I've been asked a few particularly interesting questions this week -- and what I find MOST interesting is that I've actually never been asked ANY of them before this week. All are seemingly basic questions that I'd bet at least SOMEONE else has wondered at some point in their lives. In the event that the lack of frequent inquiry reflects a general discomfort/awkwardness on the topics at hand, I figured I'd clear the air...
Q: "I got new cycling shorts and they're so uncomfortable! I thought they were supposed to make riding more comfortable! What's wrong with them? Maybe they're too tight... I can see my underwear line, after all."
A: Dead give-away -- you've introduced a new element of discomfort: friction from the underwear. Good cycling shorts have a padded lining (many are made with specific antimicrobial material, and many have seamless designs for a completely smooth fit), and are actually -- believe it or not -- designed to be worn without underwear, believe it or not. Underwear is just another layer of friction. Friction = bad. Smooth = good. The goal is to have as much protection but as little friction as possible (friction can cause irritation, "saddle sores" -- blisters or boils -- which can open up for further irritation/infection). So, shoot for padded shorts with antimicrobial lining (worn sans underwear), ride away to your heart's content friction-free, and then get out of those shorts as soon as you can into something cool and dry.
To combat and reduce further friction reduction, many cyclists use sweat-resistant anti-chafing chamois creams/gels to be applied to irritated or irritation-prone areas. I'm a big fan of Brave Soldier (http://www.bravesoldier.com/1/p_frictionzone.php) - but there are tons out there!
Q: "You always tell us to lift our knees straight up. I can't keep my knees straight, they go out to the side... they just keep going out to the side. What am I doing wrong?"
A: It is my suspicion that your seat height is too low. When legs bow out to the sides, that's usually the culprit. Let's try re-aligning the seat by standing on the floor next to the bike and aligning the seat to be hip height. Lift one leg up to hip height (at a 90 degree angle to the floor) and the seat should be align with the "tabletop" your leg is making. Then, re-mount the bike. While pedaling, your leg should almost fully extend... but not quite. There should be a 30 degree bend in the knee when the foot is at its lowest point in the pedal stroke. If no bend or insufficient bend, slide the fore/aft lever to bring you forward. If too much bend, slide the seat backwards.
Q: "I have really bad allergies, and I can't breathe through my nose. You always say 'breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth' -- does this mean it's impossible for me to keep my heart rate down?
A: Not at all! Many people have great success controlling their heart rate through rhythmic, focused breathing efforts through the in-nose/out-mouth technique -- but that is not the only way to breathe. That technique causes a natural relaxation and a natural influx of energy and works for a lot of people -- but you can train your body to respond to a variety of other cues (including mouth-only breathing). Get a HR monitor and practice breathing deeply through the mouth and forcefully out again... and keep practicing until you can reduce your heart rate, as evidenced by the numbers displayed on your HR monitor.
You also don't have to live your life unable to breathe through your nose, by the way. Go see your doctor! Maybe a referral to an allergy specialist is in order...
Q: "Is it ok to wear my outdoor shoes on an indoor bike?"
A: Absolutely -- I do! There are two major kinds of cleat-compatibility on pedals -- SPD and Look. NYSC has SPD-compatible pedals, so as long as that is what your road or mountain bike shoes support... bring 'em in! You'll have a much more enjoyable experience in Spin class with your cycling shoes -- you'll have so much more power and control in your pedal strokes, and will be better able to focus on improving your technique!
Q: "My wrists hurt all the time. What's up with that?"
A: You may be leaning on the handlebars, forcing your wrists to support your body weight... which they're not meant to do. Try shifting your weight backwards -- when you're standing (both running upright or climbing out of the saddle), your butt should always be right up against the tip of the saddle. You should always be able to feel the tip of the saddle against your butt... but that saddle should NOT be all the way between your legs. While you're in the seat, you should be sitting back towards the widest part of the saddle... sitting on your hip bones, hinged forward at the hips but keeping all your body weight towards the back of the seat.
As I always say, "you will never ever ever ever ever take your hands off the handlebars in a Spinning class... but your touch should be so light that you feel as though you could!"
PS - Anyone who coaches you to ride with one or both arms tucked behind your back is in total violation of the guidelines of the Spinning program. Ignore them! You're not working harder... you're just more likely to get injured.
And last but not least, this last one I *do* get asked all the time... and it's just so important to keep answering and driving home!
Q: "How do I know when I am at 80% of my max HR?"
A: Three words: Heart Rate Monitor. That's it. There's no other way. Check out the Spintastic archives (menu to the left), and upgrade your life with a shiny new (and even possibly quite inexpensive) HR monitor! I'll help you set it up and everything.
Thaaaaaat's it for now! Any questions about these or anything else, feel free to email me any time at email@example.com. Nothing's off-limits and nothing's a stupid question. If I don't know something, I'll tell you so... and I'll do my best to get you an answer!
*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study
12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.