How to Waste an Hour of Your Time in the Cycling Studio

I was interviewed the other day for a major magazine, based out of New York. The journalist wanted to separate fact from fiction and find out whether “Spinning” can cause big thighs and other burning questions.

I won’t tell you who it was quite yet—the article is not slated to appear until September, and it’s only going to be a small piece—but I’ll be sure to link to it when it is published. Getting interviewed in major media is a big goal of mine to help spread the word of evidence-based cycling that is more effective than the popular fads that are becoming more and more popular.

I had a fairly long and interesting discussion with this journalist about the misinformation that is being spread in so many classes by so many uneducated instructors. She’s been to those classes where they lift 1- to 2-lb weights and do other maneuvers while riding and she thinks they are fun and believes she’s getting a workout. She’s not alone.

She asked about the potential issues of taking cycling classes 6–7 days a week, including that common canard that cycling will “make your thighs bigger.”

I put that one to rest; the answer is no, it isn’t likely to make anyone’s legs “bigger.” Stronger, more cut, prettier, leaner? Yes. But to get those big thighs you see on sprinters, you’d have to be a power athlete who is training—very, very hard I might add—for sprinting. Real sprinting, with big gears, not the pseudo stuff you see in so many indoor cycling classes.

But one very interesting comment she said stood out and it lies at the root of why I do what I do day after day trying to spread the word of evidence-based, authentic cycling technique and coaching.

She said, “I know so many people who go to cycling classes almost every day of the week, but they are asking why their body hasn’t changed!”

BINGO! That’s it!

We were speaking specifically about the very trendy boutique studios that one sees on national television and print media almost daily.

Initially, some participants in these classes might see a change in their bodies, especially if they weren’t as active prior to coming to cycling classes. But very soon, most will hit a plateau and will no longer see any changes or benefits. This is the reason why we get those supposed exercise experts and personal trainers making claims that “cardio is not good for you,” that it doesn’t burn fat or change the body, or that you are better off ditching the cardio and only doing weight training. These kinds of classes, and the students who pour out of there with no changes in their bodies despite daily, fanatic attendance, only fuel their misguided claims. Dr. Jennifer Klau and I had a discussion about these fallacies last year, specifically addressing a popular online “expert’s” claim that “Spinning is bad for you.”

They do have a point, however, if they are only exposed to people who attend those types of classes where the instructor doesn’t adhere to scientifically proven cycling training principles. In other words, the classes that lift weights and dance and flop around on the bikes. Ultimately, this style of cycling class is not doing what they purport and may be a waste of time. Yet, everyone knows how popular they are and crowds around the world are clamoring to get in; some facilities are even insisting their instructors teach this way.

It’s up to you. If you want to waste that 45–60 minutes in your cycling class, then go ahead and do the following:

  • warm up for only 2 minutes
  • pedal real fast (>110 rpm) with no or super low resistance
  • pedal super slow (<55 rpm) with very high resistance
  • lift weights on the bike
  • do crunches and hold the abs in while riding
  • perform pushups while pedaling
  • ignore the pain in the knees and back when doing silly moves like tap-backs or squats

Oh, wait. You’d rather not waste your time? You mean, you actually want to burn some calories? Then let’s talk!

Let me tell you why you are not seeing any (or many) changes in your body when you take these classes.

1. It’s the resistance, folks!

Pedaling that fast without resistance is futile because there is little to no power output. It is power that translates to calories burned, not how fast your legs are turning or a high heart rate. Always remember the scientific equation: power = force X velocity. Indoors, force is manifested by the resistance you put on the bike and velocity is how fast your legs are turning (cadence). You won’t have much power if either one of those variables falls too low, and when one of these variables gets too high, either the cadence or the resistance, the other necessarily falls to where it reduces power significantly (unless you are an Olympic track cyclist who can pedal fast with a big gear. But if you were, you wouldn’t be in this class).

