They walk confidently into the room, casually flinging a hand towel over the handlebar, plopping their water into the holder. They adjust their seat in seconds and begin a steady pedal, while you’re still trying to figure out where the pin for the seat adjuster-thingy is.
Then the instructor comes in and instantly knows you’re new. She is nice, so nice, but now the class knows your a newbie, and you are just now sure how this class is going to pan out. Finally, with the seat in the right place, a confident pat on the arm from the teacher you’re on this thing, but what the heck is going to happen next?
Cue the music, dim the lights and the instructor starts yelling or maybe screeching — yep, more like screeching. A terrifying 45 minutes later you’re dripping with sweat and praying you can stand up to walk out of the room without your legs shaking. Can it really be that bad? Nope! Not if you’ve got a few tips to be prepared.
Tips and to-dos
- Tell the instructor you’re new. Likely, they already know that, but a quick conversation will let her know to cue you when needed for good form and other adjustments as needed.
- Ignore the instructor when needed. Group cycle classes are extremely popular right now. Chances are most of the riders near you have experience and the teacher caters to them. If you need to peddle quietly for a while to catch your breath, go ahead and do it.
- Everyone started where you are. Unless you’re a major gear-head, everyone’s first cycle class is daunting. It truly is a different form of conditioning, even if you’re fit in other sports. Just give yourself three or four classes to adjust and you’ll be just fine.
- You really do need water. Cycling is a high-intensity class, you will work very hard and you will sweat buckets. Be prepared for that and make sure you have water on hand. Trust me, you’ll need it.
- You really do need a towel, too. Yes, you will sweat and that weird gooky stuff will gather in the corners of your mouth. You’ll want a towel to keep your eyes clear, and sometimes the instructors use them for upper body exercises.
- Bike shorts help — a lot. Bike shorts have extra padding with helps with chafing and pressure on certain spots. Yes, you can just tough through it, but you’ll have a better ride if you’ve got a little padding down there.
- A stiff-soled shoe is preferable. A stiff-soled shoe is better if you’ve got one, something with little flexibility to it. They do make shoes specifically for group cycling, but it’s not worth the investment until you know for sure you’re going to stick with it. If you don’t have a pair, go with a good, well-rounded sneaker with a thicker sole.
- Ladies, a sports bra, is your friend. As an instructor, I’ve seen a lot of women enter with just a light yoga bra. You will be more active than you think and yes, go for the better, more stable bra.
- Tank tops are better than t-shirts. Tank tops here will be better because you will get quite warm in the class. Most people go with a loose tank that hangs a bit long, so it doesn’t ride up when you bend over for certain positions.
Setting up the bike
There are a lot of insider secrets when you are setting up the bike. Always defer to the instructor’s preferences, but here are some general guidelines to ensure a smooth ride.
Ladies: If you can slightly tip the seat downward that will give you a little breathing room “down there.” It should be a very small adjustment, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re sliding down your seat. But there’s a little abuse down there, and a downward angle can help a lot.
Gentlemen: There is a nerve at the base of your penis that can cause things to go numb while you’re riding. I am very good friends with a man who refuses to do group cycling specifically for this reason. Adjust your seat so that you’ve got some room there, and the padding bike shorts will help a lot too. If something does go numb it’s only temporary but if you have any concerns, check with your doctor.
Handlebars: I prefer newbies to set the handlebars high to help take stress off the lower back when you’re leaning forward. I recommend gradually lowering the handles over time until you find a happy medium between seat and handlebar height.
Seat height: You should be able to pedal slowly, with your foot parallel to the floor, with just a slight bend in the knee. When in doubt, go for slightly more knee bend, but do know you can always hop off your bike and adjust if needed. Sore knees aren’t fun!
Seat position: Most bikes allow you to slide the seat forward/backward to be more comfortable. If you have a shorter torso, you’ll want it forward. A longer torso is more comfortable with the seat further back. You’ll need to futz a bit to get a good spot for you and an instructor can help a lot here, don’t be afraid to ask their assistance.
For more of my tips on form, check out this video I created here.
After your first class
You are going to feel it. Your legs are likely to be shaky and the next day you might think twice before going up or down a flight of stairs.
You’re going to have a sore bum. There’s just no way around it, it’ll feel like a bruise on your butt and you’ll be lowering yourself gingerly into padded seating.
The first ride is always the worst! After that, it’ll get easier, although I do recommend a couple of days between your first class and you’re second. Usually by the fourth ride your butt has toughened up enough that you won’t even feel it the next day.
Why group cycling is so great
It’s all worth it! I’ve been teaching since 1998, and the music blaring, the challenging moves, the deep satisfaction of being drenched with sweat are all fantastic motivators. Not to mention sculpted legs and tushies that look great in shorts and short skirts. The other great benefit, most classes are 40 to 45 minutes, so you save a little time in the gym.
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