I’m beyond irritated. After watching a couple of online instructor videos and listening to others talk about how cycling is an amazing full-body workout that targets the core, I almost don’t know where to begin. Unfortunately, it demonstrates the lack of science, training, and knowledge that should be required to call oneself an indoor cycling instructor. Those of us who are keeping the indoor cycling industry effective and real have done it via our own determination and quest for knowledge.
One of the problems is that there are literally no “official” standards in place. Cycling’s national governing body, USA Cycling, does not involve itself in the health club industry; accredited certification bodies such as ACE, ACSM, NSCA, and NASM do not focus on cycling qualifications; finally, the health clubs themselves are not held to any standard. This is, of course, a double-edged sword. Opening the door for all kinds of ridiculousness, health clubs have let unaccredited indoor cycling classes become part of their programming; on the other hand, if health clubs didn’t adopt Spinning® and indoor cycling, our industry would not exist.
OK, so that was a rant within a rant. Let’s get back to the issue of core training and indoor cycling. What is the deal and why are people still making claims that cycling is a full-body and core workout?
Strength Training vs. Conditioning
Getting back to the issue of training knowledge, people making these claims know little about cycling technique, mechanics, or exercise physiology. Proper cycling technique that is both safe and effective relies on a relaxed upper body. Sucking in the stomach and tightening the core (abdomen, back, chest, shoulders, etc.) restricts adequate breathing, restricts necessary joint movement, and causes a person to fight the mechanics of the bike. Not only does this encourage injury, but it also makes indoor cycling classes highly ineffective. One simply can’t get the most out of a workout when they are bound up like a person in severe need of laxatives.
Then there is the science of developing strength. Strength requires stress, which, if applied correctly, leads to adaptation. The muscles of the upper body and specifically the core (by this they often mean abdominals) are not and should not be under any level of stress that would cause adaptations in strength. We know the upper body is used for balance and stability; what benefit, if any, does the upper body receive?
This is a great question. Although the upper body is not under enough stress to produce significant adaptations in strength, the movement, and postural requirements condition the joints and muscles. This may seem like I’m toying with words, but there is a difference. Even though the large muscle groups of the upper body are not fully engaged while cycling, numerous deep postural muscles are used to counter and control the forces applied by the legs. This movement keeps the upper body muscles and joints active and facilitates increased blood flow. Movement is good. Posture is good. Balance is good. So yes, cycling involves the entire body (movement and stability), it just DOES NOT provide a full-body strength-training workout.
How Do You Burn More Calories? Ride Harder.
Doesn’t adding upper-body gyrations on the bike increase overall activity that burns more calories?
Why? Because when you start twisting, turning, and lifting massive 1 lb weights while riding, the powerful work of the legs is greatly reduced (don’t get me started about safety). Activating more muscle and applying real stress increases the amount of work and thus, calories burned. The muscles of the legs are much greater in size than those lifting the twig weights, so why would we trade more for less?
The mechanics of the bike strongly, if not exclusively, target stress on the legs; why diminish the effects of this beautiful movement with upper body silliness? The answer is simple—those that contort their abs and pump their arms in praise of the calorie gods don’t know what they are doing.
So let me give it to you straight…
If you want to burn more calories on the bike, ride harder…and with resistance.
You know you are getting the most out of your ride and burning a sick amount of calories when your upper body is simply hanging on for dear life.
They Are Trying to Sell Their Class and More
People who promote the upper body workout and core benefit of an indoor cycling class are often looking to either hype their personal style or condone the contraindicated movements they use. This inherently leads us back to my opening rant about the state of indoor cycling standards. If the indoor cycling industry was subject to the same risk stratification scrutiny as personal training and other functional movement modalities, some instructors would be serving jail time for their crimes.
To add insult to almost certain injury, it is often these misrepresented classes and fitness model instructors that make the news and host Hollywood favorites among their attendees. In the public eye, it doesn’t matter that these ab-crushing, 1 lb-weight-wielding, stretcho-band-snapping, and arm-flailing cycling classes violate sound training science. It was on TV; it has to be right.
Who Are the Real Offenders?
Who should really take responsibility for all of this? We often blame the Internet because of its hyper-accessibility and ease of vomiting information (minus the inform). Does anyone really believe these indoor cycling video atrocities and misinformed articles are accidentally posting to the World Wide Web? Someone intentionally uploads them.
It needs to stop.
The responsibility, therefore, falls on the instructors spewing these false claims as truths. Our industry needs respect and instructors should be upheld as health and fitness professionals and coaches. This can only materialize when the noise is silenced.
To those who take pride in our industry and spend countless hours researching, studying, and achieving qualifications, we need you and respect you. For the others who occupy instructor bikes and spout fitness illusions and training quackery, we beg you to either take responsibility and get educated or step down and stop confusing everyone.
My stomach hurts after writing this article. I never knew that ranting provided a core workout.