Let’s IGNORE science and do what we WANT to on a bike!

By Jennifer Sage On July 29, 2011 Under Contraindications, Form and Technique

Spinning Indoor CyclingFor those of you who know me, I’m kind of a geek when it comes to science. I have a problem with anything that goes against science or what is known to be correct in terms of proper application of science (physics, biomechanics, physiology, etc)…..especially in the name of fitness. Truth be told, in the fitness field most instructors are willfully ignoring science, because they refuse to learn about correct technique, or are afraid to learn the truth about what they are extolling, so by remaining ignorant on the subject they are in a way absolving themselves of any responsibility.

One can draw comparisons to the fitness industry from many other examples in the rest of the world. Watch the following video of a Fox news reporter challenging global warming viewpoints with the Bill Nye the Science Guy after volcanic activity on Venus and the moon was recently discovered.

Bill Nye (who was speechless for a moment, obviously stunned at the stupidity of the comment) recovers brilliantly and explains that the physics that takes place on Venus or the Moon is the same physics that happens here on earth, and that it is quite troubling when people ignore science….

Does this sound familiar? In our world, we hear it as “But my students are not cyclists! Why should I train them like a cyclist?”  or “this is an indoor stationary bike and what we do has no comparison to outdoor cycling.”

These instructors ignore the science that we know to be true—as Bill Nye says, science is true whether you believe it or not— for someone, anyone, riding a bicycle, whether it moves forward or not. They think that that science does not apply to them even though cyclists and non-cyclists are endowed with a human body that works in the same way (difference in fitness notwithstanding).

Rational people know that the same laws of physics and biomechanics that apply to a cyclist also apply to a non-cyclist. In other words, if a technique will potentially injure a cyclist or hinder a cyclist’s performance, then the same rules applies to a non-cyclist. There are not two sets of rules.

Instead, these instructors choose not to ride properly, because they claim it is boring. So they do aerobics-on-a-bike, mistakenly believing that the “fun” element makes up for the lack of true effort (i.e. power output).

You may ask, what is the “science” that are they ignoring? Exercise science, muscle physiology, muscle mechanics, physics, biomechanics, kinesiology, and even I would argue, the science of motivation. This is how this ignorance plays out on an indoor bike. It is lack of knowledge in…

  • how the body works in relation to a bicycle
  • how we apply force to the pedals
  • how power is produced
  • how the power output is hindered by poor positioning or technique
  • the biomechanics of turning those pedals efficiently
  • the optimal position of the joints to turn those pedals effectively and how moving the body outside of those optimal positions means ineffective mechanics.

They willfully ignore the body of knowledge that has been learned through exhaustive studies over decades on how the body increases muscle mass and strength. HINT: it is not by lifting 1lb weights or by doing pushups or crunches while sitting upright (especially while pedaling a bicycle at the same time).

But why is it apparently OK on a bicycle in a cycling studio?? And why can clubs charge a lot of money for instructors who teach this BAD science (or rather, lack of science)?

Here is a partial list of these offending techniques that willfully ignore science, that are so popular in indoor cycling and Spinning:

Anything you do while riding that hinders the effective technique of turning the pedals, moving the body into odd positions, away from what is KNOWN to be optimum for transferring force to the pedals. Moves and techniques such as hovers, squats, pushups, crunches, isolations, lifting weights while pedaling, pulling bands from a ceiling, upper body twists and turns (moves such as “Figure 8s” and “Four Corners”), spinning the legs at 130-150rpm (or more) with no resistance, and much more.

No one will get stronger, faster, better, thinner, prettier, more powerful, or burn more calories by doing any of these things.

