[Transcript] – Is Indoor Cycling Bad For You?

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Podcast from:  https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/fitness-articles/is-indoor-cycling-bad-for-you/

[00:00] About Jennifer Sage

[02:11] Why Spin Classes are Bad for You

[09:29] What To Remember When Cycling

[17:30] Using Cycling As A Workout

[23:46] Standing While Cycling

[27:09] How To Be In An Indoor Cycling Association

[29:57] Advice For New Cyclists

[35:59] Riding In An Aero Position

[43:45] End of the Podcast

Ben:  Hey folk, it's Ben Greenfield here, and I have a previous guest from a previous podcast interview on the show today, and she is a real expert on spinning and indoor cycling which is actually one of the ways that personally I got into cycling when I first started dabbling in triathlons, specifically.  I was a spinning instructor, and there are some good things about spinning and there are some not-so-good things about spinning or indoor cycling or whatever we're supposed to call it.  I suppose we'll probably find out today, but our guest Jennifer Sage has not only written a book called “Keep It Real in Your Indoor Cycling Classes”, but she also teaches indoor cycling instructors how to be better instructors and I'll put a link to all of her stuff in the show notes for this podcast over at bengreenfieldfitness.com, but today, we're going to talk about how you can get the most bang-for-your-buck out of your indoor cycling and some of the big mistakes that are made in a lot of spin classes or indoor cycling classes that are out there and how you can become a better cyclist, lose weight, build up your cardiovascular capacity, do whatever you want to do and use indoor cycling as a way to do it.  So Jennifer, thanks for coming on the call.

Jennifer:  My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Ben:  So on the last call that I had with you, which I'll certainly link to in the show notes, we spent really most of the discussion talking about all of the things that kind of go wrong, kind of go to pot in a cycling class or in a spin class.  Can you give us the refresher on exactly why it is that a lot of the spin classes might actually be bad for you?

Jennifer:  You know, I wouldn't necessarily say bad for you.  There are some things that are less effective, and there are some things that are potentially dangerous.  It's just that the industry, the fitness industry has this desire for gimmicks, and not just in cycling and indoor cycling but in just so many areas of the fitness industry and they want something new.  And the people who are the driver, you know our end users, our students are the ones that kind of drive this market demand of, we want something new and we want it now and we want to do something fast and we don't want to think, and they really want things to be black and white which is as a personal trainer, that it's never the case.  The answer to most people's fitness questions is well it depends, it depends on what your goals are, it depends on where you are now in your fitness, and it depends on so many things.

Ben:  Right.

Jennifer:  What has happened in indoor cycling is that they try to do it all while on the bike.  They want to get an upper body workout at the same time, they want to get their core training.  They want to train their core at the same time, and they want to kind of smash it all in, and instructors in all programs want to be known as the hardest.  As the fitness industry has swung way over to the high-intensity training, HIT, HIIT is the only thing that gets you fit anymore according to some gurus.  You know, that's what happens in indoor cycling, and if you know anything about riding a bike, there's a lot that you shouldn't do while you're trying to pedal at least if you want to be effective in pedaling.

Ben:  What are some of the craziest things you've seen spin instructors do?

Jennifer:  Well first of all, I'm just going to lay this down.  Spinning is a brand, and so the kind of generic term is indoor cycling.  If anyone is spinning-certified, you know spinning doesn't teach and of this stuff, and actually to tell you the truth, there is no reputable program whether it's spinning or Schwinn or Kaiser or cycling fusion or stages.  Are they so many, none of the really good ones teach any of this stuff?  It's all made up outside of their certification.  So what are they?  People don't like to sit down very much, so they get up and down and up and down and up and down, and then they start moving their hips back and forward and down and up and fore and aft, and it kind of turns into almost like a Zumba class on a bike.  There's these things called tap backs where you kind of touch the back of the saddle with your butt as pretty fast, and it just really throws off your pedaling mechanics.  It's really potentially dangerous for the hips and back and knees.  They do these things called isolations or squats where you actually lower your hips while you're pedaling, and your quads are kind of screaming at you, but your knee joint is just going, “hey, grind me out”.  But I think the biggest trend right now is doing core workout and upper body workout with weights while you're pedaling.

