With the increase in “non-traditional” indoor cycling classes that use unsafe techniques and are rife with contraindications, and the increase in instructors learning new “moves” from YouTube, so many classes these days are filled with safety concerns. Many instructors who attend these classes are either too uncomfortable to approach the instructor or feel that if they contact the studio/facility, it won’t matter; they believe that no one will care. I’d like to share with you an example of an instructor who did step up and was able to make some positive changes at one club.
Julianne Lafleur, an ICA member (who we highlighted in our instructor spotlight), recently shared her story with me. After relocating from Toronto to the west coast of Canada, she began her search for some classes to teach. After sending her resume to one club, she decided to purchase a short-term membership and check out some classes. This particular facility offered just a few cycling classes each week with only two instructors on the schedule; Julianne decided to try a class from each instructor.
What she discovered shocked her. Both instructors’ classes were filled with safety concerns, including cadence ranges as low as 20 and as high as 150 rpm, hovers, squats, isolations, cueing of poor form, constant advice on which gear to use (including to use NO gear), adjusting riders’ gears for them, and riding with both hands behind the head. These instructors exhibited a complete lack of reading participants’ reactions to these techniques, and many riders were really struggling.
Julianne was so upset when she left each class, she decided that she was going to do something. After considering several options, she opted to e-mail a letter to member services. She didn’t feel that approaching the two instructors would amount to a positive response and her conscience would not allow her to just walk away. Julianne drafted her letter and then asked me for advice to improve the content. The goal was not to attack the instructors, but to stress the importance of safety and effectiveness of instruction.
The final version of the letter was as follows, and was sent to the head of member services of this mid-size chain:
Dear Member Services:
I recently attended a few cycle classes at one of your facilities, and I feel the need to share my experiences. First, I’ll tell you a bit about me. I have been a certified group fitness instructor since 1994, a certified personal trainer since 1995, a certified Spinning instructor (Mad Dogg Athletics) since 2008, and a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT200) since 2016. I am heavily involved in the cycling community at large, including membership with the Indoor Cycling Association, and I have regular discussions with master trainers in the indoor cycle world whose main goal is to ensure that safety standards are upheld. I also attend at least one major fitness conference every year. Continuing my education in the fitness industry to keep up with the trends, learn what has changed, and to ensure that I continue to lead safe and effective classes is a priority for me; our industry is ever-evolving, so staying up to date is critical.
What I know from my experience and education is that every major, reputable cycling certification in the world has parameters and safety standards that are put in place based on exercise science and studies on the appropriate “load” that is within the acceptable range for safety. Those programs include but are not limited to: Spinning, Schwinn, Keiser, Stages, Cycling Fusion, and ICG. Some of these safety guidelines include:
- Cadences capped at 110–120 rpm
- Super high cadences encourage low or no gear, which typically results in participants bouncing in the saddle without control. This places stress on their joints and connective tissue. Also, very high cadence with low or no resistance means a very low power output; that translates to little work being done (i.e., very low caloric consumption). In other words, high risk, very low return.
- Cadences no lower than 60 rpm, with small variations allowed for very strong riders
- These are put in place to ensure that participants are not using too much gear, as it places excessive stress on joints and connective tissue. Knees, hips, and back are especially at risk with excessive resistance and very low cadence.
- Standing with sufficient gear/resistance
- Resistance is what provides support and offers control for the rider, without which there is a lot of stress in the joints and connective tissues.
- Hands should be on handlebars at all times
- Risk of falling is greatly increased when participants are not using their handlebars. There is virtually no benefit to riding with no hands; it does not train balance either on a bike or on solid surfaces.
In addition, there are many controversial but popular moves that are being employed in our industry that are not supported by these certifications. Some of these moves, also known as contraindications, include push-ups, hovers, squats, very fast jumps, isolations, etc. They are high risk with low or no reward.
After attending a few classes at this facility, I unfortunately witnessed firsthand that almost all of these safety standards were ignored and many of the contraindications listed above were employed. As I’m sure you can appreciate that when safety standards are not followed, there is an increased risk of injury to participants In fact, some of what I witnessed was so dangerous, it is a lawsuit waiting to happen; injury is only a matter of time. One of your instructors even asked participants to put BOTH hands behind the head while riding with very high gear. This is excessively dangerous and if someone was clipped in and lost their balance, serious injury is highly probable.
