Jennifer Sage

By Jennifer Sage On April 6, 2012 Under Contraindications

Did you see this segment this morning on Good Morning America about “Spinning Classes Popularity Continues Rise“.

How does the national media continually get away with calling these programs Spinning®? Don’t they know anything about trademark violation? Would they highlight any Latin dance fitness class and call it Zumba? No, they wouldn’t. This is a national news program after all, and I know they’ve been contacted after past “Spinning” segments that weren’t “Spinning”. I would think that Flywheel, featured this morning on Good Morning America, would adamantly insist prior to the airing that the word Spin® or Spinning® should not be used on the air or on their website or Yahoo site. (Still, this is the media’s fault, not Flywheel’s. They don’t call themselves Spinning.)

Indoor cycling is the generic term. However, proper and effective indoor cycling of ANY kind, whether it is the official “Spinning” or not, should still be based on exercise science and an understanding of cycling principles (proper technique, biomechanics, etc), otherwise students are mislead.

Here are my comments on the video of the Flywheel class. (Note: no need to critique the short staged mini ride in Times Square because many are riding in suits and ties and it’s cold and on live TV. That is nothing more than “showtime” and they can sort of be forgiven.)

  • many riders are pedaling way too fast and bouncing all over, which means two things: not enough resistance and an untrained pedal stroke. Will heart rates still be high? Yes, because that’s what happens when you pedal quickly—but it doesn’t mean you’re doing any appreciable “work”. Work from a scientific point of view is how you burn calories. Here’s an example: take the chain off a road bike and get on and pedal. Your heart rate will go sky high as you pedal frantically….but the bike won’t go anywhere, and you’ll feel a little silly. Lightbulbs will go off in your head as you realize how important resistance (in this case, the chain) is. Some riders in this video are doing the equivalent of riding a bike with no chain, but because they don’t see that their bike is not moving forward, they don’t make the connection between their overly frantic pedaling and not doing any appreciable work. All they feel is that elevated heart rate and incorrectly assuming it’s “hard work”.
  • Pointed toes. Incorrect pedaling mechanics translates to not being able to transfer the force to the pedals effectively. This means less power output (which translates to fewer calories burned), inhibited ability to improve endurance and strength, and over time, potential injury.
  • Lifting weights. That rant is too long to print here, just read this article on why you shouldn’t do upper body exercises in an indoor cycling class. The question is, have these instructors been certified in personal training? If so, they would learn that if you push weights forward while standing up (parallel to the ground) that movement is not really doing anything of value. The force acting on the weight is gravity (i.e. straight down), so which muscle is getting worked? Hint: it is NOT the pecs or triceps, which are the primary movers when doing that movement on the floor as a pushup (body weight against gravity) or on a bench as a chest press (the weight against gravity). Instead, this is one of those silly “fluff” non-functional movements with no purpose. The anterior delt might fatigue a little, like it would if you held your arms out for an extended period (which would only help you if you were a bird). But here, sitting upright on this bike, no functional muscle strengthening is going on.
  • 700 calories in 45 minutes. Really? Do they really know what it takes to burn 700 calories in 45 minutes? A LOT more than what they are doing in that class, especially if you slow down for 1/3 of that 45 minutes to lift small weights (not sure what that bar weighs in the video. Can’t be much). The media, and many fitness programs, often overhypes calories burned. The number seems to get higher and higher with every new program; some used to say 800 calories in 60 minutes. Now it’s 700 in 45 minutes. I’ve seen 1000 being promoted by some instructors. It hurts our industry when the public is misled on national TV, especially when real calories consumed is more likely half that amount. To prove it, we’d need a bike with a (real) power meter on it, since a heart rate monitor reading of calories burned does not tell the whole truth. Unfortunately, they will continue to believe these fitness myths.

Unfortunately the public wants so badly to believe the hype. They want it to be easier to “torch calories”, or to do weight workouts. But the truth is, you’ve got to put in the work. There is no easy way around it.

With national airing of segments like this on Good Morning America, and celebrity endorsements, even more students from around the country (world?) will start asking their instructors and clubs to start using small weights in their cycling classes. Because Kelly Ripa does it, Chelsea Clinton and Brooke Shields do it. Well, these people are uninformed.

It’s science folks. Exercise Science. I, and those who stand with me in the quest for “evidence-based” cycling (as Gene Nacey calls it) will continue to hold this torch. We’ve got a tough opponent that is getting even stronger due to the media and silly celebrity endorsements, but we won’t back down!