Ben:  Okay, gotcha.  Now why would that be a bad thing?

Jennifer:  Well you can't do either of them well.  If you throw in some weights while you're pedaling, you're going to have to slow down your pedaling, and if you look at any of the programs online that talk about, they say yeah, we slow down our cadence to 40 or 50 RPM.  First of all, if you're slowing it down that much, your power output is going to be nil from the pedaling perspective, so your calorie burn is going to be very little to nothing.  If you've got enough resistance on there to pedal that slowly and you're sitting upright with weights in your hands then you're doing some damage because if you're going to pedal hard with a high resistance, you need to be holding onto the handlebars, your mechanics of pedaling need to be correct.

Ben:  So basically, if you're doing like a circus bear trick on a bicycle, what you're saying is that you're not going to get the most bang-for-your-buck out of the weightlifting, and you're also not going to get the most bang-for-your-buck out of the bicycling so why not separate the two?

Jennifer:  Absolutely, just get off the bike.  So the best way to do it, there's some really very good programs out there, and some studios are doing this where they combine a 30 or 40-minute high-intensity class, do some intervals, and then they'll do 20 or 30 minutes of another modality.  It could be Pilates, it could be TRX which is one of my favorite combinations.  Sometimes it's like a cycling and then yoga, so you get the best of both worlds.

Ben:  So when I used to teach indoor cycling, I would have people get off the bikes, and we do isometric squats, isometric lunges.  Mountain climbers, we do push-ups, and then we get back on the bike.  Are you saying that type of thing, you would consider to be more acceptable, or does that kind of fall under like the circus act kind of category?

Jennifer:  No, you're off the bike, I think it’s fine.  I mean some people don't like circuit movements like that on the bike, but I think if you have your students well trained, their bikes are well set up and they're right next to the bike, you don't waste time in moving back and forth, and if you have enough room doing those squats or lunges correctly, I don't see any problem with it.  What the problem is if you're trying to pedal at 50, 60, 70 RPM and you're doing a squat while you're doing that, you have to look at the risk benefit.  First of all, there's really no benefit because it's not functional, it's not specific to anything.  You lower your hips while your legs are driving, you're kind of driving your tibia up into your femur, 50, 60, 70 times a minute, and then your body weight is down, and then you get this huge angle at the knee.  The physics of it, the bio-mechanics of it just doesn't work, so you kind of negate everything.  So keep it separate, keep it real and keep it separate, so do a really good, technically correct cycling workout on the bike, and it's okay to get in and out of the saddle.  Don't flop around.

Ben:  Right, now what if you're not a cyclist, you don't care at all about being a better cyclist.  Say someone's listening in, and they just want to get a nice butt from spinning because they've noticed that people who spin have nice butts or they want to burn as many calories as possible and for the spinning classes are able to do that.  What are you looking for when you're signing up for a spin class at your local gym or you're getting maybe an indoor cycling video or whatever for your home trainer?  What exactly are kind of the best practices to know if you're going to get the most benefit from your training?

Jennifer:  Well there's kind of two questions there, I'm going to answer the first one.  So for that person who's not really a cyclist, who comes in as this I want that good butt, I mean cycling does that.  Just riding a bike properly does that.  Riding a bike correctly gives you such beautiful legs, and I mean all you have to do is go to a cycling event and look around.  I mean these people have beautiful bodies, and they didn't get it.

Ben:  Beautiful lower bodies, sometimes the upper bodies are a little bit gone.

Jennifer:  No, true.  You know once we start getting into the elite cyclist, obviously their upper bodies, but just go to a century ride.  You know you're probably going to see a little more rounded, people have probably upper bodies as well that are fun to look at, but you're right.  The lower bodies are beautiful.  Cycling does that, so you don't need to add the fluff.  You don't need to add the gimmicks and the tap backs and the twist and turns and squats.  Do that again off the bike, so just what you should look for is an instructor who has education.  One of the problems with the industry is that the instructors come in, and they really don't know that much about either the physiology part or the cycling part.  Maybe they've only gotten a little group fitness certification.

