How Cyclists Should Approach Indoor Cycling Classes

By Jennifer Sage On November 13, 2011 Under Contraindications, Form and Technique, General Advice, Outdoor Cycling

Spinning ClassThis is the second article by Jennifer Sage that appeared in Active.com, re-printed in its entirety. The target audience is cyclists and triathletes, but the information in this article applies to everyone who takes indoor cycling classes, even those who never ride outside. Science does not discriminate!

Bringing your cycling training indoors (Part 2)

I have good news and I have bad news regarding indoor cycling classes.
Let’s start with the bad news because I want to end on a positive note.

As a longtime Master Instructor in the Indoor Cycling Industry for the past 15 years (meaning I’ve certified and educated a large number of instructors at conferences and workshops) I have found that the really good instructors who are well versed in exercise science and practice effective, cycling-specific training techniques are unfortunately in the minority. The fitness world has morphed the original intention of indoor cycling and Spinning® into aerobics classes on bikes, and has resorted to gimmicks and non-stop movements in their quest to keep students interested. But don’t despair – there are good instructors out there who are more like coaches.

Let’s examine the reason for this.

There is a schism between the “fitness” and “cycling” worlds that doesn’t need to exist. Many instructors who cater just to the “fitness” community claim that they don’t need to practice cycling-specific techniques because their students aren’t cyclists, and aren’t interested in performance improvement, but are interested instead in weight loss and having fun. Hence, they bring into the cycling studio techniques and movements they use in other group exercise classes. Cyclists look at those crazy moves done in a typical “Spinning” class, shake their heads and vow never to step foot in there.

A “cycling-specific” class taught by a cyclist is often looked upon by the fitness crowd as elitist and boring. It doesn’t have to be this way. Cycling-specific doesn’t have to mean staying seated for 30 minutes or more without changing position, and it is not necessary to do Zone 2 training in a 45-60-minute class – that is what leads some to believe that cycling training is boring. Cycling-specific simply means honoring the rules of biomechanics and proper cycling technique that have been found to be scientifically sound after decades of research on proper position, pedaling mechanics and optimal power output. There is no sport that has been studied as much as cycling – cycling boasts over 100 years of scientific study!

What is important to realize is that the same type of training that improves a cyclist’s performance would be far more beneficial to the non-cycling population as well. The rules of biomechanics do not change between a cyclist and a non-cyclist, and they do not become less true because one moves from an outdoor road bike to an indoor bike. While there are a few differences with an indoor bike, such as a fixed gear drive train with a heavy flywheel, and the fact that most of the bikes do not move in any way (flex or bend), for the most part, you would still ride both bicycles in the same way.

Training using proper cycling techniques indoors would create adaptations in the non-cyclist’s body that lead to greater fat burning and increased caloric consumption than they experience in their aerobics-on-a-bike classes. These non-outdoor-cycling indoor cyclists would find they have greater strength and endurance, better fitness, and would ultimately increase their weight loss if they stopped the madness and just rode the bike like a real bike. How would we know? It all comes down to power output. Anything that would reduce a rider’s power output (as all these crazy moves tend to do) reduces the effectiveness of the workout. Additionally, the additional fluff of aerobics-type moves does absolutely nothing to increase fitness, and in fact, may even lead to a decrease their fitness potential. Many of these popular moves are not only less effective, but they are also quite dangerous.

The following is a list of popular movements or techniques that should be avoided at all costs in any indoor cycling class, whether the rider is a cyclist or not. If your instructor does any of these, simply smile and ride your bike like you’re supposed to ride a bike. On the other hand, if the instructor insists the class do any of these, then run, don’t walk, towards the nearest door.

I provide a short reason why these are contraindicated, but the detailed physiological, biomechanical, exercise science and cycling explanations can be found in the eBook Keep it Real.

