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LA Times is the first to challenge upper body workouts in an indoor cycling class

By Jennifer Sage On November 28, 2011 Under Contraindications, General Advice

This morning many people in California opened up the Los Angeles Times and saw this article on the front page of the Health Section: Soul Cycle’s Mix of Cycling and Upper-Body Workouts Raises Concerns.

I’ve been holding my breath for this moment for awhile now. This is the very first mainstream newspaper to challenge the unsafe methods of Soul Cycle, a company which has seen meteoric growth in the industry. They have had dozens of positive articles written about them, but none have dared taken a close look at their techniques.

Until James Fell.

James Fell is a journalist who is known as a Fitness Myth Buster, and he is very good at what he does. He thoroughly researches his subject before writing a word. I don’t think he would dare write about something unless he felt like he had substantial and credible proof in his favor.

I first read some of James’ work a few years ago and have been following him ever since. He’s a very intelligent, knowledgeable and downright funny writer – I like to think I can learn a few writing tips from him!

Last year, he wrote probably one of his best, and most controversial pieces on Jillian Michaels of The Biggest Loser. Controversy sells, and controversial it was – but James investigative skills digs up truism after truism, and that was one myth that was truly busted. As many of you know, I’ve railed against Jillian’s unsafe methods for years, especially as it relates to what she did with her students on a SpinnerĀ® bike (which went against everything taught in the official SpinningĀ® program).

After that article, I contacted James about covering the ineffective and unsafe techniques that are prevalent in indoor cycling classes, most specifically, the one program that has been a rising star this past year, Soul Cycle. It almost seems like Soul Cycle took what I wrote in my eBook Keep it Real, which lists 13 techniques to avoid in indoor cycling classes, and created a program around those! (Not to mention the fact that not one of the reputable indoor cycling programs* in the US either teaches or condones any of these movements or techniques. That says volumes right there.)

These things take time, and James must have his job cut out for him, because there are so many myths to bust in fitness these days. I was so happy when the article became a became a possibility this past autumn because one of my number one goals with the Indoor Cycling Association is to clean up the image of indoor cycling so that instructors around the world actually follow proper techniques that are supported by exercise science principles, and not gimmicks for the fitness crowd. This has been one of my rallying cries for the past decade, but until now, I’ve mostly been preaching to my own congregation (you, the instructors, most of whom already believe in what I am teaching, and cyclists who buy my book to train effectively indoors). As he began to do his research, James asked me if I knew anyone in the industry who was an expert in biomechanics and I referred him to Tom Scotto, someone who in my opinion is one of the most highly qualified indoor cycling experts in the industry. In addition, James dug up and interviewed several other expert resources from a variety of backgrounds for this article as well, so it’s very balanced.

The article was released this weekend in their online version, and today in the print version of the LA Times, on the FRONT page of the Health Section. Click here to read it.

It will no doubt stir up a lot of controversy, and no, not everyone will agree. Most likely, people will claim that we are “jealous” of the founders of Soul Cycle, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Who knows if this will have any impact on Soul Cycle and their fans – in truth I kind of doubt it. They have huge financial backing and PR clout. But my hope is that it will deter those clubs and instructors around the country who are looking for something new and trendy, and who have been considering bringing “upper body” workouts into their own programs. I personally know numerous instructors working for facilities that have either just added, or are on the verge of adding something akin to what Soul Cycle is doing, and perhaps this article will be the tipping point to bring the back to their right minds.

For those who want to know even more about why working the upper body while pedaling is ineffective from a physiological and biomechanical point of view, I have written a much more detailed article on ICA. It is a free article, so please feel free to share it with anyone you know. It’s long, sorry about that! But there really are a LOT of reasons why lifting weights or doing pushups or crunches have no place on an indoor bicycle.

If you’d like to read more by James Fell, and want to laugh in the process, he also maintains his own blog called Body For Wife, and writes fitness blogs for Chatelaine.com and Askmen.com. But be forewarned, on these sites, he’s a no-holds barred kind of guy and says it like it is. Like he says, “In Your Face Fitness”! šŸ˜‰

Here’s to Keeping it Real!!


* The following are the reputable indoor cycling certifying agencies who do not teach or condone upper body exercises, pushups, crunches and a whole host of other contraindicated moves while pedaling. Their educational programs are based on authentic cycling and scientific principles of training. Take note – if your instructor is doing any of these moves or techniques while claiming to be certified by any of these programs, then they are going against what they have been taught. These companies are: SpinningĀ®, Schwinn, Keiser, Cycling Fusion, CycleOps, Real Ryder, Stages (in the US) and C.O.R.E. Cycling (of Canada). Many of these programs are international as well, and adhere to the same principles of training.

  • […] blog quite closely – he’s another “Fitness Myth Buster” (like James Fell). He HATES the bad advice people are given in the fitness industry. He received a letter from a […]

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    1 Comment Add yours

    1. Vickie Magliano
      December 1, 2011
      1:28 pm #comment-1

      Well said Jennifer! Every single person at my gym got a print out of the “In your Face” article. CHEERS to KEEPING IT REAL:)

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