There are three components to a good instructor.  They don't need to be an outdoor cyclist, but they should understand outdoor cycling.  So the cycling technique is important, understanding the exercise physiology.  Cycling is not rocket science, but it is exercise science.  So you need to understand how muscles get stronger, you need to understand a little bit about biomechanics and how forces are applied to the pedal.  You need to understand aerobic and anaerobic metabolism and what lactate threshold is and how to train around it and fat metabolism and how high intensity works.  They need to understand that, and then the third component is yeah, group fitness background.

If you had someone who's just strictly a cyclist who might know a little physiology, that person will probably be boring, and they kind of give the whole keep it real philosophy kind of a bad name in that it is boring because they haven't learned how to coach.  So when you have all those three components and you merge them, it's magic.  You get an instructors who does things effectively, they do it efficiently without injuring you while also making it fun.  I mean the music is a big part of it, the camaraderie and the class, and they put their classes together in a meaningful way.  So that's what I would look for, it's someone who has those three components.

Ben:  Now I remember when I used to put my cycling classes together, I would go and find different soundtracks, different music tracks and kind of create intervals, you know?  In some classes, it would be based off of developing lactate threshold.  So we'd say, “okay everybody, here’s your different heart rate zones.  We're going to target this heart rate zone, we're going to be doing ten three-minute intervals during today's workout,” and I'd have different songs kind of playing for each of those three-minute intervals, that type of thing.

Jennifer:  Sounds like a great class.

Ben:  I've been in other classes where its intervals, but it's different.  It's a bunch of songs, and you kind of go easy on the verse and you go hard during the chorus, and then just kind of rinse, wash and repeat.  But as far as the actual structure of the class itself, do you have favorite, kind of interval routines or profiles or type of workouts that you found to kind of work really, really well for indoor cycling classes?

Jennifer:  Absolutely, and we didn't really get into it, but I founded The Indoor Cycling Association a couple of years ago because I used to work for spinning, and I loved the spinning program, but I wanted to reach out to all instructors from all programs, regardless of the certification, regardless of bike, so what we are is like the next level of education, continuing on that if you will.  But we provide really great training on how to put profiles together, which is your class plan, and then we also have some really good contributors for music, and how to use the energy of the music in.  I always like to say you want to try to match?  The music should match the message of your profile. Whether it's going to be a kind of mind-body epic climb, oh it's going to be a longer threshold-based intervals of five, six, seven minutes which are my own personal favorite because they challenge you to step outside your comfort zone.

Intensity is not so high that we're breathless, but it's just of that kind of to the edge.  And then there's always the shorter, high-intensity, this is kind of, I think the fitness industry interpretation of intervals is like one minute, as hard as you can go, one minute recovery.  Yeah, you do that sometimes, just throw it in, but what we teach people at ICA, the Indoor Cycling Association, we teach the instructors balance and variety.  If you're going to do a high intensity work on Tuesday, you know you do your real high VO2 Max intervals or lactate tolerance intervals or maybe threshold intervals.  Well maybe Thursday in your class, you do more of a tempo or cruise intervals, so that you're training your students in all aspects of their fitness.  You don't overdo one and under-develop another.

Ben:  I think that's really important, and sorry to interrupt but I got to chime in because I think that's one mistake that a lot of gyms and studios sometimes make is people just bounce around from random class to random class without that programming built in, And I think if you can somehow talk to the instructor beforehand or find out if there's something like  periodized schedule for the class where they actually is kind of a change-up in intensity 'cause I know some people who are going to spin three times a week, and it's kind of the same workout every time.  You make a really good point, like one workout during the week could be a VO2, one workout could be like a tempo.  Do you have anything against kind of a long steady effort in the class?

Jennifer:  Oh I love it, it's not for everyone, but I love it.  I live in Colorado where a lot of people are cyclists, but you know the typical student in most classes and then people listening to this who go to the classes maybe 95% of them, don't ride bikes.  So they may not be used to sitting in a climb for 15, 20, 30 minutes.  Me, I love it, I've taught my students to love it, and we bring in the whole mind-body, the mental challenge aspect of it.  But if you're not used to that, you got to slowly build up to it, but there's great benefit for that physical as well as mental.

Ben:  Gotcha, now can you really count indoor cycling, like for the cyclist and triathlete listeners who we have, how close of an approximation is there between what you get out of biking on an indoor spin bike with a weighted flywheel and kind of a different set-up than a regular bike and your normal bike, like your normal triathlon bike or your normal cycling bike?  How much crossover have you observed or have you found people to be able to get?