  • Lifting weights or using bands while riding. These two training modalities should not be combined. Since you cannot lift the amount of weight that would increase your muscle fiber strength, it is a total waste of time from the weight lifting standpoint and it detracts substantially from your ability to pedal properly. Therefore, neither modality does you any good, and the effectiveness of each are negated. Go to the weight room after class if you want stronger pecs or delts. Unfortunately, adding weight workouts to pedaling has become all the rage lately, as studios try to combine upper body workouts with cardio. Just don’t do it!
  • Pushups. If you are sitting at a desk reading this, put your hands on the desk or table in front of you and do a couple of so-called pushups. Need I say more? They do nothing for you pecs and everything to inhibit your pedaling and proper breathing. You can include any kind of upper-body contrived movement in this category, such as twisting or turning or bobbing and weaving.
  • Crunches. Similar to pushups, they are not effective when sitting upright. The instructor does not know his exercise physiology if he’s teaching these. Cyclists do need to work their core, but do so in a pilates or fitball class and not on the bike.
  • Hovers. Very, very popular. Instructors claim hovers mimic mountain biking and that they work the glutes and hamstrings. In reality, all they do is put your knees, hips and back at risk, because the butt is pushed way back over the saddle, hyperextending the low back, while you are pedaling at 70/80/90 times a minute. Biomechanically the knee joint is at an unsound angle to apply effective force to the pedal. Besides, on a mountain bike, when you push the hips back and lower the shoulders, it is because you are going downhill steeply and you don’t want fly over the bars. You are also maneuvering the bike underneath you, and you are not pedaling while you do it.
  • Isolations. Instructors like to turn indoor cycling classes into a core workout by having you hold completely still and suck in the abs. They might ask for you to “isolate” the hips while pedaling. The quads and glutes will soon start burning, but do not interpret that as an effective burn, there is nothing functional about this movement – the burn is from mechanical inefficiency. You won’t become more fit by doing this, and your core will not become stronger, but you will look silly and like all the rest, your ability to maintain a consistent pedal stroke is inhibited.
  • Squats, or lowering the hips. Potentially one of the most dangerous of the popular moves. One can only imagine the increased forces in the knee joint as the hips are lowered, and as the pedal drives the tibia upwards into the femur at an odd angle eighty or ninety times a minute. Think improper squats in the weight room driving the knees forward of the toes – at super high speeds. Proponents love to praise the burn in the quads, but similar to isolations, that burn is due to mechanical inefficiency, not any kind of functional strength building in the muscle. Get thee out of there fast if your instructor does these.
  • Excessive high cadence with no resistance. Part of the power equation is to have a force against which to push. If there is no (or too low) resistance, then power drops, even if cadence is high. When power is reduced, work is decreased, and so is fitness potential and calories burned. Instead of pedaling like a hamster on crack, bobbing in the saddle at 120+rpm, it’s far better to turn up the resistance and lower the cadence – preferably below 100rpm. Do this and your power will increase – a goal of all cyclists, indoors and outdoors. (I will cover excessive cadence indoors in more detail in a future article).

The good news
What is a cyclist to do? Well, the good news is that there are many excellent and motivating instructors out there who do ride a real bike and bring their outdoor experiences indoors. You may have to do some searching and try different instructors. If you can’t find the perfect cyclist-coach combination but you find someone you enjoy who motivates you, the rest is up to you. Remember, indoor cycling is all about taking responsibility for your own training. No one else is forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do.

When you first start looking for a class, ask the fitness director which instructors are outdoor cyclists, and let them know you are looking for classes that refrain from aerobics-on-a-bike techniques (known in the industry as “contraindications” in indoor cycling). Inquire whether they require all their instructors to maintain their certifications. While this is not a guarantee of quality, it is at least a first step.

Try out several classes. You may find an instructor who provides a fun and effective workout, but perhaps the intensity is too high all the time or she changes positions a little too often for your tastes or current training needs. Just sit in the saddle, ride your own ride and decide not do those movements.

The following are the potential benefits that can be achieved through proper training indoors in cycling classes. You simply have to train these elements of your cycling fitness the same way you would train them outdoors or on your trainer: intelligently, with the right gear (resistance) and realistic cadences. In general, cadence ranges of 55-85 would indicate a hill, and 75-110rpm would indicate a flat road. (Note that the cadence suggestions and durations below are approximate ranges for the general population – there are always exceptions based on ability).

