Is Indoor Cycling Bringing You to Your Knees?


Indoor cycling instructors are some of the most energetic, fun, and dynamic people. We love building community in our classes, helping others obtain their fitness goals, and motivating through great cues and heart-throbbing music. With the industry’s emphasis on fun, community, and music, and its deficiency in certification and education, my biggest fear has always been the risk of injury. The requirement of proper exercise science knowledge for indoor cycling instructors is lacking, to put it kindly. It is a double-edged sword: demanding a higher instructor standard for knowledge and training will greatly reduce the number of instructors who can afford or have the interest in certification; promoting the fun with minimal standards will attract many to instructor-hood, but place the health and fitness community at risk for lack of appropriate education. As always, profit and popularity win over proficiency and purpose.

This article by Dr. Giles P. Croft on provides valuable information on keeping one of our most important cycling joints healthy—the knees. Dr. Croft’s article is also a beautiful example of the level of knowledge and functional awareness every indoor cycling instructor should strive for in order to provide the most fun and effective experience for those who take our classes.

[Added by Jennifer Sage]

Also, understand that there are some things we cannot change indoors…obviously, you can’t swap out the stem or change the frame size or a few other things you can do to your bike outside. We work with the bike we have. But, the two MOST important things all of us as instructors CAN do to avoid knee pain in our classes are the following:

  1. Learn how to set our riders up properly (get a goniometer and a plumb bob).
  2. Use proper cycling technique, whether you or your riders are cyclists or not. NEVER ever hover, squat, isolate, or do tap-backs, and stop riding at high cadences with no resistance, or super high resistance and very low cadence. All of these can cause discomfort in the knees and lead to more chronic, painful issues.


  1. Thank you Tom, I was hoping though,to see more about how to set up a bike. (Although Jennifer showed me in 2008 at the Toronto Conference as part of her class.) The readers may want a refresher. Also where do you get a goniometer and how does one use it? All of this could have been covered.

    1. I totally agree with Robert Brien’s comment. The article itself, whilst factual, is not teaching us anything new. It is common-sensical to implement what is being suggested here. I expected to read about correct bike set-up but there was no mention of correct procedure in the article itself. I would love Tom to post something on this. Goniometer, plumb bob etc. Also Tom mentioned to never ever do “tap-backs”. Could you explain what a tap-back is? I am unfamiliar with the term and so can’t visualise what movement this would involve.

    2. Author

      Robert, all of the suggestions and questions you posed would constitute for a multiple-article series, much of which is covered over multiple hours as part of certification. Since our goal is to please and meet the needs of our members and readership, I will work on an article on bike setup and an approach for using a goniometer.

      Here are 2 basic models:

      Here is the model I use:

      However, I recommend waiting to read my article before purchasing anything beyond a basic model.

      1. Author

        Kat, similar to my response to Robert, much of what you are looking for was well out of the scope of this article. The simple point of this post was to bring this BikeRadar article to people’s attention. I’m working on an article for using a goniometer. Bike setup is a larger topic, which may require a different approach such as video. Bike setup is quite involved from a knowledge perspective if given the proper attention. I’ll keep you posted as Jennifer and I discuss the best way to present this so we are not replicating what every certification offers, but rather as continuing education on understanding body mechanics.

  2. Tom- what is your opinion on crank arm length (outdoor bikes) and its impact ( or not) n knee health?

    1. Author

      This is a great question Barbara. Crank arm length is very subjective. This is an entire article in an of itself, and outside the scope of indoor bikes. In general, a longer crank arm will provide more leverage for pushing greater forces, but the increases diameter (circle) pedaled can slow cadence. Shorter crank arms do not provide the same leverage, but can be turned over faster. Often times, shorter crank arms are recommended for individuals with knee issues because of the reduced torque. Leg and bone length are also a factor, as is the simple preference of the rider. However, much is dependent on neuromuscular conditioning, technique, and strength. I’ve seen riders with relatively short short legs using longer cranks (175-180mm) turn faster than riders with longer legs and shorter cranks (170-172.5mm). Due to the variables in rider size, strength, technique, flexibility, joint mobility, frame geometry, gear selection, and personal preference, each rider is an individual case.

      1. Tom, Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. Your feedback was helpful and informative!

  3. There is a Part 2 to Take Care Of Your Knees that presents information on the four areas of the knee pain, how to look after the four areas and avoid knee pain, plus strengthening and stretching exercises.

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