Suppose you hired a personal trainer. At your first session, your trainer, Jack, hands you 1 lb weights. You look at him doubtfully, but he smiles and says, “Trust me!” So you do dozens of biceps curls and shoulder presses and a few other exercises until your shoulder muscles are burning so much you can barely lift your arms.
Jack then sits you down with your hands on a table in front of you and has you do push-ups. Yes, it feels and looks silly, but you do them because, well, he’s the “expert,” isn’t he? Next, Jack tells you to “crunch” while sitting upright at that table. First you do traditional crunches by sucking in your abs and driving your ribcage downward, and next oblique crunches by pulling your ribcage down to the left and right…all while sitting upright with your hands on the table. He tells you he is giving you a solid upper-body and core workout, and you believe him and pay him your money and set your next appointment.
I hate to break it to you…but you have just been swindled.
Most people with any fitness knowledge would read this and agree that Jack should be fired as a personal trainer. When you hire a personal trainer, you trust that he or she has obtained a reputable certification. That trainer must have an understanding how muscles and joints work. She must know anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and physics. You believe that your trainer knows the muscle attachments and insertions and knows what “lines of pull” means. A personal trainer must know how a muscle gets stronger in order to devise a training program that is effective.
Jack is an example of a trainer who does not know his profession. So I think we all agree that his techniques would be unacceptable in any weight room…
But Why is This Acceptable in an Indoor Cycling Class?
Performing upper-body exercises exactly as they are described above has become all the rage in indoor cycling studios across the country, and it’s catching on around the world. They are lauded as “full-body workouts”!
One studio based in New York has even gone so far as to “brand” their techniques. Enter SoulCycle, the hottest craze in indoor cycling since Johnny G first created Spinning® in 1994.
These is some of the praise that SoulCycle has received from an uneducated media:
“Those looking for a Full-Body workout should pedal over to Soul-Cycle”
“Voted BEST hit-each-body-part fitness class”
“…killer total-body workout”
“Cycling, plus upper-body strengthening resistance bands…”
In their online videos on YouTube that extoll the upper-body workout, you can see riders wielding their 1 lb weights, doing their push-ups, and crunching obliquely to each side…but SoulCycle takes it one step further than Jack-the-uneducated-trainer ever did. They are doing all of this while their feet are attached to pedals, spinning at 70, 80, 90, or 100 times a minute, sometimes even much faster.
Before I get into details about how functionally ineffective and even potentially dangerous these techniques are, it’s important to go back in time to the early days of the fitness craze and the techniques we (ignorantly) employed back then.
A Trip Back to the 1980s
Back in the 1980s exercise classes, it was all about “No Pain, No Gain.” We bounced, lunged, jiggled, and donkey-kicked our way to fitness. We interpreted any kind of burning as a sign that we were doing it “right” and that stronger, leaner muscles were soon to follow. Instructors and students were praising each of the following exercises and how well they “worked”:
- Single-muscle calisthenics (isolations), such as fire hydrants, butt squeezes, conventional sit-ups, and so many others.
- Windmills: Standing, bent over at the waist while rotating the arms. I wonder how many people herniated a disc?
- Duck Walks: We probably ground off some cartilage and meniscus with every burning step, but oh, feel that burn in the quads…it must be good for you, right?
- Suicides: These must have caused more ACL and low-back injuries from the bending over and pivoting while decelerating than almost any other exercise.
- Who can forget “we must, we must, we must improve our bust!” What a royal waste of time those isometric exercises were, but they were the rage of the 1980s.
One of my favorite moves while teaching aerobics classes in the ’80s was holding the arms out to the sides as if we were flying, while pumping or rotating the hands for what seemed an eternity. Afterward, we’d all grab our deltoids to rub away the burn, thinking we were doing something good for the shoulders.
Turns out, these were only effective if, in fact, you were a bird.
We can be forgiven for many of those silly 1980s and early 1990s moves, because the fitness industry was still in its formative years (although tell that to those still nursing injuries from the 1980s). The fields of exercise science, kinesiology, and biomechanics have grown by leaps and bounds in the past ten to fifteen years. Nowadays, there is no excuse for outlandish claims and dated techniques in any exercise class. Exercise science may still be a science in flux, but there is so much that we do know about forces in the joints, how a muscle is strengthened, and how technique impacts results. Ignorance is no longer an excuse for stupidity since this information is readily available for those who care to learn proper technique and get certified.
