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.

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Touchy Touchy: Respecting Personal Space As A Fitness Professional

“Get your fucking hands off of me!” Those are the seven angry words that you never want to hear as a trainer. Truthfully, you don’t want to hear those words… ever. It’s a very real possibility that someone may think those words instead of making their frustration heard. In such an event, you’ve no doubt crossed a line and the person on the receiving end feels uncomfortable or threatened in some way. (More on that in a moment.) Respecting personal space starts with kinesthetic awareness. Knowing where your body is in relation to the space around you is important to the people around you. Are you standing too close? “Back up, Sucka! Give me three feet!” It’s also important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. To be more specific, put yourself in her shoes. This week’s blog post is about male-on-female hands-on training. Fitness professionals have different approaches to coaching. In my ten years in the business, I’ve made it a point to focus on my verbal cueing and demonstrative skills in order to avoid excessively touching female clients. You may be thinking, “Oh! I bet this dude had some sexual harassment charges filed against him! I bet that’s why he’s afraid to touch the ladies.” False. On the contrary, I’ve never had to defend myself against such accusations because I’ve never done anything to make a client think those seven angry words. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never done anything with my hands to make a female client feel threatened. The word threatened has a lot of weight to it. But, when I asked a few females about their thoughts on male fitness professionals (group classes or personal sessions) placing hands on them, the word came up more than once.

This topic came up during a recent photo shoot, I was being photographed with a client for an advertisement. I was instructed to “put your hands on her as if you’re correcting her form.” I replied, “I wouldn’t do that in a real session!” The photographer also wanted me to “get closer to her because I’m going to crop this vertically.” Again, I protested.

It’s worth mentioning… The photographer in question is a good friend of mine and she is very aware that all of the poses were “portrait pretend time” and that there are many trainers that don’t get all Handsy McHanderson.

I’m grateful for my female friends over the years. I’ve always had more female friends than male. It’s because of their countless stories of Coach McHanderson the personal trainer or group exercise instructor getting touchy feely with them that has made me very aware of what/where/why I touch my female clients. There are many ways of correcting a client’s form or to get them to accomplish a specific movement. Going back to my point on putting yourself in her shoes, training to become stronger and sweating through the process is a vulnerable time for anyone. So, this is for the male trainers. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. If you’re trusting your fitness goals in the hands of a stranger the last thing you want to worry about is stranger danger. Enjoy this PSA from the 1980’s to get the understanding of what it means to engage with a creeper.

Gentlemen, imagine that one of those creepy fuckers was your personal trainer. Imagine that they’ve asked you to tuck your pelvis under and engage your core as they stood over you in plank position. Imagine that they said it with their hands and grabbed both of your hips in the process. That wouldn’t feel great and you’d probably be bothered by the interaction. So, try to consider that when you place your hands on your female clients.

It’s worth mentioning… This blog is not about creating a PSA to tell all male trainers to never touch female clients. That’s not what this is about. This post is about being empathetic to the feelings of female clients. Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that female clients are the only clients with feelings or triggers. I’m not here to suggest that females are sensitive and need special handling. Unfortunately, women/womyn deal with a lot of harassment on the street. They often choose their gym because they feel like it’s a safe place free from comments, staring, and of course unwelcome touching. Walk in her shoes for a moment through this video:

After watching the video, before you begin questioning which one of those comments was/wasn’t harassment, think critically about to whom the men chose to speak. “Jet, that guy only said, HI! How was that harassment?” Well, why didn’t he say HI to everyone? Now, let’s bring this back to a gym setting. Have you ever watched a group fitness instructor using his hands to correct the form of people in the class? Have you noticed that all of them were females that had a similar look to them? Why didn’t he say HI to everyone with bad form? For the dudes reading this, don’t be that guy.

Have you ever wondered why there are gyms that are exclusive to women/womyn? Imagine that street walking scenario with fewer, tighter, sweatier clothes on. If you have access to some online forum, ask the question “Ladies, what makes you feel uncomfortable at the gym?” Delete all of the male responses and pay attention to the general theme (hint: objectification). I’m just saying, don’t take my word for it. Ask the women/womyn in your life about Coach McHanderson and the comments from the Numbnuts Gallery. In a similar online forum, a female commented that unwanted comments in a gym are worse than a bar because she doesn’t expect it at the gym. Again, we all want a safe place to get stronger and improve our overall fitness. Why do so many women/womyn LOVE going to the gyms in the Castro or SoMa ? Phrases like, “I don’t have to worry about that shit.” or “People leave me alone.” come to mind. Circling back to the street harassment video, what educated guess can you make (context clues are different from assumptions) about all of the males in that video? None of them were gay and none of them were females.