  • Aerobic endurance: best enhanced with sessions longer than one hour
  • Tempo workouts: Moderate 90-100rpm in Zone 3 – the zen of indoor cycling!
  • Muscular endurance: climbs focusing on repeatedly contracting against a resistance gradually maintaining the climb for longer and longer periods, 65-85rpm
  • Force development: higher resistance climbs of 55-65 rpm (50rpm advisable only for cyclists who have already established excellent strength)
  • Lactate threshold improvement: probably one of the best ways to utilize your indoor cycling classes is to train your lactate threshold through longer Zone 4 intervals. Sparingly that is.
  • Anaerobic endurance: high intensity interval training of 1-3 minutes
  • Aerobic capacity/VO2 Max: “sufferfest” anaerobic Zone 5 intervals of 3-8 minutes
  • Anaerobic capacity: Very high intensity Zone 5 intervals of about 15-60 seconds.
  • Neuromuscular/leg speed: while the neuromuscular adaptations are limited due to the fact that most bikes have a heavy flywheel pulling the pedals around, you can still train your leg speed if you make sure to stay ahead of the flywheel and to have sufficient resistance. Cap your leg speed drills indoors on a bike with a flywheel at 110rpm, perhaps up to 120rpm for skilled cyclists. Work on spin-ups and accelerations against a resistance.
  • Explosive power (sprinting): Be very careful with these. Most instructors and students do not know a true sprint. Duration is less than 30 seconds and resistance is high. Do not do these except in the spring as you approach your cycling season.
  • Technique: classes are a fantastic place to work on pedal stroke drills, keeping the knees in, and upper body relaxation while riding.
  • Mind-body focus: visualize your favorite rides outside. Establish your mental strength and tenacity indoors, so you can transfer it to your rides outdoors. Indoors is a wonderful venue to work on your mind-body focus, and is facilitated with the right (usually instrumental) music that can transform you to another place.
  • Recovery rides: an indoor cycling class is a great place to spin your legs easily the day after a hard workout. Keep the intensity low.

A word about hand positions
Some indoor cycling programs will dictate where and when you should put your hands on the handlebars. Ignore these requirements for the most part and put your hands where you are most comfortable, changing them often and keeping in mind the reasons you put them where you do on your bike outside. For example, when you stand up, you most likely move them to the outsides of the bars for stability and leverage. Do the same indoors – it’s uncomfortable and ineffective to keep them on the tops of the bars in a standing position. Refrain from holding the hands in the center of the bars at any time, or holding them in any type of prayer position.

There is a lot of real estate on the bars on indoor bicycles, for the simple reason that the bikes are designed for riders of many different sizes. When seated, if you are tall with long arms, you may be able to comfortably slide your hands forward on the bars, almost to the bar ends. On the other hand, if you have short arms or a short trunk, then you wouldn’t want to slide your hands near the bar ends while seated – it would be like riding a bike that is two sizes too big for you and would cause stress in the neck and shoulders. Instead, put your hand on the handlebars so that you maintain a 90-degree angle between at the shoulder joint. Stretching forward greatly increases that angle. When standing with a lot of resistance (climbing) move the hands to the bar ends as if on the hoods of your own brake levers.

The aero position is not recommended for anyone on any type of indoor cycling bicycle, triathlete or not, and regardless of whether the instructor says to do so or not. These bikes are not your expensive, perfectly-fit road bikes. They are also not the same geometry of a triathlon or time trial bike, so an aero position will potentially do more damage than good. If you are a triathlete and need to practice the aero position, do it on your trainer at home.

A word about intensity
Indoor cycling classes often tend to be pedal-to-the-metal in every class, every week of the year. I recommend working all aspects of your cycling fitness, including the range of intensity parameters that are outlined in the list above. Periodize your program, starting with easier workouts in the early winter and then gradually increasing intensity throughout the winter months. Alternate harder days with easier days, and higher cadence lower gear workouts with higher resistance climbing workouts. When it’s time to go hard, classes are a fantastic place to give it your all, perhaps even more so than alone on your trainer. But if your own training program calls for an easier workout than the instructor has planned, stick to your own plan and try not to get caught up in the energy of the class and go harder than you are supposed to. Wearing a heart rate monitor can help you stay honest with your planned workout.

In summary, when deciding whether to do a movement in an indoor cycling class, ask yourself if it would inhibit power output and performance outdoors, or your ability to ride your bike properly. If so, then it will do the same indoors and you should not do it. If it would likely injure or cause discomfort in a cyclist on a road bike, then it will likely injure or cause discomfort indoors too. It’s that simple. Embrace the wonderful benefits of indoor cycling classes and remember to Keep it Real.

Just ride the bike!