Advances in exercise science have brought us terms such as “functional training” and “closed-chain” exercises. We now know how to protect the knees and spine in squats and lunges. We know to avoid behind-the-neck lat pull-downs because of the stress on the shoulder joint. We know that certain popular machines such as knee extensions and abductor and adductor leg machines should probably be banned from most facilities for their lack of functionality and/or their potential danger. Most trainers know that traditional abdominal exercises such as sit-ups are more likely to lead to muscular imbalances and that the core is best strengthened in functional movement–oriented exercises.
And most importantly, we know that in order to strengthen a muscle, heavier weights are required so that the muscle is taken to failure within 12–20 repetitions. We also understand that to effectively strengthen a muscle, it must work against an opposing force. In many cases, that force is your body weight moving against gravity. Translation: you work against gravity, not with it. Hence, crunches in the direction of gravity, or push-ups in which you are sitting upright, are utterly useless exercises. Similarly, while seated on a bike, pushing a weight forward does not work the chest and pulling it back does not work the back. Those movements are perpendicular to gravity, not opposing it.
James Fell wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times calling into question the techniques used by Soul Cycle. Fell asked owner Julie Rice about the efficacy of lifting 1 lb weights and her reply was that the students’ arms are fatigued after lifting the weights for 5 to 8 minutes. Sadly, she and her students ignorantly believe in the sanctity of “the burn.” Due to her lack of physiology knowledge (and her instructors’ as well), they are falling prey to the same scenarios I explained above about the 1980s techniques: believing that “the burn” is doing something beneficial, when in fact basic exercise science principles tell us it is not.
Up to now, I’ve only discussed the non-productive weight lifting techniques. I haven’t addressed the fact that what they are doing might actually lead to a decrease in performance or calorie burn. To do so will require another little detour, this time to understand proper cycling techniques and to dip into a scary phrase: power output. By understanding power a little better, you’ll have a much greater understanding of how adding upper-body workouts to your cycling will reduce your potential cardiovascular and muscular benefit and your caloric burn.
Cycling has been studied longer than almost any other sport in the world. Treadmills weren’t invented until the 1950s, so analysis of running came decades after bicycle ergometers enabled analysis of the biomechanics of pedaling and the effects of aerobic exercise. The first ergometer was developed in 1896 by Elisée Bouny so he could quantify the power output of racers. To do so, Mr. Bouny elevated an ordinary bicycle off the ground and applied a mechanical brake. Since then, there have been tens of thousands of studies done on bicycle ergometers that analyze power output, forces in the pedal stroke, angles of force application, efficiency, the best body position for optimal performance, and much more.
Because of this extensive testing, exercise scientists, bike fitters, and cycling coaches around the world know what is correct cycling technique and what is incorrect cycling technique. It’s not a guess, it’s not debatable, it’s not still up for discussion. Sure, there are still some minor tweaks in positioning and technique that may be argued at the elite level of cycling and triathlon, but by and large, good—and poor—cycling technique is indisputable.
How does that translate to indoor cycling, which is filled with people who ride bikes indoors but do not ride outside or consider themselves “cyclists”?
It’s simple: if it is unsafe and ineffective for a cyclist to do something on a bicycle (whether an indoor or outdoor bike) then it is unsafe and ineffective for anyone else to do the same. This holds true even if someone has not ridden a bike since their tricycle. The laws of biomechanics and physics do not change for a cyclist and a non-cyclist. Anatomy and physiology aren’t different between a cyclist and a non-cyclist (fitness level notwithstanding). Furthermore, these things also do not change when you go from riding a bicycle outdoors to indoors.
Yes, a few things are different between an outdoor bicycle with a freewheel and an indoor fixed-gear bike with a weighted flywheel. But the manner in which you turn the pedals, and the forces required to do so, remain the same. The oft-used claim by indoor cycling instructors that their students “are not cyclists,” ergo they can ignore cycling principles, is dead wrong. Biomechanics are biomechanics—it doesn’t matter if you have never ridden a bicycle outside, the rules still apply to you.
It should by now be evident that there is a direct translation from the outdoors to the indoors, even if the indoor bike doesn’t move and even if the indoor rider is not, in fact, a “cyclist.” With that in mind, we’ll look at an outdoor scenario, then take it indoors. First, let’s talk about power.
The concept of power output is very difficult for some people to understand, but basically it is a quantitative measurement of how much work you are producing. Power is a product of the force you put into the pedal (indoors we regulate that with gear/resistance) and how fast you turn the pedals (cadence). You need both to produce power.
