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Push-ups While Spinning: Why or Why Not?

By Jennifer Sage On February 18, 2013 Under Contraindications

Superfluous moves that have nothing to do with real cycling are pretty rampant these days in indoor cycling classes and studios around the world. These include popular techniques such as push-ups, crunches, one-arm and no-arm pedaling, hovers, tap-backs, and many more. If you are lucky enough not to have seen this style of “Spinning” or indoor cycling before, then here’s your chance in this YouTube video of a German cycling class that contains some of the most aggressive “push-ups” I’ve seen. [Of course, this is not true Spinning®, as the official program does not teach or condone ineffective and unsafe moves such as this. But the vast majority of the population still refers to any indoor cycling as such, hence the quotation marks.]

Warning: Turn down your volume before you view this video.

Now, while you recover from the shock of how silly and inane this looks, let’s examine what is going on here.

It’s pretty obvious that the person taking the video is just as shocked as you and I (judging by the title of the YouTube video). In the first half of the video you think the other riders are wise by not bobbing up and down, but sadly a few of them follow suit in the second half. Notice that the instructor is not coaching the class to do this—at least, not from what we can see. The instructor is visible briefly at :38 and again for the final 20 seconds. So why the heck is this rider doing this? We don’t know if he learned this from this instructor or another one. But one false move and he will be leaving his teeth on the handlebars or slamming his nose into them. I fear even more for his lumbar spine and low back muscles as he pumps up and down without necessary stabilization of his low back.

Uneducated instructors might coach to improve their “stabilization” when doing moves like this by holding in the abs…but two wrongs don’t make it right. Consciously engaging more of the abdominals while climbing aggressively will only reduce the riders’ ability to pedal and breathe properly.

When discussing contraindicated moves on an indoor bike, often instructors will focus on the supposed danger of the activity (like I just mentioned). While this is important and injury is certainly possible—especially with the vigorous action you see in this video—I have found that people just don’t believe it’s possible they will injure themselves. Perhaps they feel they are invincible? Some have even said to me that you don’t get injured “if you do it right!” The logic of that escapes me. How can you do what he is doing in this video “correctly”? You can’t; it’s an oxymoron.

Nevertheless, I wonder if that is what this fellow is thinking, that he is invincible and that if he does it “right” he won’t get injured? Although you might notice he has to turn his head sideways. One might think that would give him a little bit of a hint that this is dangerous.

But if fear of injury was an effective deterrent, people wouldn’t smoke, would they?

I can’t help but think of this when I see him bobbing up and down so furiously. He might as well do this:

Potential (and probable) injury aside, let’s examine what he’s doing for its effectiveness from a “fitness” and a “cycling technique” point of view.

Some trendy indoor cycling programs make the claim that via their push-ups (and other moves) while pedaling, they have turned indoor cycling into a full-body workout that improves upper body fitness. However, anyone with a reputable personal training or fitness education could see that there is no strength benefit to what he is doing. In order to strengthen the chest, shoulder, and arm muscles during a push-up, there must be a resistance against which to push. In the case of a push-up, the resistance is body weight against gravity. Due to the fact that his legs are underneath him supporting his upper body weight (forget for a moment that each leg is pumping in circles 70 times a minute), there is virtually little work left for the chest and arms.

Then, consider the fact that he is pumping up and down faster than once per second (this song is approximately 140 bpm; he is keeping to the beat pumping the shoulders at 70 times a minute). Because of this vigorous action, there is momentum to his movement, reducing even more the potential of any strength gain. On the other hand, it’s not explosive enough to be a “power” move for the upper body, such as a medicine ball toss that requires both resistance (the medicine ball, which is heavier than regular balls) and a very fast explosive movement. Power = Force X Acceleration. There is very little of either here, so explosive power is out. (Not to be confused with power output mentioned below.)