That is why you don’t see changes in your body; it’s because you aren’t burning many calories and you aren’t challenging the muscles enough to cause adaptations in them that make them change and get stronger. Those beautiful legs you see on many cyclists? It’s because they have resistance on their bikes when they ride—outdoors that equates to gears, gravity, wind, and road resistance. Outdoors, they have the benefit of forward movement (or lack of it) to tell them if their gear is too low, so they shift up to have more resistance so they’ll go faster. Outside, going faster means more power output. More power output means greater fitness, which means more calories burned. Isn’t that one of the goals of so many participants? Outdoors, cyclists generally ride at cadences that fall between 60 and 100 rpm, with an occasional foray outside of those ranges.

So, the rule of thumb for you students who wonder why you don’t see any changes in your body: use cadence as your guideline. On climbs, do not drop below 60 rpm (55 for skilled, strong cyclists), and on flats, rarely go above 100 rpm, except occasionally in drills with resistance (and only up to 110 rpm, tops).


Do not ride with “roadrunner legs” with no resistance. Ever. Regardless of what your instructor tells you. That is…if you want results. Indoors we don’t have the benefit of forward movement to tell us if we are in too low a “gear”. So you have to pretend—act as if you are riding outside.

The woman interviewing me asked a valid question that no doubt drives many students (and instructors) to continue to ride at such crazy cadences that make you look like an over-caffeinated hamster. She asked, “But why isn’t it effective? You are out of breath the whole time!”

Yes, you are out of breath, but that doesn’t always equate to much of a calorie burn. You are out of breath when you first start working out because the body isn’t warmed up. But because power output is low, calories aren’t being torched at that moment. You would be out of breath if you sat at your desk and pumped your arms up and down really fast for 2 or 3 minutes (just try to do it 5 minutes). Despite the panting, there is not a significant amount of calories burned. Sure, it’s more than if you just sat still, but the misperception is that being out of breath or a high heart rate equates to “torching” calories.

It does not. Period.

The best comparison is to imagine getting on a bicycle outdoors that had the chain removed and try to pedal. You’d be spinning your legs like the roadrunner and you’d be completely out of breath and your heart rate would soar…but you’d be in the same spot as when you started. There wouldn’t have been any appreciable work performed. Again, maybe a handful of calories, but without resistance, it’s safe to say you’ve wasted your time.

Want more information on excessive cadence? Read this article.

2. Stop the fluff moves.

This includes crunches, pushups, squats, isolations, hovers, tap-backs, and lifting those silly 1- to 3-lb weights. You got more of a workout carrying your gym bag into the studio. That 6–10 minutes spent lifting such low weights doesn’t challenge your muscles enough to cause any adaptations unless you are very weak or unfit to start with or are elderly (apologies to my personal training client who is 83 and skis, bikes, hikes, and does HIIT and lifts 20-lb dumbbells for chest and back).

These moves also reduce your ability to pedal correctly and effectively. While you are lifting, you must lower the effort considerably so your power output is very low. Again, that means those calories you came to burn are barely even simmering. And no, the ineffective weight workout is not making up for those lost calories. I won’t, yet again, go into all the reasons why lifting tiny weights or doing crunches or holding in the abs are all ineffective ways to try to ride a bike, based on exercise science. I’ve done that here, and here.

All the other silly techniques are similar; they are nothing but fluff. They reduce power output and calorie consumption while also increasing your chances of injury. Even if the risk of injury is low for some of these moves, indoor cycling IS one of the safest exercise modalities you can do…why would you want to increase the risk?

If you want fluff, pet a bunny.


If you want results, and want to get stronger and burn more calories so you can lose weight, burn fat, and change your body, then stop wasting your time with the fluff. Turn up the resistance and just ride the bike.

[Note to instructors who have known me for years and read my e-book and/or the many articles I’ve written on this subject: I know I’ve written these things over and over, but they bear repeating over and over until the word gets out to the masses, the end-users, the students. They’re the ones who need educating because their instructors (and the media) are selling them false claims. Every time I write an article like this, it reaches even more people. This won’t be the last, so please spread the word and share this article!]