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    19 Comments Add yours

    1. pascal hannecart
      April 7, 2012
      12:25 am #comment-1

      It is the compagny that own the trademark that have to defend its label !
      The publicity wrong or bad is certainly more than welcome for them, in a time where it is harder and harder to make money and as they do not have a monopole anymore … now you have Keiser, Realryder, schwinn ….
      The Sage Jennifer “job” is to clean Indoor Cycling and Fitness world and not to defend any brands good or bad, I think … you do it really well but perhaps do not the job of those brands of cause it is hard if not impossible to clean the fitness industry and IDC without menmtionning brand and trade mark …

    2. Jennifer Sage
      April 7, 2012
      2:34 am #comment-2

      Not sure I follow…
      It’s still important for people to realize that a Brand is one of the most important parts of a business. I say that as a business owner and as an active member of the fitness industry, and not from a pedestal waving a “Spinning

    3. @Matt_A_Phillips
      April 7, 2012
      8:17 am #comment-3

      Wise words that echo my thoughts entirely, but let’s face it – when has the truth ever been the most effective or attractive way of selling marketing anything? True, science based training will never be mass marketed. Which is what gives professionals like us the reward of knowing that we can change lives. Personally I thank every magazine, YouTube video and TV show that shows this type of watered down pseudo exercise. It makes me feel useful and proud of my knowledge!

    4. Shayne
      April 7, 2012
      11:41 pm #comment-4

      *sigh* It is sometimes hard to keep the energy up against this relentless tide of ignorant media. It’s hard to know how to respond. Fighting fire with thoughtful education is fine one-on-one but it gets hOrribly lost in the battle of the sound bite. I’m ready to experiment with a variation on ‘tough love’. How about we call them “deliberately ignorant” and the enemy of enlightened fitness? Maybe it needs to be stronger? Do we need to label the media the fitness equivalent of a paedophilic suicide bomber? Well maybe not, but might it get a needed discussion going? Ideas?

    5. Jody
      April 8, 2012
      2:20 am #comment-5

      Thank you Jennifer! I too beat my head in this 800.. calamity stuff…bouncing in the saddle and the rider says I can’t get my HR up…..hum put a little resistance on there..
      I love your blog and instructions. Thank you

    6. Eddie
      April 8, 2012
      2:38 am #comment-6

      Many years ago I worked at a fitness center. This was right after I finished my degree in Kinesiology. It was amazing how many members looked to the people that were genetically gifted with a Adonis-type body for advice. The workouts I saw these people do were counter-indicated for the majority of people, including themselves; bad form/technique, not giving their body proper rest, to some idiotic dietary ideas.

      It took many months and booting a few of these “experts” out of the gym to get some to start listening to reason. From talking to our genetically gifted “experts” most of them were just disseminating information they picked up from fitness shows or magazines. Alas, there were still some of our female members that would not lift weights at all. They feared becoming “too muscular”. Citing that lifting weights would make them into female bodybuilders as their main fear. And some male members that would not do cardio. Citing that they didn’t want to become skinny and looking like a long distance runner.

      Long story short, what sells is not what is scientifically proven or even good for you. It is mainly what promises the best results, with the least amount of effort, and the least amount of time. Worst of all is the appeal to popularity that many media outlets turn to. But, the people that will fall for this pseudo-science or do something because a celebrity does it aren’t the people that will listen to reason or science. It’s sad but they may just not have the capacity to listen to reason. They don’t want to learn, they just want the “magic pill”.

      Keep “beating your head against the wall”. It’s worth it if you can convince just one person to do the correct things.

    7. Amy Goodrum
      April 8, 2012
      11:26 pm #comment-7

      Jennifer, I shared the video and your response with several of my regular students. I think it is really important to educate students and enthusiasts of indoor cycling about what to look for in a class and instructor, and what to avoid. I find that the students are much more receptive to learning about what to expect in a decently taught class than many instructors who have been teaching for years and refuse to give up their hovers, “sprints” and push-ups.

    8. jade
      April 9, 2012
      2:12 am #comment-8

      I can’t thank you enough for putting truth back in the media to help the confused understand what is reality. Unfortunately when you put a few big names in front of quote unquote fun reality takes a nose dive. Jennifer I honor your intention to keep truth alive thank you so much!

