“Spinning® is not Cycling”…A Quote From an Instructor.

Tis article was written in 2011, but the idea that Spinning isn’t cycling is still pervasive in some places.

On an online Spinning® group on Facebook, an instructor from Europe asked what the group thought about doing “push-ups” in class. A couple of us remarked that push-ups have no place in an indoor cycling class. But he offered the suggestion that it might have place in an “advanced class,” in order to offer an upper body workout and suggested that it “goes with the rhythm.”

He also added that he was taught that cycling and Spinning are two different things. He said he is a “championship” in cycling, but “Spinning isn’t cycling.”

Before I tell you what I responded, I want to say that I’ve had online chats with this instructor, sharing our passion for both outdoor cycling and indoor cycling. Through these online discussions, I know him to be a very passionate instructor. He loves what he does, he loves the music side of Spinning®, and my guess is that he is a very caring instructor and genuinely has the best interest of his students in his heart. He started a Facebook Spinning group to connect with other passionate instructors around the world, which is something I admire greatly. So this is not a reproach of this instructor in any way. He, along with so many instructors around the world, just have not been taught the science behind pedaling a bike. They have been misled by organizations (and/or trainers) that do not teach (or choose to ignore) science-based cycling. It never ceases to amaze me what is actually being taught out there. I guess this is the reason why I created the Indoor Cycling Association—it is my effort to change this!

Who would ever teach an instructor that “Spinning isn’t cycling”? I know that isn’t a part of the official Spinning education anywhere in the world and I don’t know any reputable training organization that believes that indoor cycling is not cycling. This line of thinking may stem from the fact that so many participants in indoor cycling and Spinning classes around the world are not “cyclists,” so instructors believe they don’t want to “train like cyclists.” That has morphed into this unfounded belief that it is ok to ride an indoor bicycle differently than an outdoor bicycle.

It’s time to change that thought process!

If you take a kickboxing class, would you go up to the instructor and say, “I am not a ‘real’ kickboxer, so don’t try to train me like they train”? That would be pretty silly, wouldn’t it? If you don’t want to know proper technique, your chances of injury will be much higher. The reasons for the importance of proper technique in kickboxing, boxing, weightlifting, or any sport for that matter is because studies clearly show what is safe and effective, whether you do it competitively or not. If you run on a treadmill in the gym solely to warm up for your weight workout, and don’t consider yourself a runner, it doesn’t mean that proper running biomechanics don’t apply to you. Would you say, “but I’m not a real runner”?

Because this belief is so pervasive, and my desire to change it is so strong, I am asking you to print this out and give it to your students who might believe that Spinning is that much different than cycling. Forward this to your instructor peers or management to help spread the word. Send it to your local newsparper (and have them contact me)!  It’s about science, baby, science! And it’s time to tell the world!

This is especially important now, because currently, several popular indoor cycling programs preach upper body training while pedaling while lifting very light weights, pulling bands from the ceiling, and doing crunches and push-ups while riding a bike. This is not only hurting our industry, but it is potentially hurting students. At the very least, it is selling them snake-oil and reducing the potential benefits they might be getting if they didn’t do all these crazy movements while pedaling and instead, just rode the bike like a bike.

Here is my response on this Facebook group regarding doing pushups on the bike and to the comment that “Spinning® isn’t cycling.”

But Spinning® IS cycling! Johnny G was first and foremost a cyclist. And a Spinner® bike is, well, it’s a bike! And the bike, any bike, has mechanical principles that we cannot ignore. The way our bodies interact with the moving pedals requires an understanding of biomechanics and exercise physiology. Cycling (pedaling a bicycle, any bicycle, indoors or out) is one of the most studied sports in the world. Cycling has been studied for well over a century now. Through our understanding of science, we know exactly how force (resistance) and velocity (cadence) work together to create power. Power is the work that we are doing on that bike, and that translates to the calories burned. Anything you do that interferes with your ability to produce power—in other words, anything that interferes with pedaling effectively—will reduce your potential average power, thereby reducing your potential calories burned. THAT is doing our students a disservice.