EDIT: I’ve received such great feedback about this post (150 shares on the ICA FB page,  over 22,000 reached) and great comments. This is a great way to spread the word of “keeping it real” with the goal to positively impact this industry.

You can also like our Facebook page here!


  1. As a cycle instructor who was certified Schwinn I’ve come into a different
    view of what people are looking for in a cycle class. Clients want different things.
    yes, Schwinn is one way. Very rigid and adhering to what is normally done on an outdoor bike
    is done on an indoor bike. Only. But, what about if clients are looking for a fun workout. What if they like to move and want to burn calories at the same time? I for one am tired of the persnickety people who say everyone is wasting their time if they don’t cycle the same way they do. Isn’t the point of the whole thing movement? Aren’t we encouraging movement? So what if I want to tap back? So what? Things can be safe even if the cycle police say it’s a waste of time. I think boring workouts are a disservice to the clients we want to see come every day. If we can’t retain our clients, who’s wasting who’s time? Longevity. That’s what we are looking to see. That looks like different ways to different clients.

  2. As a Madd Dogg Spinning instructor, and a USA Cycling coach training bicycle racers since the early 90’s, I like the essense of this article. All the fluff ( my daughter LOVES soul cycle – and good for her… )

    I tend to use more HIIT principles, and honestly when people mention TABATA – I call BS – if you have ever tried to do Dr. Tabata’s actual 100% all out effort 20×8 – yu would be wasted and require a substantial amount of time to recover. It’s meant to be a stand alone workout – warm up – protocol – cool down and end. My students LOVE to do HIIT, in and out of the saddle – and I agree that resistance is key.

    Also – I believe in Supersetting – I have not seen a lot of instructors adapting that to Spinning – I use it with some of my more advance Cycling racing clients. Many of them – in fact 90% are weightlifting to augment there cycling performance and “Spinning” is more indoor cycling for training.

    Just my 2 cents…

    1. I completely believe in the RPM cycling class offered by Les Mills. I’ve never worked harder, been stronger, and watched my body change overnight. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it right. Challenging to the core while being super fun. All cycling instructors should look into their methods. NO FLUFF.

      1. I am a LM Advanced Coach and have decided to stop teaching it the latest release asks normal people to go to 150 RPM this is crazy and dangerous…very dangerous

        1. I completely agree, very dangerous RPMs in Les Mills. Creates a completely “fluff” class because no one can maintain those RPMs with any proper tension. Half the class if not more never breaks a sweat! Not a mention of a WATT in the 4 years I’ve been doing the classes, but with no other choice, I still go and try to apply the min 60rpm and max 110rpm and watch my watts. They are so pervasive now though, it’s near impossible to find a spin class with proper instruction. Where have all the real spin instructors gone?!

          1. We’re at LIFE TIME! Take a PWR or EDG class near you (you may certainly go for free, just ask.) They are truly changing the way we ride and teach.

          2. Les Mills never requires anyone to go on a certain RPM in any of their cycle based programs… never.

            In fact, based on research, LES MILLS always encourages you – the participant – to focus on homing in on the correct gear to stay controlled, safe, and efficient BEFORE you focus on acceleration. The coaching should reflect this or the particular instructor has forgotten or is ignoring their training!

  3. thanks Jen
    that article is right on; going to pass on to students
    i appeciate being reminded of the cadence range
    i sometimes forget myself
    been coaching a minimum of 4 classes per week for the past few years and recognize the need to stay on course as you can somtimes get caught up in changes for the sake of changing

    Question….I usally finish routine with a Tabata,,,,(8-20 second sprints) so i take it that I should stress having that reistance so that the students max cadence is 110rpm?.. I think you answered it above

    Also, i do stress riders stabilizing core while cycling (noticed the mix is so important taking pilates, yoga and flex classes), so that does come up, but you are so right about the wasted gimmicks that some instructors throw in

