Indoor spinning is all the rage. Most well-trained instructors will start each class by helping newcomers get properly fitted. If yours doesn't, don't be afraid to ask for help.
Fit is critical with spinning, and knee trouble is common among novices who neglect to adjust their seats properly. A poorly fitted stationary bike may or may not hurt you during class; it can take a day or so before joints really yowl.
"If they find that their knees hurt more in the front of their knees, then it's a good chance that their seat is either too low or too far forward. Or, if they have pain in the back of the knee, then it's the opposite—their seat is too high or too far back. They are having to reach way too far forward, so there is a lot of overextension of the hamstring," said Rosie Ward, who trains spin instructors for the National Exercise Trainers Association. With a proper fit, "most people should be able to ride without pain."
So, what are the ABCs of cycling? First, bring water and a towel, because you will sweat. Then follow these rules.
Before hopping on, stand beside your bike. Set the seat's height so it reaches the top of your hip ball joint. Take a seat.
Pedal with your foot parallel to the floor. "Women, don't jam your foot all the way into the shoe stirrups," Ward warns. Instead, make sure the widest part of your foot rests over that pedal spindle.
Pedal slowly. Even during the downstroke, your leg stays bent—at a 25- to 35-degree angle. Use a goniometer device to help ensure accuracy. (Check out bikefit.com/docs/Goniometer.pdf.)
During the upstroke, your kneecap should be right over your shoelaces, not your toes. Imagine a string dangling from your knee to your foot. Where does the string fall? If it's not right over your shoelaces, move your seat forward or back.
Make changes gradually if you've been riding for ages at the wrong settings, so muscles and bones can ease into the change.
Don't let your knees splay out. If you're bow-legged, pull your knees together until they're in line with your hips. Recheck frequently. When we tire, our legs get sloppy. A wrong knee angle paired with cranked-up resistance can cause unnecessary wear on cartilage.
These rules can keep you safe from injury. Listen to your body. If your knee or hip hurts, back off, slow down and recheck your fit. And don't be afraid to take a few weeks off if your knees start fussing. If you experience pain, stop. Go see a doctor or a physical therapist. Come back when you're healthy.
Cycling is a fabulous, low-impact, high-intensity workout that gobbles up calories. So make sure it stays fun, effective and safe.