  • […] it was more of a distraction than a benefit to the overall workout.   (Photo) Holly sent me a comical rant on how these new trendy cycle/strength classes are ignoring the science behind cycling (and just […]

  • […] sent me a comical rant on how these new trendy cycle/strength classes are ignoring the science behind cycling (and just […]

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    12 Comments Add yours

    1. Dane "trainDANEgerously" Boyle
      August 2, 2011
      12:24 am #comment-1

      I couldn’t agree more. This is my problem with most weekend certifications. Contraindications run rampant. It is our duty to teach safe, evidence-based science while instructing. No matter what we teach. Please educate yourself and those you are priveledged to lead. Education need not be boring. We can lead and teach with enthusiasm. Our enthusiasm will be contagious while teaching the science of exercise. Educate & Inspire.

      If we all choose to do this we will become a mire respected profession.

    2. Dane Boyle
      August 2, 2011
      4:42 pm #comment-2

      I couldn

    3. Frankie Spin
      August 3, 2011
      12:06 pm #comment-3

      Luckily for me when I qualified to teach Spin I was already a very experienced cyclist….so .it all made a lot of sense. Imagine my horror when my regular (and very proficient) spinning instructor at my local health club had a dep for a few classes and the first thing the dep guy tells us to do is – “ok my soldiers…as the warm up – pedal BACKWARDS – whilst doing full chin dips down to the handlebars !!!!…”.
      ……needless to say (under his incredulous gaze) I got off the bike and went and had a nice relaxing sauna instead. When I spoke to the Club Fitness Manager about this guy’s outrageous and dangerous teaching methods, to my horror she advised me that “he does spin classes all over the place”. I have since ceased my membership of this particular health club. You couldn’t make it up !!

    4. Myriadgreen
      August 5, 2011
      11:46 am #comment-4

      The thing is… cyclists start as non cyclists. They’re not born in lycra! So to become cyclists, they train like cyclists… so why shouldn’t non cyclists aspire to be a cyclist? More importantly, why should non cyclists be treated different to cyclists?!?!

    5. Lorie Bickford
      August 6, 2011
      5:05 am #comment-5


      I will NEVER ask you to shut up!! Instead I hope you keep up the fight and YELL if you have to!!!
      I get so frustrated that as an indoor cycling studio owner I have to constantly “combat” the misinformation that abounds about this awesome form of pure exercise, cycling!! Indoors or out, it is a pure as it gets as a way to get and stay fit, when practiced in the way that science dictates.

      Despite that, there are businesses that go completely against everything we know to be true about cycling. You have a picture in your post of people on indoor cycles pulling bands from the ceiling. To my horror, a studio such as this opened in a neighboring city (30 minutes from us) shortly after we opened our “authentic cycling” studio. And just guess which of us was featured on a local television news profile? Hint: It wasn’t us!! Unfortunately, gimmicks are what sells and people seem to gravitate to the “novel” If they can do “two things at once” they must be getting a better value? My only guess as to the reasoning. Yet, I’m still optimistic that in the end we will prevail. Why? Because, in the long run , more people will choose authentic cycling over “fads and frauds” because authenticiy produces real results. Science backs us up on that!

      So, keep yelling, keep preaching, those of us who deal with this every day need and appreciate the support!!

      JoyRide Cycling Studio
      Salem, OR

      BTW Bill Nye the Science Guy is from Oregon!! My son, who recently graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Electrical Engineering, idolized him as a child. I was fortunate enough a few years ago to run into him at the airport. I stopped him and thanked him for how much he had influenced our son and he was truly humbled and gracious!! What a great guy!

    6. Kim
      August 6, 2011
      4:33 pm #comment-6

      Keep talking Jennifer! I teach “group cycling” at the Y and “spinning” at another location. Because I spent the $$ to become properly certified I KNOW these moves are contraindications and I don’t do them. My fellow instructors at the Y are aerobics instructors who took the y class and also teach cycling. They do all sorts of crazy stuff – spinning way too fast, weights, twisting. I DONT and have people ask me why I dont. This is akward because I don’t want to speak against other instructors to our common clients. I just tell them I have a different certification and can’t. I think they think I may not have enough certification… but in addition to my y certs I have spinning, AFAA Group X, and NETA Physical Training. I paid to get educated and my class reflects the proper techniques I learned. Thank you for your supportive blogs and reference material that let me know I am doing the right thing for my clients – even though I may be in the minority!!