  4. Hi, great article .I agree with everything!Im a new instructor I do keep it real follow the mad dogg program.But I do see why people are attracted to these fluff classes,they are bored and want to be entertained a little.Having taken countless spin classes myself Ive suffered through my share of boring ones!I went to one the other day and we climbed to stairway to heaven!She played all classic rock and you heard moans from the younger people as each song started.You gotta mix it up .I play everything even styles im not crazy about.As long as it makes you want to pedal I play it!Be positive, upbeat, I dont yell or woohoo but I keep em busy.The best complement ive gotten so far was from someone who I saw working hard during the class,was all sweaty and after she came up to me and said wow that was 45 minutes didnt feel like it. Thats my goal.

  5. Excellent article. Accurate and clearly stated!

  6. So pleased to read this article. You learn things about spinning all the time. Only thing that’s disappointing is trying to find a spinning class that doesnt do press ups , crunches , twists , triceps and weights etc…! A spinning class should be taught as a bike is a bike!

  7. Side note…. The Real Ryder bikes… When done in the so called “trendy” way completely rock!! If you are ever lucky enough to be able to take a class with Tracy Martins at Studio RYT in WestlKe Village, CA….. You will NEVER be able to even consider taking one of the “technical” spin classes He does of course focus In on proper form for the newbies to avoid injury… . I leave that class singing and dancing the whole way home…. Not to mention having lost about 5 lbs of sweat!!!!

  8. Amen, I can’t tell you how many times over the 15 years and certainly the last 5 that I have told my peeps, adding anything other than resistance to your ride is a waste of time. You want to do weights , then train with them, you want to do the TRX then do a training in that, you want to have stronger arms do your push ups on the floor! It all still never ceases to amaze me that people spend ridiculous amounts of money for the benefit of thinking they look cool!

  9. Interesting article. I am one of the original teachers trained under the creators of this program and am still 17 yrs and still teaching. Aside from the physical points made in your article which one cannot dispute I will bring us back to why spinning became so very popular back in the day when we were on the original bikes built by Johnny G in his back yard. The idea was to lose ones self in the activity and enjoy the movement the music and some inspiration spoken by the teacher. It literally saves people’s lives for the 45 minutes ( and actually it was only 40 as Johnny said that was target) I own a facility in Hollywood and have watched the facilities you speak of pop up and do amazing business. And was actully approached and flown to ny to speak with the owners about joining their team. I even taught a class for them. It wasn’t for me as I believe that I don’t want people to be more aware of their surroundings during n that time spent in class. I want them to disappear. My riders are strong and I have state champs, pro hockey players and just people who have been with me for 18 yrs. So yeah it’s certainly disturbing to those of us who know the real deal. Many of those teachers I have mentored. And now as another franchise opens in LA I remain an island and keep my gym and the true origins of spinning. Listen I don’t really like the fast food of spinning facilities that seems to be popping up, but at least people are moving and others have jobs, so bravo! Again not my thing. I shall remain anonymous as I am well known. But I have enjoyed reading your piece thank!

  10. I wonder… has Jennifer ever taken a FLYWHEEL class? Yes. Soul Cycle does everything it is accused of doing (and I hope for the day when they eliminate 50 percent of their craziness … I could live with that and enjoy their classes for their sense of fun and ‘soul’). FLYWHEEL, however, at least the LA classes I have taken, seems to adhere to Jennifer’s/proper SPINNING’s guidelines – with the one exception of a 3-4 minute weight section during the class (which the instructors I have taken have said is optional). Otherwise, in terms of cadence, focus on resistance and lack of crazy moves, FLYWHEEL is right in line. They never have students spin their legs with little to no resistance and they never go super hard with too much resistance. The classes there are more in line with what Jennifer has been trumpeting than any other SPIN class I have taken in 15 years (save the SHORT / optional weight section). When people vaguely mention NYC boutique SPIN establishments, FLYWHEEL (being number 2 to Soul Cycle) is obviously being alluded to – so I hope people start realize there is a big difference.

