Indoor Cycling Safety—Please Share

An Open Letter to Studios on
Indoor Cycling Safety

Dear Cycling Studio Owner or Manager,

Congratulations on many years of a robust and dynamic indoor cycling program. Your community has been well served by this wonderful training system that has proven to be not only safe, but also effective in meeting the public’s fitness needs. Indoor cycling is surely here to stay!

As is typical in the fitness industry, programming often reflects changes and innovations that evolve over time. We reap the benefits of learning from a variety of influential professions, such as the concerns of the medical community, the ongoing research of sports science, and the sound protocols of physical therapy. Although the human body really hasn’t changed much through the centuries, our understanding of how it works and how it responds to exercise is constantly under scrutiny, as it should be.

Clearly, other influences factor in, such as the economics behind running a successful cycling program, but it is my hope that our industry can establish the priority of public health and safety before popularity. The reality, I understand, is that without riders in the saddle, the indoor cycling program will not be viable for long.

Because cycling is a specialty class under the group fitness umbrella, it is vital that the instructors you hire have a solid, nationally recognized certification that indicates they have the minimum competence to lead an “apparently healthy” population and are committed to renewing their certification with continuing education. Ideally, as a certified fitness professional an indoor cycling instructor will also be able to address the needs of special populations (pregnancy, as well as injury and health conditions that don’t actually prohibit the member from participating in indoor cycling classes) and will have at least some cycling experience in order to fortify their true understanding of the relationship between resistance and pedal speed, as well as fuel their coaching vocabulary with authenticity.

In the absence of these elements of professionalism, the specialty of indoor cycling is vulnerable to the natural degradation that happens in the quest for commercial popularity. Across the years we’ve seen new programs emerge that are overtly geared toward the commercial hook of “addictive fun,” which capitalizes on the social need to fit in and belong to the popular group. The “bigger is better,” “all-or-nothing” approach is professionally problematic on several levels. More disturbing is the idea that the clients can override science-based protocols and influence programming. Ask Michael Jackson’s doctor how that worked out for him.

The once-popular reality TV series called Jackass featured actors who did shocking and dangerous stunts. Each episode was preceded by warnings and disclaimers, asking the public to simply view the stunts as a form of entertainment and not to actually engage in the activities themselves. Of course, that didn’t stop the curious public from trying to imitate them. I bring this up because, while it is hard to fathom indoor cycling being in the same category as dangerous physical stunts like riding a bike off a rooftop, there is an important connection to recognize.

The human body (and the mind) can cope with a lot. A trainer who is in great shape may have no negative physical repercussions from cycling on a stationary bike with a super fast cadence (120+ rpm), or such impossibly heavy resistance that their cadence drops below 45 rpm. An indoor cycling instructor might be able to do an insane number of “popcorn jumps” in a short amount of time, or deep hovers with no actual negative side effects or injury. A well-practiced cycling instructor may be able to safely manage cycling with one foot strapped into a pedal and one foot resting on the frame of the bike for single-leg work without getting injured. Many very fit individuals do things that are considered dangerous for the public, and even make a living from it.

But as a profession, it is crucial that we take a stand based on public safety as the lowest common denominator. Unlike with the Jackass stuntmen, there is no disclaimer or warning. In fact, students take group fitness classes with the expectation that nothing they are being asked to do has a level of risk beyond the basic risks associated with exercise. Of course, experienced instructors will allow and even encourage participants to ride only to the best of their ability. However, the underlying message from the bike with the mic is “I am demonstrating my expectations of you,” NOT “This is dangerous, don’t try this.”

Adhering to industry standards is fundamental to being a part of the industry.

As an indoor cycling facility, the onus is on you to keep your participants (and your instructors!) safe. The contraindications for indoor cycling are well known, and as a facility, it is incumbent upon you and your staff to understand why the indoor cycling industry at large is uniting on the issue of public safety. While individuals might run and cycle with music, many race organizers don’t allow earbuds because they have determined that it is safer for the masses without. Although teens might play football without padding on the street, the industry standard for high school football teams is to require helmets and protective gear when playing organized sports. An oral surgeon might have the skills to remove an impacted tooth without numbing the patient, but the expectation of the profession is to do what is in the best interest of the public at large.

What people do on their own is one thing, but when activities like fitness classes are organized and led, industry standards are developed out of observation and research that determine how to keep the most people safe, most of the time.

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You likely have received video clips from members showing non-traditional activities on stationary bikes: riding hands-free while standing, shifting excessively from side to side while riding, pedaling excessively fast with no resistance, doing push-ups on the handlebars, lifting weights, bobbing up and down, or pushing the hips fore and aft, to only name a few. But should you allow these questionable techniques purely because of a desire to add entertainment and to avoid alleged “boredom” in a cycling class?

At first glance, rock-star personalities who prompt high performance out of an average studio-athlete appear inspiring and “fun.” But widely published guidelines for indoor cycling dictate the safe and effective parameters for the general population. During scheduled class hours, it is prudent to adhere to these guidelines in the interest of public safety. Your insurance most likely demands it, as does your instructors’ professional training.

