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.

Tough Mudder Training

If you’re reading this, it’s because someone (hopefully the person in the mirror) has convinced you to participate in an adventure race. Maybe it’s a Spartan Race, an Urbanathlon, or a Tough Mudder. If you think it’s just a mud run, please keep reading. (Spoiler: It’s more than that!) I’ve finished a few Tough Mudder events and I wanted to write this up to (at least mentally) prepare people for the event. None of the aforementioned events compare to the Western States 100. But, Tough Mudder isn’t easy. You will be sore, but the event can be fun! So, you’ve signed up for a tough, fun adventure race that will make your body sore? Congratulations! Here’s how to survive it.

I’ve participated in Tough Mudder 2.5 times, all in Tahoe. I ran it in 2011 at the Squaw Valley resort. I broke my foot while training for the 2012 event. I still went up to Tahoe to give my friends the moral support they needed. I finished the Summer event on July 13th at the Northstar resort in 2013. Does that make me an expert? No. But, I can share some things with you that have helped me earn 2 orange headbands.

Choose your teammates wisely. Don’t choose your teammate based on fitness level. This isn’t the grade school playground. Don’t pick the tall kid, the fast kid or the “climbs stuff good” kid. Instead, choose the team member that will stay positive and smile when they are cold, wet, getting electrocuted in the face, getting barbed wire snagged on their booty cheeks or running five miles up a hill that never fucking ends. Never. Fucking. Ends. When you’re going through obstacles like that, no one gives a shit about how much you can bench press. When you’re going through obstacles like that, the attitude to get up and keep going is the only thing that matters. Complainers, settlers, and whiners should never be on your team. Complainers will find something wrong with every rock on the mountain and they’ll tell you all about it! They will not shut up! Settlers will settle for the bare minimum. No, we didn’t come this far just to fucking go around it. Tough Mudder is a challenge not a race. That’s part of the Tough Mudder pledge. Settlers will sing those words all over the mountain as they stroll along, claiming to be in no rush. It’s true. This event is not a race. But, it’s not a damned crawl either. We didn’t come all of this way to go for a stroll in the woods. Hustle up! Whiners will be afraid of every obstacle no matter how much you’ve prepared for it. So, having super heroes on your team is great. But, if any one teammate is a complainer, settler, or whiner, the whole team will get dragged down! Choose wisely. At some point, all of you will need to mentally or physically uplift the other.

Don’t just train, train with specificity. “How does somebody even train for that?” is the question that I hear the most. Well, isn’t it obvious? Go to the nearest mountain, build 20 obstacles that are spread over 10-12 miles, invite some friends, add beer, shake well, and giddyup! Okay, so that’s a tad impractical. Here are some other options. Run on trails with hills (no exceptions). If you’re new to running, start on flat asphalt and gradually move to grass, beach, then trail (in that order). But, hills and rocks need to be under/around your feet in order for you to prepare for this event. The biggest challenge will be running downhill on loose footing for 5+ miles with switchbacks. Get wet, run until dry, repeat. Find some little kids and fill up their inflatable pool with ice water. (Please, warn the kids first.) Jump in, fully clothed in your event day gear, stay in for at least 10 seconds, get out and run until you’re dry. Then do it all over again. Wear the right clothes and train in them, first. Old school rules state: Never do anything new on race day! That includes those special Underoos that you bought for the event. That ballerina costume fits great and looks great with the group photo. How will you feel after mile 5 when that glittery thong is in the crack of your ass? Wear things you are willing to part with (and that includes your GoPro-people lose shit all the time in these events). Remember, there is barbed wire. Do NOT wear shoes that are almost dead, you’re going to need some good brakes heading down hill. Do NOT run this race in Vibram Five Fingers. I don’t care how many people you’ve seen do it. I don’t care if your badass friend did it. I have two words why not, puncture wound. The TM staff doesn’t go through and pick out all of the pointy rocks so that you can have a safe run. One sharp rock can end your race. In both events that I’ve finished, I’ve seen people bounding up the hill in those shoes at the beginning of the race. By the end of the race, they were all limping due to rolled ankles, toe injuries, etc. Train in what you plan to wear on race day. Costumes are encouraged, just be prepared for what it’s going to feel like. Be mentally prepared to bleed. No matter how covered you are, there’s a good chance that you will bleed. In 2013, I wore a full body compression suit and I still walked away with three scars and a bruised rib. In 2011, I did this run in shorts and a t-shirt. Ha! The rocks enjoyed tearing up my skin. Crawl around on the ground. Learn how to crawl on grass, dirt, and rocks without terrorizing your knees. Find some monkey bars, learn how to hang from them without injuring your shoulders and get mobile using just your arms. Make muscle-ups your friend. This exercise will help you with a lot of the obstacles. So, to sum up your training. Be able to run in cold wet everything. Be able to crawl under anything on any terrain. Get over your claustrophobia. Learn how to hoist yourself up and over things. Learn how to run after unexpected pain zaps you. During training, I was stung (twice) by a Yellowjacket. While that wasn’t planned, we had to keep running (mostly out of fear). Nothing could have prepared me more for getting shocked in the face with 10,000 volts with 5 miles left to go. Yes. That’s a thing. That can and will happen. Which brings me to my next survival point.

