Spinning classes have become one of the most popular ways to get a fast, quick, sweaty workout in Vancouver and there are no shortage of studios to choose from! Whether you want rock-out at Ride in Yaletown or work on your cycling form at Method, there’s a spinning studio for everyone’s tastes.
As a physiotherapist, I am increasingly seeing clients whose well-intentioned workouts may be feeding into their aches and pains and eventually causing injury, usually in their backs and knees. If done correctly, spinning has potential to be a fantastic addition to a workout regime, but a few key aspects of technique can go a long way in keeping your body injury-free.
Read on for three technique points to avoid spinning injuries and keep you out of the physiotherapy clinic.
1. Watch your back – use your core.
Look around the spin studio at your next workout: how much movement is happening in your fellow-spinners torsos? Are their hips level? How much side-hinging is happening in their mid-lower back when they peddle?
Your goal should be to keep your deep core muscles on during your riding such that you can minimize the amount of deviation of your spine and hips in lateral(sideways) directions. Not sure what your core is? Read our earlier blog post on core stability.
Core stabilization training outside of spin classes is definitely helpful, but consciously being aware of using these stability muscles during your workout to minimize movement in the spine is the easiest way to get extra benefit from your spin classes and avoid developing back pain in the process, especially if you know you tend to have a flexible spine, which I often see in younger women who practice a lot of yoga or dance.
2. Out of the saddle drills – not for all knees!
Fast leg/cadence drills while popping out of the seat are hard on your knees.
Coming out of the saddle is a great way to work on core control, gluteal(buttock) strength and practice improving your climbing technique. However, this should be accompanied by increasing the resistance a few levels to avoid uncontrolled spinning of the legs and increased pressure on the front of your knees, namely your patellofemoral joints. Repeated “fast-leg” drills out of the saddle have high potential to injure your knees and I would strongly recommend not doing them.
3. Fit matters – key elements of a proper set-up.
It is important to arrive a few minutes early to class in order to take the time to set up your bike to fit your body. If you need some extra help your instructor should help you to do this.
- Seat height and position: when clipped in to the pedals, your knee should be approximately 15-20 degrees bent at the bottom of the peddle stroke. Lowering your seat below this will cause increased stress on the front of the knee, the patellofemoral joint. The seat should also be moved forward or backwards so that when you lean forward to hold the handle bars, your back remains mostly straight and doesn’t bend too much.
One additional note: If you have tight hamstrings, be careful not to raise the seat height too much initially as you may put the hamstrings on too great a stretch and end up tearing them during your workout.
- Handle bar height and position: if you are newer to cycling, your handle bars should generally be higher so that you don’t need to bend forward to much and strain your lower back. As your core strength increases and you are better able to support your lower back with your muscles, you may gradually be able to drop the bars a few notches.
The bars should also be positioned far enough forward that your back can remain straight and not bent, as mentioned with the seat forward/backward position.
A few last tips…
- Start slow. Remember that your body needs time to accommodate to new stresses and types of exercise. For newcomers to spinning, I would recommend 3 days maximum per week to begin.
- Change positions often during your ride to shift the stresses to your body.
- LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! All exercise should at its core be about caring for our bodies. If you begin to feel pain that doesn’t go away within a few days to a week or begins to progress, have it assessed by a physiotherapist.