down. It’s important to have some resistance in each pedal stroke. Adding it will make you feel more grounded and allow you to use different muscles in your core, Kanter says. “You shouldn’t feel like you’re tapping to the back of the room. The more resistance you add, you’ll have a more balanced stroke and be able to move with more control,” she explains.
3. Stay neutral.
When you’re seated in the saddle, maintain neutral position by pulling your shoulders back and down, actively settling them away from your ears. Equally important: “When you’re taking a pedal stroke, make sure you don’t have your feet too far flexed for a balanced stroke,” she says. Also peek down at your knees — they should never be flaring out. For greater control think about squeezing your inner thighs as you drive your foot down for each stroke. Lastly, keep your elbows slightly bent and your core tight even as you’re sitting.
4. Get into position.
In first position, the palms of your hands should be resting at the center of the handlebars and your hips evenly seated in the saddle. Drive your feet down on the pedals, but don’t slam them, Kanter says.
For second position, move your hands out to the curves of the handlebars. Here, you’ll usually be off the saddle and standing doing jumps (that’s a quick up and out of the saddle) and runs (imagine running in place). “Activate your glutes and hamstrings as you’re pedaling each stroke, and think about posture. Be sure to stand up straight with your chest lifted and hips square,” Kanter says.
In third position, your hands are extended out to the top of the handlebars. Your back is a little more flat, and your butt is back and down, Kanter says. You’re really only in third position during a climb. “When you’re tapping it back in third position, you want to lift your butt off the saddle one inch. People often lift it higher, but you won’t get as much glute and hamstring work if you do.”
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5. Sprint with control.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a sprint. But moving in a more controlled manner will force you to use more muscles to propel your feet. “Lock in your hips and squeeze your inner thighs. Make sure your shoulders are right above your wrists,” Kanter says. When people get tired, they tend to shift their bodyweight over their shoulders, but keep them in line, like they would in high plank position. “When I’m up in a sprint, I think about pulling my body up. Imagine that there’s a balloon attached to your core,” Kanter says.
6. Push up from your core.
When you’re doing push-ups or tricep dips, keep your core tight and firm to press up. With tricep dips, your hands move in a little closer on the handlebars, and your elbows might be touching your torso as you press up and down. On the other hand, with push-ups, you’re pointing elbows out to the sides. Lower your upper body towards the center of the bars. Then, press back up into a plank position, engaging your core and glutes. The biggest newbie mistake to avoid here? “Your elbows shouldn’t be too far to the sides. Keep them close to your body and tuck them in at a 30-degree angle,” Kanter says. She also notes that you want to lead with your chest as you come back up to plank.
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7. Climb with your whole body.
Hills are all about working your body from head to toe with each pedal push. It’s normal for it to feel sticky and tough, but the resistance is actually going to help you improve your speed and agility when you run a sprint, Kanter says. If you’re tapping it back to all four corners (aka drawing an imaginary square with your butt, moving it to four points), Kanter says to activate your obliques and move your elbows towards them.
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