Sarah Russell is the co-owner of Breathe, a yoga and cycling studio in Denver, Colorado. I’ve known Sarah for a few years and have watch her studio grow and flourish. Sarah wrote this article for her studio newsletter and gave me permission to reprint it for you. I bet some of you have had similar experiences. If so, tell us about it in the comments! My first indoor cycling class I took as a student was awful, plain and simple. I came from a strong background in mountain biking and triathlons but had never been on a stationary bike. I was new to Colorado from Arizona and am the first to admit to being a fair weather rider. The weather got cold and I realized I had to get inside to train.
I was recommended to a prominent club because the instructors were “amazing,” so I went with excitement. I was all set with my padded shorts, cycling shoes, water bottle, and towel. I arrived a few minutes early out of courtesy and was directed toward the cycling room. When I got there, nearly all of the 30 bikes were full and I suddenly felt the pressure to know what I was doing. I put on my shoes, found a bike on the edge of the second row and then realized I had no idea how to adjust this bike. Had it been my trusted road or mountain bike, I could have done it with my eyes closed but everything looked so different.
I started with the saddle height because that seemed like the natural place. Only, I couldn’t figure out how to turn the knob to loosen it. When I looked for the instructor, she was busy fussing with the music and my neighbors were too busy discussing the line at Starbucks where they apparently waited for their skinny lattes. That’s when I surveyed the room. There were plenty of 20- to 50-somethings chatting and sitting with their hands off the bars, two guys in full on bike kits with headphones sweating as they had seemingly already gotten into their workouts and then there was me. At that point I wanted to slink out the doorway but it was at the other side of the room. With mirrors on all sides and the bright fluorescents glaring down on me, I had too much pride. I tried to get the instructor’s attention again and just as she turned around her headset boomed with her chirp to be warming up as she jumped on her own bike. At this point, I was intimidated and nervous. Me! The girl who raced downhill, triathlons, solo backpacked foreign countries, gave birth at home. ME!!!
So, I did what any student would do in this situation: I jumped on and started pedaling. The seat was a bit high so my pelvis rocked. I figured I was experienced enough and physically fit enough to just compensate. I wasn’t sure how much resistance was supposed to be on my pedal. It was so much different than my bike on the trainer because the gearing and the tire created resistance but this flywheel just spun as fast as I brought my pedal stroke around purely on momentum.
The instructor informed us that we were going to be doing sprints, climbs and “jumps” whatever that was. As she cued us to increase resistance, she had us come out of the saddle. I felt more comfortable now because I didn’t have the height of the seat to get in my way. As we were encouraged to pedal faster I started to work up a sweat. The peppy voice then started yelling dip. Do I need to bring chips or veggies? What does dip mean? I looked around and everyone was pedaling with their booties below and in front of their saddle. Everyone’s knees were screaming and the skinny latte next to me looked like she might just dislocate a shoulder the way she was gripping those handlebars. The two kitted men continued to pedal at an unwavering cadence with no attention to the class or instructor. Even though I knew this was not a good thing for my knees, I didn’t want to stand out in class or be as rude as those two, so I dipped. I then continued to follow each direction offering “Chaturangas” on the bike, fingertip pushups and twists all while pedaling. We lunged in and out of the saddle which I soon came to know as jumps. After an hour I had worked up a sweat and felt like my body had a good workout because I went as hard and as fast as I could the entire class, as directed. When class was over, those guys were still pedaling away with their headphones on, heads down.
The next day was bad. My body ached, my joints screamed and it wasn’t the “hurts so good” feeling. I had injured myself. No wonder cyclists don’t go to classes like this, I realized.
And then it dawned on me. Why would we do anything on an indoor bike that we wouldn’t do outside? I had been riding for years and years and never injured myself training. I was in my 5’8″ 124 lb race shape form. I had done that by keeping it real and riding hard, working my interval training, speed and power work, with ample recovery. Now I had experienced my first group fitness class and felt like I had undone years of hard work for a strong body.
Fast forward about four and a half years. It wasn’t until about six months before Breathe’s opening in July 2009 that I tried another indoor cycling class. This time, I was prepared though. I knew what jumps and dips were and I knew why those two riders in full kits didn’t take the direction of the class. They were real cyclists. They kept it real even when riding inside.
I didn’t make the same mistake of riding with a bike that didn’t properly fit me. The instructor still never fit me to the bike, but I did speak up and ask my neighbor for assistance. He was a veteran of indoor cycling and was eager to apply his knowledge to my inability to adjust the settings. When it came to anything outside of the realm of what I would do when training outside, I simply didn’t do it. While this instructor’s workout wasn’t as ridiculous as my first experience, it still contained elements that didn’t do anything to increase my performance or fitness. I realized it was entertainment value.
I’m both grateful and saddened for those two terrible classes. Grateful that it brought me to Breathe’s indoor cycling philosophy of keeping it real; a philosophy shared by master instructors and coaches like Jennifer Sage, Tom Scotto, and all those at Indoor Cycling Association. Saddened because it dumbs down a legitimate training tool to entertainment, removing all safety considerations for the rider.
Please keep your indoor cycling real to stay safe and build a stronger, leaner body. I promise you will see and feel a difference if you apply the workouts properly, focus on form and lead a healthy lifestyle. Keep it real with us at Breathe!
Safe & Happy Pedaling,
What was the first indoor cycling class you took like? Tell us in the comments below!
Like Sarah, I found a gym as soon as I moved to a new town (where I live today) and thought that I would try a cycle class. My friends raved about it, I couldn’t see the point but hey, if you don’t try, you don’t know. So, I too wasn’t given any direction on how to set up my bike and watched others so I knew how to adjust it. This instructor did lots of high cadence work, very low to no resistance and of course I blindly followed, dips, pushups, and rat on coke speed. THEN, you stop – yep literally stop, hike up the resistance until you can go no more, come out the saddle and PUSH!!! Yeah, right into knee surgery; I wasn’t having any of that. Then she would have loooonnnggg breaks between songs. What was all the raving about – didn’t get it. However, what I learnt was that I thought I could do better; something in me had been ignited. That was when I sought out Schwinn and Mad Dogg to get trained – she was not, BTW. To this day, it is kept real, safe, and challenging. Some don’t like my classes because they need what I call the ADHD stuff, they haven’t learnt that it is not just physical but mental. Those who like real, like the challenge I’m happy to say have been faithful to me for a number of years and have introduced naysayers to my class – so it continues….