A higher average power output translates to both increased performance and improved fitness, which can lead to weight loss. All else being equal, the higher your average power (relative to you and your abilities), the more fit you are and the faster you will go (on a bike outside). It’s a relatively simple concept when you examine it this very basic way: If you can no longer produce as much power on average as you used to, then you are less fit. If you can produce more power on average than you used to, then you are more fit.
Greater fitness for a cyclist means greater performance, which is manifested by faster speeds, greater endurance to go farther for longer, the ability to climb hills faster, the potential to win races, etc. Greater fitness for a non-cyclist means stronger muscles that can endure for longer periods, and a stronger, leaner body. Improved fitness also increases one’s ability to burn calories, which for many indoor riders is the holy grail.
Hence, there is not that much difference between the needs of the cyclist and the non-cyclist; what creates improved performance for one will create greater caloric burn and general fitness for the other.
An Outdoor Cycling Example
Imagine that there is a flat stretch of road that a cyclist can ride 16 miles in one hour. (In order to draw comparisons, we are going to pretend that wind, weather, traffic, or any other extenuating circumstances are not a factor on this road, similar to an indoor experience.) Suppose after a few months of training, our cyclist can now cover 18 miles instead of 16 in that same one-hour period. That represents a real gain in fitness, and would mean that she is now producing a greater average power output over that time period.
Now, let’s say after a few months off due to an injury, she can only cover 16 miles in one hour. Her average power output has dropped, and so has her fitness. With proper training, she can expect to improve once again how far she can go in one hour.
Anything this rider does that would impede her ability to turn the pedals and maintain a high average power output over that stretch of road would be detrimental to her training and fitness. So, why would she intentionally try to interfere with her ability?
That easily answered question makes sense for an outdoor rider, but when you ask that question of indoor riders, for some reason, there is a disconnect.
With that in mind, let’s look at one more outdoor example. Suppose the rider is now very busy and must limit her workout time, so she decides to include an upper-body workout while she is riding this same stretch of road. Obviously, she cannot take both hands off the handlebars, so she lifts 1 lb weights in one hand, and then switches off to the other hand. After doing biceps curls and shoulder presses and triceps presses on both sides, she sticks the weight in her back pocket and does push-ups and crunches while pedaling. How can she maintain a consistent and strong pedal stroke while lifting weights or bobbing on the bike? She cannot—it is virtually impossible. She will likely only be able to cover 6–7 miles (if even) in that one hour because she has completely hindered her ability to pedal properly. As a result, her overall average power output would also plummet. By trying to do it all—lift weights and work her core while cycling—she has reduced the benefit of both activities so that neither of them have the potential to cause adaptations in her body.
Caloric burn is directly associated with power output. While your heart rate monitor, the cardio machine in the gym, or even your cycling instructor might tell you that your heart rate determines your caloric burn, but this is not as true as you’ve been led to believe. Heart rate is only a (very) rough estimate of how many calories you burn. The actual amount can be far off from the reading on your monitor, depending on your weight, height, fitness level, and many other factors that affect heart rate (see below for other factors).
Similar to the scenario described above for our outdoor cyclist, any kind of bobbing and weaving or upper-body movement indoors will reduce your ability to turn the pedals and will thus reduce your power output and your potential caloric burn. Some think they burn additional calories by adding the weights, but any potential (tiny) addition is negated by the large reduction of power output while pedaling.
Someone might challenge this by saying, “But my heart rate is so high in this class when we lift weights!”
It’s very important to not be fooled by elevated heart rates in a class. High heat and humidity will elevate heart rate response. Your heart rate monitor doesn’t know the difference between a heartbeat that is produced because of your actual effort level or one that is created because of heat, humidity, stress, caffeine, seeing that good-looking person on the bike across from you, or a whole host of other completely unrelated factors that all can affect heart rate.
Even when perceived exertion is high, a high heart rate does not always translate to work (i.e., power output). The best way to prove that point is to take your chain off of your bicycle outside and try to ride. Your legs will spin like the Road Runner being chased by Wile E. Coyote, and your heart rate will soar to the point where you can barely talk, but you will not move the bike one inch, and therefore, you will not have done any appreciable “work.” You might burn a few metabolic calories in the process of spinning your legs uncontrollably, but power output would be close to zero, and total calories burned surprisingly low.
