6 Ways to Avoid Bad Form on the Bike

For an optimal ride, avoid these common body-positioning missteps

Spin class
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As the saying goes, you never forget how to ride a bike. It’s such a simple, familiar activity, so it’s natural to climb onto the saddle and start pedaling without a care in the world. But that’s a mistake, especially in an indoor cycling class, because improper form can lead to inefficiencies in your technique — or worse, pain during or after your ride. Every rider’s body is different, but the principles of proper form are universal — and they’re essential to working the right muscles.

Here’s a head-to-toe look at common mistakes people make with their form in indoor cycling:

Dropping Your Head

Besides straining your neck and shoulder muscles, putting your head down when you’re pushing hard or feeling tired can also impair your oxygen intake, setting you up for further fatigue or lightheadedness. So, hold your head up! Remember, too, that the more you relax your face and jaw, the more freely you’ll breathe, which means you’ll inhale more oxygen and energize your muscles for the duration of the ride.

Rounding Your Back

It can set you up for neck, shoulder, and back strain and pain. By contrast, keeping your back straight (in a neutral position, not a tensed one) and your shoulder blades retracted, and hinge-ing forward from the hips offers a better platform for generating power and force from your legs. If you have trouble maintaining a straight back, check your bike set-up.

Locking Your Elbows

Keeping your arms ramrod straight while you ride can throw your posture out of alignment and send muscle tension from your hands up through your arms and into your shoulders, neck, and upper back — the opposite of what you want to happen! That’s why it’s important to keep a slight bend in your elbows and keep them fairly close to your body, in line with your knees as you pedal.

If you can’t achieve this position, your seat or handlebars may not be in the right position.

Excessively Flexing Your Wrists

Riding with a big bend in your wrists while seated can lead to wrist pain and strain — and it can send shockwaves of tension into your forearms, upper arms, and even your shoulders. The goal is to keep your wrists in a neutral alignment with your hands, forearms, and elbows. Don’t white-knuckle the handlebars because this can impair circulation to your hands, leading to numbness or pain. Instead, maintain a light grip on the handlebars to avoid creating stress that can shoot up into the arms and upper body.

Splaying Your Knees

If your knees are turning out to the sides as you pedal, your seat is probably too low or you’re using bad form. Either way, this can put unnecessary strain on your knees and lead to pain and injury. When pedaling, your knees should be in line with your feet, all the way through each pedal stroke, and your knees should always be bent slightly, even at the bottom of each pedal stroke.

Riding with Pointed Toes

This can cause numbness in the feet and an overuse injury involving the tibial tuberosity, a bony protrusion at the top of the lower leg just below the knee where several important ligaments converge. Another faux pas: Jamming your feet too far inside the pedal cages, which can restrict blood flow to the feet, causing numbness and/or cramping in your feet. The same is true if you fasten the cage straps too tightly or squeeze your toes excessively as you pedal. When you pedal, your feet should be flat, with the ball of each foot directly over the center of each pedal, so you can maximize your pedaling power and efficiency.

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