  11. Good points. I’ve always wondered why some of the instructors would be overweight, when they spin and teach the class everyday. I’ve only had a handful of ‘good’ instructors that knew how to balance cadence and resistance.

    How about the instructors that make you stand up the ENTIRE hour? I feel those aren’t as effective either.


  12. Coach Debra is the smartest person on here! That was the most well written response, but should have been the article itself! But then it wouldn’t have been as controversial! She nailed it. nuthin more needs to be said.

  13. Jennifer you are the truth….’nuff said !

  14. AMEN!!!! Thanks for putting this out there! As a Mad Dogg and Schwinn certified spinning/cycling instructor I take great pride in teaching proper form, accurate cues, and dispelling the myths out there. However, it is so hard to compete with places that don’t teach spin, but a party on a bike for 45-minutes at places like Soul Cycle. How does one fight that? People are so over stimulated that they think they need all that fancy counter-intutitive choreography. Suggestions? Mad Dogg and Schwinn simply cannot compete and to degree deliberately turn their noses up at all the ‘fads’ out there–but we are losing the battle folks–we need to re-brand cycling and unify the masses to market it the population so they too see this less challenging workouts for what they are!

  15. Having been a religious spin class devotee for the past 15 years… I can say this. First of all, I totally agree with Coach Debra. People are in spin classes not just for the max calorie burn but I might also suggest anger management and endorphin highs. Moving your body to the music, resistance or not, creates a happy feeling. I live in Los Angeles but have taken Spin classes all over the country(most quite disappointing). The trendy places have the most beautiful bodies walking out after class. Most likely not from 7 spin classes a week but instead because they have found the perfect mix of spinning, yoga, hiking and maybe a dance class. The whole program works together beautifully! I have been to super technical classes over the years and not only was I way more in shape than the teacher… I was bored outa my mind!

  16. Honking Classes overcome all the limitations and liabilities stated in the aforementioned comments…I only wish the classes were offered in more locations other that outside Philadelphia…does anyone know of other locations?

  17. While I agree completely with your technical assessment of the fundamentals and appreciate how frustrating it can be to see people doing themselves a ‘disservice’ in your class I think we as fitness pros need to take a step back. We need to consider that not everyone is there for the reason we want them to be. Some people are just doing what they can to maintain their sanity, some have never enjoyed exercising until they latched on to something like this and are enjoying exercising/moving for the first time in their lives. Some are not as worried about max caloric incineration or translating this to real road riding & no matter how poorly they ride they are still lapping everyone on the couch. In an era of sickness due to sedentary lifestyles, maybe that’s good enough for some. Of course we must reinforce proper technique & create awareness of the physioloy & fundamentals for those that WANT that, but we also need to appreciate that on some level in a country where ppl are more stressed out than ever before, the most important thing is not what they do or how they do, just that they do! The way I see it, when you teach from an authentic and educated perspective the students will resond & those that don’t, well is it really so bad if they just show up to enjoy the music? Unless and until someone expresses disappointment with their lack of results we should stop assuming that we know their goals. As instructors & coaches our job is to motivate and to educate, and to meet people in THEIR circumstance – not impose our philosophy or goals on them. Perhaps we need to examine & amplify our skills and make the functionally sound rides as compelling and inclusive as the ‘trance parties’. Creating a sound & superior experience will invariably be the more enduring trend.

    1. Well stated. Thank you for saying this. Sometimes I’m just not in good enough shape to keep up with what the teacher is doing in class. I’m improving my physical fitness at my own pace. Often the instructor will tell us to pedal at 100+ rpms at a high level of resistance, but my body just isn’t comfortable with that. When the instructor is going 100 – 120, I feel more comfortable at 60 – 80 rpms with a good amount of resistance. It’s really annoying when the spin instructor takes this personally.

