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Expect More From Your Indoor Cycling Instructor

By Clair Cafaro

indoor cycling instructorYou have many reasons for taking a spin class. Inclement weather during the riding season, long winter months and time constraints are all likely to drive you indoors. While riding the trainer is always an option, at times you crave the companionship that group exercise offers.

However, not all indoor cycling instructors are created equal.

While you spend many blissful hours in the saddle outdoors, you find after only a few minutes on the spin bike causes a painful ache on the outside of your knee. Your instructor tells you “you’ll get used to it” or “you’re just not accustomed to riding the spinner”.

You’re fitted to your road bike to make sure your biomechanics provide you with the most comfortable and efficient ride. It’s no different on a spin bike. They are manufactured to the geometry of a standard road bike and you need to understand how to set yourself up on it properly.

If your instructor doesn’t know how to do that, take a class taught by an instructor who does. On a spin bike the height, fore/aft and handlebars can be adjusted. A spin instructor should know that pain on the outside of your knee is likely caused by improper set up. The saddle is either too high or set too far back. He should also know that if he adjusts your saddle by bringing it forward, he had better check your height again, since he’s just shortened your reach for the pedal stroke, potentially causing stress to the front of the knee from the pressure of sitting too low.

1. Expect that your instructor is well versed in how to set you up and understands the potential for injury with an incorrect set up.

Class begins and the instructor takes you directly into a climb.  Everyone is up out of the saddle as she asks the class to crouch over the bottom bracket, squat down and pedal.  You feel horribly silly doing this, and wonder why on earth you’re even doing it.  Finally she has you sit back down only to perform pushups on the handlebars.

2. Expect that your instructor understands the importance of a proper warm up (and cool down). Dr. Tudor Bompa writes the following regarding the role of a good warm up:

“there is a certain time required to reach a state of high physiological efficiency. A warm up stimulates CNS (Central Nervous System) activity which coordinates the athlete’s systems, reduces time of motor reaction and improves coordination. A good warm up also helps prevent injuries.”

Since its inception in the early 1990’s spinning was meant to simulate outdoor cycling. Somewhere along its journey to the mainstream, however, it took a very bad turn — it morphed into something almost unrecognizable to actual cycling. Any movement not reproducible outdoors is a movement that shouldn’t be replicated indoors. In other words, if you don’t do it outside, don’t do it inside. Dr. Nigel Clements, an avid outdoor cyclist and veteran indoor cycling instructor, who also happens to be Head of Orthopedic Surgery at Trillium Hospital, cautions:

“The methods currently used on indoor cycle trainers such as ‘jumps’, hovering’ and riding out of the saddle for extended periods are not transferrable to the road and do not promote the appropriate body mechanics and pedal stroke that one would apply to cycling out on the road. Reproducing as closely as possible what one would experience outdoors will reduce the risk of injury from improper technique.”

3. Expect your indoor cycling instructor to adhere to cycling’s best practices by shunning moves that make no sense and invite injury. It’s still about the bike.

Next to you, an older woman is obviously struggling. At the start of class she seemed unsure as to how to get her feet into the cages and you kindly helped her. You suspected she was new to the class, but the instructor never acknowledged her.  In fact, the instructor seems to be in her own world, pedaling frenetically to her music.  You’re sure you’ve never seen cadences this high, maybe as high as 140 rpm. You suspect there’s little to no resistance on her bike.

4. Expect your indoor cycling instructor to identify new riders and provide options for them. Make them feel welcome and safe.

Expect your indoor cycling instructor to make the class about his participants. He’s not getting paid to workout. It’s not his ride. It’s yours.

5.  Expect your indoor cycling instructor to understand what authentic resistance is.

Add enough resistance so that the entire ride feels like you’re outside, reflecting the terrain. Super fast cadences are out of control and completely useless, providing no physiological benefit.

Expecting more from your indoor cycling instructor means asking questions. Ask the gym’s management what type of spin classes are being taught. Ask the instructor whether she understands and adheres to indoor cycling’s best practices. And ask her whether she respects her participants enough to provide a safe and caring environment.

Ultimately the choice is yours. By expecting more you can demand the best.

Clair Cafaro

Clair Cafaro is the president of C.O.R.E CYCLING, an indoor cycling instructor certification program with an emphasis on authentic road riding principals.www.corecycling.ca

Check out Clair’s new e-program Winter Training For Cyclists!