How about cardiovascular benefit? Well, pumping up and down with the upper body may raise the heart rate, but isn’t that what the cycling part is doing? His aggressive upper body movement might be adding a few heartbeats, but in the next paragraph when I break down the cycling benefits (or lack thereof), you’ll see that increased heart rate does not necessarily mean greater cardiovascular fitness, nor does it mean greater calorie burn. In the case of this rider, his possible higher heart rate is due to wasted and inefficient movement and not increased “work.” The cardiovascular benefit that he is gaining is because of the action of riding the bike, not the superfluous movement of the shoulders.

Now, how about from a cycling perspective? If we could put a power meter on his bike, we could prove to him that his rhythmic up-and-down bobbing is actually reducing his potential for fitness, not improving it. This is already an aggressive standing climb, why not optimize how much power you can maintain for the length of the song? Power output is the direct link to burning calories. Heart rate is the cost of doing that movement, and is not the “cause” of calories being consumed. If this rider stopped pumping and just pedaled properly, there would be an increase in his power output. He can’t see that because he doesn’t have a power meter and because the bike doesn’t move forward. On a real bike, he would see right away that the energy wasted on up and down movement could be channeled to increased forward movement on an outdoor bike. People don’t think of this on indoor bikes that don’t go anywhere but I’ll repeat it: Greater power output indoors would translate to a bigger gear, greater speed, and/or greater climbing ability outdoors. And all of that would indicate greater fitness. Isn’t that the goal of indoor cyclists, even those who don’t ride outside?

Towards the end of this video, you can see a woman in the row behind him with a blue and black sleeveless jersey. She is climbing hard and strong but without the extra movement. If the two of them were on bicycles outside riding uphill, she would leave him in the dust. Hopefully she would wave to him and say as she flew by, “Auf wiedersehen!

Try this yourself off a bike. Stand at a counter or table and put your palms out in front of you. Then pump up and down really fast and see what happens. NO WAIT! I’m just joking…please don’t do that. I need to have you sign a liability waiver first… 😉

No human being should be moving his or her trunk up and down this quickly for this long, hinging at the hip joint—the body is not designed for it whether ON or OFF a bike! And if you think that it has a potential dance function to it, even dancers who have years and years of training and conditioning wouldn’t do this movement this repetitively for this long. There is absolutely no functional use for this movement. So, without any fitness, strength, cardiovascular, power, or cycling benefits, but most definitely with a high risk of injury (not to mention that it is very high up on the “silly scale”), why, oh why, is this so common?

 

Disclaimer:

Because this evaluation is based on an understanding of exercise science and biomechanics of movement as the basis for the analysis, and not an arbitrary “instructor manual,” it applies to every person who rides or teaches any indoor bike in any program. If it’s dangerous and ineffective for the human body to do this because science and common sense tells us it is so, then it is incorrect for any instructor to teach this in any program. The laws of physics do not change for different people or different programs. It doesn’t matter if it’s Spinning®, or Schwinn, or Keiser, or Real Ryder, or Stages, or Cycling Fusion, or C.O.R.E, or any other brand of indoor bike or indoor cycling program. It should be emphasized that not a single one of these official reputable indoor cycling training programs teach or condone push-ups or isolations or most of the other contraindicated movements. The Indoor Cycling Association is not a “brand” of indoor cycling certification; it is an educational resource for instructors who want to know the science behind the activity, regardless of their certification.

  • […] Pushups in Your Spinning Class: Why or Why Not? […]

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    10 Comments Add yours

    1. Mary
      February 19, 2013
      5:38 pm #comment-1

      Jennifer, Could you do a review on the “Fitness On Request” Indoor cycle class? It is offered at many of the gyms. It is really bad!!