    7. Chuck G
      August 9, 2011
      9:08 pm #comment-7

      Thanks for your great article, Jennifer.

      I’ve been following you on your blog and heard you on your podcasts, and I like your phrase “keeping it real.”

      I too try to keep it real, and when others ask why I “don’t teach that way,” meaning hovers, excessive jumps, etc, I simply tell them that I train people on a bike, and give them as much of a real experience that they would get as if they were training to ride on the road. I sometimes say before class, “My job is to train you as much as I can as a cycling coach instead of teaching you aerobics on a bike. I specialize in giving you a workout that safely teaches you power and efficiency on the bike.”

      Most get it, and I’ve actually taken people on the road and I get excited when the get a lightbulb moment and say “Now I get what you mean when you say…(fill in coaching concept here).”

      I also have a following of fellow recreational competitors and cyclists that take my class, and they love that I teach good safe concepts, and keep it as close to the real road experience as one can get indoors.

    8. Therese
      November 12, 2011
      6:30 pm #comment-8

      Wow, I am so glad I am not the only one. This is just a crime. I wanted to get certified at Mad Dog but paying 325 for what…shame on them. Where are the real instructor certifications? The gym’s don’t care, money and full classes and a kind of entertainment is more important than the health of the students.
      In my whole area there is not one instructor which has a clue…where are all the cyclists like me…
      I am a retired professional principal ballet dancer, the most important thing in a sport is proper form and technic, this will bring you where you want to be…I know what I am talking about, I have done this and will continue…

      • Julia
        March 2, 2013
        11:53 pm #comment-9

        I would most certainly attend your class! No, it is not just you.

      • Ralph
        August 3, 2016
        6:14 am #comment-10


        I’m surprised you are calling out Mad Dogg in your post. As a Master Instructor for the program, I can tell you we do not teach contraindications. We are a “real instructor certification” as you call it. I’m not sure where you formed your opinion, but we cover real science which includes proper position and movements on a bike.

    9. Julie Fox
      November 30, 2012
      10:14 pm #comment-11

      I have been certified Spinning, an outdoor cyclist and teaching for 5 years now and I TOTALLY AGREE with everything youve said! I am facing a dilema in which the new studio I have been hired at wants to have a weight section in the middle of class w/ 1,2 and 3 lb weights. I am FUNDAMENTALLY against this for the reasons you have stated. I am sick to my stomach because I need to express my belief to them before opening and I dont know what their reaction will be:( I may just need to stay at my club of origin so I continue teaching the proper cycling format!

    10. Julia
      March 2, 2013
      11:50 pm #comment-12

      Thanks for this blog. I had taught group cycling classes since about 2003, and did a lot of mountain biking, including downhill races. I got my CSCS as well. I know how to teach a damn good class, and have adapted to my audience many, many times (and gladly) But I just don’t want to teach anymore, seeing what we are up against.. the BS that SoulCycle is peddling (pun intended) and many of the local group cycling classes and training that I’m seeing in the city where I live. I think it has to do with marketing.. I live in Denver, and the market is different here in the city than it is in the mountains.

      In the city, the group that is actively marketed to are the 20 and 30 something women who listen to Lady Gaga and probably have never really ridden a bike outside for fun and pleasure. I have had some tell me that the “Bike” is really just another piece of fitness equipment, and that teaching proper biomechanics is irrelevant, as most of these women find riding a bike outdoors to be “boring”. But as you said, the laws of physics are the same for all. I also understand that many fitness facilities and clubs are wanting to please this group, which makes up a large portion of the classes. But how many others, like myself, (and the vast majority of men) have avoided or walked out of these classes?

      This whole trend is akin to taking a good, solid ski conditioning class, geared towards athletes and based on sound biomechanics principles, principles that really WILL change the body, make it more efficient and powerful and agile instead of being just about burning calories… and turning it into a Zumba class. Isn’t there already enough of those types of classes? Why do them on a bike???

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