Be strategic with those obstacles. Each obstacle will have a few lines so that everyone can get through. When you go to the grocery store, don’t look for the people that have the fewest items, look for the most efficient cashier. The same logic applies here. If you’re about to get into a dark underground tunnel and crawl behind someone, don’t get behind the person that seems uncoordinated and uncertain. You’re asking for a traffic jam. Further, give some space between you and the Mudder in front of you. Don’t go in on their heels, unless it’s your teammate and they want you close. During the Electric Eel obstacle (slip and slide + live wires + tight space = HTFU) I heard about this one Mudder that froze and curled up into a ball. The Mudder behind was stuck, getting zapped, repeatedly. Don’t slide into a traffic jam! Also, FFS, listen to the volunteers. They will be giving you coaching points on how to complete the obstacles. Don’t try to do it your way. Let go of your ego. You may be a badass, but you’ll be a tired badass. Play it smart.

“Can’t I just walk around some of the obstacles?” Sure. You can also be locked in a room with a willing <insert your favorite celebrity> and give them a handy instead of going all the way. Come on people, you didn’t train, drive a few hours, and dress like a Liger just to walk around obstacles. Real talk, don’t be stupid. If you can’t swim, don’t jump in the deep water. Walk around the obstacles that could get you fucked up in the game. But, otherwise, go for it.

“What should I eat?” Eat a proper breakfast. Don’t eat a peanut butter sandwich and try to run 12 miles on a mountain. You’re an adult, you should know what a proper breakfast is, for your body. I’m not going to tell you to eat 4 eggs, 2 sausages, toast, coffee, juice, and a banana like I did. You might be a Vegan. Besides, I eat that same breakfast quite often. Remember, nothing new on race day. So, as part of your training, start eating a “proper” breakfast and see how far it will get you. If you run 2 miles and pass out, that’s not the right breakfast for your body.

  • Invest in some trail running shoes. Make sure that the laces can be tucked somewhere other than inside the shoe.
  • Don’t pin your bib number (and safety pins) on your chest/stomach. Did I mention that you’ll be crawling around, in mud, a lot. Unless you want to get a safety pin jab in the belly, just put the number elsewhere.
  • Gloves. You don’t need them, but should you wear them… They can be your best friend or worst enemy. If you buy the right gloves (that stand up to varying wet/dry conditions and still provide grip while hanging by your finger tips) then you’ll be happy. If you buy the wrong gloves, you’ll be pissed. Why would you wear gloves at all? NONE of the water is even 45 degrees. ALL of the water is finger-curling cold. After the 10th cold water obstacle, you’ll need to hang by those finger tips. So, of course you don’t *need* gloves. But, they’ve done me right.
  • Eyewear. Just don’t. Unless you wear contacts and you’re trying to protect your eyeballs, any eyewear will be a detriment after the first mud splash. They don’t provide Windex on the course.
  • GoPro. Prepare to lose it. That is all.
  • Underwear. Buy some moisture wicking draws or your underwear will become an under war.
  • Sunscreen all of your bits. There are some compression suits that have sun protection. But, your head and other bits of skin will burn like bacon. You’ll be out there for 2-6 hours. That’s not a typo. You will NOT leave your teammate behind. So, if you need to carry someone (yes, that is one of the obstacles) it may take a while. Waterproof, sweatproof, 10,000 volt proof sunscreen. Do it!
  • If you can find someone willing, get a Sherpa. Some teammate’s lover, friend, or roommate will (hopefully) be willing to hike the spectator trail and schlep some supplies for you and take pictures. Make sure that person (or your bag that you should leave at check-in) has a dry change of clothes and some comfort food for the finish line.
  • Lodging. Stay as close to the start/finish line as possible. Book your stay the minute they announce the venue. You’ll be happy when you wake up stress-free and happier when you can shower immediately afterwards. TM crew will hose you down at the end. The water will not be warm. Did I mention that all of the water is cold? So, choose your event date wisely! There’s an event in Toronto in Autumn. Ha! No thanks!
  • Create a team chant or call. When someone gets too far behind, they can call out the code word for “Wait for me!”

So, I hope all of this helps you to prepare for your first Tough Mudder. Don’t be afraid of Mudder. Make it YOUR Mudder. Enjoy your training.

Here are some pictures before, during, and after the event in 2013 with my teammate, Sae. Good times!



I’m Not A Team Player (But Neither Are You)

Disclaimer: Before this post gets under way, I want to provide my perception of the Americanism team player. Team player is a noun that originated in the late 19th century that describes a person who willingly works in cooperation with others. As you know, cooperation is a joint action. We do this instead of doing it myself, you get the idea. I’m of the opinion that in a joint action, no one should ever wonder “why am I working harder than them?” By the time you’re thinking that thought, the team has already broken down. There’s not much joint in the action and there’s no action in this joint.