Through science (physics, biomechanics, anatomy, and physiology), we know the best joint position to optimally apply force to the pedals while reducing potential injury or discomfort. Proper cycling technique is very well understood by the scientific, coaching, and cycling community, and going outside of the proper positions and techniques while pedaling puts the joints at risk (knees, back, hips, shoulders, neck). Examples of popular indoor cycling moves that violate these position and technique principles are hovers, squats, push-ups, isolations, crunches, upper body contortions, etc. The most important thing for anyone to understand – instructors and students – is that this is true whether someone is a cyclist or a non-cyclist, or whether it’s a road bike or a stationary indoor bike. There are not two sets of rules. The laws of exercise physiology, physics, and biomechanics do not change when you walk from the outside world (i.e. cycling) to the inside (indoor cycling studio). Therefore, there shouldn’t be a distinction between “Spinning” and “cycling.” It is all riding a bike.

Are there some differences indoors? Sure. It’s a solid stationary bike that doesn’t move forward, or flex, or bend (with the exception of Real Ryders, which move side-to-side). That doesn’t mean you can flop around on them. Plus the fact that there is a flywheel helping to turn the pedals (even the lighter weight ones) makes it even more important to pay attention to realistic cadence and resistance choices indoors.

Push-ups on the bike

When you understand basic exercise science training principles, you know that doing a push-up and deriving a strength benefit from it requires resistance. That resistance is body weight against gravity, which means getting on the floor in the push-up position to perform them. It’s easy to see that there is less resistance when a push-up is done from the knees as oppose to the traditional full-body push-up. When you are sitting upright, as on a bike (or sitting here reading this at your computer), there is almost NO resistance when you push your body away from the handlebars. To see what I mean, try it now as you read this, with your hands on your desk in front of you. Even if you did a thousand of them your pectorals or triceps won’t get any stronger. Similarly, there will be no strength benefit while riding (unless perhaps you are extremely weak or geriatric, and by that I mean, barely able to lift your arms). So, doing these in a class is not giving your students an upper body workout and telling them that it is is misleading them.

There is, however, a risk in doing this, and there is a definite reduction of power output due to extraneous upper body movement. Riders who are doing “push-ups” while trying to pedal are impinging their ability to breath properly. If they can’t breathe properly to power their efforts to turn the pedals, they must reduce their effort – and in doing so, reduce their potential calorie output. Their legs are trying to make circles 70/80/90 times a minute, while they are pushing their abdomen into their thighs, reducing the effectiveness of the pedaling. For many students this will force the knees outward, misaligning the knee joint (which is supposed to be applying a force to the pedals at the 3:00 position). The spine isn’t well supported because you shouldn’t be holding the abdomen in while pedaling either – it would hinder the pedal stroke as well. I’d be willing to bet that if we videoed a class of students doing these, we would see that most would be flexing at the low back, which is not good for the low back. It’s also likely that the neck isn’t in alignment with the spine on many students, because they are doing too many things at once. Personal trainers (good ones) are very careful to make sure their clients maintain proper spinal alignment when doing a push-up or chest press; it is so easy and common for it to be done improperly. How can an instructor do that with a roomful of students?

Analyzing any contraindicated movement requires looking at the movement carefully with a scientific eye, looking at how it affects your physiology and positioning and your ability to apply force to the pedals, and most importantly, comparing it to what is done on a real bike.

For more information on proper form and techniques on an indoor bike, read the eBook Keep it Real. The principles outlined in the book are applicable to all indoor cycling, regardless of the program, regardless of the bike. Why? Because it all comes down to science. Science is there for us to use it, not ignore it, like some instructors or programs who preach these silly contraindicated movements seem to be doing.

My suggestion, if you don’t have a background in exercise physiology, biomechanics and an understanding of proper cycling techniques, that is OK—not everyone needs to in order to be an indoor cycling instructor—but it’s important to listen to those who do have an solid understanding of all three of these areas.

Just Don’t Do It!

Copyright 2011 Jennifer Sage and the Indoor Cycling Association. All rights reserved. You have permission to copy, forward, or reproduce this article, as long as you include reference to the author and to the Indoor Cycling Association website.

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