Many of us learned how to ride a bicycle at a young age. Once you learn, you never forget. Cycling seems like an easy, straightforward practice but it’s more complicated than you think. It’s a dangerous, rigorous workout and it needs to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it’s easy to pick up a variety of bad habits that are harmful to your health. Poor technique can cramp your cycling style and even possibly damage your body. If you follow these five bad habits, it’s time to change your cycling lifestyle right now.

Not wearing a helmet

Ever since we learned how to ride a bicycle, we have been told to always wear a helmet. But if you skip out on wearing a helmet, you’re putting your body at risk. Wearing a helmet goes a long way to protect you from serious brain injuries. Head injuries related to bicycle accidents are responsible for 75 percent of all deaths.

Even wearing a helmet that doesn’t properly fit is harmful to your health. If you fall off your bicycle and your helmet isn’t snug on your head, it could fall off during the impact, increasing the risk of brain injury.

Stop making excuses. No distance is too short for an accident to occur. No matter the weather, it’s always important to wear a safety helmet. Your brain is crucial; you need to do everything in your power to protect it from any harm.

Not warming up or cooling down

You have probably been told to warm up before you exercise. If you decide to go for a quick jog, you know it’s important to stretch your muscles to prevent cramping. Why is it any different when it comes to cycling? You might hate to stretch before or after exercising but it’s the best way to prevent any injuries. According to Erin Nelson, an instructor at Swerve Fitness, stretching is imperative for recovery and maintaining your range of motion. She recommends a runner’s lunge to elongate the hip flexors that tighten during cycling movements.

“Massages are always a great idea for tending to sore muscles,” Nelson said. Basically, Nelson is giving you a permission slip to schedule a visit at a local spa as soon as possible. Nelson recommends stretching every time before you begin a cycling workout, especially if it’s a rigorous spin class session. She adds, “This is a great way to let your body loosen up and get the muscles ready for action.”

Riding the wrong bicycle

It’s important to always ride the best bicycle for your height and size. Paul Levin, CEO of Signature Cycles, says that a proper fit plays a significant role in preventing possible injuries. The right bicycle also provides overall comfort.

“A lot of companies measure their bikes to slightly different points,” Levine said. “So many riders end up on the wrong equipment if they’re not working with experienced shop staff or a fitter to determine the bike size.”

A comfortable bicycle also improves your overall riding experience. Even an experienced cyclist can’t get used to an uncomfortable bicycle. Levine said, “For more seasoned riders, a fitting can increase performance and accommodate life changes, or help us reach goals.”

It’s important to upgrade your bicycle every few years. Levine adds, “Our bodies change a lot over time. We lose weight (or gain it), have injuries (or kids), and we evolve as cyclists when the miles accumulate. Our positions on our bikes need to reflect this.”

Bad form

You might think cycling isn’t a rigorous form of exercise but you still need to have the correct alignment in your joints. Inexperienced cyclists often jot their knees outward instead of tucking them inward.

If your knees are jotting outward, this will cause serious pain in your joints down the road. Instead, tuck your knees inward and pull your elbows in tight. Your body position should be within the frame of the bicycle. Your body’s core muscles should also remain engaged to support your back when you’re in this position.

Inexperienced cyclists also tend to ride with their bicycle seat height too low to the ground. Pay attention to your seat’s height. Start by aligning the seat with the top of your hip. Then, sit on the saddle, extend your leg, and adjust the height of the seat until you have a 30-degree angle in your knee. If your seat is too high, this adds a serious strain to your tendons and ligaments in your hips and knees. However, riding too low to the ground puts too much stress in your quads and patellar tendons.

Not paying attention

It’s easy to get lost in your surroundings, especially while cycling. You might be cycling on a gorgeous hiking trail and you spend too much time looking at the scenery instead of focusing on what’s in front of you.

This is a harmful habit. Being distracted causes more cycling accidents. You might not hear a car horn or emergency sirens. You might not notice other cyclists or runners on the same hiking trail. If you wear headphones while cycling, you’re not fully aware of your surroundings.

What you might not realize is that it is illegal in most areas to use your cell phone while operating a vehicle and this includes bicycles. If you need to use your cell phone for any reason, whether it’s to answer a phone call or take a picture of your surroundings, stop cycling and pull off to the side of the road or hiking trail. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. You won’t only keep yourself safe but also any nearby cyclists or runners.