As a discussion point with your staff, consider the popular video clips of people who do acrobatics and street dancing on a treadmill. If you or a trainer spotted a member, even if talented and able, doing flips, walking handstands, and running backwards, I suspect you would feel compelled to stop them. Can you imagine a class that integrated these tricks into a running workout because it is spectacular, fun, and popular? I believe you would say, “Do what you want on your own treadmill at home, but we follow certain safety guidelines in our facility.”

The rise of fringe indoor cycling styles is economically driven and instructor fueled. Integrating movement patterns that are not consistent with either the function of the bike (cardiovascular endurance training) or how it is designed (leg work in the sagittal plane) is a response to the perception that regular cycling is boring. These types of classes eliminate the opportunity to teach mastery of the skill of cycling with athletic power and endurance, and downgrade the instructor to “entertainer.” They disempower, endanger, and disregard the participants, putting the rider, instructor, and facility at risk.

I write this open letter to indoor cycling facilities to spark the conversation among the staff. Ultimately, in order for the fitness industry as a whole—and the indoor cycling community in particular—to experience longevity and relevance in the lives of the public we serve, it is vital to understand the rationale behind the safety parameters of indoor cycling.

Managers of cycling studios are in a special position to support instructors to grow their coaching skills without risking the well-being of riders or damaging the equipment. Master instructors, web-based resources, and conferences help perpetuate professionalism. There is ample information for instructors to draw from in the public domain, from organizations such as the Indoor Cycling Association, as well as from within instructors’ certifying bodies. No profession should feel pressure to compromise its high standards in the interest of popularity. Now is the perfect time to schedule an all-staff meeting to discuss the cohesive set of standards your entire team supports while keeping consistent with today’s indoor cycling norms.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration,

Cori Parks, and the Indoor Cycling Association

cori-parksCori is a Spinning® master instructor, a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, a lifestyle and weight management coach, and a frequent contributor to the Indoor Cycling Association. She is the author of “Willing To Tri—Anything to Stay Fit after 40.” She is also an American Heart Association First Aid/CPR/AED instructor.

 

For additional resources on indoor cycling safety and proper technique, please see the links below.

Articles where Jennifer Sage of Indoor Cycling Association has been interviewed or quoted:

Ticked Off to the Core!


Instructors and studio owners! We have a special gift for you. Download this free guide
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21 Responses to “Indoor Cycling Safety—Please Share”

  1. Julie Zweck-Bronner says:

    Nicely stated Cori! Will keep in my back pocket if I ever need to remind my facility and managers 🙂

  2. Cori Parks says:

    Thanks so much Sarah! I really appreciate this – yes! for sure, preaching to the choir and I know the wider conversation is going to be difficult – but your concerns are valid and your experience is common to many. I was wondering if I could have your permission to copy/paste your comment out onto fb land and open up the conversation – I am sure you will be will be totally in synch with a lot of people and I think it is really a good way to begin to hash it out… I think we have had enough of looking at other (successful) programs and pointing out what is wrong…we need to be able to verbalize what is right and figure out how to make sure all instructors who are determined to stay within the safety guidelines are empowered to deliver safe classes and also emboldened to lead solid classes – One Master Instructor told me “you have to give them some candy…” and she doesn’t mean being stupidly dangerous…but that you can stay within the guidelines and still rock an awesome class. So – can I share your comment? I’ll wait for your response….cheers!

  3. Sarah says:

    Beautifully written and inspirational article. However, you’re preaching to the choir. As the only instructor who stays true to my Spinning training in whatever facility I work in, it feels like a losing battle. Even though many of these other instructors are Star 3 Spinning, they seem to not be following the basics of the manual-let alone do anything that resembles a sensible workout plan. Basically it’s a bunch of mindless moving around the bike,adding random amounts of resistance to music. I attend classes there, and watch improperly set up members, some riding the bike like a leg press, some like a hamster wheel. Usually the instructor too. Problem is, they love it-so that when I come in with my plan-no matter how engaging I am, or how good my music might be, they don’t seem to want anything that resembles hills, flats, cadence checks, or proper Spinning terminology. I can win over some, but most will simply not come back. My boss would love her instructors to follow their training, but she would be at risk of losing these instructors, and enraging the members-if she insisted they change their entire style of teaching. I sent her the article, but honestly, I can’t imagine what dialogue can possibly happen. Or that this situation is unique. For now, I just follow my training, reach the people who are open to it, and not stress about the rest of them.

    • Cori Parks says:

      sorry, Sarah – I am just getting back to this…I will post this out now – please feel free to engage the conversation with anyone who replies. I don’t, and ICA, doesn’t have the answers…but the conversation is really important for moving forward. Thanks again, and sorry for the delay….I just hit a busy patch last week!
      cheers. cori

  4. Donna says:

    Thank you Cori stating clearly what I am sure many Spinning and Indoor Cycling Instructors feel but are afraid to express because they may not be so popular. The video example you provided as well as many others we have all seen are not only ineffective for the practice of indoor cycling but are purely for “exertainment”. The intention of creating the Spinning program was to bring the outdoor cycling practice indoors. Why would you do something wonky inside that you clearly wouldn’t do outside?

