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by Angela Reed-Fox
Bad indoor cycling experiences hurt everyone
Business Insider has just published an article by Aria Bendix entitled Spinning class can lead to back pain and even damage your hearing. There are still reasons to participate.
Oh my golly gosh. Where to start... Unfortunately Aria's experience and what she writes about is still not history. It is still possible to play 'Bad Spin Bingo' in some places. So, what did Aria have on her bingo card?
First of all, there is no excuse for riders having this experience. And secondly, a few basic tweaks to the rider experience would transform the class from Bad Spin to World Class and make the workout safe, effective and efficient - Aria's workout was none of these.
So, what should be changed?
Proper rookie on-boarding
This is a biggie. Instructors should know:
Aria was concerned about falling off. Studios who rent out cycling shoes are putting riders at increased risk of falling off as well as increasing the risk of injuries and muscle aches. Why? Because riders are not used to clipping in (or clipping out) and so there are issues here, but also, everyone's biomechanics are different. The positioning of the cleat on the bottom of the shoe can mean the difference between injury and a comfortable workout. Everyone's different. Cycling shoes are individual - like toothbrushes, only more so. ;-)
Ditch the gimmicks
The 'All Body Workout' complete with natty little weights that are actually lighter than the average gerbil? Ditch it.
Well that's easily remedied - studios should have a fix on the volume level, a monitor to measure decibels, or a policy on music use. Or all three! Music adds atmosphere - but it can't do that when it's too loud, because then it's just noise.
Better quality instruction
Yes, of course if you're not sure what you're doing and you get on a bike and bob around for a bit, it's not going to be super-effective. But if you go to a well-instructed class, it flat-out works. We like tracking improvements, and we find in our public-facing studio that one of our 45 minute sessions is equal to about 70 minutes of cycling on the road in terms of calories burned. EPOC is more difficult to measure, but because we include high intensity intervals in a controlled environment (away from traffic jams, pot holes, and rest stops), this raises EPOC.
Indoor cycling improves fitness by burning fat, building muscle, improving cardiovascular endurance.
While all workouts done properly will improve health, the joy of indoor cycling (except for the banging tunes) is that you can make it harder as you get fitter. And my, can it get hard... Regarding improvements in health, we have seen riders who are diabetic reducing and coming off their diabetic meds, we've seen their cardiovascular risk shrink, their blood pressure, blood glucose (HbA1c) and cholesterol reduce, as well as their sensitivity to insulin increase. Yes. Proper indoor cycling does all these things.
Effective indoor cycling requires an instructor who knows what he/she is doing. Agreed, spinning out at low resistance doesn't burn calories, and is unsafe - and that's why no decent instructor will suggest doing that. Likewise high resistance at a low cadence equally can overload the joints, and good instructors will not suggest this either. Good instructors know how to set effective challenges with the right cadence, resistance and technique to burn LOADS of calories (for me, at 52kg, burning 450 calories in a 45 minute session is usual. Most riders will burn more than me.)
A good instructor will provide different options for riders. New riders will need more explanation, other riders may be recovering from injury, may be fatigued, or may be struggling to work hard and may need encouragement and direction to work at a lower intensity. This should be part of every session.
No decent instructor is ever going to tell riders to 'pedal as fast as they can'. This is dangerous and encourages crazy pedalling with insufficient resistance. There's just no need. An instructor who initiates this sort of challenge is putting riders at risk of rhabdomyolysis which is usually seen as a result of crush injuries (from car crashes for example). It occurs when the body starts breaking down muscle tissue. The resulting large molecules of protein are filtered out through the kidneys and left unaddressed can cause kidney damage and in extreme cases kidney failure - requiring hospitalisation. It's that serious. It's rare, but it's seen when riders are being forced to work past their capacity and not take recovery breaks. A case was brought by Kaila Cashman against Soul Cycle in 2016 for precisely this reason. And it could have been avoided by safe, effective instruction.
A more informed approach
Using heart rate training software is best practice and keeps riders safe (we've found riders with previously undiscovered heart conditions through our use of heartrate training - some of whom went on to have surgery).
Also, running classes with different focuses enables riders to really take charge of their workouts, and get the results they want by using a combination of high intensity intervals and aerobic training. The aerobic bit will burn fat, improving power to weight ratio as well as prompting the body to develop more mitochondria which enables the body to work harder at a higher intensity whilst burning lots of fat. And that higher intensity stuff? Great for building muscular strength, anaerobic capacity, and firing the metabolism.
I'm always interested in hearing about riders' experiences of indoor cycling - especially new riders. I'd love to be able to just go around fixing things like a sweaty fairy godmother - but using feedback like this is one of the ways that we build new features into our courses and ensure that ICI courses are the most comprehensive and useful ones on the market. It helps us to support gyms who want to improve their offering, and I confess, I'm nosy. I just like to know what's going on, but it's important to remember that terrible experiences like these effect all of us. People are denied a super-effective workout and the results they deserve, instructors are denied the opportunity to change lives, and gyms are denied the opportunity to be an irreplaceable part of the health solution for many people - and if they're offering such risky classes, they're putting their riders in danger, and themselves at risk of litigation.
Read the complete Business Insider article here.
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