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There's something magical about the way you feel walking out of a spin class. It's the combination of feel-good vibes (courtesy of a perfect playlist) and the hurt-so-good burn in your quads and glutes from pushing the pace up hills that keeps so many coming back for more. It's a great cross-training option if you're cold-weather-averse or need to take a break from other activities. (See: How Spin Class Made Me a Better Runner) Plus, whether you're a beginner or a veteran on the bike, there's no denying the calorie-torching potential in that dimly lit, steamy hot room: A 140-pound woman can burn upward of 350 calories in a single 45-minute class.
There's just one snag: If you're not tackling the class the right way, you could be doing yourself—and your body—a disservice in the long run. Here, experts from top cycling studios offer up the most frequent mistakes they see inside their spin classes, and how to correct them.
1. Improper bike setup.
Don't get down on yourself if you don't know the ideal way to set up your bike right off the bat. Like with anything else, it takes practice. There are a lot of moving parts (literally) that go into the ideal positioning on an indoor cycling bike, from the saddle height to the positioning of your knee over the pedal. "Make sure you have a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of your pedal stroke," says Dyan Tsiumis, head instructor at Swerve Fitness in New York City. "Most people ride too low, which creates extra demand on the hip flexors and doesn't allow for the greatest engagement of muscles during the movement." (See: How to Get a Better Butt Workout During Spin Class)
Another important positioning cue: With most bikes, you can adjust the fore and aft (forward and backward) movement of the saddle. This determines the alignment of your knee. "You'll want to make sure your knee is over the ball of your foot throughout your pedal stroke," she says. "If your knee is too far forward it can cause damage over time."
Finally, handlebar height. This is mostly a preference thing. How do you feel most comfortable in your saddle? If you have lower-back problems or are pregnant, you'll want these to be higher up to reduce added stress on your core and lower back.
2. Wearing the wrong clothing.
You might wear that half-marathon finisher T-shirt with pride, but loose and baggy clothes could get caught on the bike. And if they're made of cotton, they won't wick sweat—critical for keeping your cool (literally) during the workout. "It's super important to wear clothing that's designed for working out," says Justin Flexen, instructor at Flywheel Sports. "The last thing you want is clothing to get heavy, especially if you're an excessive sweater. The right gear will help you avoid overheating." (Yes, you just got another excuse to buy more workout clothes.)
3. Using too little resistance when out of the saddle.
Some people think less resistance (how difficult it is to push and pull the pedals) automatically means easier. That's not totally correct, especially when riding out of the saddle. "If your resistance is too light, it can actually be harder to stand, because there's not enough resistance to support you," says Emma Lovewell, instructor at Peloton. "My advice is to listen to the instructor's resistance cues, even if you're at the lower end of their recommendation. Slow your legs down and then work on building speed over time."
4. Arriving late.
You wouldn't show up late to a meeting with your boss. Give yourself (and your instructor) that same courtesy so you can get the most out of your time in the studio. Plus, missing the warm-up isn't a great idea. You wouldn't skip your warm-up before lifting weights or do a sprint workout without priming your legs first—spin class is no different.
"Especially your first time, you want to make sure you arrive extra early so you can learn the rules of engagement for class," says Tsiumis. "Even something as simple as knowing where the studio is or where the bathrooms are can make you feel more comfortable." Another helpful newbie tip: If you arrive early, you can let the instructor know it's your first time. "This can make you feel more comfortable and allow the instructor to provide you some extra insight into what's to come." (See: Talking to Your Instructor Is An Easy Way to Get More Out of Your Workout)
5. Incorrect form while holding the handlebars.
"The wrong grip can actually be bad for your overall posture and your shoulder health and mobility," says Lovewell. "It can also cause tension in your neck and traps."
So, what does the right grip look like? Looking down at the bars, place one hand on the side bars (not the bottom bar) with your thumbs pointing forward and hands wrapped around the outsides of the handlebars. "This way, you're able to keep your chest open and a neutral spine," says Lovewell. "This will help you avoid hunching, which could reinforce bad posture and can lead to injury." (These abs exercises will also help you improve your posture to perform better in spin class.)