The Ralph Nader of Indoor Cycling?

By Jennifer Sage On January 6, 2012 Under Contraindications

Someone once told me I was like the “Ralph Nader” of indoor cycling! I was reminded of that comment after my most recent post on the dangers of heated indoor cycling classes. It has created quite an uproar on Facebook. People are even leaving comments on CorePower’s blog.

I like the epithet. Nader is a crusader, rallying for the safety of the population. I am a crusader, rallying for the “Keep it Real” mentality in indoor cycling and Spinning® classes around the globe. Not a program, not a philosophy, but science coupled with common sense on a bike.

I am crusading for the safety of our sport. I know I piss many people off, not just the owners of programs (Soul Cycle, other places that are scrambling to instigate Soul-Cycle techniques, perhaps CorePower) but also thousands of instructors who have found popularity with their contraindicated methods. And I’m sure I piss off a lot of students who don’t want to be told their favorite drug (e.g. Soul Cycle) might actually be (gasp) snake oil or might injure them.

Funny thing about people and facts. They don’t always like them…

It’s been suggested to me (especially by some people on the indoor cycling forums) that I am wasting my time, that I should just shut-up and teach my own classes and not care what anyone else is doing. That may be the suggested tactic for many instructors, especially those teaching in a hostile environment at a club where they stand alone in their Keep it Real mentality. But that’s not my way. I know I am not alone in my beliefs about safe and effective coaching, but I am one of the few who wrote workshops about it, has been writing a blog about this subject for going on 5 years, wrote an eBook about it, and even created an entire company around it. I’ve left dozens of comments on poorly researched indoor cycling articles on blogs and online journals, or on youtube videos, about unsafe instructing. I was able to work with a fitness myth buster of a major newspaper to uncover some of the biggest myths in our industry.

I’ve garnered support from so many of you as well. Many of you have left comments on online articles that I’ve brought to light which promote unsafe techniques. This REALLY works! Livestrong even pulled one of their articles that included “hovers” thanks to many of you leaving comments!

My next goal (or goals): get into major fitness magazines (online and print), write for important fitness organizations (like ACE or IDEA), present at fitness conferences (for most I won’t have bikes so they will just be lectures), and HOPEFULLY, one day, get myself on a national television show. These are some of my personal and business goals for 2012. My WHY is certainly BIG and I’ve got 15 years of preparation for this. I’ve also got another goal along these lines that is so BIG, but that I can’t tell you about it (yet), because it’s such a good idea someone might steal it! It’s about a year down the line…

I was looking for an image of Ralph Nader online and saw that one above that says “Ralph Nader has a posse”. Hey – I want a posse too! Will you be my posse? I hope you will stand with me and continue to support me in my efforts to clean up indoor cycling so it is safe, effective and fun for everyone, and not based on gimmicks or an improper understanding of fitness and exercise science. If you have any suggestions for ways I can meet those goals, resources that I can write for (magazines, journals), or if you see any kind of blatant contraindications being promoted on a website or video, or if you have any other questions or advice on how you can help, please email me at info@indoorcyclingassociation.com. (Note: I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly – I’m pretty overwhelmed right now but this is important so I’ll try to address each email. I won’t be able to follow every lead or suggestion, but I’m excited for this task).

By far the most important thing you can do is to help spread the word of safe and effective cycling. Join the Indoor Cycling Association if you haven’t already done so. Spread the word about ICA to all the instructors at your club(s) and to your group fitness coordinator. Feel free to send links to any post on the Sage Advice blog, or links to any of the many free articles on ICA (many of them are about safety, contraindications, or ways to improve as an instrtuctor). Post them on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Because when the tide rises in the harbor, all of the ships rise at once. We ALL benefit when more and more instructors actually “get it”.

Thank you again for your continued support!

…oh, and it helps that my maiden name is Ralph! 😉

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Shari
    January 6, 2012
    11:22 pm #comment-1

    We already ARE your posse! Go, Jennifer! 🙂

  2. Jan
    January 8, 2012
    6:47 am #comment-2

    Jennifer – if it weren’t for you and other like-minded IC instructors, I shudder to think what I might be teaching today. I do not come from a road riding background so I have learned all of this backwards (indoors to outdoors). I am thankful that my initial instructor orientation was with a road rider, that I read “Keeping It Real” early in my teaching career and that I am lucky enough to be part of this growing revolution of science-based indoor cycling. I’m totally part of your posse!