This is, incidentally, the reason why excessive cadences (over 110 rpm) at little to no resistance that are so common in indoor cycling classes are an ineffective way to train, either for performance or for fitness. Power output is very low at high cadence with no resistance because it is lacking one of the important variables of power: force.
There are other movements and techniques that are prevalent in many popular programs such as SoulCycle that also reduce effectiveness and increase the chances for injury. These are the up-down, back-and-forth, or contrived movements they do with their hips while pedaling. Hovers, isolations, squats, and tap-backs are very popular, yet, similar to the examples given above, are contrary to proper mechanics required to ride a bike in an optimal and safe manner.
These movements or positions place the knees and hips outside of those that have been found to be biomechanically effective or anatomically safe, so they do not do what the instructor purports that they do, and they reduce the power output (and hence calories burned) while placing the rider at a higher risk of injury. That is three strikes against them, and zero points in their favor.
In summary, the addition of weights or bands to an indoor cycling class, doing push-ups or crunches, isolating the abs or any other part of the body, and moving the hips fore and aft or lowering them while cycling does nothing for your muscular strength or endurance, and everything to impede your ability to pedal while reducing your power output. And most important for the non-cyclist fitness enthusiast, doing these things ensure that you burn fewer calories.
Just ride the bike!
- The Science of Cycling, Edmund Burke, Ph.D., 1988
- Hi-Tech Cycling, Edmund Burke, Ph.D., 2002
- Cycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together, Max Glaskin, 2013
- Journal of Science and Cycling (JSC) is an Open Access online journal, which publishes research articles, reviews, brief communications and letters in all areas of Cycling or Triathlon sciences. The journal aims to provide the most complete and reliable source of information on current developments in the field.
- Training and Racing With a Power Meter, by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan, Ph.D., 2010
- A Brief History of Training and Racing With a Power Meter, by Andrew Coggan, Ph.D. www.trainingandracingwithapowermeter.com
- Indoor Cycling Association
If you cannot figure out how to safely move your upper body at the same time as your lower body, you should not be getting on a bike anyways. I also believe that it is commonly encouraged to work both your lower body and upper body at the same time even in other modes of exercise like circuit training, barre, body pump, Pilates, so on and so forth. You are not riding on an outdoor bike where you have to steer the bike, you are on a stationary bike and you should have enough gear that you can stabilize your body- & again, if you don’t, you shouldn’t be on the bike anyways. I’m a huge supporter of heart rate training (ex-Johnny g instructor of 7years) and I am also an outdoor rider. Indoor cycling including the upper body work has improved my overall fitness level & I burn at minimum an extra 250 calories a class (often totaling between 650-800 in 45minutes). With a well trained and smart instructor they should still be able to deliver a strong class encompassing all of the basics plus the additional components. Perhaps it’s time for the old industry to take a look at why this new model is working, why people are willing to pay $20-$35 a class yet mainstream gyms can barely fill a basic spinning class. Sounds to me like people are finding benefit & it also appears to me that instructors are not as interested in being certified by programs that refuse to adapt. Wouldn’t knock it until you try it, with an actual open mind.
Great, informative read. Since I strained a calf muscle I have been limited to an upright indoor bike. I ride for 60 minutes between 110-125 rpm at 7 resistance. Is there an advantage or disadvantage to not utilising the handlebars? I don’t do any type of arm workout while pedaling, i usually just put my hands on my hips or in front of me. it feels as if i am working my core more, without using the bars to assist in supporting my upper body. just curious if i may be making it tougher without any real benefit
without your hands on the handlebars, you will definitely put out less power, meaning the fitness benefit will be less. I don’t know what “7” resistance means—every bike is different and I don’t know the scale.
110–125 rpm is super fast. Rarely does a cyclist ever pedal that fast—maybe briefly to initiate a sprint or possibly track cyclists who have a very niche expertise. The reason why is that in most cases, you would require so little resistance that you are practically pushing against nothing. Like riding a bike with no chain—there’s no resistance; you won’t go anywhere and very little fitness benefits will be had, even though your heart rate might be elevated.
Much better to lower your cadence to below 100 rpm. 60–110 rpm is the recommended range, but the higher end of that is usually limited to cadence or pedal stroke drills or for more experience ed cycling drills. With resistance.
Also, pedaling that fast without holding on is asking for trouble.
Too yes, you are correct, you are making it tougher without any added benefit.
In short, add more resistance, slow the legs down. Cadences below 80 rpm will focus more on the muscular strength of the legs; cadences higher than 80 rpm tend to target the cardiovascular system more.
