Whether you're an avid cyclist, an occasional spin class warrior or are considering your first ever ride there are four spin instructors in SF that you want to know: Andrew Stinger, Marcia Robles, Danny Baker and Caroline Jordan. These four "Spin Ninjas" have uniquely different styles and coaching methods and while different are all grounded in safety, effectiveness and kick ass energy. When I need a good ride or someone I can refer my clients to in between training sessions, these are my four most trusted trusted folks.
Each was kind enough to share with me the most common and dangerous form issues they regularly see and how to avoid them. We also discussed the biggest mental challenges riders face these days and strategies for overcoming them. And each provided their take on how often someone "should" spin, intervals-vs-steady state and what to do in between rides. Checkout each Spin Ninja's answer below and be sure to make a point to visit their classes. Maybe you'll see me there!
Q1: What is the most common and potentially dangerous form issue you see frequently and how do you help your riders correct it?
I've been honing in on two form considerations at the start of this year.
The first is actually more about bike set-up, but it influences form: please don't set your saddle too low! If you have excessive bend in your knee when seated on a bike, you reduce the efficiency of your pedal stroke, and you increase your risk of IT Band soreness and injury. At SoulCycle, we recommend the top of the saddle lines up with the top of the hip bone when standing off the bike; however, every body is different (and sometimes riders add a gel cushion to their saddle, etc.), so a second way to check seat height is to ensure you have a little bit of bend in the knee. If your leg is going fully straight, or if you have excessive bend in the knee, it's worth adjusting and/or checking-in with someone on your saddle height. (Details here.)
The second has to do with our hands and elbows. It's no secret that a stationary bike isn't going to go anywhere, so we don't need a "death grip" on the handlebars. We can't steer these bikes! When seated, avoid the urge the grab the back handlebar with clenched fingers, and instead bring your hands together like you're praying and rest the meaty part of your hands (under the pinky fingers) on the back handlebar. This makes it less likely for you to flex your wrist at an unnatural angle for too long, and has the added benefit of encouraging you to avoid locking out your elbows as well. This, in turn, forces you to brace your core muscles for more of the work out.
The most dangerous thing that I see is not having enough resistance on the wheel. Anytime that you are "spinning" (i.e. the freewheel is maintaining its momentum without any power coming from the rider), you are putting your knees in a horrible position. It's like being on a road bike without brakes and having to Flinstone brake, by dragging your feet on the pavement.
The entire reason that "exercise bikes" are fixed gear is so that you have the opportunity to use the entire "range of motion" of the machine. Meaning if you fill up the circle on each pedal, you do more work, go faster, burn more calories, use more muscles, become stronger and more efficient.
Also, using your entire pedal stroke engages different muscle groups: the front uses your quads, the bottom uses your hamstrings, the back uses your glutes and the top uses your calves and hips. And your core is engaged the entire time.
One potential danger is leaning too much into the handlebars. Keep your weight distributed over the center of the bike. That means directing your energy towards tightening your core and balancing your weight over your midsection, quads, glutes and hamstrings.
Riding seated with the arms reaching FAR forward and the back rounded may seem harmless, particularly since elite cyclists ride in a similar position using aero bars. Since triathletes have custom fitted bikes with shorter top tubes, they can stretch into this position comfortably. However on the Spin bike, this hyper-flexed position may strain the back and can be uncomfortable, particularly for shorter individuals. Keep your shoulders down, core engaged, and maintain strong posture when you ride. (For more tips from Caroline checkout here blog here.)
Q2: What is the biggest mental challenge your riders experience and what advice do you offer to help them overcome it?
It doesn't have to be perfect! Because we rhythm ride at SoulCycle, some folks get discouraged if they don't hit every beat or every movement in time with the music. I was such a person when I started riding at SoulCycle. It's important to remember that (1.) if it's always perfect, then we're not growing nor learning, and (2.) January is too early to quit on your goals for the year. I've already fumbled on some of my resolutions, but I've gotta stick with 'em and recommit!
Give yourself grace and ask questions before and after class if you have them. And give any new workout at least 2-3 tries so you can become familiar with form, technique and general class flow.
First timers have the most difficult time with mostly "letting go", meaning everybody puts limits on themselves when they first start with me. Saying "That's too much resistance for me", "My max wattage is only XYZ" or "I can't go any longer/harder".
There is no such thing as being good or bad at "spinning"; there is only your level of effort.
Letting yourself "fail" is the most freeing part of my class and just realizing that you can do so much more than you ever thought you could.
And getting away from "your" limits and getting uncomfortable is really the only way to get stronger and more fit both mentally and physically.
That is the entire reason that I have been coaching/teaching group exercise for over 10 years.
Staying mentally engaged for an entire class can be difficult. I suggest taking The Pursuit by Equinox. Real time data from each riders console is interpreted in the form of an in-studio game making for a highly interactive and competitive environment.
Remember, there is no competition in Spin class. Go at the pace that feels right for you.
Q3: How often *should* someone spin? What about intervals versus steady-state/long rides? What do you suggest your riders do in between classes/rides to ensure balance in their bodies?
The answer to this really depends on your overall health goals.You probably don't need to ride 12-16 times per week (which is as often as I teach), but so long as you have a dedicated recovery plan that works for you, you can ride as often as you want to get your body moving!
If you are a road cyclist looking to cross train with indoor cycling, I'd acknowledge that most indoor cycling classes offer intense interval training, so you probably still want to bundle up in the colder months for one medium-distance and one longer-distance ride where you observe a more consistent pace.
In between classes, be serious about your nutrition and fuel, get on a foam roller, do some yoga and/or stretching several times per week and be sure to get some real sleep as often as you can! I also like to lift heavier weights or do body weight exercises a few times per week to target areas that we can't always get while clipped-in to a bike. Again, though, it boils down to personal preference and goals.
Since 80% of my classes are nasty ass interval rides, I recommend 2 to 3 times per week. If you really do your intervals you need some recovery in between. I usually suggest strength training and also some Pilates/yoga to add to the plan.
Spinning in place in a dark room can get tiresome so I suggest changing up your routine from time to time. If you enjoy spinning, spice your routine up a bit by hitting the road and biking outside. Spinning can also keep us in a repetitively flexed body position so be sure to counteract that by strength training and improving flexibility. Strength movements that require you to use your back muscles (i.e. pull ups and horizontal cable rows) will help to strengthen postural muscles while practicing yoga can help to open up your chest and shoulders.
Being a wellness coach, I work to help others find balance. And I can honestly say that today I practice what I preach. Now I train with a self-compassionate mind, a training regimen I would prescribe to a loved one. It’s always a work in progress and my body changes all the time. Every day is an invitation to choose to check in, listen, and find a healthy challenge. One that makes me feel amazing.
I believe exercise is one of the most powerful ingredients in having energy and living a healthy life. The hard part is figuring out when enough is enough and when it’s just too much. The good news? Your body is SMART. You just need to train your brain to recognize the signs for when to put the pedal to the metal and when to pump the brakes—and actually do it.
Here are my thoughts on how to learn to listen to your body and enjoy exercise in a healthy way.