    2. LRob1
      March 7, 2013
      12:01 am #comment-2

      One of the aspects often ignored when discussing Spin Class is motivation.
      I am an instructor and competitive cyclist. For me and others like me, the motivational aspect of cycling is built in. I LOVE being on a bike, even one that

    3. Eddie Holzem
      January 28, 2014
      4:05 am #comment-3

      I really appreciate your advice. At the Y where I teach indoor cycling class we too try to Keep It Real by encouraging eachother to stick with what we know to be backed by science and sense (that’d be common sense). It amazes me that people can post and rave about stuff like on the link below when just watching it hurts my knees.
      http://wblk.com/have-you-heard-about-or-seen-the-new-spin-cycling-dance-craze-wow/

      Keep up the great work!

    4. Barry
      May 2, 2014
      3:55 am #comment-4

      Hi Jennifer. I am not sure why anyone would want to do push ups on an indoor bike as it makes absolutley no sense whatsoever and carries an increased risk of injury. It certainly will not increase upper body strength as you so correctly point out. Instead it increases strain to the lumbar spine through poor stabilisation and postural positioning. No real cyclist would ever do this.

    5. Stefanie
      September 4, 2014
      2:27 pm #comment-5

      I teach at a large big-box corporate gym. I had a family emergency and subbed out 4 of my classes to random instructors as there was such short notice. I came back and my participants were clamoring to do more “upper body strength” on the bike. Turns out, my facility has hired a bunch of instructors who think this is appropriate, and *I* look like the boring stodgy one.

      • patrice
        November 12, 2014
        3:04 pm #comment-6

        when I tell them they will be more effective actually doing 25 push ups after class, they act like I am telling them to stay another hour.

        I keep trying to add more strength and endurance climbs, but they only want intervals (and half of them don’t want to add resistance). it gets frustrating.

    6. Steph
      October 7, 2014
      8:07 pm #comment-7

      Stefanie, I would love your class 🙂 you could definitely educate the people in the class why it is a waste of time and suggest they do pushups other stuff either before or after the class for maybe 5-10 minutes and “really” get a benefit!! I just came from a spin class tonight and the instructor was doing pushups and I just refused to do them. They weren’t pushing anything up!! There is no weight! What a crockI also don’t do all the wacky jumping that goes on in class. I ride outdoors and was doing the jumps and what happened is that I started standing way too much on hills. Now I focus on what I need to work on in class and join in when the instructor isn’t doing stuff that doesn’t translate or help me with what I need to work with on the road,

    7. patrice
      November 12, 2014
      3:02 pm #comment-8

      I am seeing more and more of this. It is SO dangerous. Now someone is doing “one-arm” push up while the other arm pumps at the side. No idea what this is supposed to do other than destabilize the person on the bike.

      I am waiting for the day when someone’s hand slips and they bust open their mouth.

      When I teach class I am very clear about hands on the bars, etc, but some people think its a good idea to ride with their hands behind their backs or my favorite riding handfree in standing 2.

      While I keep addressing safety, it is falling on “deaf ears.” Any suggestions.

    8. Simon
      October 6, 2017
      4:53 pm #comment-9

      I wonder if you know what you are talking about??!
      I can see that you want to work with your legs with a certain technique if you only ride a bike on a road, but if you take the bike out in the woods you need more stability in your upper body.
      The video you showed is not something that anyone would do, but if you can sneak in some moves to improve your upper stability, then you should do it. Who the hell talks about strength-training during spinning?? Only an idiot!
      If you ride a bike, in the woods, you need to work with all of your body, stability and balance, left and right – and some people wants to do that during a spinning-class also …..
      If you think that is “dangerous moves”, then you do not know what you are talking about.

      • Jennifer Sage
        October 6, 2017
        4:59 pm #comment-10

        I actually do know what I’m talking about. I ride mountain bikes regularly and used to race. If you want to be good at mountain biking—maneuvering around roots, rocks or other obstacles or dropping off ledges, you need to practice that on a mountain bike in the field, not on a stationary bike that doesn’t bend, flex, or move forward, up or down. Doing pushups indoors on a bike won’t help you with any of that. End of story.

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