Cycling Class Safety

Let me get down to it, I’ve taught over 1,100 cycling classes since 2005. I’ve seen some people get hurt and I don’t want you to be next. Stay safe.
Here are three things you should expect from an indoor cycling class.

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.

Striptease and Athletic Endurance Events

This is a post for anyone who watches a burlesque performances and thinks, “I can do that!” Well, it’s not as simple as just shaking a pelvis in the general direction of strangers. Besides, have you ever watched someone finish a Marathon and just flippantly claim, “I can do that!” Well, Burlesque and endurance events have more similarities than many might think.
I dance, therefore, I am an athlete. I am an athlete, yet I also dance. Whether I’m training for an event or rehearsing for a show, there are some similarities between the two worlds.

The Costume Is More Important Than You Think
On stage, your costume will help tell the story of your performance piece just as much as, in some cases more than, your choreography. You’ll spend time, money, and creative energy making sure that it fits right, looks great, and tells the story you want. As a burlesque performer, part of the fit is making sure that it comes off at just the right time and in just the right way. You don’t want to ruin the tease with a surprise reveal!

On the field, your costume will show your allegiance with its flags or color scheme. There will also be messages of love and support to/from your crew. Maybe a patch sewn in to remind you that you’re hoping to win this competition for a loved one who passed away or an injured teammate. You’ll spend time, money, and creative energy making sure that it fits right and keeps you warm/cool/dry when you need it most.

The Audience Is Your Fuel

On stage, making eye contact and flirting with the audience as you tease them into a frenzy is crucial to a burlesque performance. The louder they scream, the stronger your adrenaline will pump.

On the field, not every sport has an audience. As a distance runner, you’ll find yourself on mile 10 with no voice other than the one in your head or the voices in your headphones. But, even as a runner, hearing people cheer you on as you near the finish line will help you to sprint when you thought there was nothing left in the tank. If you’re the partner of someone who is an athlete, supporting them as their biggest cheerleader means more than you can ever know.

Rehearsing & Training

For the stage, even if it’s not a scheduled rehearsal time, you’ll find yourself listening to the music for your act in the car, on the train, at home, and anywhere there are speakers. You go over the steps and the reveal in your head only to constantly tweak and adjust the performance up until the moment you set foot on the stage.

Training for the field could mean weights, cardio, massages, nutrition, the list goes on. Your life has been consumed by this event for which you’ve committed. Even when you sit still, you salivate at the thought of crossing the start line.

Prep Time vs. Event Time

Prep time for a stage performance could take weeks or months. There’s costuming, choreography, and nerves to manage. Once the song begins on night of show, it’s all over in six minutes or less.

Prep time for an athletic event could take six-nine months of training. Once the start has been signaled, it will all be over in a few hours.

Food On Event Day

When taking the stage, no one wants to dance with that full feeling. I normally eat something light before a performance and have food backstage for afterwards. Some people have trouble eating the entire day before performing due to nerves.

When prepping for race/competition day, no one wants to compete in an athletic event with that grumbling belly feeling. But, you never want the wrong thing in your belly either. I once made the mistake of eating pasta for breakfast before a 10 mile run. I’ll spare you the gory details. I’ll just say, “never again.”

On stage, thanks to adrenaline, I never feel tired during a performance. When I come off stage, I can barely speak. Sometimes I’m breathless, sometimes I’m shaking, and sometimes I’m crying.

Off the field, after the event. I’ve cried after crossing some finish lines. Shaking, breathless, tears of joy as I silently celebrate my accomplishment.

Nine Reminders For Group Fitness Classes

Like every January, group fitness classes at your gym will be packed. Here are some tips to help you stay safe, get stronger, and get the most out of your workouts.

1.) Be on time. Early is on time and on time is late. If the class begins at 8:00AM, don’t walk into the gym at 8. By the time you put your belongings in a locker, check-in at the front desk, and fill your water bottle the class has already started. You still have to get your equipment (if any) that you’ll need for the class. I understand that things happen and sometimes life will make us late. If that happens, perform a warm-up instead of trying to jump right into the workout. Prep your body!
Instructors: Start your classes on time. Don’t get in the habit of starting a few minutes late because the room is 50% full. This sends a message to the late-comers that it’s okay to disregard the time of those that were on time.