Every cycling who takes indoor cycling classes will benefit from reading Jennifer’s eBook Keep it Real. It contains far more detail on all of the above items, both the ineffective things to avoid and how to employ the effective training listed. For instructors who want to ensure their classes are


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    16 Comments Add yours

    1. michael
      March 1, 2012
      7:41 pm #comment-1

      Hi Jennifer, i dont know who you are but someone sent me a link to this web site because they wanted me to read the very article i preach daily. I am such an advocate for safety and correct form and alignment and i am the only instructor at my facility that spins that way. I am looked at as “mr safety”, well id rather be “mr safety” than mr idiot that hurt me in class. I am an Afaa Certification Specialist and a master instructor for a few othe organizations. I teach about 8 different courses for afaa and one of them is indoor cycling. So like you, i travel around the united states and i cant believe what i see when it comes to cycling and the responses i get when i explain to them why they are wrong or “should i say”, totally not working efficiently and not getting what they should out of the workout. I am a master at teaching alignment and biomechanics and when i explain things in class the members always ask , “well how come the other instructors say “do this” and my response is always, well when was the last time they took and anatomy, biomechanics and or alingment workshop… I teach them and i study daily, weekly, all the time, this is what i do for aliving and not part time, yet they would rather believe the other instructors that probably couldnt even tell you where the femur bone is and what it does… So darling all of your ranting, makes my day and i am so so so glad i ran across this site. I will check it constantly and i already printed out some of your comments to use at my next workshop. I truly hope to run across you one day and we can discuss biomechanics and what the hell people are doing in class. I could go on and on with this letter, but i’ll stop here and say… thank you, thank you, for helping me educate the rest of the world. I might run across more people than you becasue i teach workshops every two weeks or so, but i am so glad there is someone else out there trying to teach the world proper mechanics and how to be efficient and get the most out of what you are doing.. thank you……. Michael T. Lewis. Trainerdeluxe@aol.com….write me anytime, and or anyone else reading this quote…

    2. Michelle Soares
      August 4, 2012
      2:22 am #comment-2

      Hi jennifer,
      First let me start by saying thank you for your smart safe and factual information. I think it is so important that all instructors should read this, and practice it.
      I also think it is smart for members of any fittness class to also educate themselves, and not just base an instructors qulifications on popularity. Regarding Michael’s comment I had taken my first workshop with him a couple years ago. I only know him from that class, and he is the real deal.
      his main emphsis in that class was safety.
      I’d like to show your article to the director at the gym I teach at ,but afraid it will fall on deaf ears the management is big on membership, and has little knowledge of fittness. We don’t have a group fittness coordinator. Such frustration knowing she auditioned the cycle instructors and she herself teaches several of the fore mentioned contrindicated movements. Best regards, Michelle

    3. jamie
      October 21, 2012
      1:28 am #comment-3

      I can agree with SOME Of this….everyone is not muscle bound and/or and outdoor cyclist enthusiast. There is nothing wrong with entertainment + exercise if it gets the job done.
      These ‘safe’ cycling classes that you mention above get really boring really fast…fast/slow stand up, sit down….
      I’ve consistently done some of the other moves you’ve mentioned as harmful or ineffective. The push-ups…you should see my shoulders, my core has improved the most actually…however things like squats do feel strain on my knee and I have banged it on the break at least twice. Also, I’ve never in 10 months…seen anyone get injured in my class.
      I appreciate your enthusiasm, but 99% of exercisers are not trying to have perfect form…one could fall running outside, cyclists get hurt often as well.

      Thanks for the info!

    4. Jennifer Sage
      October 27, 2012
      6:22 pm #comment-4

      Hi Jamie,
      thanks for your comment. I wish so badly that you could take my live workshop “Why Should I Keep it Real”, because that workshop contains the answer and solution to everything you write. It would be like a lightbulb going off. It gets into the science and practical reasons for everything I wrote in that article. It shows how training for performance with proper techniques are not just for cyclists – they are far, far more effective at helping the non-cyclist meet his or her goals of weight loss and improving general fitness.

      BTW, if a class is boring, it’s not because of the techniques, it’s because the instructor is boring. At ICA, we teach instructors how to be engaging without having to rely on gimmicks.

      There are not two sets of rules of biomechanics, not two sets of laws of physics, or of exercise science training laws. It’s the same for bikes indoors and outdoors, the rules apply to cyclists and non-cyclists alike. If it’s bad/dangerous/ineffective/inefficient for a cyclist, then it also bad/dangerous/ineffective/inefficient for a non-cyclist.

