Why Does Your Indoor Cycling Technique Matter?
By Joan Kent, PhD
I've been to many indoor cycling classes. Some have included gimmicky exercises on the bike, some have been designed with no skill, some have encouraged pushing hard with no background concept or science.
The best classes of all were taught by the late and very great Jim Karanas. He always encouraged participants to ride as if they were on a real bike because they would enjoy the class more and get much more out of it.
Part of what Jim taught was good technique. This article will not describe cycling technique. You can find excellent videos online by superb riders.
Instead, I'd like to cover some benefits of good technique because they affect training and performance.
The main benefit of cycling technique is efficiency. Efficiency is the ratio of work output to expended energy. If work output increases OR energy expenditure decreases, efficiency has improved. Efficiency and technique are closely related because principles of efficiency are quite similar to general principles of technique.
Many activities have an optimal rate. Rates above and below it cost more energy. The mechanism behind that is stored muscle elasticity. It requires the shortest time between muscle relaxation and contraction to prevent the loss of energy as heat.
Good technique reduces energy required for the pedal stroke, reduces energy lost as body heat, and retains more mechanical energy for the next pedal stroke. Strength goes up – functional-type strength.
Because practice reinforces cycling technique, it improves efficiency.
Consistent velocity also affects technique. Unintentionally accelerating or decelerating due to poor technique wastes energy.
Of course, holding a single cadence throughout a class isn't usually part of the workout plan. But staying consistent for a specified duration – during one song or segment – is an important technical skill that can increase efficiency.
Beatmatch (pedaling precisely to the musical beat) is an excellent training tool for developing consistency.
What Else Affects Efficiency?
Efficiency may depend on the contractile properties of the muscle: slow-twitch is more efficient than fast-twitch.
Or it may depend on training, which can increase strength and endurance by increasing muscle efficiency. Big-gear training, for example, can make fast-twitch fibers more efficient.
Other Benefits of Good Technique
Using correct technique feels good, probably because the body is being used the right way.
Correct technique also makes you look good on the bike. In my master's thesis, I compared principles of technique and efficiency to principles of movement aesthetics. Bottom line? What makes a movement correct is what makes it efficient and also what makes it beautiful.
So technique leads to efficiency. That wastes less energy. The less energy we waste, the more we have left for the demanding parts of the class when it really counts. And the better we look and feel cycling.
Who could argue with looking and feeling good while cycling, completing the ride successfully, and wanting to do it again?
My coach Jim Karanas always said, "Endurance athletes don't mind expending energy, but they never want to waste it."
Good cycling technique is the key.
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Brought to you by Dr. Joan Kent, best-selling author of Stronger Than Sugar: 7 Simple Steps to Defeat Sugar Addiction, Lift Your Mood, and Transform Your Health.