2.) Bring a lock, use a locker. Remember that liability waiver that you signed? There’s a bit in there about the gym not being responsible for your lost/stolen items. Please don’t bring your gym bag and work bag into the group exercise room just because you were running late (see above). People can trip over your things. People can also walk out with your bag. That’s actually happened to me. The instructor that taught the class before me had an identical bag. He accidentally grabbed my bag and didn’t make it far before we realized what happened and switched. Please put your things away.
Instructors: Please tell them to put their things away. Keep the members safe and the room free from dangerous clutter.

3.) No phones. Put down your goddamned phone. You don’t need a phone to workout. “But, Jet, my HR monitor app is on my phone! I keep track of my workouts on my phone. I’m paying the parking meter with my phone.” Okay, set that app, shut off your screen and come workout. If I see you looking at your phone in a group exercise environment, you’re sending a clear message that fitness isn’t your primary concern. That’s fine, but it begs the question, why are you here? What do you hope to accomplish while staring into your phone? It amuses me when people try to explain their reasons for texting/talking on their phones during a class. The excuse always has to do with their profession. “I’m a secret agent. I’m a nanny. I’m an engineer. I’m Jack Bauer and I have 23 hours left to save America. I’m the only person in town with water and there’s a fire.” I don’t give a shit what you’re talking about or to whom you’re talking. Take it outside. In this moment, your profession is not more important than the fitness goals of 30 other people! Someone challenged me on this and asked, “So, wait, if I have to be on call for work, then my choice is to get fired or take your class?” Look, if being off your phone for an hour means you’ll get fired from your job, you should either get a new job or do your own workout.
Instructors: Before you take any job make sure that your manager/director will back you up on a zero tolerance policy for phones in class. Enforce that policy by asking the person to leave, even if it means turning down the music and making a scene. Kick them out! Also, if you are using your phone to play music or to use a timer app for your class, set the airplane mode. No one wants to hear you receiving text messages while they’re doing Burpees.

4.) Wear the right shoes. There are weightlifting shoes, minimalist running shoes, cycling shoes, basketball shoes, etc. Don’t try to wear one pair of shoes for different workouts. Someone came into cycling class with Vibram Five Finger shoes. She was late (see above), it was dark, and I didn’t see her shoes in time to send her away. She left the class limping. I wouldn’t be surprised if her foot was bleeding by the end. Nike Free running shoes are popular. That doesn’t mean that they’re right for you. If I had a penny for every time someone told me that their knees/ankles/shins hurt after going on a hike or during a cycling class while wearing Nike Free shoes, I’d have about 43 cents. Wear the right shoes, not the cute shoes.
Instructors: Be the shoe police. The wrong shoe shouldn’t always exclude that person from a class, only in extreme cases (like the Vibram cycling case above). You should be able to suggest the right shoes at the end of the class.

5.) Bring a proper water bottle. Invest in a water bottle that has, at least, a 24 ounce capacity. Hydrate! In one day, you should drink a certain number of ounces of water. You can do your own research as to how much you should drink based on your body. Just know that listening to what makes sense for your body is more important than what the internet says is a one size fits all solution. I often remind class members to fill up their water bottles before class begins. They don’t or they have small water bottles. They end up rushing to the water fountain during a break.
Instructors: Remind everyone to hydrate! This is only suitable in some classes. Certain workouts don’t call for constant hydration. But, based on the format, give them gentle reminders.