      Do you have a personal training certificate, or have you taken a course on exercise physiology, on how muscles get stronger? Because exercise science tells us that you will not build muscle or increase strength or even muscular endurance of your shoulders or pecs doing pushups sitting upright (unless perhaps you are geriatric or rehabbing a major injury and have to start with very very low weight). The force has to be perpendicular to the weight, and in this case of pushups, it’s body weight against the force of gravity. That is why pushups are only effective when you get down on the floor. For less fit persons (i.e. elderly) the more you angle the pushup away from gravity, the easier it is. But that also means it’s not effective for someone who can do a pushup on the floor. Sitting almost upright (as on a bike) puts the body at a completely ineffective angle to gravity, not to mention that the weight is underneath the body, not stretched out as in a true pushup position (i.e. leverage). So if you have defined shoulders, it’s not from pushups while pedaling. If a personal trainer sat his client down at a desk and asked her to do pushups while seated, with her hands on the desk (which would be equivalent to “handlebar” level) then that trainer should be fired for not knowing his physiology or exercise science.

      But why is it ok in cycling class? It shouldn’t be.

      Injuries: While there are occasionally some acute injuries in a class (handlebars not tightened and student falls off) the vast majority of them are sustained over time and most are simply discomforts that causes them to stay away. What happens is the student does not come back, and the instructor doesn’t know the reason. The student-no-more says “Spinning hurts your knees” and spreads that word to others, when all along it was the instructor either doing things that are not wise (such as those outlined in the article) and/or they were not set up properly. Far too many students are scared away from classes because of improper technique and set up.

      So an instructor who says, “I’ve never had an injury in my class” really doesn’t know.

      But what you have had in your class, if you are doing pushups or other contraindications, is students who are getting less benefit in that 45 min or 1 hour class than they could be getting if proper cycling techniques were followed. Instructors who do pushups are selling their students a false bill of sale. It’s taking away from their potential, not doing what the instructor purports it will do (strengthen the chest or shoulders). If I were that student, I’d be pretty angry if I found out that I was wasting my time doing ineffective techniques.

      The proof? Power output. I could absolutely prove all of the above with a power meter. Put on a power meter (one that reads actual power, not estimated) and ride a flat road for 10 minutes in the saddle at a concerted pace at a cadence of 85-95ish rpm (perceived exertion of “somewhat hard”). Stand up occasionally for variety, but keep it short. Measure average power for that 10 min.

      Then do the same 10 min flat road at PE of “somewhat hard”, but this time do pushups and one arm swings and get in and out of the saddle a lot more. Or ride that flat road at 120 rpm. Measure average power. Without fail, the first effort will produce more power. And it’s POWER, not HR, that determines calories burned and improved fitness. Add that up consistently over time, class after class, week after week, month after month, year after year, and the student is losing out big time. They are burning fewer calories and not benefitting from the gimmicky moves, and most likely plateauing and wondering if it’s all worth it.

      Students lose with this prescription.

      Can someone still burn calories in a class like this? Might they initially lose some weight? Sure, but it’s their potential that we’re talking about. If a student consistently does contraindicated moves in her classes, and we were able to measure power output, we might see that riding this way may produce on average about 15-20% fewer calories. That is a lot over time! (FYI: a power meter will show how many kilojoules of energy are required to turn the pedals. 1 kjoule is approximately equal to 1 calorie, so if kjoules are 15-20% less then we can say with confidence that calories consumed are approximately 15-20% less. Science baby, Science!)

      Then the instructor says: “But I don’t have a power meter! My students don’t care about power!”
      That does not matter. You are still producing power even if you aren’t measuring it. Just like your heart is still beating if you aren’t wearing a HR monitor. Power is the end all for fitness, not just for performance gains. Power equates to calories burned. So if you do anything to reduce your power output (like all the CI moves I mention), then you reduce the potential benefit you’re seeking.

      Why would anyone do that intentionally?

      At ICA, we teach instructors who do not have power meters on their bikes to pretend they have power. The result is huge gains in fitness over time!

    5. Julia
      December 10, 2012
      12:38 pm #comment-5

      Hi Jennifer,

      So glad to read this article. I have been a spin instructor for about 10 years, although I have gone from teaching about 7 classes per week to almost none at this point, as I’m studying sports medicine acupuncture. I know a bit about biomechanics/cycling biomechanics but I am still learning, always studying.

