Be Careful of the Wheels of Misfortune

By Jennifer Sage On November 14, 2011 Under General Advice

I will not let up in my quest to clean up indoor cycling – until it goes mainstream. Even then I wont stop, because the future of safe and effective cycling depends on it. I have a unique opportunity that the IC programs don’t have – I’m not preaching this from a program perspective but purely from a science perspective.

This has been my quest for 15 years even while I was a Master Instructor for the Spinning program. I’m taking it to the next level by writing articles for online sports and fitness journals about effective training that really works, and commenting on online articles that “praise” these “new Spinning” (their words) programs such as Soul Cycle, yet who don’t understand that the science behind them is sorely lacking. Every time I wrote a blog post or article, new instructors, students and club or studio directors/managers will (hopefully) get the message. One instructor/student at a time…

This morning I saw an article on Bloomberg Business Week that speaks of the emergence of “Spin” studios such as Soul Cycle and Flywheel. It’s a silly article, with no point except to draw cartoons of different types of students. But this presented a great opportunity for me to make a very important point to the people in the business community who are looking at these programs that are branding stupidity and calling them a new “force” in the industry.

Spin Class: Wheels of Misfortune
How You Spin Might Reveal More than You Care to Admit

By Tim Murphy

Spin classes have been around for about 15 years. But recently, new, souped-up spin studios like Soul Cycle and Flywheel, both based in New York, have attracted celebs like Kelly Ripa and Katie Holmes and given urban cubicle dwellers a new, jazzier torture chamber in which to mindlessly shed the office stress. With their loud music, ambient lighting, and hysterical, amped-up instructors, today’s spin séances aim to create an out-of-body experience in 45 minutes or less. “The classes are a civilian way of being among the military elites, like Navy SEALS,” says body-language expert Joe Navarro, author of What Every BODY Is Saying. “People can take out their aggression and pound away to the music,” says fellow expert Patti Wood, author of Success Signals.

Toiling away on a bike that goes nowhere may not be for you. (For example, you may be male.) We attended one class each at Soul Cycle, Flywheel, and Gold’s Gym and observed behaviors and enthusiasm. We then asked for interpretation from Navarro; Wood; David Givens (Your Body at Work); Johnny Goldberg (or simply “Johnny G.”), who started the first spin studio in the late ’80s; and celebrity spinner David Clayton-Thomas, of the band Blood, Sweat and Tears, which wrote the hit Spinning Wheel, and whose eponymous excretions are reminiscent of spin class.

You like me, may be wondering where the rest of the article is, but apparently it’s just the little slide-show of the cartoon drawings that is hard to notice (I didn’t see that when I commented; I wasn’t the only one confused as per the first comment). Below is the response I left – which doesn’t really have a lot to do with the article/slide-show itself, but rather since this is in the Bloomberg Business Week, my goal is to let the business community who is closely watching Soul Cycle and their well-financed marketing powerhouse know that they might want to think twice before spouting off how great they are. The fact is, uneducated journalists from both the fitness as well as the business side are praising this new “brand” everywhere you turn, but the only thing Soul Cycle has done is to brand stupidity.

My comment on Bloomberg:

And….? You say you asked for interpretations from these people, but don’t give their answers. Please, don’t leave us hanging!

Here’s an interpretation from a scientific point of view…

Your article title is oddly ironic, but perhaps not in the way that you were thinking….

Fitness techniques and classes should be based on science. There’s an arm of science called, oddly enough, Exercise Science. It combines an understanding of Kinesiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Biomechanics, and explains the adaptations that take place in the body when you place the body under stress (muscles, joints, cardiovascular system, etc). Soul Cycle and its many copycats make a mockery of Exercise Science. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the energy and cool vibe of these programs, but it’s the TECHNIQUE that is wrong. It’s not only ineffective, but it is dangerous – because it goes against how we know the body moves safely, especially with the legs locked into pedals moving 80-120 times a minute (or more) in the sagital plane (if someone doesn’t know what that word means, that person should not be teaching fitness). Cycling is a sport that has been tested longer than almost any other sport – over 100 years – and exercise scientists KNOW what is effective cycling and what is ineffective. They KNOW how power output is optimized (read: increased caloric burn for the participants who don’t care about performance). Do something silly while you are pedaling, like lifting weights or pushups, and your power output drops, sometimes dramatically. It doesn’t matter whether you ride a bike outside or not, the science of turning the pedals effectively apply to every body that turns those pedals, whether they ride inside in an indoor cycling class or outside on a road or mountain bike.