Jennifer:  That's an excellent question, you can train for some pretty major events just using indoor cycling, and I used myself as an example.  In 2009, I went with a group of people.  We went to the Giro d'Italia which is in May, and right now I'm looking out my window.  We have a foot of snow outside, and I live in a ski resort and I don't ride in the snow.  So I'm a wimp, so I seriously did for that year.  We actually rode the first five days of the Giro.  We did four one hundred-mile days in a row, the first day was 25.  It was the hardest thing I've ever trained for, it's the hardest thing I've ever done, and I did up until late April, almost everything I did was indoors, and I did a periodized program, did lactate threshold training, did long hill climbs all indoors, and the people I went with are from Pittsburgh, so another cold area who did most of theirs although he could handle riding outside in 35, 40 degrees.

So yeah, you can get a really comfortable workout.  When it comes to very specific things for cycling or triathlete, for example, like one-legged drills, I would not do endurance because that heavy flywheel really plays a role in assisting your pedal strokes.  You're not going to get as much of a nervous system training for a high cadence.  I do high cadence drills indoors, but I'm talking a hundred, a hundred and ten max with resistance, so they're very hard to do.  Really, really focus on proper form 'cause otherwise if you just let that flywheel get going, it pulls your legs around, and you're not getting that much of a benefit.  So this is a good time to break it in.

Ben:  This is something that I actually wanted to ask you real quick because I've heard you put down before this concept of spinning really, really high cadence efforts in an indoor cycling class on an indoor cycling bike with the flywheel, and I think that it confuses some people because they've heard other guests on my show like Jay Schroeder, for example, really endorsed over-speed training to train the nervous system, and I think it's really important that people realize if there's a big difference between trying to achieve a cadence of like 130, 140, on an outdoor cycling bike on a road with friction versus on an indoor bike with a flywheel.  Can you kind of explain the difference in a little bit more detail between those two different forms of over-speed training, and why one might work and one doesn't?

Jennifer:  Well first I'll prep, just saying that.  You know in experience with competitive riders who already have pretty skilled pedal strokes.  You know technique, they have it down.  It's kind of not as much as a problem, but when you've got the common demographic that we have who really don't know much about pedaling is really where it is not as effective.  If you stood next to like your standard indoor cycling bike, now spinning, the brand that makes the spinning bike is called a Star Trek.  It's probably the one that most people are familiar with.  A Schwinn is similar.  The flywheel weighs 38 to 41-ish pounds.  I can’t remember.

Ben:  Yeah, it's like the 30, 40 pound range, yeah?

Jennifer:  And they are weighted on the outside.  So if you stood next to that bike and you put your foot on the pedal and you just got it going, you turn the resistance all the way down, and you just got it up to max speed and just stepped aside and let it go, it will keep on going and going and going and going.  And so imagine that someone is sitting on that bike, and they started pedaling at really high speeds with no resistant, it's as if they're just strapped on.  They're not getting the neuro-muscular benefit because they haven't been trained, and they don't know how to stay ahead of it and to pedal properly so their heart rates are high.  You know if you jumped on your road bike, took your chain off and started pedaling frantically, would your heart rate go through the roof?  Yes, but would the bike go anywhere?  No, so your power outlet is going to be so low.  So heart rates are high, so they have this perception that they're getting a great workout. They're strapped on, they're not getting into the nervous system development because the standard demographic, they’re not very skilled.

And third, their power output is a lot lower than they imagined, so they're truly burning a lot fewer calories than they think they are.  So it's kind of a wasted effort.  So the limit I would stay for the standard people, a hundred to a hundred and ten, standard people, standard student, hundred to a hundred and ten RPM.  If you're a skilled cyclist with the good pedal stroke and you can sit in that saddle and not bounce, then sure.  It's not black and white, there's a gray area.  There are obviously some exceptions on both ends of the cadence range.

Ben:  Gotcha, now how much do you encourage people to stand when they are riding an indoor bike, indoor trainer, whether it's their own bike on an indoor trainer or whether it's an indoor cycling bike?  Are you a fan of standing or do you limit it?

