apex rides instructor Duncan Leighton

Duncan Leighton, head instructor at Apex Rides, shares his indoor cycling tips.

Gym not your thing? If you prefer cycling at home, try these indoor cycling tips to make the most of every workout…

Meet the expert: All of your burning at-home cycling questions have been answered by Duncan Leighton, head instructor at Apex Rides.

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What tips do you have for the perfect indoor cycling set-up?

Duncan Leighton: ‘On the whole, riders initially set their saddle height too low, which means they don’t get to use the full range of motion and power in their legs, and this can eventually contribute to strain in the knee tendons. Cycling with a good set-up is great for the knees, so if you have a history of frontal knee pain then really pay attention.

‘Generally, the saddle should be around the height of your ASIS (the bone that protrudes forward at the front top aspect of your hip). This isn’t a perfect science, so check the position again once sitting on the saddle by ensuring, as your foot hits the 6 o’clock position during a revolution, the angle of your knee bend is between 25 and 35 degrees (note: if you push your bum right back you will always be able to straighten your leg completely, so don’t do this).

‘Get someone to record you slowly pedalling and you should get a good idea of which angle you’re hitting. Look up “The Holmes Method” for more info on this. Setting the lateral position of the saddle (the setback) requires you to sit on the saddle and bring one pedal to the front horizontal position. The front of that knee should be directly above the axis of the pedal while it’s in this horizontal position (foot at 3 o’clock when looking from the side).

‘Handlebar position is much more about personal preference, but for newer riders, I usually recommend a position slightly higher than the saddle, as you’ll feel more balanced and supported, especially when you ride out of the saddle. There are lots of individual iterations for set-up, and they can be changed dependent on injuries, but this is good starting point.’

woman using indoor bike

What’s the secret to good posture when pedalling?

‘People absolutely love to grip their handlebars when they get to the tough parts! There’s no perfect posture, but ideally, if you keep your shoulders and neck free of extra tension, you will find that you grip less. Essentially, any solid gripping is wasted energy that could be used to move the pedals. I promote head up and chest open to begin with – it helps with breathing, and helps you to find a nice balance when riding out of the saddle, ideally, with more weight going through the pedals than the handlebars.

‘Riders who struggle to “stand up” relatively straight should consider their resistance. Some people find they need to balance through their handlebars as they don’t have enough resistance to support putting a good amount of weight through the pedals when riding out. Less pressure through the handlebars is also helpful if you experience shoulder, elbow, wrist or neck discomfort when riding, or at anytime.’

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Which should I focus on more during a class, speed or resistance?

‘Speed with no resistance and resistance with no speed both have little value. We like to think more about power output, which is a combination of both. So, having one without the other won’t really help in increasing your power when riding. Your instructor will usually coach you in the direction of which element to favour per track or per session. If you think you’re solely a speed person or a strength person then try to shake that off – you’ll have a lot more fun if you practise to become an all-rounder.’

Are there any tips to work your abs better during an indoor cycling class?

‘Stand up relatively tall and think about pulling your belly button in during standing sprints and hill climbs, rather than resting a lot of weight on the handlebars. This is going to help your deep transverse abdominals by working on balance at various points during your ride. Crunching over into some kind of prawn-like position will not.’

How challenging should a bike class really feel?

‘As challenging as you want it to. You’re in charge of the resistance – you have the dial right there, so don’t be afraid to use it. Remember that keeping the resistance low won’t always make things easier, as you need support from the pedals when standing at
lower RPMs (revolutions per minute).

‘When you find an instructor you sync with, you can usually get to grips with how much they are going to ask of you. I try to map out each session at the start for the riders so they know, “Alright, this is how long I’ve got to sprint, I’m going to go hard right now”.’

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indoor cycling group class

What’s the best way to fuel a bike class?

‘For me, it depends on the time of day. For a morning session, I will sometimes just fuel with a black coffee and then have a huge shake afterwards, but I’m at the point where I know what my body can handle. If I’m filming more than one class, I’ll hit a pretty calorific shake at least 90 minutes before.

‘If I’m having food, I’ll try to eat at least two hours before. Your body needs fuel, it just might take you a few goes to work out what fuel that is and when to fill up the tank. Don’t go for either extreme (eating nothing or eating everything) before your first couple of sessions – it won’t feel good.’

What are some of the best stretches to do after a cycling class?

‘Bottom (glute medius) stretching every time: get off the bike, bend one leg and cross your ankle over the opposite thigh, then push your bum back into a mid squat position. Hamstring stretches and a classic quad stretch (kicking one foot up towards your bum, making sure you tuck your hips under so you can target your hip flexor, too) are also useful. If you spend a lot of your day sitting at a desk, do a nice chest stretch to counteract that constant forward position at work and on the bike.’

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