6.) Communicate your body’s unique challenges. Another benefit to arriving early (see above) is that you can tell the instructor about any injuries/challenges you may have. Not everything is an injury, so when I use the word “challenges”, I’m referencing issues like fused vertebrae or anatomical anomalies that limit your range of motion in any way. I have one leg shorter than the other. Because I wear a heel lift, my range of motion isn’t limited. If I were to forget my heel lift, I would tell the coach that I won’t be doing any jumping during class. As an Instructor for a room filled with 30 people I have seconds to come to a conclusion about everyone’s ability level. When I’m not given enough information, I’m left with my own assumptions. If I see you deviate from the exercise I just described, I’m left with three assumptions. 1.) The person didn’t understand the exercise mechanics. 2.) The person feels too challenged with this particular exercise and opted not to try. 3.) There is an injury. Once you step into the group fitness room, you become our responsibility. That’s why you sign those liability waivers and that’s why instructors have liability insurance. Keeping you safe is more important than putting you through a “killer” workout. Help us to help you. Tell us about your injuries/challenges and let us modify the exercises for you. That brings me to my next point (#7).
Instructors: The attendees should tell you about their bodies, but sometimes they’ll be afraid or self-conscious. Get in the habit of inviting the class to tell you about their injuries (do this before class begins). You’re not there to rehab their injuries, especially not in a group setting. But, we can keep things from getting worse.

7.) Don’t do your own thing. This is a group class. This is the place for the hive mind. We’re all here to do the same exercises, even if some have to perform a regressed version while others perform a progressed version. FFS, don’t do your own thing. I’ve had people tell me, in a class, “I prefer to do it this way.” I would try to explain that “this way” was poor form and that they could hurt themselves, they disagreed. This isn’t the place for a debate. Check your ego at the door. If your hubris is such that you don’t want to be told what to do, do your own workout, on your own. No one will force you into a group environment. You become the Instructor’s responsibility once you set foot in their class. If you do your own thing, you’re tasking them with monitoring the form of your exercises that are drastically different from the rest of the hive
Instructors: This isn’t the place for a debate. Ignore the rebel until the class is over or until there’s a break. Pull them to the side, off the mic and explain that if they want to do their own workout, they should do it elsewhere. Again, make sure that you have the support of management before such a confrontation. Also, as an Instructor, don’t do your own thing and make up unsafe exercises. There’s no reason for anyone to be pedaling on a stationary bike, out of their seat, without both hands on the handle bars. This would never happen on a real bike and puts unnecessary pressure on the pedal axles. I’ve seen those pedals come off, no matter how new or well-maintained the bikes may be. Coach them to keep their hands on the handle bars. Keeping the members safe is our first priority.

8.) Deliver criticism to the source. In the event that you were unhappy with a class, check-in with yourself. Was it the class or the instructor? Try the same class with a different instructor. If it was the instructor, choose your delivery of criticism carefully. Try speaking directly to the instructor. Seek to understand before attempting to be understood. Approaching anyone with, “you know what I hate about you” while waving your finger in their face will just put them on the defensive. “Why did you make us do burpees for 45 minutes if this is a pilates class?”, would be a better approach. There’s always a danger of miscommunication when complaining to someone’s manager. Inevitably, something will get lost in translation and your message will be perceived as harsher than intended. Just speak to the instructor.
Instructors: Without sounding like a lecturer, explain the why behind the routine. “We’re doing core first to warm up instead of doing it at the end when your arms are fatigued and you can’t hold plank.” Also, invite criticism. Ask them, “how was class today?” “Are there any questions, comments, or concerns? I’d love to hear them.” Be affable.

9.) Relax, Breathe Deeply, Smile, Repeat. Relax, no group exercise routine will cure cancer the world over. Leave your problems at the door and escape through the sweat. Breathing is important to any workout. The type of breathing is going to be different based on the workout, but find a rhythm to your breathing and give your body the oxygen it needs. Smiling helps your workout. That’s not scientifically proven. But, follow my train of thought. Smiling creates a positive association with whatever you’re doing at the time. Don’t believe me? What were you doing the last time you laughed really hard? Laughing is the original ab workout. So, smiling and laughing should be a part of any workout. You should have fun while exercising. No matter what your fitness goals, you’re not going to accomplish them in one hour. Repeat, try a class twice. Try other classes, try all of the classes (remembering to rest in between). Find the classes that your body enjoys. Burpees aren’t for everybody, neither is cycling. Try, try, try, repeat.
Instructors: Remind them how to breathe and remind them often. Whether you want to be or not, you’re on stage. Make this a fun and memorable experience. Do some call & response, laugh with them (not at them), laugh at yourself (if you demonstrate an exercise and stumble), have fun as you teach and they’ll have fun doing it.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Try these habits all through January and all of 2018. Here’s to your strength!