Jennifer:  I personally limit it, but I'm not also the kind of person that a cyclist, some people say, “oh that's a cycling specific class they're never going to stand up, it's going to be boring.”  That doesn't have to be that way.  You stand for several reasons and outdoors, you stand because it gets harder, so it goes up hill.  You need to apply more force to the pedals.  You stand because you shift up, and you have to overcome that gear.  You stand because you want power, and you want to attack and you need to apply your body weight to it.  Those are the real fun ways to use standing, and then you also stand when you need a break.  And an instructor should know when to incorporate all these different movements.  What I don't like to see and I don't do myself, because you kinda lose the effectiveness , is when you're starting to stand for like at 80 or 90 RPM for like three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, six minutes.  What happens is that there's not enough resistance, the student starts flopping around, techniques not there. So they start leaning on their hands, and then they're prone to injury.  You want quality over quantity, don't go for big long standing segments.  Keep them short, do them as often as you want, but you're going to build a lot of your endurance and stamina while sitting in the saddle.  You know if you need some power, yes, power up out of the saddle, but keep it fairly short.

Ben:  Have you seen any of those Sufferfest Indoor Cycling videos at all?

Jennifer:  Oh yeah, they're fun.  We did an interview on the Indoor Cycling Sssociation a couple of weeks ago with David of the Sufferfest.

Ben:  Yeah, the main reason I asked about those, and I'll be sure to put a link to them in the show notes for folks, if you want to check them out.  It's one of the main ways that I personally do indoor cycling in the winter when I'm prepping for a triathlon.  I notice that they kind of pull out standing as like about 10% of the workout where when it's time to go really, really hard and you need to make an attack on the group that you see there in the video, then they say okay, stand, and it's kind of a way to load up your legs with lactic acid and kind of go like a rocket out of the saddle, and then you sit down.

Jennifer:  And push against that, yeah.

Ben:  Yeah, it seems like about 10% or so of the workout is generally about what they have for standing position while indoor cycling.

Jennifer:  Yeah, and you know again, that's going to depend on your profile.  What I tell to instructors is you want to have an objective for every class, and you decide on that objective before you create it, and then you build your profile around your objective, whether it's muscular endurance, aerobic endurance, maybe anaerobic endurance or just very high intensity intervals.  Maybe it’s drills or it's a whole class built around climbs, that you can do five climbs.  Five sets of eight-minute climbs, and each one's a little different and you build the intensity.  So maybe one of those climbs, you just stand for half of it or more.

Ben:  Now I know you have a lot of cycling workouts and also a ton of tips for getting more bang-for-your-buck out of indoor cycling in your “Keep It Real” book, but you've also got this Indoor Cycling Association for indoor cycling instructors.  I've got kind of a question for you that's going to be relevant to people who maybe want to become the instructor or people who are taking a class and may need some insight into what their instructor's been through, but how easy is it to actually become an indoor cycling instructor?

Jennifer:  Well, my preference is that it should be harder than it is, but I think it kind of depends on the person.  If you come with a cycling background, then you simply, and you'll kind of understand training tenets, then it'll probably be a little bit easier.  If you come from the group fitness background, you've just been taking classes, then you going to need to really learn you’re cycling technique and your physiology.  But most certifications, spinning obviously has one, Schwinn and Kaiser.  Most of them are one day, and there is one from a group called Cycling Fusion which I have a preference for because Tom, who works with me, actually wrote it, and he worked with Cycling Fusion before he came to work for the Indoor Cycling Association, and he is phenomenal and he knows his stuff.  He is a cyclist, he used to race.  He's a coach, he had his exercise physiology, and he knows his biomechanics.  Now that particular certification is online.

Ben:  It's called Cycling Fusion?

Jennifer:  Cycling Fusion, and if you go to your link and come through the Indoor Cycling Association, send an e-mail through us.  I've got links for it on my website, and you have the link for the Indoor Cycling Association, they can go and find out about membership through there, but members of ICA get discount.

Ben:  I actually made it pretty easy.  I put up a link, it's just bengreenfieldfitness.com/spin for people who want to go check it out.