It’s worth mentioning… I’ve spent time with some females that identify as male and I’ve listened to a rare few of them catcall. It’s very rare and I may have only seen it twice in two decades. But, it’s heart-breaking that someone’s idea of male identification is being that sort of jackass.

Let’s loop back to the T word. I’ve heard some women/womyn talk about feeling threatened due to whom those overused hands belonged. When I asked a female about how she felt when her form had hands-on correction by a female coach there was often an indifferent response; when asked about gay male instructors the same response was conveyed. I found that interesting. So, when a female or a gay male places their hands on your body to correct your form you feel (for lack of a better word) safe. However, a well-meaning heterosexual male can use the same hand placement and you feel threatened? One could argue that there’s more to that assertion than I’m qualified to unpack in this blog post (read: I’m not a Psychologist.) Nevertheless, I will plug this anecdote in your brain’s soil to grow and flower some new thoughts. I once dated a female with implants. They were great and everyone wanted to touch them. She and I dated at a time when I still practiced/believed in monogamy. So, I wasn’t keen on the idea of other men touching her breasts. (I was a prude back then.) She would still come home with stories about how she let some dude feel her up “but, he was gay” she would explain in defense. “Oh, okay! Perhaps I’ll find a lesbian to rub my cock!” I would argue. [I never found a lesbian to help me win that argument.] What makes one set of hands safer than another? That’s rhetorical food for discussion at your next cocktail party. Are gay men or straight women/womyn safe just because they’re not actively pursuing you? Are all straight men a threat because of the dark cloud of rape culture? Fuck, I hope no one views me as a threat. If my heterosexuality (or the harassment she’s received from assholes on the street) marks me as a threat then no matter what I do with my hands, I’ve already lost. And that’s precisely why I don’t give anyone any reason to view me as a threat.

A message to male fitness professionals: Just to reiterate, this blog is not about you changing your touchy/feely habits. You’re an adult. Do what you do. But, it would benefit your coaching skills if you were to improve your verbal cues. Use positive coaching phrases telling your clients what they should do and what they should feel. Avoid speaking at length as to what they should not be doing. The brain has trouble processing words like not and don’t. Where’s the first place that everyone looks when you exclaim “Don’t look down!”? I often hear trainers lament on how they told the class to not do something three times and most people still did that thing. Another way to step up your coaching skills is to improve your demonstrative skills. Being able to execute the exercise is one thing, making sure that all of those viewing you have an ideal vantage point is another. Ideally make sure that they are gathered round in a semi-circle no more than three deep so that everyone can see you complete the movement. The demonstrating doesn’t need to stop there. I often stand next to someone that I’m correcting and do the following: “Right now I’m seeing this *mimic their bad form* and I need to see this *demonstrate the correct form*.” In doing that, I’m sure to use “I” statements and not sound accusatory/judgmental (again this should be a safe place to get stronger). It’s also important that many people may not have a high level of kinesthetic awareness. So, if I tell someone to move their hips and they respond by moving their feet, it doesn’t mean that they have less than stellar intelligence, it may just mean that they’re visual learners. The third and most important way to keep from being Coach Creepy is to ask for permission/approval or at the very least let them know it’s about to happen. There may come a time when teaching a class and things are moving fast and you have to correct form in less than 10 seconds. Saying things like, “I’m going to adjust your form” or “may I adjust you” will go a long way in the memory of that experience. You can also ask the class to raise their hands at the beginning of class if they do not want to be touched in any way. “If there is anyone in the class that does not want hands-on correction, please speak up now and I’ll find other ways to correct your form.” Everything written in this message to male fitness professionals goes for straight and gay alike. I’m sorry, homosexuality is not a license to be handsy with women.

It’s worth mentioning… There are times when I absolutely touch my clients. It’s often after I’ve had to repeat myself. It’s always after we’ve built up enough of a rapport for them to understand that I’m correcting their form in the most professional way possible.

Takeaways [If you don’t remember shit else from this post…]
I am not against touching clients. I touch clients. I use light touches from fingertips on neutral areas that involve more bone than flesh. (read: pelvis instead of booty cheek) I am against disrespecting the personal space of others.