      Today I went to spin class that was appallingly bad. It was taught by someone who is more into kickboxing than cycling. He had us do overhead presses with light weights, punches, and pushups on the bike. I didn’t see the point, or how this would help me with my mountain biking (my favorite is Downhill, I used to race DH) so I skipped it. I DID find it interesting that he had us get off the bike and do squats, because DH requires a lot of eccentric leg strength, and the limitations of the spin bike require that the focus is on concentric leg strength. I do not teach a class this way because I am concerned about people feeling lightheaded as they get on and off the bike. Your thoughts?

      Anyway, I thought the class was basically BS. (Aside from the fact that the music was obnoxious pop/aerobic music, but that is personal preference, and I KNOW how hard it is to please everyone, so I am just adding that to my overall bad experience and own it) But I did tell him at the start of class that I would not be participating in the “bike aerobics”. I did not feel like getting into the reasons, he thought it was because of an injury. I could not resist telling him that with all due respect, I subscribe to a school of thought that focuses on power output and proper form and doesn’t get caught up in all the extraneous movement patterns. (code for contraindicated, a word I knew would sting, or ineffective) He was nice about it, but clearly a bit defensive and taken aback, probably wondering who the hell I thought I was! Even when I “soft pedaled” and asked if there was a class that was taught by someone who rides a bike outside, I got the same response… and I feel funny bringing up the fact that I have a valid professional opinion.. (by stating in a low key manner that I have taught spin and raced bikes and studied biomechanics for 10 years) I just felt like a disgruntled participant and feel like I should have my mouth shut. I felt bad, but I will never go back.

      The class was very popular and gets good reviews, of course. The classes at this gym are taught by yoga instructors, boxers, and aerobic instructors. It’s frustrating, because I always recommend yoga and strength training to cyclists, but I don’t tell my cyclists to do yoga on a bike!! What I CAN do is educate my acupuncture students and anyone taking spin classes from me in the future.

      The good news is that the latest spin class I taught.. the participants were VERY glad to hear that we would not be doing aerobics on a bike, particularly the real bike athletes.

    6. Julia
      December 10, 2012
      12:43 pm #comment-7

      I want to add that a “fun fitness workout” is fine, as long as it is a safe and effective workout. But turning a spin class into an aerobics class is like turning a ski conditioning class into a Zumba class. The people that came there to get better at skiing or snowboarding are going to leave and never come back, and we will never hear about it. It is sad because the general fitness enthusiasts could also benefit greatly from sports conditioning classes that teach good technique.


    7. Timothy Kall
      September 15, 2013
      7:24 pm #comment-8

      I am in disagreement with a master instructor who tells me I should have upper body movement. She sways more because she tells me it reduces back injury. I disagree, I claim the proper form is to minimize upper body movement with the exceptions of attacks perhaps. Outdoors in the peloton, we don’t sway. And the back well there are these things called situps, crunches, and other weight contraptions that build those muscles so you can hold that position for an extended time. Been an outdoor cyclist for years – have no back issues whatsoever and no upper body movement on my bike indoors or outdoors – except for attacks and the occasional standing hill work. Would appreciate anyone’s comments on the subject.

    8. Jennifer Sage
      September 16, 2013
      10:37 pm #comment-9

      Hi Timothy,
      That MI is not incorrect!
      On your road bike outside, you are absolutely correct. You keep your upper body quiet relative to your bike. But notice that your bike is moving underneath you. It’s flexing underneath your weight and it’s moving side to side with every pedal stroke. When you stand on a hard hill or concerted effort against a bigger gear, you move your bike side to side to take advantage of body weight directed downward into the pedal. When the bike moves, it is absorbing the forces you are applying to the pedals to project yourself forward.

      Indoors, the bike doesn’t move at all (unless you have a Real Ryder, but ignore that for this discussion). A standard indoor cycling bike is solid and unmovable. Therefore, you have to compensate for that lack of movement so that the stress of moving your joints against a resistance (i.e. pedaling) is not “trapped” in your joints. It’s got to go somewhere! This is why we say you should let your upper body gently move indoors on a stationary bike.

      It’s all relative…of course; it’s not a contrived movement, it’s certainly not excessive. I agree that you often see way too much movement in indoor cycling classes. Don’t go there…but allow the shoulders to move side to side and slightly up and down. Just let it happen instead of making it happen. To keep that normal natural release of the energy created by the legs and pedal stroke from getting trapped, you must let it out through the upper body. Relax and release the tension. Subtle. Not contrived. Breathe.

      I think you’ll find over time you’ll notice the difference and appreciate the slight difference between riding outside with a flexing, undulating bicycle and riding indoors on a solid unmovable stationary bike!