  18. Author

    First, there is only one “Spinning®” or “Spin®” class, and it’s a brand. Second, none of the respected, reputable indoor cycling organizations who base their programs on exercise science and cycling science either teach or condone these movements: not Spinning, not Schwinn, not Keiser, not Cycling Fusion, not CycleOps, not Real Ryder, not Stages, not ICG, not Velocity in the UK, not C.O.R.E. Cycling in Canada… That tells you a lot right there. They do not approve of any kind of upper body work (weights, pushups, crunches, etc) while on the bike, and they teach reasonable cadence ranges, and none of them include things like tap backs, hovers, etc. I’ve taken the training programs for five of them, and read the manuals for some of the others, or talked to the owners/developers of the program.

    All my statements in the article (and in the links to other articles) are supported by science. Exercise science, and cycling science. My primary goal, for the past 17 years in the industry, is to protect this industry and assure that instructors are taught correct technique (based on science) so that they can teach a more effective class with less chance of injuries.

    Can you provide the exercise science to support your statements about the weight work or pushups? Have you tried to do it with a power meter? And what do you mean by “pushups are effective if the instructor cues the resistance high enough”? The resistance for a pushup is the body’s weight; you can’t “cue it” any higher. The resistance knob on the bike won’t do that!

    In order to elicit a change in a muscle, it must experience a resistance when contracting. And the body is relatively lazy—it will engage the fewest amount of muscle fibers required to lift a weight. Therefore, when lifting a 1-3 lb weight, or doing a pushup while almost completely supported in an upright sitting position, you do not engage very many muscle fibers at all. Add more resistance and you’ll engage more muscle fibers. That’s why most personal training certification programs suggested to lift a weight that will fatigue the muscle in 8-20 reps. That way you know you have called in a large amount of muscle fibers. Lift 1-3 lbs with 50-100 reps and most of your muscle fibers are lounging around laughing at you while they sit back and watch! 😉

    Body weight AGAINST gravity provides the resistance in a crunch or a pushup. Therefore, in order to challenge the obliques or rectus abdominus, you need to OPPOSE gravity, not crunch in the same direction (or use the core muscles to stabilize when the resistance is high, as in a plank, but that is still opposing gravity). Try putting your hands in front of you while sitting at a desk or table, and then do pushups or crunches. Because the resistance is so low, and there’s no real need to stabilize the body, very little is happening in the muscles. It will not make you stronger, leaner or more fit. That upright position is the position you are in while sitting on a bike. In order for a pushup to be effective to challenge the pecs and triceps, you need your legs out behind you, either on the knees or the toes in a traditional pushup. Triceps dips? Again, you need more body weight than is provided while sitting upright.

    If you have doubts, then please ask an exercise physiologist with knowledge of biomechanics. Or, get certified with a reputable agency for personal training (because these are personal training issues, not just cycling) such as National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSAM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), Natl Assoc of Sports Medicine (NASM), etc. They would all agree that these techniques do not challenge the muscles in a way that increases fitness (unless, as is pointed out in the article, the individual is very weak to start with, elderly or when using light weights to rehab an injury).

    It’s best not to get ones information from instructors (or programs) who don’t have a solid foundation of exercise physiology and biomechanics. Soul Cycle has admitted that they look for entertainers and actors, not necessarily educated instructors with an exercise science background. If they don’t know how the body gets stronger, how muscles adapt and change, how the energy systems work, how fuel is metabolized, or how levers and moment arms work…then they don’t have any business preaching techniques that go against what science tells us.

    It may not be rocket science, but it is exercise science!
    (physiology, biomechanics, physics, kinesiology, anatomy and biology!)

  19. Boring!!! …Soul Cycle rules. Equinox classes are empty and Soul just keeps growing . That’s why Equinox no longer has good instructors . The writing is on the wall for all the dull boring Gregg Cooks in the cycling world Soul Cycle which is in the Eq family btw keeps popping up next to every Equinox in NYC. Sorry you lost .