Jennifer:  You always make things easy, that's wonderful.  So yeah, you might think online, how could I really learn it?  When you learn all the science, the biomechanics, the teaching mechanics and how to put the classes together and the music elements, and then what we really obviously recommend is that you go do some conferences or continue in that.

Ben:  Gotcha, so when someone is sitting in an indoor cycling class at a typical gym, how much training has the person teaching the cycling class actually been through when it comes to things like establishing an aerobic base or doing interval training or things of that nature?

Jennifer:  Typically not enough, typically very little.  There's really no standards in the fitness industry which is too bad.

Ben:  It actually is scary 'cause when I was a personal trainer, and I've managed gyms all over the place, from big franchised gyms to kind of mom-and-pop based gyms.  There were times when we needed a spin instructor, and we just grabbed a personal trainer, put it on a bike.  And the people walking in the class didn't even know any differently, and that kind of stuff happens all the time.

Jennifer:  It really does, and the Indoor Cycling Association, we're trying to get the word out and at least reach out to these instructors and tell them that we have a really effective way for you to get the education you need at a very, very, very reasonable cost. You don't have to travel to conferences, and we deliver it.  It's a membership, and they deliver it weekly in their inbox to get education on every aspect, whether it's the physiology, the biomechanics, how to use the music, how to be more motivating with your students, how to handle conflicts in classes, how to put the profiles together, how to answer students' questions, everything, how to communicate with them.  So some of those things take years for an instructor to acquire, to experience.

Ben:  Now as far as spin classes go and people who maybe have not ever done one, because I know that there are a lot of listeners out there who have always just ridden their bicycles or maybe not ridden a bicycle before or are just kind of sort of interested in getting into indoor cycling, can you kind of explain or give just a few tips for when you first walk into that class and you walk up to the bike about a few little things that you should look for?

Jennifer:  Well if you have not ridden a bike before and you've not taken a class before, maybe you've just taken a few and were never really helped by the instructor, my suggestion is to go early and to ask the instructor for help.  Cross your fingers, they know how to set someone up, I hope so.  We trained instructor have to set them up, but I just find too often they don't, but you'll stand next to the bike.  This is a rough, rough, rough estimate, but if you put your hand, kind of at the top of your pelvis, and then put the saddle about the same level.  That's not necessarily going to be where you end up, it's just a starting point, and then the four-aft adjustment, and you want to put it somewhere in the middle.  Again, it's just a starting point, and then when you get on the bike, if you're sitting with your seat bones on the widest part of the saddle, you just take the left foot, you put your heel on the pedal and have that pedal straight down.  Your leg should be straight, there shouldn't be a bend in it, and you shouldn't be hyper-extending, your hips should be level.  When the heel is on the pedal and your leg is straight and then you bring the ball of your foot back, then you've got a bend in the knee that is probably within the ranges that we want it to be, which is somewhere between 25 and 35 degrees.  But without a measurement, you have no idea, right?

So that's just kind of a good rule of thumb.  Four aft is a little harder to measure.  This is if you have knowledgeable instructor, they would just simply use, and you could do this yourself, get a weight on the string, and get a plumb bob when you're sitting on the saddle.

Ben:  Which you could just like buy at a hardware store, right?

Jennifer:  Or just walk out to your garage and get a nut on a string, it's cheap and free.  Yeah, that's what I use all the time.  Yeah, you go spend 10 or 15 bucks at a hardware store, but why do it?  Save that for your coffee.

So then when you're sitting on your saddle with your seat buns on the widest part of the saddle, and I keep emphasizing that because I can't tell you how many times I measured someone.  There may be an inch too far forward.  I put them back, and then I measure them again, and now they're an inch too far back.  It's because they moved their seat on the saddle.  You have to be in the same position on the saddle.  So with your feet perfectly parallel to the ground, left foot forward, right foot back or the other way if you want, but just for my demonstration, perfectly parallel.  Look at the cranks, parallel.  If you reach, put that plumb bob just below your knee cap, and it drops straight down.  It should intersect the pedal axel.  If it's too far forward, then get off, move your seat back. If it was like half an inch forward, move it back half an inch.  If it's too far back, do the opposite.

