Pulling Up, Spin Class Tactics

With all the snow on the ground and the need to log time on the bike, spin class is an ideal solution for getting in a good ride. In fact, I probably push harder in spin class than I do when I’m out riding on my own. There is a trained instructor who guides an intense work-out and the combination of hills, surges, speedwork, lifts, and steady climbs makes for an incredible 60 minutes on the stationary bike; plus there is the added bonus of what are usually great playlists made by the instructors!

Though I’ve been attending spin classes for a few years now, I do not consider myself an ‘advanced level’ spinner. I only go 1-2 times each week and I have very specific goals each time I go. 1.) Build better endurance to use the higher gears longer and 2.) Improve my form. I am sure there are plenty of articles and blogs out there with great advice on how to achieve these things and I will definitely be seeking them out. In the meantime, I thought I’d share the few things I’ve figured out that seem to be effective spin class tactics.

Position on the Bike

Finding a comfortable position on the bike is a bit of trial and error, but once you find the settings that work best for you it becomes easier to settle into the ride. My gym’s spin room has a few different models of bikes and I try to get on one of the same 3 bikes each time as I’ve found for some reason those seats seem to be more comfortable than the others. Then I adjust the seat so that when I’m sitting and have one leg almost straight my other leg is at a 90 degree angle; on the bikes at my gym this means the seat post for me is on the letter ‘J.’ I slide the seat forward in between the 5 and 6 has marks so that when I put my hands on the bars there is just a little bend in my elbows and my shoulders aren’t up in my ears. I put the handlebar height on 10 though I’m still trying to decide if I might want them a notch lower or higher. I don’t feel as though my form on the bike looks as natural as the instructor but then again, everyone’s body is different.

Pushing and Pulling

I wear my old running shoes to spin class which means I have to tuck them into the “mousetraps” and tighten the straps. Almost every time I go to spin class I consider buying a pair of spin shoes but then I change my mind when I think about all I’ve already invested in triathlon and bike gear (including clip in pedals for my Cannondale which are not compatible with the spin bike). However, I know for a fact that my pedaling techniques and subsequent work-out would be much improved if I just bought a pair of spin shoes…maybe I will.

Spin instructors put a lot of emphasis on making a full, smooth circle when spinning which means the legs are actively both pushing and pulling on the pedals. It took me a long time to start to feel this movement to know I was doing it correctly and it’s easy to lose pedaling form when the class intensifies. In order for me to pedal efficiently and correctly I have to really concentrate on my pedaling form.

My goal is to keep my feet flat in the pedals and not let my heel ride up driving my toes down. With a flatter foot it is easier to get through the push and pull motion. Pushing the pedal down seems like it should be easy but in fact I’ve found that to push correctly and keep the circular motion I have to really drive my foot forward in the pedal while keeping it flat and simultaneously use my quads to drive my legs forward and down. As soon as one leg is down it begins the pulling motion.

If I really concentrate, I first engage the hamstrings to help get my leg around the back side of the circle and then it’s all hams and glutes to pull the leg up, again keeping the foot in a flat position. The light bulb on pulling went off for me only recently. I believe it was during a surge drill in spin class and I was leaning forward, trying to keep my abs engaged and my back flat and I realized that I had to actively pull my leg as close to my chest as possible to really pull the pedal up. For me, focusing on pushing and pulling and the full circular motion with the pedals is easier to do when we are surging or doing seated climbs. The pace is one that I can control and those drills are more effective (and harder) when pedaling is done correctly.

Speedwork is great from an intensity standpoint but I’m not skilled enough yet to be able to get through speed while maintaining my pedal form. I tend to lose the pull during speedwork. And on standing drills or lifts almost all form goes down the drain. I usually focus more on my core and glutes when we’re standing and lifting though now that I feel like I better understand the pushing and pulling, I hope to improve my pedaling form during these drills and then will build my threshold for higher gears on the bike.

Spin Class Tactics

I really do enjoy spin class. I think it’s a phenomenal work-out and as I mentioned, potentially more challenging than what I would push myself to do on the road. The few other tactics for spin class that I think are important include:

  • Always bring water.
  • Allow for 3-5 minutes of ‘flat road’ spinning before the class begins; the instructors are almost always rushing to fit everything into 60 minutes which means there isn’t always ample time for warming up and cooling down both of which the body requires.
  • Don’t depend on your upper body to support you; I only recently started to understand how to engage my core to support me during standing and lift drills as well as when leaning forward during a surge. Good form is all in the core and it takes time to build that strength.
  • Be sure to properly stretch after; this is again something I find gets rushed in class and it’s worth to take another 5 minutes to stretch your glutes, quads, hamstrings, shoulders, and back.