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9 comments to Expect More From Your Indoor Cycling Instructor

  • Louise

    I’m very new to spinning and found this article very informative. I decided to give spinning a try because I miss riding outdoors now that the cold weather is here and I’m on a free 14-day trial at our local YMCA. I’ve done three classes so far. I was impressed with my first instructor as she got me fitted on the bike and was explaining the numbered hand positions, until she told me the hand position for riding out of the saddle. Out of the saddle! I never ride standing up on my road bike! Then at my third class, the instructor had everyone doing these weird things like cranking up the resistance, pedaling way too fast, and jumping out of the saddle every 10 seconds all at the same time. I refuse to ride like that. I think I’ll continue joining the classes; however, I will also continue to modify my workouts so that my ride is more authentic to my outdoor rides, more enjoyable, and safer for me. I’m so glad I read your article.

    • Louise thanks for your comment, I’m really glad you found the article useful. You’re so right for following your instincts and riding safely. Great instructors are out there, you’ll know when you’ve found one because she’ll be speaking your language!

  • A heart felt thank you for your comments.
    Our participants really do want to ride like an actual cyclist rides…its up to us to show them how.

  • Shelby Blom

    What great article Clair! And so very true! I’m so glad I chose a C.O.R.E certification!

  • Shirin

    Fantastic article.Amen to all of it.
    I subscribed to your page after I added my two cents to the article promoting “hovers” posted on Livestrong.com.
    Many of us are keeping a close eye on the brewing revolution in the indoor cycling industry. Masters like Jennifer Sage, Tom Scotto, Gino Nacey and many others, are using their knowledge and experience to put “cycling” back into “indoor cycling”. Their mission is to educate and inform those who will listen. We need more presence from credible sources, such as you reference, or such as Jennifer Sage is constantly presenting, in order to bring attention to what has gone so wrong. With the kind of money that supports and promotes the gimmick behind the morphed version of indoor cycling, there is a long and hard battle ahead. Thank you Clair, for lending your knowledge and your resources to the mission.

  • Great article Clair and fully advocates what we say in the Spinning® Programme. As an International Spinning® Master Instructor based in the UK, your points are exactly how we teach new Instructors. But you’re right, not all Instructors are created equal. However we pride our programme and it’s connection with road cycling and have never deviated from this. Remember, if you’re Instructor does not give you heart rate direction, get’s you riding slower than 60rpm or faster than 110rpm, has you performing any movement that you would most certainly not do outside, then they are not an officially certified Spinning® Instructor. The problem we constantly face and have done for over 20 years, is that ‘Spinning’ has become a generic term for Indoor Cycling. However it’s actually a Trademark that belongs to Mad Dogg Athletics, the founder and owner of the [email protected] Programme. Keep it safe, simple, fun and above all real!

  • Thanks to you both for your great comments.
    Might I suggest that you print the newsletter and bring it with you to the studio. Or simply forward it if you know the recipients email address. Kudos to you both for following your instincts and practicing “safe cycling”.

  • Debby

    A typical weekly workout schedule for me includes at least 3 spin classes. There are so many “certified” instructors out there that give horrible advice, demand incorrect postures and perform stupid antics on the bikes (like push ups on the handle bars, turning the resistance all the way and performing squats, turning resistance all the way up or down and insisting riders run as fast as possible). When that happens I just go on with my own work and ignore the “professionals”. I have a favorite instructor that I’ve followed to another gym when he moved (no, I’m not a stalker) because he’s a fellow rider and his classes mimic riding outside. He aknowleges everyone, pays attention to new folks, plays good music that works with the workout. And throws a few jokes in when the situation permits. Like he’s says, “We’re not here to kill ourselves, this is just a little cardio and we’re gonna burn some calories while having a good time on our imaginary ride”. When the class is over your hardly aware of how much energy you’ve expended because its just relaxed consistant riding at varying speeds and resistance. We all leave wet! I’d like to copy this he would like reading this.

  • i wish i knew how to copy this great article. one class that is convient for me to attend has an instructor that totally fits your descriptions.for example: after less than 5 minutes from the start he is spinning at 130 and then has everyone stand and run at this cadence!! NOT ME!! you are so correct in that your spin session should mirror your outside pedaling…hills and all. thanks for being out there…now if i could only copy your words.

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