Resistance: Tackling the Why

In our video “Finding the Right Resistance,” we address what too little, too much and “just right” resistance looks and feels like. But what about “the Why”? Why might you favor a lighter or heavier resistance than the instructor is challenging you to find?

For lighter resistance, the three most common reasons I hear are:

  1. I’m afraid I will run out of stamina to complete the ride.
  2. I’m too tired to hold a heavier resistance.
  3. When I see pictures or videos of cycling classes, that’s how riders ride.

Let’s address that last reason first. I went skiing with a friend years ago. I’m not a skier and neither is he, so we took lessons. We got to the top of the run and he squatted into a racing position and took off down the mountain – straight shot! (Thankfully he didn’t injure himself or anyone around him.) When I finally got to the bottom of the hill, snowplowing as instructed, I was like: We just took lessons and that’s not what we learned! And he said, I know, but that’s how they do it on TV.

I share that story because often commercials for cycling classes or cycling videos show a sea of people bouncing up and down in their saddles with big smiles on their faces.  They’re bouncing because they are riding at super high cadences without much resistance on their wheel, which might make for a good commercial, but not a great ride.

Indoor cycling is intense. The fear of running out of stamina is totally legit, but know the difference between modifying your intensity throughout the ride, or for a specific challenge, and consistently riding with too little resistance. That fear could rob you of the benefit of the entire ride.  One of the awesome things about indoor cycling is that you can always back off intensity to make the ride be what you need it to be and still challenge yourself in a big way. If you don’t try, you’re never going to know what you could have achieved!

What about adding too much resistance? I hear two main reasons: fear of not getting a “great workout” or the instructor keeps coaching to add resistance and how much is enough isn’t clear.

If you’re looking to get the most out of your time in the saddle, and most riders are, mashing the pedals can produce the opposite effect. Too much resistance compromises form, pedal stroke and stamina, and can strain your lower back and knees. If you have power meters, compare wattage with a super heavy load that compromises form and wattage when resistance is strong but enables efficiency in all four quadrants of your pedal stroke. You might be surprised by which load gives you the better outcome!

Here’s another too-much-resistance scenario: your instructor coaches you to “add a little more” several times throughout a climb, and you end up with way too much gear. Your form starts to break down, you’re sucking wind and you doubt you can keep up.

Instructors – myself included – can get caught up in laying out a big challenge and forget to help you gauge how much is enough. If you find yourself with an unreasonable gear because you believe you’re following what your instructor is inviting you to do, take control of that resistance knob and back it off or stop adding every time your instructor challenges you to. Learn what is enough for you for that ride and respect your limits.

Knowing why you do something is a critical step in changing behavior and habits. But that’s just step one. You have to believe in whatever change is being proposed. Check out our video on what too much, too little and just the right amount of resistance looks and feels like, and give the changes a try. The surest way to becoming a believer is by experiencing the change for yourself.

Leave a comment and share you’re why. And if you change a few habits, let us know!

Stay awesome!

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