      Tom Scotto has covered this in much more depth in ICA member articles. Especially the importance of moving side to side when standing.

      Hope that helps!

    9. Mandy Payne
      September 24, 2013
      8:22 am #comment-10

      I am a cyclist and indoor cycling instructor. I cannot stand classes where the instructor has had very little (and i mean sometimes just a two hour ‘course’) training, and knows nothing about cycling. I have been in other instructor’s classes where the participants have been encouraged to do the most ridiculous (not to mention grossly unsafe) things imaginable. There is a ‘pack’ mentality in these classes so everyone tends to get swept along in the moment assuming that the instructor knows what is best for them. Listen to your own body, ask yourself ‘would i do this on a bike on the road’? press ups!! excessive cadence with little resistance?? There should be more regulation around so called ‘spin courses’. Rant over 😉

    10. Syd
      August 19, 2015
      6:12 pm #comment-11

      I have heard “isolations” described a few different ways and am not 100% clear as to what they are. I’m trying to be sure that I’m really smoothing out the padal stroke and engaging leg strength in a standing position vs throwing my body weight from side to side. I’m trying to not only work both legs evenly but unitized hamstrings more in balance with the quads. When I do this there is a soft side to side movement but not a whole lot. A peer accused me of doing isolations but I’m neither squatting, hovering or focusing on only one leg as I have read about so far. It feels strong and I do ride that way on the road using the handlebars as a counter balance only I pull on each side slightly instead of push because it makes my shoulders feel better after being in a forward lean so much. Anyhow, some detailed clarification from a trusted source would be great.

      • Jennifer Sage
        August 20, 2015
        3:51 pm #comment-12

        Hi Syd,
        I wish you were an ICA member because I could refer you to s one training videos we have on this topic! 😉

        You do want some side to side movement for sure. Just not contrived, not excessive. If you scroll up a few comments to my reply to Timothy, I go into that in more detail.

        It doesn’t sound like you are doing “isolations”. Outdoors, you know how much you have to move your bike side-to-side underneath you as you climb. As it gets steeper/harder, you will move it a bit more. Just take that same movement and translate it to your indoor ride, except this time, instead of the bike moving underneath you, you are moving on top of the bike.

        I went to a class in California last month where the instructor stood in front of us and instructed us to FREEZE the upper body as we were standing up climbing. No movement whatsoever. I did not do it…there is no point and it only causes discomfort. I think she may have been a bit flummoxed with me…as she was telling everyone to freeze, there I was still moving naturally side-to-side! She just walked by me and started talking to the guy next to me! 😉

        Hope that helps!

    11. Laurie
      November 18, 2017
      2:04 pm #comment-13

      Thanks for this informative article! So helpful. Went to a class today, the instructor started in a gear that’s almost my heaviest gear in a normal class, and kept the whole class so heavy she was barely pedaling, she said her cadence was 30-40 in her heaviest gears. Ridiculous! Also she gave us literally 1 second recovery intervals between sprints. I ignored her and kept 5 to 6 lower gears than she told the class to stay in.
      I knew I was in a bad class when she announced before starting that she ran yesterday and hates running except when she’s done. Isn’t all training, even running, even when hard, still supposed to be fun. I asked others in the class if they thought it was healthy to pedal at such a high gear/low (30-40) cadence. They said they know it’s not good for you but they like the feeling”going all out” and that she has a cult following.
      I’ll never go back to that class.

    12. Subduedjoy
      December 19, 2017
      4:43 pm #comment-14

      I do think that isolations are inefficient for cycling because most of the energy is going into keeping the body still and not into moving the pedals. However, this is the immediate effect, not the long-term effect. When I started cycling, none of the instructors for the classes I went to were doing isolations. I started getting knee issues. Some of the instructors showed me how to adjust the bikes to fit me. I still got knee issues. I then started going to a class in which the instructor had us do isolations. Right away, the muscles around my knees got stronger, and I stopped getting knee issues. I have been doing isolations ever since with no issues. Isolations have helped my legs get stronger so I can peddle faster.

      I just had a class with an instructor who told me to not keep my body still. She said that isolations were countraindicated for cycling. I’m not convinced.

    13. LouAnn Brothman
      April 6, 2018
      5:52 am #comment-16

      My spin instructor has a core exercise where we take our hands off the handle bars and and try to balance moving our arms in different directions is this safe?

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