Doctor: So, what brings you in today?
Patient: Well, where do I start? My back hurts. My knees hurt. My heart is always racing and I’m always tired.
Doctor, reading chart: Says here you do indoor cycling?
Patient: Yah, I go every day. The instructors are so creative! Love the hovers, standing without using our hands and how comfortable I am in the tri-bike position, especially when the gear is so heavy I can’t pedal faster than 40 RPM. We sprint every day, which hurts so good—makes me feel like I sweat blood!
Doctor: What happened to your face?
Patient: Oh, that? My bad. I didn’t see the medicine ball coming.
In Asia there’s a saying on tourist T-shirts: “Same Same But Different.” This is a marketing strategy, which helps customers know that they’re paying for what they are looking for, but that somehow this one is more special than the others. This could easily be applied to the world of indoor cycling. Lots of people think that generally all indoor cycling classes are the same, but because this instructor yanks the seat away to deliver the most painful class possible, or that instructor has their clients stay seated and clipped in with one foot and the other foot goes on the handle bars for a hamstring stretch, that somehow these instructors have taken a sound program and enhanced it. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
Does this mean that instructors from the original Spinning® program are robots, stuck in tiny parameters such as three hand positions and five core movements (Seated Flat, Seated Climb, Standing Flat, Standing Climb and Jumps)? Not at all. In fact, adhering to the basics of precise bike fit, rider control of the resistance knob, and incorporating the basic principles of good form on the road, Spinning instructors are relieved of the traditional role of entertaining fitness clients and freed to coach them toward their optimal fitness with the knowledge that the riders are safe and able to train with longevity in mind.
There is a reason that some things are considered advanced and not for the beginner and other things are outright contraindicated and known to be unsafe on a stationary bike. Only after a rider has had an opportunity to build up a good aerobic base for training and is comfortable with the nuances of shifting out of the saddle and back down safely should they attempt the more advanced techniques of Sprints and Jumps.
Contraindicated movements, such as hovers, “handlebar draping” and incorporating other equipment for an upper body workout, are always contrary to the Spinning training program because they work against the rider, increasing risk of injury with no real fitness benefit.
As a class participant, how do you know that what you’re doing is both safe and effective with minimal risk to you?
The general rule is, if you don’t do it on a bike on the road, you don’t do it in a Spinning class. The reverse is not always true, however. There are a couple of things we do in the Spinning program that we don’t do out on the road. Hand Position 1 is one example. Cyclists do not ride in that position on their road bikes, but on a Spinner bike during warm-up, cool-down or easy flat roads, some riders enjoy the position and find that it allows them to connect the mind, body and bike.
Riding with the elbows/forearms on the handlebars, however, similar to riding a tri-bike, is one thing that is not brought into the studio. Locking down on a bike that is geometrically designed differently (angling the body backwards, rather than forward) and does not shift from side to side under the rider like a bike does on the road concentrates the energy generated to power the pedals into the lower back of a still rider. The elbows must be free to help dissipate that energy: Since the bike does not rock, the rider must.
So, why are Jumps okay, since you never see cyclists moving in and out of the saddle repetitively? Some programs dismiss the value of Jumps, indicating that it poses a risk of sheering to the knees to move from seated to standing several times in a row. Without the precision fit that is expected of Spinning instructors, a saddle that is too low or too far forward might pose this risk. However, when the rider is fit to the bike correctly, cyclists do need the coordination to transition smoothly in and out of the saddle depending on the terrain or competition of their ride and Jumps help build that fluidity for effective repositioning.
Which leads us to hovers. Mountain bikers will argue that they need that lowness for absorbing shock on a descent down unstable terrain, which is true. However, this quad and glut strength should be found off the stationary bike through more traditional squats and lunges, because hovering (keeping the body still and low while pedaling) does not mimic what happens on the bike outdoors. Generally pedaling stops on descent, and to continue to pedal on an indoor cycling bike while holding the body low and still is more stressful on the knees, hips and lower back than it would be to just gain that strength on the weight room floor.
Spinning instructors who stick to the Spinning program, delivering a sound class within the guidelines of their instructor manual, are equipped with the tools to challenge the riders, both mentally and physically, to build strength and stamina while minimizing the risks associated with physical training. The program takes perseverance, patience and is not based on a single workout, but rather on the larger picture of training and periodization. Instructors who feel the need to entertain their clients to avoid boredom are often the ones who are afraid of boredom themselves. Creativity, however, is not about being “new and different.” Creativity comes from adherence to the foundations of a safe and effective training program while engaging the rider in an intelligent, emotional dialogue with their own bodies across the topography of the class and the classes that cumulate across the training calendar.
Remember, before improvement can happen, you must establish safety. Once safety is at the core of the program, it is the instructor’s job to coach you into a workload that pushes your cardio fitness, not your upper body strength, your fear factor or your total exhaustion. If you are unsure about what you see, feel free to ask the bloggers or post on the Spinning Community Site forum.