Hope that helps!
oh, and, if you need to sit upright, just raise the handlebars until your calf heals. If it’s too high, it’s more like a beach cruiser—you can’t put out a lot of power/work on one of those! =)
So, I know I’m a bit late, but:
weights on bikes should not be used in the manner that you criticize here. They should only be used for interval type training, where you move from high RPM on the bike with lower resistance to lower RPM and/or higher resistance. When transitioning from high to low intensity, dumbbell curls and military presses can be used with light weights to induce a more anaerobic condition while in the low intensity interval.
that doesn’t make sense from an exercise science point of view.
Nor from any other POV.
A sound argument around the benefits of indoor cycling as a fitness development asset vs the current fade to use the indoor cycle as a prop for fitness training.
I am a very strong advocate for heart rate zoned training using science for an incremental and supervised development of aerobic and aneronbic thresholds and improved VO2 capacity. I use Fit 4 Life as my core programme for teaching, a U.K. Based training provider who blend Scott Holmes extensive experience on the road as a national level competitive cyclist and Helen as a significantly experienced fitness instructor.
However…… I have attended the type of classes described above….. I agree that there is possibly little extra benefit from other cardio workouts, and they may if the client is not properly supervised could lead to injury through over exorberance with the weights. Having checked my calorie output, they are compatible to a hard spinning class, but with significant impact on the knees with long sprints out of the saddle. My heart rate fell during the ‘weights’ phase and was not convinced of the benefit. But…… as was mentioned above, perhaps we should not dismiss too quickly; some/few/all/many of the attendees at the class I attended all looked like they really enjoyed it. Did they go for a well structured work out….? Probably not. Did they go to meet friends, enjoy the music and ‘be seen’…..? Possibly, but at least they are in the gym.
Bottom line in my very inexperienced opinion…. if you want to get fit and do weights, do indoor cycling for the cardio phase and go to the gym to throw some lead around. If you want to meet you friends, dance to music in a pseudo-fitness sort of way and feel good about yourself, well may be these classes are for you…..but know the what, why and how.
But heck what do I know?
Why fire hydrants exercise are bad, i googled the question and nothing pop out.
Hi Frederic, I’m not sure what “fire hydrant exercises” are. Can you elaborate?
Many years ago we used to do a move called “fire hydrants” in aerobics classes, but it was on your hands and knees, where you lifted the knee to the side (like a dog using a fire hydrant!) to allegedly train lateral muscles. They were found to be an ineffective exercise that weren’t functional and that caused most people pain and discomfort while trying to do them.
We are talking about the same exercise. I found this articles saying fire hydrants are good http://www.stack.com/a/fire-hydrants
I cant find articles on internet saying fire hydrants are bad. I would like to see one.
Jennifer, first of all, you refer to fire hydrants in your ’80’s’ paragraph, so you should know what they are if you’re going to write about them, so you can properly answer questions in regard to such. I do agree however with everything you’ve written in this excellent article.
Thanks Macky. I thought he was referring to a “new” move on a bike called a “fire hydrant.” You never know….they are making up new stuff to do on the bike every day!
If you notice, I did answer regarding the old-fashioned exercise we used to do on the floor.
**Repost due to my awful, negligent editing of my initial, Aug 26 ’16 post. To editor: please delete initial post.**
This seems like one fitness pseudo-science debunking another fitness pseudo-science. The efficacy of Soul-Cycle can be proved or disproved by testing: did a group of people get more or less fit doing this as compared to a control group doing only spinning (or to a group no fitness, or have both as control groups). If this is asking too much, which I don’t think it is in light of the magnitude of the claims being made, then show parallel studies, e.g. studies where one pure fitness activity proved to better increase fitness levels than a heterogeneous variation of the pure activity. In any case, the conclusions in this piece are reached by inferring from abstract principles about fitness or very general lessons from past experience and therefore hypothesis at best.
Power Output as it’s used is a dubious criterion for fitness because it discounts fitness gains that are not measured in terms of cycling performance. But a person can get more fit generally while becoming worse at cycling. Perhaps someone who does soul cycle gains upper body strength or increases their upper body endurance in ways that someone doing only spinning does not. Though again: test it, or at least argue from like experiments.
Soul cycle may attract people who find a spinning workout too boring. Or it may retain people in ways that spinning does not. The article elides the benefits of a fitness activity being interesting.
For the record I’ve never done Soul Cycle. It looks silly and is overpriced and is probably a fad. But does it work? I can’t say, and neither can Ms. Sage.