What am I missing? What are your spin tactics? If you know of resources for form and technique for spin class, please feel free to share them in the comments.

13 thoughts on “Pulling Up, Spin Class Tactics

  1. BostonRunner

    Great post! I’ve only done spinning once before and it was early in the morning and I really didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve always wanted to try again, but never gotten the chance, or a spin buddy to motivate me! This tips are really helpful! I think last time one of my biggest problems was getting the seat position right!

  2. Samantha G

    I have been recently learning so many of the same things, like the pushing forward, not *just* down technique that you mentioned! Another thing I’m doing regularly to help my pedal form are one-legged drills. (This is also helping me practice clipping in/clipping out since that’s all new to me, too!) A coach I talked to said that one-legged drills will help strengthen your legs and get you to really concentrate on each part of the circle you’re making with your foot. I’ll unclip one foot and typically do about 30-40 on a side, then clip in the un-clipped foot, spin for about a minute, then do the same amount on the opposite side.

  3. Natalie Post author

    Hey ladies, thanks for checking out the post! @BostonRunner, definitely give it another try. Figuring out a comfortable seat position is definitely trial and error. It’s such great cross training for running! @Samantha, Great suggestions. You’re right, the one-legged drills do force you to focus on form. Do you do them on a road bike or just on the spin bike?

  4. Alex B.

    One legged drills are important skill routines to help develop good pedal stroking for both off and on road biking. However, taking the non pedaling foot out of the cage or off the pedal is not good form and contradicted. It is suggested you just allow the off leg to follow or fall weak. Taking the foot off the pedal causes the other leg and your core to contort or adjust to having support from only one side. This subconcious adjustment can take you out of good alignment on the pedaling side – knee over the pedal, smooth circles.

  5. Christine

    I just got back into spinning again and was searching the internet high and low for some tips and could not find anything about pedal strokes…till I came here. Thanks!!

  6. lizette

    ok im glad i came across this.. i realy want to join spin class but unfortunatly the hours they have, i cant make.. so i was thinking of doing my own spin class. is this a good idea and what important factors must i fallow since i will not be using an instructor

  7. Natalie Post author

    Lizette, I just started ‘riding’ at home with my bike on a Blackburn trainer. I am trying to mimic the routines we did in spin class but I have a long way to go before I am getting the same type of work-out as when I was following an instructor. So far, I think having a good and diverse playlist is key. From there you can alternate sprints with climbs and that will be enough to get you started. I’ll be looking for more resources on how to have an “at home spin class” and will be sure to share what I find. Happy spinning!

  8. Ehsan

    I started attending an indoor cycling class several weeks ago to get into better shape for the spring soccer season. Little did I realize how tough it would be, especially pedaling while standing. During the classes that I’ve attended so far, I’ve only managed to pedal while standing for about 30 seconds at a time. I knew I wasn’t doing something right because my quads ached so badly afterwards.

    So, thank you so much for the informative section on efficient pedaling techniques. I’m going to practice hard to get that part right.

  9. Phil

    Great information. I just started spin class as a method of cross-training and it’s great! I have a secondary question about form. When standing and pedaling – should your head and upper body stay as still as possible like in running – or should there be an up and down (or side-to-side) motion? I figured that would be an easy answer to find…and haven’t been able to.

    Thanks for the great info!

  10. Natalie Post author

    @Ehsan, good luck with the spinning! Great to see this is an effective cross-training exercise for soccer. You will no doubt get better with practice.

    @Phil, my experience for best practices while standing are that your head and upper body should indeed stay as still as possible. It is an incredible core work-out and will take practice. The bulk of the work should come from the support of your core and the use of your legs to maintain the balance but also the push and pull motion. I’ll see if I can get some others to chime in!

  11. Jacqui

    I have been spinning for about 3 months and my feet hurt still even after buying clip in shoe’s. The arch ‘ s of my feet hurt is from the placement of the cleats or my pedal form not sure what is causing it? Any one have an idea?


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