For the well-being of your clients and in order to reduce the high liability of the club, I implore you to ensure that all of your instructors are certified by one of the top cycling certifications such as Spinning, Schwinn, Keiser, or Stages; Cycling Fusion even offers an online certification, which may be more accessible. Your instructors appeared to be friendly and engaging and are likely well intentioned; I suspect they are more than capable of leading safe and appropriate classes, but they do require proper training to do so.
If any of what I’ve outlined is concerning to you, I encourage you to contact me for more details. I would be happy to provide you with some excellent organizations for additional training, as well as some articles that outline safety considerations for indoor cycling classes.
Yours in health and safety,
The goal of the letter was to be encouraging of the instructors and put the onus on the club to ensure their instructors are properly certified and follow industry standards for safety. Julianne was not specific about the club location; this way, if they wanted more information and were concerned, they would have to contact her.
Within a few hours, Julianne had a reply, which was followed up by a phone call. It was clear that the club fitness manager was very concerned about what was relayed. After acquiring more specifics, she took immediate action and then followed up with Julianne to advise her of how this would be managed. She said that both instructors would be required to attend a refresher training in the very near future. She even offered Julianne a job and told her that she would soon hear from the lead instructor at that facility.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, the ensuing communications with the lead instructor made it clear that it would be difficult for Julianne to teach at that facility, as forging a positive relationship with either of these instructors would be too challenging. But Julianne has no regrets about stepping up and feels that her letter raised awareness at the higher levels of this chain and will likely lead to greater instructor education as well as reduced risk for the members.
The moral of the story? For anyone who believes that they cannot make a difference or that “they” don’t care, know that you CAN make a difference. Sometimes they DO care and sometimes they WILL make changes to their program to reflect safer practices. One class at a time.
Have you encountered classes you thought were dangerous or ineffective and decided to take a stand and address the instructor or contact the studio or club owner, or the group fitness director? Will you share your experience (both good and bad) in the comments below?
If you are tempted to contact a group fitness director or club/studio owner about a dangerous class you attended, but aren’t sure what to write, feel free to take Julianne’s words and modify them to your specific situation. Remember to keep it constructive and not attack the instructor, and only address the safety and ineffectiveness of the moves. You can download Julianne’s below.
Bravo Julianne! Well expressed & supported argument.
Jennifer, thank you for this article. I’m needing advice here. An instructor at a facility I instruct at has students taking one foot out of cages doing single leg drills, she encourages standing at heavy resistance with one hand straight out to “work your core”, & allows grinding at heavy resistance with a cadence at low as 40.
Question is: do I stick by team loyalty & not say a thing? Or meet with her to express my concern for clients? Or talk to my supervisor?
Kudos to you Julianne for being a voice for and with the people out there who rely on us, as instructors, to educate them in a safe and beneficial manner. I haven’t been able to bring myself to do that and I’ve seen some pretty incredulous things happen on the bike myself. In any event, my hands are tied as I can’t risk losing my job, but reading Maggie Bergin’s note made me laugh as I ride inside with a coach and one of the athletes, like me, has worked very hard to increase our natural cadence over the years. She went last year to her first Ironman in Lanzarotte which she completed successfully. Her comment was “Let it be known that you, too, can climb at a cadence of 7 rpm!”. Yes, we all had a great laugh and I for one, can absolutely relate to that, 90 rpm???????
This is so hard sometimes to manage and I congratulate Julianne for being a leader in our field and acting responsibly, carrying the message of safety and sound training to this club. Reading this, I might just become brave enough to follow her example and speak to my supervisor about a colleague to regularly chastises students for not having enough workload and admonishing students to “never fall below 90 RPM or you’ll fall off the bike”.
never fall below 90 rpm? This is what happens when you have instructors who have never ridden a bike outside! There is no way anyone can say that with a straight face if they’ve ridden a bike uphill against gravity.
Who falls off a bike pedaling slow? You fall off a bike when you lose balance or crash because you hit something (or are hit…but let’s not think about that!)