    1. Micha, why does it always have to get mean and personal? There is no lack of people who love cycling classes. Soul Cycle AND Equinox can and do have plenty of full and happening classes. It is silly to think that because one has a lot of popularity the others can’t.

      If you love your Soul Cycle experience great! Everyone should do what they love if it get’s them the results they want. I am tired of people expressing personal preference as overall fact. If the risk reward ratio is in your favor great! Do and say what you like but PLEASE keep my name out of it! No need to get personal!

  20. I respectfully agree and disagree with what you’ve written here. I am a certified MADDOG spin instructor but am also an avid SOUL cyclist. I think all of the cues and instruction given by the instructor is vital. Sprinting without resistance is non-productive, I agree but the weight work can be very effective. So can the push-ups on the bike if the instructor cues the resistance high enough.
    The key to remember is that you are describing two TOTALLY DIFFERENT workouts! Both can be extremely effective and extremely damaging if the instructor isn’t knowledgeable.
    Funny, I never here the soulcyle or flywheel guys bashing the other spin classes. Why do we feel we have to bash that style in order to defend ours?
    Feeling threatened maybe?

  21. Thank you for confirming everything I have been taught and teach, for 16 years. On occasion there is that instructor with higher attendance but lower knowledge and it boggles my mind. I know those students are only there temporarily because their goals are not reached and eventually they leave. I only hope they try again and get a better instructor and therefore better results, because indoor cycling is one of my most favorites.

  22. Amen! I could not have said it better but I always say it!!!! Thank you!

  23. I have been a spin instructor for years and also fought against many of these fads. I took a spin class the other day and the guy started out very strong but then came around the room instructing everyone on isolations. I did it anyway, but I can’t stand those and pushups/dancing off of the handlebars.

  24. Author

    Perfect timing! I’m about to post a video which addresses just that. It’s about students who have too much movement in the upper body (like a pogo stick) and one of the solutions to correct it. Check back later today or tomorrow.

  25. As an instructor over the past 5 years for Les Mills RPM program, bravo! Reading about the spin programs in the NY area, a similar place opened nearby, so I went to check it out. It went against EVERYTHING I have learned and I saw so many ways someone could be injured. Lifting weights, pushups and Zumba moves while pedaling? Plus pulling on theses flimsy vinyl straps hanging from the ceiling? An accident waiting to happen. And to top it off, these places get ridiculous amounts of money just to take the class! Speed with no resistance on a bike gets you nothing except tired and winded. I teach 7 classes a week (BTW, I’m 58 y.o.)and love what I do and it kills me to see someone who thinks they can do whatever they want on a bike, and for some of them, nothing you or I say will change them, but the one person who goes from total clumsy novice to keeping up with me with awesome form makes up for all of them. Thanks for a great article that I plan to share.

  26. Jennifer (or anyone else). I know we shouldn’t be bouncing excessively or isolating. So how much “bounce” is allowed out of the saddle on a climb? On my road bike, I don’t really think about it. But I’m starting to overthink my spin form.


  27. Amen!! I am so tired of this ridiculous battle! Things have gotten increasingly worse over the past two years. Thank you for sharing this article. I’m going to print it, and hand it out to my students!

  28. Came across your article and I appreciate your information. Although I am not a member of any “trendy studio” I have used several types of spin bikes and have taken several spin classes with several instructors. I believe the knowledge of the instructor plays a large part in the personal goal of each person in their class, as long as ther person informs the instructor of their goal. I spin fast, slow, with and without resistance, no weights,adding push ups, adding triceps and biceps and I am in the best physical and medical condition of my life. I have been spinning for 3 years now and have found that, although I have never been a long distance runner, spinning have given me the stamina to run 6-9 miles 2-3 times a week, when my schedule allows. So again, thanks for the information. However I feel that the instructor knowledge and individuality in conducting the class as well the the attendees personal goal and the attendee conveying that goal to the instructor seems to be a great recipe for success, (at least for me and my classmates).

