Yes, indoor cycling is a great low-impact cardio option for many (but not all!) with joint pain, especially those with knee issues. But, on the flip side, if you're misusing your at-home bike, the piece of equipment can actually cause discomfort or injuries throughout the entire body.
Ahead, you'll find a few very common mistakes that are made during at-home cycling sessions, plus expert tips for correcting them — and hopefully eliminating pain from the picture.
If you're tempted to rush through this step just to hop on the saddle, slow down for the health of your joints. In fact, Elena Koshivaki, a master instructor at Cyc Fitness, says that knee pain during or after class is a huge sign your bike isn't set up properly.
"If your seat is too low in class you will feel compression in the front of the knee," Koshivaki says. "If your seat is too high, that's when you start to strain in the back of the knee."
"Having a seat that is too low will not only make your pedal stroke less efficient, it can also be a cause of knee and lower back pain. Look for just a soft bend in the knee with each pedal stroke," Arndt says.
If you're taking a Zoom class where your instructor can check out your set-up, definitely speak up for help. Other at-home bike systems have instruction videos that can help you properly adjust your bike, while this expert guide provides helpful tips on setting up your bike to fit your needs.
Just like there's a correct technique when performing bicep curls or crunches, at-home cycling has its own set of form recommendations. "If you don't feel the saddle in between your legs in and out of the saddle you are way too forward on the bike," Koshivaki says. "Listen to the instructor's cues and look at how they are riding. Also, it's not a speed competition. You won't impress the instructor by going as fast as you can, you will give us a heartache instead!" Koshivaki says you should practice engageing your core, too.
Not turning up your resistance while jogging it out in a standing position is another situation that can lead to poor form. "You want to be able to retain control of your ride. Plus, you're really just moving your legs rather than working against opposing forces to build muscle, so you won't be getting as good of a workout," Arndt says.
Not Warming Up or Cooling Down
Raise your hand if you've skipped a cooldown just so you can sign onto work a little early, or secure ample shower time. (We know we're not alone.)
No surprise here, Koshivaki says that, unfortunately, stretching is commonly overlooked, but prepping the body before a cycling class will allow your muscles to work more efficiently. "Our joints will have more of a full range of motion and that will decrease the risk of injury."
Arndt suggests taking a cycling class that includes a warmup. However, if you're not, or are just hopping on for a short ride, opt for a dynamic warmup separately or get on the bike before the class starts to "get moving and start to increase blood flow and bring your heart rate up." And when it comes time to cooldown? "Spend 5-10 extra minutes on the bike or 5-10 minutes of movements that use the same muscle groups to start to bring your heart rate down and return the body to its natural state. I am a big fan of foam rolling, especially the hip flexors, and add this to my routine," Arndt says.
This guide is another helpful tool for planning a warmup and cooldown routine for your cycling session.
Not Listening to Your Body
"If you are new to the cycling world, then take it one class at a time," Koshivaki says. "No one hops on the bike and gets everything the instructor is doing in the first class. Challenge yourself, but don't hurt yourself!"
That means listening to your body's cues and stopping your class if something feels painful. You should also consult with a medical professional to get to the root of the pain you're experiencing — there's a chance the ache doesn't have to do with your at-home bike.
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