You’ve spent hours reading spin bike reviews and finally decided which one to invest in. You place the order and wait (sometimes more than 10 weeks depending on the bike) and the day finally arrives — your spin bike is here. What next?
One option is to hop on and jump headfirst into a class. But before you do that, you’ll want to make sure you’re taking the time to properly adjust your bike. If you don’t, you may regret it later: Rushing into things can lead to injuries and pain.
Spin bikes are not one-size-fits-all. Everyone needs to make sure their bike is adjusted to fit their unique body — including adjusting for height and arm length. Most bikes come with videos or tips on adjusting your bike to fit your unique needs.
Karen Maxwell, a senior master instructor and head of Training Development for CycleBar, shared with us the top mistakes you should avoid (and how to fix them) when you’re adjusting your new bike at home.
Mistake 1: Seat is too low or high
When you get ready to ride your bike, the first thing you’ll look at is the seat height. It’s also the most important thing to get right, according to Maxwell. “The whole thing with indoor cycling is that it’s high-intensity, but low-impact. But it can be impactful if you don’t set up your bike correctly,” she says. That’s because if your seat isn’t the right height, you can put more impact on your knees and joints, which is the exact opposite thing you want from a bike.
How to fix it
One common way to measure how high your seat should be is to stand next to it and adjust the seat so that it’s even with your hips.
“Another way to measure is if you stand on the floor next to your bike with your feet flat and raise the leg that’s closest to the seat. If you raise it up to a 90-degree angle, the height of your leg should be at the same height as your saddle, because that’s about the length of your pedal stroke,” Maxwell says.
Once you’re on the bike you can do one more check to make sure the seat is adjusted correctly. “When you’re at the bottom rotation of your pedal stroke, you should have a slight bend in your knee. [Aim for] a 3% to 5% bend in your knee where you can still look down and see the top of your foot,” says Maxwell.
Mistake 2: Seat too far from or too close to handlebars
In addition to the height of the seat, you can also adjust how close the seat is to your handlebars — or the seat distance. “When you’re sitting in the saddle, you want to be able to touch your handlebars with a comfortable bend in your elbows. So you don’t want to feel like you’re reaching for your handlebars and your arms are stick-straight, and you don’t want to feel like you’re too close where your knees are bumping up against the handlebars,” says Maxwell.
How to fix it
“A great way to measure [seat distance] is usually the length of your forearm from your elbow to your middle fingertip,” says Maxwell. Before you sit on your bike you can place your elbow at your seat and slide the seat forward to where your fingertip touches the handlebar.
Mistake 3: Handlebars are too low or high
Your bike handlebars will help you ride with proper form and support you — if you have them adjusted properly. Handlebars that are too high or too low for your body can lead to all sorts of pain and potential problems over time. “If your handlebars are too low, you’re going to feel fatigued or sore in your lower back,” Maxwell says.
According to Maxwell, you can feel discomfort from a low handlebar position because you’re riding in a hunched-over position, which is not good form.
You’ll also want to avoid adjusting your handlebars too high because you can feel discomfort in your shoulders from having your arms too high up in comparison to the bike seat. “It’s going to take your shoulders kind of up into your ears rather than riding with a chest open and shoulders relaxed down,” she says.
How to fix it
Make sure your handlebars are in a position so that you feel like your shoulders can relax and aren’t too high up toward your ears, and make sure you’re not hunched over the bike as well.
“Always try to keep our shoulders pulled down away from our ears, relaxed, but squared off,” says Maxwell. She adds that if you have lower back problems, try adjusting your handlebars higher. “It will help you feel like you can sit up taller, more upright in the saddle and like you’re not bending over to hold onto those handlebars. Ideally you want your handlebars to be about even [with], or a little bit higher than, the height of your seat,” she says.
Mistake 4: Death grip on the handlebars
When a spin class feels really tough or you’re struggling to keep up with the pace or resistance, you might find yourself gripping the handlebars for extra support. But this is not the way to go, since, “ideally you should evenly distribute your weight over the bike so that the center of your body (your core) is over the center of your bike,” Maxwell says.
Putting too much weight on the handlebars during class can affect the upper body, wrists and shoulders. It can also put extra pressure on your quads, which could lead to knee pain, according to Maxwell.
How to fix it
Keep a light grip on the handlebars and be mindful of your posture and form as much as possible. “Your hips would be pulled back over the saddle and your hands should be lightly resting and balancing you on the handlebars. So your grip is light but strong,” says Maxwell.
The goal is to keep your body long and lengthened and keep the hips back so your core, hamstrings and glutes can support you.
Mistake 5: Wrong foot position/pedaling
Pedaling on a bike seems pretty straightforward, but you will want to take stock of how you’re doing it and avoid any habits that could lead to injury or pain. The first thing to keep in mind is to avoid pointing the toes down, which may feel natural when you first clip in on the bike.
How to fix it
“You want to keep everything in alignment facing forward. So your knees, your toes, your ankles, everything is facing forward,” says Maxwell. You also want to keep your knees aligned and avoid crossing them or bowing your knees out. “That’s going to put pressure on your IT band all the way down through your ankle,” she explains.
Avoid turning your feet out, and keep a flat foot when you peddle, again avoiding pointing your toes down. To prevent ankle and foot problems, “It’s better to have a flat foot and lead with your heel for an evenly distributed pedal stroke,” she says.