You never forget how to ride a bike. But a few pointers can help you get more out of your workout. Olympian Alison Dunlap, who runs mountain-bike skills clinics in Utah and Colorado, offers these tips for elevating your ride to the next level.
Your goal: Cycle in fluid circles rather than jamming down on the pedals. With the ball of your foot on the pedal, push down, then pull your foot through the bottom of the stroke, then pull up and back around. Aim for about 90 rpm (to calculate rpm, count how many times your right knee comes up in 60 seconds). "A faster cadence works your cardiovascular system and doesn't tire your muscles as quickly as slower, low-gear pedaling does," says Dunlap. Your speed will naturally slow on hills and quicken on descents. In a cycling class, your instructor may call out specific rpms, and some studio bikes will give you a computerized readout. Though you don't need cycling shoes, they help transfer power into your pedals while keeping your feet from fatiguing.
Eyes On The Prize
Resist the urge to put your head down when you're going hard or getting tired. It can slow your oxygen intake, tiring you out faster. (Not to mention it spells danger on the road.)
While your legs are busy pumping, keep your upper body still—don't rock side to side, especially while climbing. Always maintain a flat back and keep your elbows bent and relaxed (it helps absorb shock when you hit a bump). Hold your arms in line with your body, not out to the side. Keeping your upper body relaxed will reduce strain on your lower back.
Take A Seat
Your weight should feel evenly distributed, with 60 percent on the saddle (seat) and 40 percent on the handlebar. The saddle height should be positioned so there's a slight bend in your knee when your foot is at the bottom of a stroke. Most of all, you should be comfortable. Your best bet? Get a professional bike fit at a shop.
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Sitting is the most efficient way to ride--you can use up to 10 percent more energy when you're out of the saddle. But sometimes, like on a monster hill, you need extra power. When you stand, all of your body weight pushes down on the pedals, giving each stroke more oomph. If you stand, shift into a harder gear so your legs don't circle too quickly, rise up, and keep your butt over the seat.
"Brake smoothly and evenly, lightly squeezing and releasing the brakes to control your speed rather than grabbing fistfuls at once," says Dunlap. About 75 percent of your stopping power comes from the front brake (left-hand side). But squeezing that one too hard can send you over the handlebar. Keep in mind that when you hit the brakes, your bike slows but your body keeps going forward, making it harder to steer. Shift your weight back to maintain better control.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.