1.) Cardiovascular Endurance: Pay attention to your resistance when you ride in these classes, never ever “free wheel”. If your resistance is so light that pedaling very fast finds you bouncing in the saddle, your effort is more likely to cause injury (knees) than an increase in endurance.
2.) Stronger Legs: Cycling shoes aren’t just for the hardcore riders. I recommend that everyone attending a cycling class more than 3 times a month should own a pair. The clips allow you to push and pull as you pedal in sort of a triangular motion. From the top of your pedal stroke push the pedal down/forward, pull it back at the bottom, and pull the pedal up/forward to complete the triangle at the top. This can be done with other shoes (see more about proper shoes below) using the cages on the pedals. However, you can do it with much more efficiency wearing cycling shoes. Pedaling in that triangular motion will recruit your hamstrings, calves, and glutes instead of just beating your poor quads into submission.
3.) Rock. Hard. Ass.: I’ve never met a cyclist that didn’t have a firm ass. Road Cyclists and Mountain Bikers, especially in the Bay Area, all have one thing in common. We ride hills, long winding hills that work our glutes on a serious level! If you’ve ever taken a cycling class without simulated hills, you should ask for your money back. The amount/frequency/intensity of the hills will be up to the instructor. But, since a stationary bike will never be the same as a road bike, we have to at least simulate some challenges that you’ll face on a real bike. That is why we’re here, right? We all want nice hard asses. Well, they don’t come from pedaling super fast with no resistance. Work that resistance and climb! Resistance is always more important than speed, but that’s no excuse to go slow.
So, that’s what you should get out of a cycling workout and I’m sure there are other fringe benefits that will be unique to your situation. Doesn’t seem like enough, want more out of an hour in the gym? Well, you’re not alone. It seems that over time many indoor cycling instructors and frequent attendees of the class have grown bored and want more from that hour. In the age of multi-tasking, we want to do all of the things whether it’s safe to do them simultaneously or not. Texting and driving? Why not, the light is red! Smoking and riding a bike WHILE talking on the phone? It happens more than you’d think. Watching Netflix, Sexting, and writing a blog? Wait, what was the question? Hey! Remember to keep safety first and avoid doing, what I like to call, “stupid shit” on the bike. Stationary bikes were designed with one purpose in mind, for them to be ridden. So, if you do any of the following 7 things, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way.
1.) Lifting Weights on the Bike: Look at the seat on the bike. It’s pretty small. Without proper padding/clothing, your sweet tender bits could be sore by the end of your workout. Those seats are not designed to support your entire torso in an upright seated position for a sustained period of time, even without weights. The designers expected you to be holding the handlebars. If you sit upright and add weight to your frame on top of that narrow seat that doesn’t provide proper support for the weight of your torso, it won’t workout (ha) well for you over time. “But, it’s such an intense workout, OMG my arms were so sore afterwards.” Good job! When you ride your first Century, you’re going to kill it at the dumbbell curl competition at the first rest stop! This is sport specific training, people. Nothing about a dumbbell on a bike will prepare you for riding a real bike. If you’ve gotten bored with the benefits of cycling, it’s okay to admit that it’s not your thing. No one will/should judge you.
2.) Riding With No Hands: Handlebars are there to keep you safe on a bike that needs no guidance. When you’re out of the saddle, HOLD ON TO THEM! “Look ma, no hands!” Hey, dip shit, what happens when your foot slips off of the pedal? I’ve seen clips and standard soles come off of those pedals. It’s not pretty. I’ve had to stop a class and call 911 because someone came off of their bike. You guessed it, not holding on to the handlebars. “But, Jet, this crushes my glutes look at how awesome I am.” Please stop.
3.) Riding With No Saddle: I feel like this should be a no-brainer. But, friends still come and tell me that they were in a class where the Instructor had them remove their saddles FOR THE ENTIRE CLASS. WTF!? I have no words for how fucking stupid/dangerous this is. Staying up for the entire class is challenging (although no pro-cyclist would ever recommend it). Staying up without a saddle means there’s no escape route. The only way a deconditioned athlete can take it easy is by dismounting the bike and going from pedaling fast to not moving at all, which is also not ideal. You may be fine with this if you’re into edge play. The other option is to sit down in haste, forgetting there is no saddle and then OUCH!
4.) Bike Dancing/Wild Movements: This is not the place for America’s Best Dance Crew. Swinging arms and pelvic thrusts are fun to watch, but increase the risk of a fall. Stationery bikes won’t fall over, idiot users can and will fall off of them. Confession: During a “90/90” class (90 minutes of 90s music) I asked everyone in the room to move their arms back and forth to Naughty By Nature’s Hip Hop Hooray. How could I resist? It’s okay to have some fun in these classes. But, contrary to the over used joke, safety is not third.
5.) Pedaling Backwards: The bike wasn’t designed to do this nor is there any specific muscular benefit to doing this. Pedaling backwards will, over a period of time, loosen bike pedals and cause them to come off. (I’ve seen it happen, a lot.) “Yeah, but maintenance should be tuning up the bikes on a regular basis.” Yes, they tune them up for STANDARD wear and tear, not DOING STUPID SHIT wear and tear. Taking care of gym equipment is everyone’s responsibility. Side bar: I saw someone bouncing up and down on the scale in the bathroom, I told him that he was going to break it and that wouldn’t be cool. He stopped. But, why did I have to point that out? When you use ANYTHING ask yourself, if this is what it was designed for. No, those bikes weren’t designed to be pedaled backwards.
6.) Concentrating Weight In One Area: Let’s do some push-ups on the handle bars and isolate all of our upper body weight right here. Maybe they WON’T wear down quicker than average and need to be replaced. Please stop. I know, let’s take one foot off the pedal, get out of the saddle and put the majority of our body weight on that one crank! Maybe that crank WON’T come off! Please stop. That was a great ride, let’s stretch our calves ON THE PEDALS! Since there’s nothing to support the heels, there’s no chance of my foot slipping out AND there’s no chance that concentrated weight on those cranks could damage them, right? Please. Stop. Push-ups are done on the ground, not on a bike. Keep both feet on the pedals. Get off the bike and stretch.
7.) Wearing the Wrong Shoes: Minimalist Running Shoes ARE NOT MEANT FOR CYCLING. Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Free, Ultra-Thin soles that mimic barefoot running are meant for running, not a hard metal pedal. Your foot will either cramp, end up bleeding, or not serve you as an efficient pedaling machine. That will burn out your quads and make for a very long ride. Side note: If you’re not going to wear cycling shoes, trail running shoes also have lots of support and will come close to a rigid sole.
I’m passionate about proper form. I’m sure that some will disagree with what I’ve written here. That’s fine. I’m sure some will find or post “studies” (read: magazine article with no scientific method of research) in defense of all the “don’ts” listed above. That’s fine. I don’t expect this blog to stop the trend train. People do what feels good or what fits their schedule. My challenge to you is to use your common sense. What feels “challenging” today could be an injury three weeks hence. There’s a thin line between pride and injury. Leave your ego outside of the gym and train safely.