As winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere some athletes will spend most of their cycling time indoors. Often indoor cycling workouts turn into hammer sessions where athletes push themselves so hard that they forget about the importance of technique and form.
Here are my top 5 tips to ensure that you’re making the most of your indoor sessions.
- Start in a lower gear for your warm up. Your body is generally warmer within a few minutes of starting and the temptation is to ramp up the workload (tension, watts & speed) too quickly. An overly aggressive warm up can elevate muscle acidity, dump muscle glycogen, elevate breathing and heart rate too quickly — all before the cardiovascular and muscular systems are truly ready.
- Stand up during the warm up. Being out in the cold prior to your indoor session can cause tight shoulders & mid back, and it shunts blood to the lower leg. Standing stretches the calf, Achilles, soleus, gastroc and simultaneously lengthens the hip flexors. Try 6 to 10 standing segments of 10 to 20 sec each during the warm up.
- Find the right seat position. Set the proper pelvic position by exaggerating anterior and posterior tilting. This will allow you to find the sweet spot for optimal power. Start by rotating your pelvis anteriorly with your belly button pointing downward. Try 30 seconds in this position and it will feel weird! Your low back will tighten a bit and pelvic angle will cause slight discomfort on the sensitive spots. Now try the opposite: assume a posterior tilt with your pelvis rotated back and your navel pointed uphill. Both positions will feel extreme and that’s the point! Try it one more time and see if you can find the sweet spot where your gluteals are activated and not just your quads. Now you’re ready to hold this position by drawing in your belt line muscle – the transverse abdominus — and you’ll stabilize your spine and create a comfortable yet powerful position. Remember that if you are in a spin class using gym bikes, pay particular attention to your fore and aft seat position; it’s usually not the same as on your TT or road bike.
- Relax your upper body. Relax your upper trapezius muscles and quit stuffing them in your ears. While you’re on the indoor bike and have no worries about traffic, wild animals or other erratic cyclists, practice dropping your shoulders and gently squeezing your mid traps to bring the inferior (lower) part of the scapula abducted towards your spine. This squares up your shoulders, minimizes a rounded and hunched upper back and ultimately keeps your spine in a neutral position to generate more horsepower out of your core!
- Smooth Your Pedal Stroke. Practice 5 smooth circles with your right foot and then 5 with your left. Repeat this pattern for 1 minute and take a break. Implement 8 minutes into a workout at different intensities and RPMs. This will send neuromuscular signals to your brain, and your entire cycling muscular chain. A smooth pedal stroke is paramount for efficient and fast cycling.
Take advantage of the lack of distractions inherent to indoor cycling, and work on your technique (not just brute strength). Practice these tips regularly and you’ll emerge from winter a stronger and more efficient cyclist.