By Clair Cafaro
You 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 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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