Now you can get someone and fine tune you, and get you better set up.  But at least if you do that, you're going to be far more comfortable.  It's going to be safer, you're going to be more effective in turning the pedals, and you have a set-up that is pretty good. Handlebars, obviously we don't care about aerodynamics indoors, but if you are a cyclist, you want to try to ride, you want to put your handlebars somewhat similar to where you ride outside.  Experienced cyclists, sometimes you'll see their handlebars lower but less is someone who doesn't cycle very much.  Obviously, they probably wouldn't go there.

Ben:  Gotcha, so that kind of leads me to one more question that I wanted to ask you, and that's because we have a lot of triathletes who listen into the show, and I think that there's some confusion about whether or not to ride at an aerial position when you're on one of those spin bikes or indoor cycling bikes that has the ability to kind of get into an aero position.  What's your feeling on that?

Jennifer:  Well I don't recommend it, and I'll tell you why.  I was once having a discussion with Joe Friel who wrote the “The Cyclist's Training Bible”, “The Triathlete's Training Bible”.  He's written many, many books in the street.  Smart, and he's just a really great person.  He comes up to Colorado a lot, and I was asking him that question, and he said I would never have an athlete of mine ride a bike in the aero position that wasn't their precise fit.  Now your triathlon bike has a steeper seep tube, so that when you're in your aero position, your cockpit, your flexion of your hips is not going to be as closed up as if you were on a road bike geometry, right?  Because a road bike geometry is not quite as steep.  Well the indoor bikes are more similar to road bike geometry.  So if you try to ride an indoor bike in an aero position, it is not your set-up.  You're probably doing more damage than good.  When it comes time to train your aero position, that's when you should be riding outside.

There's one other thing to consider is that most indoor bikes do not move at all, right?  So when you're locked down with your hips on the saddle and your elbows on the handlebars, you are locked down.  You've locked down your shoulders, you've locked down your hips, so that when you are pedaling, there is no release of the forces that you've build up.  Your bike outside, it moves side-to-side.  There is that release of energy that rigidity indoors goes right to your joints.  One, it's not your proper set-up, and two, you are locked down, and it's really going to hurt you more than it's going to help.  And it's indoors, it's aero.  You don't need the dynamics indoors.  Use your indoor training for your lactic threshold intervals or for your climbing, or do some pedal stroke drills or do your tempo rides or even recovery or even do your high intensity intervals.

Ben:  So unless you're on like your own bike.

Jennifer:  Yeah, on a trainer?  Fine, but even some coaches will say you know they're locked down unless you have one that moves.  There are bikes now that move, I don't know if you've heard of the real rider?  They actually have a side-to-side.

Ben:  Isn't it like rocks, side-to-side?

Jennifer:  Yeah, well there's two.  There's one that rock just in the front, I think it's called a Trickster or something.  My preference, I don't think it's very realistic.  The Real Rider is a little bit better.  It's not a perfect simulation, but it's a lot better.  It's a lot closer, and they encourage people to ride aero.  I still don't agree with it although you're not locking yourself down, you still have that movement.  So perhaps not quite as contraindicated as it would be.

Ben:  Right, yeah that makes sense.  Interesting, well you know it's kind of funny because talking to you makes me miss being an indoor cycling instructor.  That was part of my identity, it was they called me the Spin Naughtie at the gym, everyone knew if you wanted to get your butt kicked that you showed up on Ben Greenfield's Spin Class on Monday-Wednesday diets, and it was a ton of fun.   A lot of times, I'd actually have people bring their own bikes, and we go outdoors on Fridays, and it was just fun.

Jennifer:  Well it's my greatest source of joy, I love, love, love teaching people how to ride properly, and I loved seeing them achieve the results.  I personally believe, and anecdotally, I've trained thousands of instructors, thousands with certifications, workshops, conferences, and I'm very active on forums and talking to instructors.  I have heard so many great stories from instructors of success.  I believe that if you keep it real, if you ride right, you ride properly with the proper techniques, taken by mechanics into consideration and don't do all the fluff, then you will achieve your goals so much faster than if you're trying to lift weights on the bike, or do all the fluff movements and the tap backs.  You know you asked a question, and I know we're getting to the end of this, and I never really answered it fully.  You know that person who comes in and who's not used to cycling either outside or indoors, they want to do it all at once.