What are these unsafe and incorrect techniques that are a mockery to exercise science? Lifting 1-lb weights, doing crunches or pushups, moving the hips fore and aft, squats and hovers, isolating the abs, upper body contrived movements, pedaling at 140rpm with no resistance, and many more. If you hired a personal trainer and he gave you 1-lb weights and said “do 100 of these”, and then had you do pushups and crunches while sitting UPRIGHT (try it at your desk while reading this – you’ll see exactly what I mean), that trainer should be fired because he knows nothing about how the body works.

But why is it OK while riding a bike? And how can a program now “brand” this kind of stupidity?

It isn’t, or it shouldn’t be. Soul Cycle is a marketing juggernaut, and is making it into every print and online publication as well as all over TV. But it’s a gimmick that hopefully will fall by the wayside like Tai Bo did in the 90’s. They are selling snake oil to an unsuspecting public, and the risk of injuries is too high. True application of cycling principles will prevail and students who truly want results and don’t want to visit the chiropractor unnecessarily will seek classes that don’t resort to these gimmicks. Be careful of the “Wheels of Misfortune”.

As the founder of the Indoor Cycling Association (ICA), I also wrote the ebook Keep it Real, which explains in great detail why these techniques are dangerous in a cycling class. ICA aims to teach instructors about the science behind proper training on an indoor bike, as well as motivation and coaching skills.

Jennifer Sage, CSCS, CPT
BS Exercise Science
Cycling Coach
15 years, Master Instructor


A few weeks ago, I started a comment writing campaign on an article in Livestrong.com that praised hovers as an effective indoor method. Guess what? They took the article down after dozens of instructors from around the world asked them to preach proven safe training methods that work rather than dangerous and ineffective methods like hovers. It works!

Other articles on this blog, the Indoor Cycling Association, or my previous blog that question the validity of techniques in indoor cycling classes that are not based on science:

The Seven Deadly Sins of Spinning®
Let’s Ignore Science and do What We Want to On a Bike

One of the Most Dangerous Spinning Classes Ever
The “How-To” Guide for Hovers. What???
An Open Letter to Jillian Michaels of the Biggest Loser
Dear Jillian Michaels – Follow-Up Letter
JUST DON’T DO IT In Your Indoor Cycling Classes


By the way, what are your thoughts on the silly drawings in the slide show of this article? Personally, I think it’s a bit condescending and sexist, and I’m a bit surprised at some of Johnny G’s comments (well….not really surprised, but they don’t help him, or Spinning, one bit). I mean there’s nothing wrong with a beautiful body on a bike, but that one in that position?? Don’t get me started – that’s a whole ‘nuther discussion….


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5 Comments Add yours

  1. David Bluman
    November 16, 2011
    4:47 pm #comment-1

    Thank you! Long before I was exposed to “Spinning/Indoor Cycling” I did road races, mountain biked, and when I was exposed to IC and then the “unsafe” variations of creative programming, I became the “stoic corrector” of people in my classes, understanding they were on a fixed cycle, unlike a “real” bike and took the Exercise Science into my programming hand in hand with SAFE creativity. Now mind you, I NEVER actually took an orientation, (though I witnessed many working and teaching at many conferences, many of which you taught), but I read EVERY manual from Reebok, Schwinn, Mad Dog, and have been a trainer and educator/CEC Provider for many years. Thanks for pointing out what a PROFESSIONAL knows to be safe and effective. It doesn’t mean the fun and energy are gone,rather that people may ACTUALLY reach their goals without getting HURT and honestly SHAME on those of you that subscribe to avoiding your knowledge base to make $$ YES I SAID IT. SHAME ON YOU, I see you out on the gym floor, in the group fitness room and the cycling studio and the killer is SOME of you have been in my certifying courses, workshops and lectures.

  2. Jennifer Sage
    November 16, 2011
    10:00 pm #comment-2

    David, you are welcome!
    I looked up your website.
    We should talk… 😉

  3. Nancy Spence
    November 22, 2011
    1:36 am #comment-4

    Beautifully said.

  4. NG
    November 8, 2013
    2:56 am #comment-5

    All i need to know is who the stunner is in that pic!

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