Awkward Gym Moments That Make You Go “WTH? Is This For Real?”

By Jennifer Sage On September 22, 2013 Under Contraindications, Form and Technique, Keep it Real

My bet is that most people would have the same reaction to this lifting “technique” if they witnessed it in the gym, whether they are instructors, trainers, or just the general public:

The reaction would include one or more of the following: Facepalm. Mouth agape followed by a breathy “O.M.G!” An incredulous “WTH?” (or other similar letters). Hysterical laughter. Some might even run to her aid to protect her from herself.

But many of those same people who recognize the danger and stupidity of this monkeying around on the lat pull-down machine will turn around and go to an indoor cycling class in which they ignore all tenets of biomechanics, exercise, and cycling science. They will rationalize that it’s OK because “we’re not cyclists” or “this is not cycling.” They won’t draw the parallel with this woman’s dangerous lifting antics in the video above.

So, if this woman rationalized her technique by saying, “I’m not a real bodybuilder,” does that make it OK?

I know, I know, many Sage Advice Blog and Indoor Cycling Association followers are aghast at those circus-like techniques in indoor cycling classes. You are the choir to which I am preaching, but the message needs to get beyond the pulpit. It needs to get to the students taking these classes.

That kind of laughable yet very dangerous nonsense depicted in the above video is not far off from many of the techniques employed in following videos of indoor cycling classes (or what almost all of them incorrectly label as “Spinning” in the titles of their YouTube videos).

Why? Because these instructors/programs ignore biomechanics and exercise science. They ignore the fact that cycling science, through over 100 years of studying the science behind pedaling, knows how forces are transferred to the pedals and how even minor changes in proper positioning can hinder power, performance, and effectiveness of the training and increase chances of discomfort and injury. They ignore the fact that there do not exist two sets of rules for biomechanics and physics; that what applies to cyclists and to real cycling also applies to non-cyclists and indoor cycling. They forget that the ankle bone of a non-cyclist connects to the shin bone which connects to the thigh bone in the same way as it does with a cyclist, so movement patterns are the same, and as such, technique should be similar. They ignore that virtually every reputable indoor cycling program (*see below for a list) not only does NOT teach these things, they also do not condone them.

But alas, the crazy techniques are on the rise around the world. Cycling-technique-deniers remind me of climate-change-deniers and science-deniers in general. The clarity of reasonableness and science are shrouded by a cloud of entertainment-based pseudo-exercise and the desire to latch on to the latest gimmick, but when faced with science (i.e., proper technique) they have to stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “Nah nah nah nah nah nah, don’t tell me the truth.” Heck, there’s money to be made with all the latest circus cycling gimmicks! (…at least…in the short term.)

I’ll stand on my Keep it Real pedestal and continue shouting until as many people as possible have heard it. It’s got to reach past the instructors, past the gym owners, past the media, and get out to the end users. The general uninformed exercising public need to know that their antics on a bike really don’t look a whole lot different than that silly woman in the video above: her, on a cable machine, them, on a stationary bike.

Right now, most of them have no idea what is correct or not. Once they hear the truth, what they decide to do with it is up to them. Some will shrug and say they don’t care; they’ll continue to tap-back and jiggle and jive and crunch and isolate and pedal like a caffeinated roadrunner on the bike because they think it’s fun. Fine. But others, more reasonable, will have a lightbulb moment and realize their knee or back pain and/or lack of results was because they have been doing it improperly, and not because cycling indoors is bad for you or doesn’t work. They will realize that they’ve been lied to by their instructors and the media and will seek out the instructors and programs who do Keep it Real.

We believe we need to give them the option of making that choice by revealing the truth!

Take a look at the videos below. The techniques employed in these classes are not that far off from the woman on the lat pull-down machine. (These are only a few of the many we plan to analyze.)

If you want to learn more, I’ve written many blog posts about why these classes are ineffective and unsafe; you can click on the tag “Contraindications” on the right panel of this blog to scroll through many of them (the largest tag). I wrote a book about how to avoid ineffective classes, and I was the author of the official Spinning® continuing education workshop called Contraindications to the Spinning Program.

You can read a few of these articles below:

If you are an indoor cycling instructor from any program and you want to learn the real reasons, the science and common sense reasons, why you should keep it real and not succumb to these popular but ineffective and dangerous moves, your best bet is to join the Indoor Cycling Association and get the education you need. You can also read the e-book Keep it Real. If you are a student and are finally seeing the light and want an instructor who keeps it real, or just want to learn the basic science, you too can read the e-book Keep it Real (it’s targeted at the student) and refer your instructors to the Indoor Cycling Association.

You can also sign up for the newsletter to keep abreast of any future articles.

Just remember…it all comes down to science—exercise science!

Let’s spread the word far and wide.


*Reputable indoor cycling programs that teach authentic cycling and have a full-day orientation (some two-day), most of which require ongoing continuing education, include Spinning, Schwinn, Stages Cycling, Keiser, Cycling Fusion, RealRyder, Indoor Cycling Group (ICG), Velocity Cycling, and C.O.R.E Cycling. Anyone who is certified with any of these organizations but is currently teaching tap-backs, fast jumps (AKA popcorn jumps), crunches, isolations, hovers, squats, pushups, triceps dips, on-the-bike weights or bands, boxing, arm swings, no-saddle pedaling, arms-behind-the-back pedaling, high-cadence-no-resistance pedaling, super-high-resistance-very-low-cadence pedaling, twists and turns, hold-the-abs-while-pedaling, etc., have consciously chosen to go against what they were taught in their certification course. None of these programs teach or condone any of these moves.