The primary construct is based on biomechanics. If one’s background knowledge doesn’t allow for an understanding of the injury risk related to upper body movement while the feet are anchored to pedals and the pelvis/core is relating power, then one cannot understand the relevant hypothesis. ‘soul cycle’ type workouts increase injury risk. The ‘experiment’ would be inappropriate; as to purposefully provoke injury is not ethical. However, there are multiple court cases regarding ppl being injured in these classes.
Jennifer, I read and re-read this article whenever you post it. It is wonderful that you continue to spread the “keep it real” philosophy. You provide a sane voice in a sometimes unreal fight to fitness. The Soul Cycle experience can be attributed (I feel) to wanting to be entertained. Riders who attend Soul Cycle are there purely for the entertainment and social aspect of the class. It will pass in good time just as you suggest in your article. I Cycle Bar the next big thing in this “cycle” (pun intended)?
I recently discovered Heart Zones and Cycle Fusion. I have been riding bikes for 50+ years and since becoming certified and starting to teach the “fusion” classes, I am stronger than ever and my classes love the results they are achieving. Keep it up please!!!
Thank you, George. I will keep shouting it from the mountaintops as long as it’s needed! =)
Yes, Cycling Fusion is great organization and keeping it real is a foundational principle of theirs.
Thank you. I’m right behind you, shouting!
Oh yes! I sure have! First of all with all my fellow instructors at the clubs that I currently teach at, as well as participants who attend my classes (as a few of them have shared with me their experiences attending Soul Cycle), so I had to come back at them with your article which supports my explanation to them of why “that club” does things which are counter intuitive! Also shared on numerous Face Book Groups that I frequent which are Indoor Cycling Oriented!
EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!! All points well made! I have been a Cycling Instructor for more than 15 years now, also an avid outdoor cyclist. Originally certified through Mad Dogg, and instructed in two States and at least 5 different Clubs! I teach the “Purist Style Indoor Cycling”, which I believe in, and know to be correct based on my outdoor cycling experience. I really appreciate this well researched and professionally written piece, THANK YOU!
thank you Alan. Please continue to share it with other instructors!
As someone who has studied ergonomics since the mid 90s, the effects of long term cycling on the skeletal and muscular structures of the body is quite detrimental. The new ergoActive movement is poised to correct this. For a more ergonomically correct cycling exercise experience, look into the ball-bike by Fit One.
interesting. I looked it up online; seems more like a gimmick to me. TBH I don’t think it will work itself into gyms and especially not into class formats. It might be more popular for home use, though. Personally, I would not ride it.
I don’t believe (and science backs it up) that long-term effects of cycling are detrimental if someone is wise about strengthening their core and doing some cross training. People who ride their bikes for a living (pro racers) have been studied extensively over the decades. They seem to be doing ok. Probably could use some pilates and weight training, though! 😉
There is a commercial version of the ball bike in many gyms now and franchise opportunities are also available. The ball actually helps fire core muscles and users like bouncing comfortably. Sure beats a bike seat up the butt.
if you are bouncing, you cannot apply effective force to the pedals. And, if you have a bike seat up the butt, you certainly aren’t set up properly! 😉
I get that it’s great for those who don’t want to put that much effort into the cycling or the workout and want a cushy seat. There is an audience for that. Indoor cycling instructors and classes are not that audience.
I enjoyed reading this very informative article. It makes a lot of sense. I took spinning classes for approximately 20 years and I saw many of the “fluffy” moves incorporated by the instructors. I never agreed with all the jumps, upper body workouts, fast spinning with no pedal resistance, etc. I stopped taking classes several years ago and resumed cycling outdoors on a road bike. I find that I get much more from riding outdoors and I continue to gain endurance and power by incorporating sprints and hill climbing. In cold weather, I will ride a spinning bike, but, I do it on my own and not in the cycling classes…I feel that I get much more by sticking to moves that one uses when one actually rides a bike.
Thanks Rick. The good news is that there ARE great instructors out there who do understand the importance of Keeping itReal, in order to make sure the class is the most effective with the least chance for injury.
They are harder to find though, since so many are hopping on the bandwagon of weights and pushups and tap backs. But, keep on searching! Riding indoors with a community is the most fun and the easiest way to stick to a commitment.
I hope you can find some good instructors!
I have attended almost 1600 indoor cycling classes since 1999. I have also ridden/trained/raced outdoors(on and off) since 1991. I have seen some strange behavior in classes, but none like some of the videos, thankfully.