    9. Mauricio Gooiker
      April 10, 2012
      2:47 pm #comment-9

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thank you for another great update. Sadly enough the general public still needs to be educated what REAL indoor cycling is.

      From my point of view we all need to keep this discussion alive by giving feedback to these kinds of newsletters, blogs, interviews etc etc

      Not only do we need to educate those who are unfamiliar with indoor cycling but also we still need to keep on educating/informing our students, our group fitness managers, our club management, our business partners etc etc

      Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, blogs, handouts etc etc & sharing the kind of info like you stated in the article above it’s not that hard to Keep it Real.

      Mauricio Gooiker
      Owner, Josine Sport & Health Center (The Netherlands)

    10. Stephanie
      April 10, 2012
      5:04 pm #comment-10

      I teach SPIN, (or whatever I am allowed to called it!?) as well, and am Certified at our local fitness center, but we have gorgeous Keiser Bikes, all magnetic, no noise, very smooth, they tally up distance, RPM’s, calories burned ( I know! that isn’t accurate, but I do use and will explain why) and energy input into the bike.

      Why do I use calories burned? Because I teach an hour long class, with 3 songs of jumps, 3 songs of hard Tabata, and then the rest is hill climbs,pyramids, sprints, endurance, etc. I let them look at their calorie input at the end, to see how they did in comparison to their last class with me. I want them to push themselves further and harder each time.

      Yes, I have students that reach 999 calories and no, there aren’t any horns , whistles, or fireworks going off ( darn it all! we were hoping!) it just returns back to zero. I have seen the number 1100 in my class. Did they burn that much? I don’t know, but they know they worked HARD! and are dripping with sweat with 2 empty water jugs next to them. It’s certainly motivating.

      Using the word Spinning? What am I suppose to call it? At our gym it is on the schedule as ” Group Cycle”. Is that OK?

      All of your technique critiquing, I totally agree with.

    11. Tyron Gage
      April 11, 2012
      3:35 am #comment-11

      I would like to negate your “snake oil” comments.

      First off, I have taken a class at Flywheel, and can avow personally that it is a major calorie burner. I am a certified personal trainer and can tell you that what they are doing is definitely the most intense and athletic cycling anywhere. 700 calories may be a bit much, but not all of their classes are 45-ers. They also offer hour-long classes which definitely adds to the burn rate.

      The arms segment is not 10-15 minutes long. It’s 4-5 minutes, and it is specifically designed to target varying muscle groups. Try to tell me that curls don’t do a thing. Explain how tricep extensions are pointless. While holding the bar out in front, they aren’t just holding them. It is a series of pulsing movements designed to work smaller muscles (aka teres major/minor) which don’t get much work when people “work out.” Is it heavy? No. 6lbs. But its also not created for bulk.

      These people were not flying on their bikes (forgive the pun). They were moving maybe 80-90 rpms, which looks a lot faster from the side.

      Take a class. Do your research. Then write an article. Stop filling the internet with meaningless opinions.

    12. Dave
      April 21, 2012
      12:23 am #comment-12

      This “no pointed toes” thing is sooooo over stressed.


      Gee Lance Armstrong points his toes. Dang if he could just keep his feet level he would have won more races!

    13. Jennifer Sage
      April 22, 2012
      12:25 am #comment-13

      Dave, Lance does not point his toes the whole pedal stroke. He drops his toes at the bottom in order to apply force to the pedal in the direction it is moving (backwards). There is a huge difference. If you watch beginner cyclists, (and often longtime but untrained cyclists) one of the more common technique errors they make is pointing the toes by contracting the calves for almost the entire 360 degrees of the pedal stroke. A very inefficient and ineffective way to pedal and extremely fatiguing to the calves.

    14. Jennifer Sage
      April 22, 2012
      1:01 am #comment-14

      Hi Tyro, thanks for your input.
      I’ve got to wonder, if the weights session is only 4-5 minutes long, why not just get off the bikes and do it in a way that is more effective? More weight, less limitations (as when riding the bike). 6 lbs in a bar means it is 3lbs per arm when it’s spread out across the two. That is not much. Not enough to cause the adaptations in a muscle (especially biceps curls) to make it stronger – and I’m not talking about bulk either. Unless of course we are talking about pretty unfit people who can barely lift their arms – for them, 3 lbs for a curl would be ok. But that is not the population in these classes. Same for triceps extensions. You think that is enough to cause strength adaptations, especially when you say they are doing all these different exercises with 3lbs per arm for 4-5 minutes? Not when I took my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification.

