The biggest mistakes beginner indoor cyclists make

My spin bike is one of those purchases that seemed frivolous at the time, but has become one of my most beloved pieces of exercise equipment. I use it for easy cardio, intense sprints, and just to get my body moving on rest days when it\’s too cold or raining for a good walk. But there are some definite pitfalls to indoor cycling when you are a beginner. Here\’s how to work around rookie mistakes and get comfortable in the saddle.

Being intimidated by the shoe/cleat situation

If you were expecting to get on the bike in running shoes, I\’ll stop you right there. While it\’s fine to pedal like that the first time or two, getting real cycling shoes will seriously pay off.

Cycling shoes have cleats on the bottom that clip into special pedals on the bike. Your bike may have come this way, or maybe you have a basic bike with flat pedals. Do yourself a favor and find out what kind of pedals you have, or go for pedals. (SPDs are common on many bikes; Peloton uses LOOK Delta, so that\’s another option.)

Then buy cycling shoes and install cleats on them that match your pedals. We have a guide to navigating the shoe and cleat market here. It\’s not that complicated, I promise.

Once you install the cleats and ride in the right shoes, you\’ll get a lot more power into the bike and a lot more out of your workouts.

Trying to do strength training on the bike

Yes your legs are working and after a hard ride you will feel it in your quads. But cardio doesn\’t count as a leg day. You still need to train lower body strength if you want to be an all-around strong person. As a bonus, you\’ll find that strength training helps your legs endure harder workouts without that burning sensation.

And the upper body? Same deal: You won\’t be able to do this on the bike. Yes, I know a lot of spin classes have a song or two where you wave small dumbbells or weighted bars in the air. This is better than nothing, but it\’s no substitute for proper weight training. You\’re building muscle Tired more than you are making them harder. Invest in a set of dumbbells that actually weigh something, and do a more traditional strength routine after you get off the bike or consider learn to do moves like push-ups and bodyweight rows.

Worry about ranking

If you take a spin class in the studio or if you log into a platform like Peloton, you will see your output ranked against others who are taking the same class. If you find it fun and motivating, that\’s fine. But there are two things your brain can do to turn the leaderboard against you.

The first is that you may end up seeing ranking as the only metric that matters. You will push yourself higher and higher towards the top or aim to break your old PRs. The problem is that training days should not be confused with competition days. Sure, set up a race or good old time trial once in a while. They are fun and the challenge will do you good. But training that actually makes you better isn\’t glamorous. It\’s putting in hours and hours of medium-intensity work, even low-intensity work, like putting coins in a piggy bank. If you\’re looking to PR every workout, you\’re missing out on one of the types of workouts that actually gives you the most benefit.

The other pitfall of ranking is that you may start to resent people who score higher than you. Nobody under you\’re in the standings, you clearly beat them honestly. But nobody Above you\’re probably cheating, right?

Body size has a lot to do with bike output. With more muscle mass to turn the pedals and more total mass available to push the pedals when standing, bigger people will finish higher in the league table than smaller people who are equally fit. (Bikers will talk about power per kilogram of body weightbut spin class leaderboards don\’t usually make this adjustment.) There are other factors as well: bikes can be calibrated differently from each other, and there are probably people who managed to trick the system in some way .

None of that matters for your workout, though. Focus on dedicating the time and the work to be done yourself better, and soon you\’ll be enjoying those rides for their own good.

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