And if the instructor is not certified, or only “certified” with a cursory 4–5 hour cycling instructor class (there are no standards in the US that say an instructor must have any education teaching a fitness class, and it’s up to the facility to set their own guidelines and rules), well, you get what you pay for. Certification is not a guarantee of quality, but an instructor’s desire to stay educated about exercise science and cycling science will mean you are more likely to have someone who knows what they are talking about.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Angela Stella
    September 28, 2013
    8:28 pm #comment-1

    Please review and comment on psyclefitness.com video. It is in Warrendale PA. Only saving grace he has 1 certified MADD dogg instructor who should be an MI for all western PA! Thank you for the gospel of real indoor cycling.

  2. Si
    October 22, 2013
    9:29 am #comment-3

    I’ve taught Group Indoor Cycling for a year now; I’m a keen cyclist and I took up road riding 4 years ago having spent most of my life riding off-road (all the way back to the odd cross-country race in my teens).

    I got into instructing Indoor cycling since I was so tired of seeing it done badly, or used as some self indulgent nonsense that instructors also like to pass off as being paid to do their own training. I’ve always followed basic rules of keeping check on form, technique, cadence to suit certain zones of the profile and setting my program to be an Indoor Cycling workout which avoids all of those bizarre techniques an exercises listed in the examples that wouldn’t be found in a reputable class. Essentially I draw a line between what I would do for my own training and what’s in the instructors manual – basically if it’s not in the manual, I don’t teach it. I’ve received various comments about how my classes have helped people build their fitness through a combination of building a good base and complimenting this training with focussed higher intensity sessions.

    However it seems I have a core group of followers and that the masses out there would far rather go to classes where they are led through a range of training that I can at best describe as ‘pratting about’ and at worst descirbe as ‘shockingly dangerous’. It seems that people like to be entertained and also have the perception that as long as they have done a session and worked up a sweat then they can pat themselves on the back, regardless of the fact that it might be detrimental to them in the long term.

    In fact one or two people from this contingent have even said they find my classes too hard when they have tried them; something which I find strange – firstly because I always state that people should work at their own level, and secondly because I always set the levels based on RPE, even allowing the option not to turn it up if they feel they can’t and I have never and will never specify numbers of turns on the resistance (please feel free to fire some constructive comments my way if it’ll shed any light in this).

    I’ve watched one particular instructor (who I wont name on a public forum) persistently do everything they shouldn’t yet still keep full classes from one week to the next. This includes having people over extended on the bars while seated, poor bike set up and body positioning, high speed bouncing in the saddle pedalling, so much resistance you can’t turn the pedals, same again but hands behind the back, push ups on the bars, back pedalling, body freezes/ hovers, making it a set number of turns not RPE, the meerkat standing hand position (centre of the flats), standing no resistance sprints using that position, and worst of all trying to get people to stand and pedal while holding their arms out horizontally either side!

    Someone please explain to me why this type of class is so popular??!!!

  3. Jennifer Sage
    October 30, 2013
    2:38 pm #comment-4

    Hi Si,
    I’ve been trying to figure that out for over a decade…why is this type of class so popular?

    While I’ve not quite answered it fully, I think it’s due to two reasons. The first is the more important one, because it means there IS hope! Both of these answers apply to both the instructor and the student, although a little bit differently.

    1) misinformation. The instructor is misinformed, uneducated and ignorant. Not ignorant meaning “stupid”, but simply “doesn’t know” the truth. They think that what they are doing is effective because they learned it from a misinformed person who thought it was effective and fun.

    The students are misinformed. They saw it on TV or read about it in the paper (i.e. some of the Soul Cycle moves that are so popular). They have no knowledge of physiology or anatomy and don’t know how the body works and doesn’t work.

    Both of these represent a huge possibility for ICA. We are all about educating the instructor about the “truth”. And one of these days, we’ll extend that to the end-user, the student, to help them learn. My e-book Keep it Real is currently targeting students who are cyclists but it will be re-written to target the non-cyclists to help them learn as well.

    These two categories don’t know what they don’t know. It’s a resolvable problem.

    2) the instructor knows the truth but doesn’t give a you-know-what because their ego gets in the way. They are after the popularity and/or money. Every time they do something like a pushup or crunch they chuckle in the back of their heads. they enjoy pulling the fleece over their students’ eyes. They are the snake-oil salesman. Also, they have rationalized so much they forget that they are even teaching a group “FITNESS” class and think it’s more about being an entertainer. That “physiology” stuff doesn’t apply and it would “scare” their students away (they think).

    The student who has heard the truth and has even acknowledged that what they’re doing probably doesn’t work as well as if they “kept it real” but they do not care. In fact, many of these people become the “haters” on forums or articles on doing it right. For them it’s about having fun and being a screaming fan of their instructor who tells them to do tap-backs or 1-lb weights.

    Now, having fun is not a bad thing….but they think it’s not possible to have fun while doing it correctly. Mental block perhaps, but it’s willfully blocked, not out of ignorance. these people KNOW what they don’t know and choose to ignore the path of effective and real training.

    • Barry
      February 24, 2014
      6:35 am #comment-5

      Hi Jennifer
      I teach Indoor cycling classes occasionally and am also a keen road cyclist which I have been doing for over 30 years now and in addition am a qualified Physiotherapist. When I do teach I am all about posture and correct bike set up and reiterate this constantly during the class. I like to work to cadence of between 60-120. (My average outside is around 90rpm) however people do seem to enjoy these extra high resistance low cadence classes and low resistance superfast cadence/Bouncing in saddle, like you I do not understand why as I know from a Physiotherapy point of view it is not good for the knees, likewise draped forwards over the handlebars is asking for a back problem at some stage

  4. Robert
    December 27, 2013
    12:20 pm #comment-6

    I noticed she NEVER mentions adding resistance. And how is the new person supposed to handle this without injuring themself? I’m still against 90% of what Soulcycle preaches, sorry, to many ways to injure yourself.

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