The Risks of Low Cadence and High Resistance in Indoor Cycling Classes

By Jennifer Sage On March 26, 2012 Under Cadence, Form and Technique

Spinning classAfter my article on the Truth About Cadence in Indoor Cycling Classes appeared in Active.com, I got numerous suggestions to write about the other end of the spectrum – cadence that is too low.

We’ve all seen those Spinning┬« classes where the instructor asks students to continually raise the resistance or gear, until their cadence drops into the low 50’s, 40’s or even 30’s for rpm. I’ve even seen some Youtube videos where they seem to be pedaling at 15 or 20rpm if they are lucky. They seem to believe that if you have to pull on the handlebars to turn the pedals, that there is some strength benefit. In reality, it it is unproductive and dangerous, and is based on nothing more than “ego”.

The article was published today on Active.com, and as I often do in my articles, I compare the needs of cyclists versus non-cyclists who take (or teach) indoor cycling classes. I think the most important paragraph in this entire 3-page article is this one:

Here is the general rule that all instructors and students in Spinning┬« classes should follow: if the movement or technique is bad, ineffective or potentially dangerous for a cyclist, then it is also bad, ineffective or potentially dangerous for a non-cyclist. If a cyclist won’t pedal that slow because she’s smart enough to avoid the risk of injury, then it follows that a non-cyclist’s knees and back aren’t any less prone to injury.

Click here to read the article in its entirety on Active.com. Please feel free to forward it to all your instructor peers, students and group fitness coordinators. I received dozens of stories about the high cadence article being posted in cycling studios around the world, from Australia to Saudi Arabia to Bulgaria to Jamaica to Costa Rica! Let’s do the same for this one.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Neil Troutman
    March 28, 2012
    7:18 pm #comment-1

    Hi Jennifer
    Great article. Actually didn’t pass one of my candidates today for their leg tempo being too slow. (Wasn’t the only reason – incase you were thinking that was a bit harsh) Using the beat of the music most climbs are around 60 RPM, but obviously some people will tire slightly, but as they get too slow you instruct them to take there resistance off, just as you mentioned on a real bike your praying you have one more gear to drop down too. However the members who do not ride bikes fail to understand this concept and stubbornly they refuse. Then you tell your more advanced riders in the class if they can match the RPM and want to work harder increase the resistance. Those already at 45 RPM then increase their own and then slow down to 30 RPM. I stress that they are now putting to much stress through their knees and lower back and if one butt is coming up off the saddle they are now twisting and stressing hips and sacrol-illiac joint. Finally I just say if you want to go that heavy go upstairs and do some squats. Your workout lives on the beat. Also as an instructor you should be the one matching the tempo and setting the scene. If you legs are tired on that day then you should be leading by example of reducing your own resistance. Loving this website.

  2. Victor Jimenez
    March 29, 2012
    5:52 pm #comment-2


    Great article for real cyclists too. A Neil mentioned. If you want to do strength training that will apply to the bike. Go for off the bike strength training.

    Low cadence can really be a killer and cause of injury especially in non trained athletes.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Jameson Blake
    April 11, 2012
    11:30 pm #comment-3

    It is so true! If it is dangerous for a cyclist then what makes it any safer for a non-cyclist? Nothing! I am so on board with this even though in spinning classes it is not always avid cyclists, they should still beware of the dangers of what those actions will bring.

  4. Barry Edwards
    March 3, 2014
    2:46 am #comment-4

    Hi Jennifer,
    I fully agree with this. There was a scientific paper that looked at shear and cpoompressive forces through the tibiofemoral joint at diffrent watt output and cadence and unsurprisingly the lower cadence and high force resulted in increased shear and compression through the knee joint. It does annoy me when I see this taught in classes when there is absolutley no need. It is as though instructors do not weight the risks and benefits of the move. You only have to watch pro cyclists to see that very few grind out in a big gear. Lance was known for his phenomenal 120rpm and the rest will be around 80-100rpm, the higher cadence also gives greater cardiovascular overload. Participants come to us because they trust us to ensure they get a good low injury risk workout. It is up to us to do this.

  5. Mike Beattie
    March 21, 2015
    11:28 am #comment-5

    I had to share your article with a spin instructor at the local gym where I train. She developed a slow (to the point of stopping at the top of the stroke), pounding cadence, thinking that it strengthened the butt and developed overall strength. It’s difficult to critique other instructors (I’m certified but no longer teach), but I had to take her aside after the class and explain to her why i fell back into a steady seated climb at about 80rpm, sitting far back on the saddle for full leg extension, rather than her knee-bursting grinding. Her reasoning was that cyclists’ cadence drops when they climb hills, but i pointed out if we got down to less than 50, let alone where she was, we’d tip over. Your article clarified better than I could, not only the uselessness of that slow pounder, but the danger. Happily, since I did the critique more as a suggestion, and gave her a copy of your article as well as a Peanut Butter and Jelly Bonk Breaker, she took the advice in a positive way and has changed her routines. She’s even starting to see attendance pick back up, since even the non cyclists in class feel a difference.
    Now I need to work on the many instructors who do long stretches of “hovering” with backs stretched to the limit and butts off the back of the saddle…I’ll look to see if you have any articles about how that blows up lower backs

  6. Kevin
    December 4, 2015
    11:22 am #comment-6

    I have some mature women in a class that are not able to attain 60rpms out of the saddle at modest resistance. What do you suggest?

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