And they say well, I'm not into performance, or their instructor says well my students aren't cyclists and they don't care about performance.  So that doesn't matter, they just want to have fun, and they just want to lose weight.  Well just as kind of a final note.  A cyclist wants to train their performance, right?  A triathlete does, but if you follow the same training tenets, most stuff that they do.  You don't have to do everything that a cyclist does, but then what would give them greater performance will translate to the non-cyclist or to the non-athlete as greater fitness.  So you may not be into performance, but you will get greater fitness.  You'll have greater endurance, you have greater fat metabolism, you will burn more calories, and you will have less chance of injury.

Ben:  Yeah, you'll train like an athlete basically, and you'll get good results, and that's perfect timing because the smoke alarms in my house seem to be going off now.

Jennifer:  Sounds like my house last week.

Ben:  There we go, we are definitely keeping it real here at bengreenfieldfitness.com.  So let me hit stop on the recording for just a second, I'll be right back.

Jennifer:  Okay.

Ben:  Okay, I'm back, and just in time to ensure that there is no fire in my kitchen and to say thank you to Jennifer.  Now if you're listening in, we'll put a link to everything that we talked about in the show notes.  So not only can you just go straight to bengreenfieldfitness.com/spin, and that'll get you straight over to Jennifer's website, the Indoor Cycling Association and her excellent book “Keep It Real”, but if you go over to bengreenfieldfitness.com and you check out the show notes for this episode, you'll also get links to other podcasts that I've done with Jennifer as well as a really interesting article we have on the site with some shocking videos called “A Spinning & Indoor Cycling Instructor Gets A Bit Hot Under The Collar”.  Pretty self-explanatory, but we'll put links to all of it over in the show notes or you can visit bengreenfieldfitness.com/spin.

So Jennifer, thank you so much for coming on the call today.

Jennifer:  My pleasure thanks for having me.

Ben:  Alright folks, this is Ben Greenfield and Jennifer Sage signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.



I used to be an indoor cycling instructor. I absolutely loved it. It was really part of my identity. People called me the “Spin Nazi” and everybody knew if you wanted to really get your butt kicked, you should show up to Ben Greenfield's evening spin class. 

It was pure joy for me to put together a 60 minute killer soundtrack, strap on the wireless microphone and lead my cycling troops into battle for a solid hour. I must admit – teaching that spin class three times per week for 3 years gave me mutant-like lungs and rock-solid legs.

And whether you want to become a better cyclist or triathlete, or you just want the beautiful legs and toned butt that you see in many cyclists, there's no denying that indoor cycling (AKA “spinning”) can be a potent way to cross-train, to get better lungs and to develop impressive glutes.

But there are many, many things that happen during indoor spinning classes that people simply should not be doing – indoor cycling moves that can be very dangerous for knees and backs, spinning styles that can be ineffective for weight loss and fitness, and a general lack of good knowledge among certified spinning or fitness instructors about how to actually teach the spinning or indoor cycling class.

So in today's audio episode, I have indoor cycling expert Jennifer Sage to tell you exactly how to make sure your indoor cycling class isn't destroying your body or wasting your time. Jennifer was previously a guest on the BenGreenfieldFitness episodes:

-“10 Ways To Get More Out Of Your Indoor Cycling.

-“A Spinning & Indoor Cycling Instructor Gets A Bit Hot Under the Collar.


Today Jennifer is back, and she’s on a mission to clean up spinning and indoor cycling around the world.

Jennifer is the mastermind behind the Indoor Cycling Association, an online educational resource for indoor cycling instructors. She is also the author of the excellent Indoor Cycling book “Keep it Real” – which is chock full of practical tips, workouts and sage advice for beginner, intermediate, and advanced indoor cyclists.

-What kind of spin classes are a complete waste of your time…

-Specific moves that you must avoid if you're going to do indoor cycling…

-How much you should stand up vs. sit down when you're riding indoors…

-When cycling at an extremely high RPM is OK, and when it becomes dangerous…

-What kind of education it takes to become an indoor cycling instructor…

-3 things you should do when you walk into a spin class to ensure your bike is ready…

Whether you should ride in an “aero” position on a spin bike…

-Why Ben's favorite way to get an indoor cycling workout is with “Sufferfest” videos…





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