      As for the teres major and minor, you are saying you can target those muscles while sitting upright with a bar, where the force of gravity is pulling the weight straight down? Hmmmm, not when I took anatomy. Teres major assists in shoulder extension, internal rotation and adduction. Teres minor in external rotation, transverse abduction and extension. For teres major you would need a force from the front for example (as in a cable or band straight in front of you) so you can do back exercises, which you can’t do with a bar (again, the force is downward with a bar). For teres minor you need to do rotational exercises, which you can’t do with the bar, at least not in a sitting position on a bike.

      As for their legs flying….I can count. It is more than 90rpm (way more) – the video is not sped up. You can count cadence easily when you know what you are looking for. And you don’t even need to count – all you have to do is see them bouncing in the saddle, which means their legs are being pulled around by the flywheel, causing them to bounce. That means it is not the rider turning the flywheel, it is the flywheel turning the pedals for the rider. That translates to them not doing as much work, which means lower power output, and fewer calories burned. It is extremely hard to burn 700 calories in one hour. A HR monitor is not a good guide for an accurate amount of calories burned either. It should be assesses with a power meter, because it’s based on kilojoules, not HR. If power output is low (for all the reasons I mentioned above) then calories burned is lower.

      So these aren’t meaningless opinions, Tyron, these are simple facts, based on exercise science, knowledge of anatomy and how muscles get stronger, and understanding of cycling biomechanics.

      An opinion would be an assessment of the music they used or the language she uses to teach, and stuff like that. I work from a basis of science.

    15. fiona maccormick
      September 20, 2012
      4:59 pm #comment-15

      Hi Jennifer
      We are about to get our first taste of Flywheel in Dubai UAE. Was really excited about it as I am a indoor cycle instructor and was going to attend the classes when it arrives but having read all the comments about it not sure if I will bother. I agree with all you said. Thanks for the warning.

    16. stoutboy
      December 13, 2012
      2:55 am #comment-16

      Here is what was dispositive for me: a lot of those riders burning their alleged 700+ calories don’t look all that fit to me. The people I see in traditional spinning classes look noticeably better.

    17. Alicia
      December 18, 2012
      5:12 pm #comment-17

      I am a Flywheel instructor in Chicago. I am also Spinning or Johnny G certified. I too was appalled when I first read about what Flywheel does: standing up out of the saddle going 85 rpms, lifting weights on the bike…all big NO NOs. But then I rode a Flywheel class. And now I teach Flywheel classes. It is SO much easier to teach, coach and instruct (and also be on the other end of it) because all you have to do is give riders a range of numbers for their resistance and RPMs. you dont have to try to hear the instructor describe how the rider should be feeling or where their HR should be.

      This article is definitely written by someone who just watched the segment and didn’t try the class. I ride 5-6 classes a week (and I did before when I taught regular Spinning), but now I am stronger, thinner, in better shape, and more toned. I could go on forever as to why all it took was one class to get me to do everything I possibly could to instruct there, but all I will say is that you need to try it! your life and perspective on indoor cycling will change.

    18. Jan Filein
      May 9, 2013
      2:55 pm #comment-18

      Honestly guys. Whoever claims that ‘Johnny G. coined the term “Spinning”‘ (official fairytale) is a liar.

      Just look at these two pictures:

      “Spinning the bikes” title in newspaper from 1894.

      Verb “spin” used directly to describe indoor cycling from 1897.

      These are a real “hard proofs”.

    19. Jennifer Sage
      May 13, 2013
      8:48 pm #comment-19

      I guess you don’t know much about trademark law, nor about the evolution of group fitness classes. Johnny G was the very first to create a group fitness class on an indoor bike, an organized class built around riding stationary bikes to music, using profiles and heart rate training in a motivating environment. Prior to Spinning®, there was no indoor cycling “classes” taught to music on a grand scale that was marketed to clubs around the world.

      Was there people riding bikes indoors? Absolutely. Might someone have called what they were doing “spinning”? Perhaps; it is after all a cycling term for pedaling at a lower gear, higher cadence. FYI, MDA and Spinning® has always acknowledged the cycling source of the term “spinning”.

      The real hard “proof” is the registered trademark for this group fitness class. You can find it at the trademark office if there is any doubt.

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