    What I have learned as a Spinning Instructor has made me the outdoor cyclist I am today. The cyclist I am today has made me a better Spinning Instructor. SAFE indoor cycling instruction should be, Simple, Accurate, Fun, and Effective.

    • Cori Parks says:

      Donna – I love that – Spinning® made you a better cyclist and being a cyclist made you a better Spinning® instructor. Thanks so much for that and for stirring the conversation which, as you point out, feels intimidating. The push back is easier if we all do it together. c

  5. John says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I will definitely share it!

    • Cori Parks says:

      Thanks John! Let’s get the world talking about this…we can’t mess around with public safety anymore, and I know people are so intimidated to speak up. We got this though. We really appreciate your sharing it and having the conversation. Let us know what comes of your conversations! Cheers! cori

  6. Donna Minotti, MS says:

    Thank you Cori stating clearly what I am sure many Spinning and Indoor Cycling Instructors feel but are afraid to express because they may not be so popular. The video example you provided as well as many others we have all seen are not only ineffective for the practice of indoor cycling but are purely for “exertainment”. The intention of creating the Spinning program was to bring the outdoor cycling practice indoors. Why would you do something wonky inside that you clearly wouldn’t do outside?
    What I have learned as a Spinning Instructor has made me the outdoor cyclist I am today. The cyclist I am today has made me a better Spinning Instructor. SAFE indoor cycling instruction should be, Simple, Accurate, Fun, and Effective.

  7. Donna Minotti, MS says:

    Cori, thank you for expressing what I am sure many Spinning and Indoor Cycling Instructors are thinking when they see other examples of the video clip you posted and learn of the “exertainment” occurring on a fixed gear bike. I became a Spinning Instructor before a road cyclist and I what I was taught in Spinning enhanced my performance on the road. Cycling outdoors has now made me a better Spinning Instructor. What you don’t do, wouldn’t do, and couldn’t do on a road bike you shouldn’t do on a fixed gear bike with a weighted fly wheel.
    Let’s keep it SAFE Instructors…Simple, Accurate, Fun and Effective! Ride On 🙂

  8. Lori says:

    Thank you for writing such a clear article on the safety of cycling class. As an instructor I repeatedly talk to my class about not doing many of the things you mentioned. The biggest thing I tell them is that if you wouldn’t do it on your bike outside then don’t do it on the bike inside and if an instructor has you doing something crazy like push-ups on the bike or arm raises,etc…don’t do it! Just pedal normal while they do their craziness. I am going to forward this on. Thank you!

    • Cori Parks says:

      Awesome – I am glad you have choices. I can appreciate what it takes to be the odd one out – there is a lot of pressure to do things – and some things are not horribly DANGEROUS…like, I don’t know…lighting yourself on fire…but Jennifer Sage’s commitment to keeping it real eliminates the unnecessary risk and highlights the most effective way to build one’s fitness – by using the machine as it is designed (the machine being your body and also the bike) and training smart. Thanks for the conversation! 🙂

    • Cori Parks says:

      Hey Lori – my other comment was meant for Jill – but thank you for standing your ground on the “if you don’t do it outside…” thing. We really appreciate your forwarding this on to other instructors, management and clients as you see fit. We all need to link elbows and move forward, since sitting back and shaming other (arguably successful!) programs isn’t advancing our cause. pedal on! 😉

  9. Jill says:

    I’m not an instructor but a spinning student. I’ve only been spinning since January and, in that short time, have seen most of the bad stuff you talk about. I was a newbie in January and the first studio I went to did the pushups and little weight stuff. I didn’t know any better. After my 5 intro lessons, and thanks to your articles, I went looking for another studio. Fortunately I found one near me that is serious and doesn’t do all of this fluff stuff. I do occasionally attend a class that does, but I do my own thing. I just like the atmosphere there. Thanks so much for all of the good information!

  10. Renee Shapurji says:

    Thank you Cori. Great article and very poignant.

    • CJ says:

      Thank you so much for sharing 101 ways, and all you other website information and free seminars etc they have just been fabulous. especially for me here in Australia where they don’t offer all this great info and advice. and its a great reminder of the little things that sometime are forgotten……even for an instructor who has been teaching spin for 10+years.Thanks again 🙂

      • you are welcome CJ! We are trying to make a splash down in Australia as well, so feel free to share this post and the other free posts we have (there are tons!) with the instructors you know!

        Our mission is to raise the bar in the indoor cycling communities around the world, improving standards of education and application, as well as fun and effectiveness!!

    • Cori Parks says:

      Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it…hoping for a global conversation!

    • Cori Parks says:

      Thanks, Renee! And thank you again for sharing it around since I know that most people here already “get it…” we’re looking for that global, all inclusive conversation – so we appreciate your sharing…

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