Hands are hands. There should be no multi-tiered standard for straight men, gay men, straight women/womyn, and gay women/womyn. On the giving end, respect all bodies and individual preferences. On the receiving end, demand the same respect/treatment from everyone.

Coaches should use words and other teaching skills before relying on touch as a first resort. When touch is about/needs to happen, coaches should ask for permission. There’s a person under that flesh.

A Guide To Walking, Part 2

This post is dedicated to the people at whom I shout on my runs. Specifically, the lady that I almost ran over during my last two block sprint. When I visited Ireland, there was no shortage of signs at the airport reminding us to drive on the left side of the road. If you’ve ever driven here in the US, you know that we drive on the right side of the road. What do you think that means for walking on the sidewalk?

A.) Walk on the left side of the sidewalk
B.) Walk mostly in the middle of the sidewalk in a zig-zagging pattern as you take in the sights
C.) Walk 2, 3, or 4 abreast with your friends so that no one shall pass
D.) Walk on the same side of the sidewalk that you’d drive

If you chose “D”, you win the grand prize! You are not a donkey monkey (read: jackass poop slinger)! Hooray!

Whenever I go for a run on a path (say around a lake or a neighborhood) I perpetually ask myself, is it just me? Am I the only one that tries to stay to the right? Is everyone else oblivious? Well, I asked the Google machine and it turns out that one other blogger is pretty annoyed about poor pedestrian etiquette as well. You can read that blog here and I couldn’t agree with it more.

I’m writing this post because I have four simple requests for those of you that will ever walk on the sidewalk (read: ALL of you).

1.) Slower traffic keep to the right. You’ve seen the sign on the US highways. The same should apply on sidewalks. “Says who, what makes you the expert, Jet!?” I’m just talking about etiquette, Baby! While it’s not illegal to pass on the right while driving, it’s considered good driving etiquette to pass on the left (for visibility reasons). Some sidewalks and paths are narrower than others. Stay to your right. If you are on the right side of the walk and the donkey coming towards you is in your lane, just stop. Become the rock and let them be the river. I made an exception to this rule as I was sprinting on Sunday. The donkey walking towards me held eye contact for about 20 yards as I was sprinting towards her. I was in the right lane of the sidewalk. She was to her left walking towards me with the rest of the sidewalk open to her. I didn’t say anything because no one’s that stupid, right? She was looking right at me and saw me get closer for 20, 15, 10 yards and just kept walking in the wrong lane. At the last minute, she moved in a hurried panic. I made no apologies for her slow processor. Stay to your right. A note to runners: Call out when you approach from behind. I use three simple phrases that are easy to say in between breaths. “Pardon me.” “On your left.” “Leash your dog.” Walkers, listen for these verbal cues (or the sound of fast footsteps). Tell me again, the benefit of noise canceling headphones as a pedestrian? That brings me to my next point.

2.) Be observant/aware of your surroundings. Congratu-fucking-lations, you paid $300 for some headphones that prevent you from hearing car brakes screeching, runners calling out, thieves creeping up behind you to snatch your smartphone, and other potential threats. Refer back to option B above. People tend to walk in a (sober) zig-zagging pattern due to distractions. Stop staring at your goddamned phone! Keep your eyes up and on the walk ahead.

3.) Keep your entourage tight, this is not the yellow brick road. When four people are walking towards me as I run, I think “where do they expect me to go if they’re taking up the entire sidewalk.” Be prepared to go single file at a moment’s notice. This isn’t YOUR sidewalk. What’s that? One of you needs to stop and tie their shoe and now you must all stop and chat on the pathway? No, you don’t. Keep moving or see #1. Step off to the side and chat for days if you want. Don’t block up the entire path.

4.) Keep your dog on a leash, on a short leash, on a short leash at your side, on a short leash at your RIGHT side. I DGAF which side the grass is on. You walk the dog, don’t let the dog walk you. “But, Sprinkles doesn’t like being on a leash.” It’s your dog, not your human child. YOU should run the show. One of the most dangerous obstacles I encounter as a runner is one of those retractable leashes that’s been reeled out to 15 feet long as the pup roams all over the sidewalk. I have to look for something that’s fishing line thin and hurdle it to prevent a tripping hazard. Don’t let your dog walk on the left as you walk on the right.

T2

Still not sure how to walk amongst the general public, see my last blog on the subject. Just click here.