When I attend classes and the instructor has us “try something new,” I evaluate the movement for just one purpose:
– What is the expected physiological outcome if I participate?
If it benefits me and my training without causing undue harm, then I participate. If is “fluff” to make the class “less boring,” then I refrain, preferring to do something substantive.
If I might suggest a way to make classes less boring, I would say to instructors, challenge your students. Leave out the “feel-good, fluffy stuff” and challenge your students. Have them set goals for their calorie burn or miles per class or weekly/monthly/yearly mileage or weight or finishing time/placing in a local outdoor event. The good feeling comes later when the endorphines kick in and they know they did something good for themselves.
I absolutely agree Peter. I have taught Indoor Cycling trainings for AFAA and it’s all about bringing the outdoor ride inside a room. Most group exercise instructor don’t have a lot of experience actually riding outdoors. I think thats where the “fluffy” stuff comes in.
I’m not an “outdoor rider” but I don’t agree with the “fluffy stuff” approach either. Just noting that not all of us who started teaching because we fell in love with indoor cycling while doing it, are teaching “fluffy stuff”.
Was just shown this article and WOW! Quite a bit of info which I happen to agree with. I am a well trained Johnny G spin instructor and am a full blown believer in the spinning program. All the other stuff is very contrary to my beliefs but who am I to judge. So I just don’t go or recommend anyone to go there as well. I do agree with Northbike in that any exercise is better that no exercise and I pray for their sake that in those atmospheres they have an instructor who is doing things as safely as possible!
Let me begin by saying that I am pretty old school when it comes to indoor cycling. And, whatever is done during a class, safety shall of course never be compromised.
Also, let’s leave Soul Cycle aside for a moment. I know the main focus of the blog is on Soul Cycle, but the subject talks about upper body excersise in general.
First, when we talk about upper body workout (I will call it “UBW” from now on), we need to separate between the usage of weights and other types of workouts (pushups, crunches and etc).
Because, while an increasing number of spin studios (e.g Flywheel, and independent ones) do offer UBW, in each class (excluding Soul Cycle, that is) I’ve taken that ONLY includes the usage of weights. There are no pushups etc.
(Occasionally you’ll see instructors doing “tap backs”, “hoovers” etc. But, you’ll see that in “normal” indoor cycling classes also.)
Second, in each class with UBW that I’ve taken, everyone is asked to slow down, and add resistance, while doing the weight excersise. No 80-100 RPM in my experience – not even at Soul Cycle.
Third, while you often do have the opion to use 1lb weights, most people use heavier ones. It is true that you sometimes get that “burning” feeling, but
I have no experience of “do 100 of these”. Most of the time the duration of each specific excersise is more or less the same as it would be in a gym, or during a BodyPump-type-of class.
Fourth, the number of UBW songs during a class is between 1 and 2, depending on the studio and the lenght of the class. So, most of the class IS cycling. Also, the usage
of weights is often optional, and most of the times you see a few participants doing normal biking (e.g. a flat road) during the UBW songs.
As far as the “full body workout” claim is concerned: it’s called marketing. In the early days of spinning MDA, and even Johnny G himself, talked
about “burning 1000 calories during a 45 minutes class”. I think most people agree that’s not going to happen in a normal case 🙂
Now, as far as achieving the “optimal workout” is concerned, I think that is where people fail to see the point.
For many people indoor cycling (or, any other workout) is NOT about getting the “optimal workout” (and, to achieve that, there are many other
factors than the workout itself that need to be taken into consideration). It’s like telling people they shouldn’t go out jogging together with
friends, because it would be more efficient to run alone…
Each person has his/her own reasons to excersise, and his/her own goals. For the majority it is about getting a GOOD workout, and having fun while doing it.
If one has to “sacrifice” some watts in order to get people into class – GOOD. At the end of the day, getting people to do SOME workout is much better than people doing NO workout 🙂
Now, let’s get back to Soul Cycle.
Much have been said about Soul Cycle, and I don’t have much to add.
However, not every class is like the ones you see “in the videos”. Much depends on the instructor. I’ve been to classes with some crazy
stuff, but I’ve also been to classes that are relatively “pure” (at least from a Soul Cycle perspective). And, while many of the Soul Cycle instructors
do have a dancing and/or acting background, many also have a background as indoor cycling instructors, and/or in outdoor cycling (even at top level).
And, other spin studios could learn a lot from Soul Cycle.
