Spinning: It’s one of the most popular ways to stay fit, and boutique cycling studios have popped up across the Northern Virginia region and the nation—and they’re not going anywhere.
New to indoor cycling and interested in what you need to know before your first class? Enter Kathryn Zajac, owner and founder of Del Ray-based Ascend Cycle, winner of “Best Cycling Studio” in Northern Virginia Magazine’s 2019 Best of NoVA issue. We spoke with Zajac to pick her brain about all-things cycling, including how to avoid that common post-cycling butt pain beginners often complain about. Highlights from our conversation are below.
What inspired you to open Ascend Cycle?
I would be traveling back home to Boston to visit my family, and also traveling there for business, and Boston was a little bit ahead of the game on the boutique cycling world. I would go to a small local boutique studio there, and always looked forward to visiting it. The sense of community that this studio had the second you walked into the door, and the mental refresh of the workout … all those assets made it more than just 45 minutes of cardio for me. It was about how I felt when I walked out the door, and the connection. When I had the opportunity to open up Ascend a few years ago, it was really about recreating that small community feel that I fell in love with when I would go back home to Boston. That’s where it all started.
A lot of cycling beginners complain that their bottoms hurt after a ride. How can they avoid that feeling?
That’s twofold. One is your butt bones. You need to get used to it a little bit. If you haven’t been on a bike at all, inside or outside, the pressure of just sitting on the bike is something that your tailbone and your sitting bones need to get used to. But, when it hurts all the time and it never gets better, it’s probably two things: Your bike setup is incorrect, where you’re not sitting on the saddle correctly, or you don’t have enough resistance on the bike and your body weight just ends up on the saddle instead of in the pedals in your legs, so you end up bouncing a little bit and, obviously, that’s not going to feel great on your bottom.
So, it’s all about setting up the bike properly before beginning the ride. What’s the right way to do that?
As you’re standing next to your bike, you want to pull the saddle up to the top of your hip. It’s going to feel a little bit higher than what you think it should be. Go ahead and get on your bike, and ride on the bike and see how much your knee bends when you hit the bottom of the pedals. You want a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
For the saddle, in terms of where it should be, moving forward or back, it does not correlate with how close you are to the handlebars, which is what a lot of people think. It’s more where your knees are over your foot and over the pedal. But this one’s really important for people with prior knee issues or a knee injuries: If you are too close to the handlebars, your knee is actually coming too far over your toes. A good double check is holding your handlebars and you want to look down at that front clip. If your front knee is right over what we call the first strap of your shoe, right where the ball of your foot would be, you’re in a good position where your knee is not going to be too far back or too far forward. If you can’t see your toes, you’re way too close and if you can see your entire foot, you’re way too far back.
Why do feet sometimes go numb in the shoes used to clip into the bike?
Typically, that happens when you are using your toes to grip. You can think about wiggling your toes when you’re in the saddle, and making sure your feet are spread out. That helps to mitigate the clutching that your feet and your calf muscles do when you’re trying to grip with your toes. The other thing could be the way the shoes are fitted and where the pedal is positioned. Shoes borrowed at a studio are going to be set up for an average person. If your feet are a little bit different, the cleat on the bottom of your shoe might be pushing on a nerve on the bottom of your foot. If you’re going to cycle on a regular basis, go to a local bike shop to get fitted. That sets you up for success.
What are your top three tips for someone walking into their first spin class?
Show up early and make sure the staff has time to get you set up on their bike. It can be stressful to learn how to get the shoes on and get your bike set up and get clipped in, get all comfy before the class actually starts. The other thing is a lot of new riders like to sit in the back of the room because they are unsure or they don’t want people to see them. They don’t want anyone looking at them because they are intimidated by the experience. But instead, I would say try to find a bike that is closer to the instructor, close to the front, so you can follow the instructor. And then, from a mindset perspective, just go in and have fun and enjoy it and don’t be too intense from the get go. Take the time for you and put it into the bike and relax and enjoy. Just give it a good chance.
For more information on Ascend Cycle, visit ascendcycle.com. // 2412 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; Classes being at $22, packages begin at $95
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