  29. As an insructor that started out all wrong. (Originally I took my cues from my spin instructor who was and is still doing it wrong.) I stopped telling my class to tighten the abs when I noticed I was getting dizzy doing that. The most I will say about the core is to keep it “active” to support the back when climbing not tight and not while sitting.

    Thank you Jennifer for helping me improve my technique and keep it real.

  30. Jennifer… Its gratifying to have your knowledge and enthusiasm on a national stage presenting the science and facts as they have been revealed in cycling.

    Unfortunately, the mavens running these boutiques are clearly more adept in marketing than cycling or fitness….and the media follows the trends like lemmings.

  31. I have been teaching/coaching this for 13 years and have been constantly “fighting” against the “new” wave of spinning…THANK YOU FOR AN AMAZING AND VALIDATING ARTICLE!!!! xoxoxo

  32. Great to hear this reinforces yet again. In Australia it is just the same – weights in classes and instructors telling everyone to engage “the core’.
    Happy riding

  33. Author

    it’s a common confusion. You are right in that one needs spinal alignment when riding. And as you know, the back is part of the core. A cyclist needs a strong core, but when riding a bike, a conscious engagement of core musculature is not necessary. The spinal muscles do engage when you flex forward and are supported by the hands, but some riders may needs some tips: you can cue to make sure riders aren’t collapsing in the back, either at the low back (sway back) or thoracic spine (collapsing into the shoulder girdle). Of course you don’t want to ride like a wet noodle, but too often instructors over cue, leading to worse problems.

    To be sure, a cyclist with a weak core won’t be as strong or powerful, and may have discomfort after long rides. The answer is to train the core outside of class, so those muscles can work like they’re supposed to while on the bike.

    Many instructors, especially in these NYC programs I’m referring to actually use the phrases “suck the abdominals in” and “engage that pelvic floor” (I’ve seen their videos on Youtube or their website!), both of which are antithetical to what we should be doing in cycling, indoors or out.

    Even if those words aren’t used, most people hear the words “engage the core” and only think of the abs and suck them inward, or they “pull the belly button towards the spine” like they are taught in pilates. You need it in pilates, but you don’t need it on a bike. When one engages the abdominals when riding, it is akin to trying to water your lawn and purposely putting a kink in the hose; the water only trickles out. Why purposely put a kink in your oxygen delivery system when you want LOTS of O2 delivered to the muscles?

    I’ve got on my drawing board a series of articles on breathing techniques and the core in indoor cycling, which will include appropriate cueing. It will appear this summer, so keep your eyes open!

  34. At the risk of sounding like someone still 5 years into teaching, engaging the core is an area that still trips me up. I understand “bracing” the core (and I’m not talking about crunches) can prevent the diaphragm from expanding to allow you to breathe optimally when cycling but, the personal trainer in me thinks that any time I take a client into a forward flexed position, my first cue is to maintain spinal alignment and protect the back by bracing the core. Because I get so confused on this topic, I don’t cue it. Help!

  35. Thank you for keeping it real!
    I really appreciate your blogs and encourage all of my instructors to read them.
    Traci Bartee

  36. Succinct and to the point! The time has come to stop hinting at these people and tell them the stark reality that they are not doing any work. Zero. (Well, close enough to zero as to be the equivalent of watching TV)

    One problem I see that can’t be fixed, however, is that there are many that go to the gym but actually DON’T want to work. I know, why bother, eh? They ride in my (packed) class but refuse to listen to anything I may say, even if I stand in front of them and tell (not just ask) them to alter their resistance and cadence. Either they think they know better or they don’t actually want to do anything – maybe it’s just attention-seeking, wanting to be the one about which every other rider thinks “idiot”.

    So there will be “that one” that will resist all science, logic, command and peer pressure to pedal at 30rpm or 130+rpm. I’ve also noticed that this “one” is almost always, trying not to sound sexist here, a woman. Usually skinny fat – thin but without definition. Maybe they think they’re perfect as they are…

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