Last, MY biggest issue with indoor cycling (unfortunately it does apply to many Soul Cycle classes, but also to indoor cycling in general), is that lack of proper resitance during class.
Your spot on NorthBike !
Somehow I don’t believe you understood the scientific and factual reasons for NOT doing ANY upper body workout on an indoor bike. And indoor cycling doesn’t represent the philosophy and teachings of Spinning, so I can understand why other indoor cycling instructors agree and teach SC, even at a top level.
Would this theory also apply to the “popcorn” jumps done frequently and letting go of the handlebars while pedaling? It seems you would not be putting as much power into doing these moves either.
When I first met Louise she always worked to the max in class, full on flat out, all the time. This year Louise has achieved taken on a great cycling challenge (end to end of the uk), she is wearing a heart rate monitor and really buying into different training levels. She is exactly what we as instructors are trying to achieve. This week She stopped to chat after class and told me she had done a great job of controlling her intensity but was finding when she sucked in her belly it took her heart rate up!! The answer to “why are you sucking in” was as expected, another instructor had told her too. I did ask if she ever sucked in on her road bike and she anawered “GOD NO!!” This is what we are up against. I know and respect the instructor involved and it feels plain unprofessional to say they are wrong but we do have too. Articles such as this, and of course the wonderful ‘seven deadly sins of spinning’ are our back up. Thanks Jennifer!
Somehow I missed the suggestion of Somewhere Around Midnight and I asked Jennifer about the song and she let me know she had found it and suggested “Suffering in Solidarity”. This will be exactly what my loyal 6am students will be doing Friday morning.
As they drag in and I mic up, turn up the volume just a bit too loud I look at what should be about 18 tired faces and begin to describe our “”Suffering in Solidarity”. Can’t wait.
I will be so fired up after the fact and then I am headed off to speak to a group of Headstart parents about how to have fun and include movement into their children’s lives.
A week after Thanksgiving I continue to be thankful to also have an opportunity to do what I love and make a living doing it.
Educate & Inspire folks.
One of my favorites!
Jennifer, kudos to you! This article is well written, concise and understandable. I gave a copy to the director of fitness at the YMCA where I teach indoor cycling, posted a copy outside the cycle room, and made copies available to my students.
Spinning® is almost 30yrs old not 20 ..
thanks for your comment.
I first wrote the article in 2011, and it’s just been resurrected (August 2015) due to the Soul Cycle IPO and people’s interest in what is safe and effective indoor cycling. I’m so glad of this because the exercise science of the program and of cycling needs to be out there!
I was first certified in Spinning in 1996, and became a Master Instructor for Spinning in 1997. I was one of the early MIs, and worked with Johnny G. Mad Dogg Athletics began in 1994 and launched the Spinning program that year. Yes, Johnny had been doing his “Spinning” with his friends and clients in his dojo for several years, but it wasn’t a commercial program until 21 years ago.
“Spinning” officially launched in March of 1995 at the IHRSA show in San Francisco. I was part of the team that launched it there with Johnny and it was the most thrilling three days of my life. I had been Spinning with him for two years, in his garage behind his house, for two years at that point. Johnny had originally opened his first Spinning studio in Santa Monica in late 1989, actually, but it didn’t last long as he was ahead of his time and also hadn’t developed the concept enough yet (for ex, not yet standing up on the pedals). So the quasi-launch was in 1989, followed by the program opening with prototype bikes at one studio in Santa Monica and one in Hollywood in 1993, but the real launch was March, 1995 with the Schwinn bike. I was involved at Johnny’s invitation; he and I both competed in the 1987 Race Across America. You can read a description of my very first Spinning class, in August of 1993, here: http://www.adventurecorps.com/indoorcycle/spinning3.html
Your article above is outstanding and spot-on. It’s really sad to see how Spinning has been ruined by Soul Cycle and their ilk.
Interesting history, Chris! Great article Jennifer!
I am a CERTIFIED SPINNING Instructor who has been teaching Spinning Classes for 11 years. I find the idea of having a Upper body workout during class extremely disturbing. If you are a SPIN instructor you should already know that that using dumbbells is not safe, not effective, & you are training your participants to FORGET that they are on a bike.
You should already know that your ride is designed around Cadence Ranges RPM, Terrain hills flats, & Heart Rate
My final thougt is a question for you. Do you honestly believe that you can some balance an outside bike while using weights. The answer is YOU CANNOT DO IT. So why bring that to your class ?????