  3. Bill Pryor
    January 9, 2012
    5:01 pm #comment-3

    I am an instructor, studio-owner, and business consultant neck deep in this industry for many years. Soul Cycle, and other studios like them have dramatically increased the number of people who participate in indoor cycling. I see it every day in my consulting business for studio-starters. While I don’t claim to approve of their style (since I don’t have enough direct experience cycling there to really know) I am a firm believer that any innovations, as long as they are safe, that get more people exercising and cycling…..are good. I “get it” that you think they are not safe, but I believe there is not one right way to indoor cycle…..there are many…..and some that are safe, that I am sure you would disapprove of. You are of course entitled to your opinion on the right way — but be careful you don’t try to over-restrict this workout…..there are a variety of styles that are effective and that get people to commit to cycling. Let them all bloom……

  4. Jennifer Sage
    January 9, 2012
    11:13 pm #comment-4

    Hi Bill,
    thanks for posting. I know you very well, Bill.
    I come at it from the scientific point of view: exercise physiology, biomechanics, physics. There are too many so-called “fitness programs” (read: gimmicks) that have no basis in science, that go against what is safe and effective, programs that have poisoned this industry (not just indoor cycling – I am referring to fitness in general here).

    What Soul Cycle is doing is neither safe nor effective, and what they are promising their students is not true, and is therefore sullying the industry. You cannot get stronger by lifting 1-lb weights and your core will NOT get stronger by doing crunches with gravity while pedaling. Period. But what it will do is prevent you from reaching your potential, because while your’e messing around trying these on the bike, your power output has plummeted. Your HR is still high – your legs are flailing with no resistance and the room is super hot and humid, hence students THINK they are working harder than they are. Instructors teaching this do not know anything about physiology. Do you not agree with me that instructors should know quite a bit about physiology if they are to take students to potentially high intensities and make fitness promises to them? In the 1970’s and 80’s we instructors could be excused for making promises to our students that turned out to be untrue, but we didn’t know any better, the industry was still learning. NOW, we know. There.is.no.excuse. Back then it was ignorance. Now, it is pure and simple a gimmick to make a buck.

    Not sure if you have read this: http://www.indoorcyclingassociation.com/public/Why_You_Shouldnt_do_an_Upper_Body_Workout_While_Pedaling_in_Your_Indoor_Cycling_Class.cfm
    or if you have read my eBook, Keep it Real.

    This is not the “Jennifer Sage way”, or the “Spinning way” or “ICA way”, this has nothing to do with anyone’s “philosophy”….it is THE way to ride a bicycle, any bicycle, based on what is known to be safe and effective, based on science. Cycling, the mechanics of turning pedals, and the physiology of bicycling, has been studied longer than any other sport out there (over 100 years). We know what works. We know how a bike should be ridden correctly. Trying to make up new ways to ride a bike is folly. Bobbing and weaving, lifting weights, doing pushups and crunches while pedaling is not only not the right way to ride the bike, riding like this will actually take away from the potential benefits of riding that bicycle correctly.

    The problem with the “let ’em all bloom” mentality is that when programs that preach methods that are counter to the sciences mentioned above, the end-user loses. They are never taught what is safe, they develop (and reinforce) their incorrect understanding of fitness. This is already the case in so many instances in fitness, exacerbated by TV programs like the Biggest Loser. General knowledge of what really works to get fit, improve performance, burn calories and more, is really poor, due to the incredible amount of artifice in this industry, as well as the lack of knowledge and experience of the so-called instructors/trainers (or program creators as in the case of SC). The public deserves better than that.

    And the industry deserves better.

    There is nothing that angers me more than gimmicks in fitness. Soul Cycle is one big gimmick. Are they dong some stuff right? Yeah, of course! http://www.indoorcyclingassociation.com/public/What_is_Soul_Cycle_Doing_Right_Do_You_Want_Some_of_That_Success.cfm

    But can you imagine how much more people would improve if they were doing it correctly, in the proven manner of riding a bicycle that actually produced results and that didn’t have risks associated with it? Can you imagine the potential success of a facility if they used effective marketing and promotion techniques that created a buzz like Soul Cycle’s COMBINED with really fun, safe and effective classes?

    As a consultant to studios, do you just tell them to do “whatever works” to bring in the numbers? Even if it might injure their students, or go out of fashion in a year or two? Or do you encourage them to create effective and safe programs based on science?

    I am on a mission that will not let up! The Indoor Cycling Association is at the forefront of this movement to teach instructors that is IS possible to have it all: great numbers, great excitement, great music – all while doing it “right”! That way, everyone from the studio owner, to the instructor committed to “Keeping it Real”, to the participant, will win.

  5. Jennifer Sage
    January 9, 2012
    11:47 pm #comment-5

    you say “there are some that are safe that I am sure you disapprove of”. Can you give me an example?

    It won’t have to pass a “Jennifer ” test – but it will have to pass the science test. We’ll examine it from a biomechanical, kinesiological and physiological point of view. That is how safety will be determined. And it has to also be effective, too. We’ll examine the effectiveness by looking at average power output – if the technique reduces average power output while you are doing this “technique” then it is less effective than just riding the bike. (e.g. pedaling at high cadences with no resistance reduces the effectiveness of that time spent pedaling the bike).

    Because you do know that power output is the direct determinant of how many calories you burn, right (and not HR)? And that is what our students want, right?

    I’m curious to know which ones you are speaking of.


  6. Nancy Spence
    January 13, 2012
    2:46 am #comment-6


    I have been a member of your posse since long before you really had one!

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