I’m not a team player. That’s the one phrase that you’ll never say during a job interview. I often mutter to myself, “this is why I hate working on teams”. You see, it’s not that I’m not a team player. The issue is that others are not team players and the people in charge of the teams rarely do anything to stop social loafing (more on that later). How many times have you heard this one, “Together everyone achieves more!” It’s true. If we work together to build this house, we’ll achieve more than if I were to attempt it on my own. I’m guilty of preaching another nonsequitur to my former team. “If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot!”, I would say. It wasn’t until I found myself in a non-leadership role again that it occurred to me that everyone has a different definition of doing a “little”. Some people are fine with mediocrity, have no ambition, and do the bare minimum. That’s not a judgment, it’s truth. Don’t believe me? Work in management for two weeks! Going back to one of the previous statements, it’s true that together everyone achieves more. But, that doesn’t mean that everyone attempts more or gives a stronger effort. In a team environment, it’s quite the contrary. This week’s post is about what I call the TEAL factor (Together Everyone Attempts Less) and what you can do about it as a leader in your organization (corporation, sporting environment, non-profit fundraisers, etc.) to mitigate such behavior.

It’s worth mentioning… There is a Grand Canyon-sized difference between leaders and managers. I could write 2,000 words on that subject alone. But, there’s a good chance that you can tell the difference between a leader and manager through your colleagues that are in managerial roles. In short, all leaders should be managers but not all managers know how to lead.

If you’ve taken a psych class, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of Social Loafing. No, it’s not that internet rabbit hole time suck that causes you to lose track of the day due to fucking around on the social internet. Social loafing is what happens in a team environment. Most people will try to pull their own weight but, they’ll be resistant to pulling anyone else’s weight. Because of that, people make less of an effort. I’ve certainly been guilty of it. On a recent clean up crew, I would size up how much had to be moved and how far it had to go. Based on the number of us to get the work done, I did some quick math and figured that moving two stacks was more than my share. So, I did more than my share and I did it faster than anyone else. While everyone else was struggling with one stack, I was done and ready to bounce. Then everyone was looking at me because I wasn’t helping them. I was resistant to pulling anyone else’s weight. Perhaps, I’m not a team player. Perhaps they should have worked just as hard as I did. Another way to define social loafing is when there exists a task that everyone views as low priority. Everyone will assume that someone else will get that. It will get done, many will say. No one will actually do it.

It’s worth mentioning… One definition of team player is a person that is willing to assist their team members in a task when their abilities are not as substantial his/her own. It’s like the Hulk doing more of the heavy lifting than the rest of the Avengers because of his strength.

Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Ringelmann effect. Have you ever been at a picnic when someone starts selecting people and positions for a rope tug of war? What do you notice? The person that’s organizing the game will try to evenly distribute the strength of the two teams. Some insist that the strongest should be in front. Some insist that the strongest should be in back. Which team will use their strength to win the war? Well, the disappointing news is that strength won’t determine the winner. The Ringelmann effect can best be summarized by stating that individual effort is inversely proportional to the number of people in the group. Let’s say that you are able to pull 100 pounds attached to the end of a rope. If we were to measure the amount of effort you put into pulling a rope while alone, we’ll call that 100 pounds 100 percent effort. Now, let’s make this a tug of war with you and someone on the other side of equal strength. Both of you exert 100% effort in your respective groups of 1. Now, let’s give each side an additional person and make groups of 2. Both group members will only exert ~92% effort. Assuming that 1% is equal to 1 pound, two people would be able to pull 184 pounds (together everyone achieves more). If they were to give their full effort (together everyone attempts less), the two group members should be able to pull 200 pounds. Back to the tug of war. Let’s bump each group up to four per side. Each group member will only exert between 78-86% of their full effort. The range of effort tends to float around those same numbers for groups of five or six. Here’s the best part. When actors were paid to pretend to pull on the rope on the same side, group members were tested one at a time and they still exerted less than their full effort. Why? Some believe that group members felt their contribution would do little to change the outcome if five other people were pulling with them on the same side. I’ve been guilty of it. I was in an organized tug of war a few years back and I kept thinking how stupid it was and how I wasn’t going to fuck up my hands for a silly game. I did not give my full effort. Neither did anyone else. You are not a team player.

It’s worth mentioning… This information on the Ringelmann effect can be found in the textbook Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology on pages 173-174. The suggestions below were inspired by a combination of the textbook and my own personal experience and language to put it in my own words. I’m not just restating the textbook.

So, before you begin bragging about how well your staff works together as a team, I challenge you to ferret out how often Social Loafing or the Ringelmann effect are happening under your supervision. When you find that it is (and it is) here are a few ways to reel it in.

-Create Specialists As a leader, you should be able to rattle off any of your team member’s special skills at a moment’s notice. Whenever possible, give your team tasks/roles that are specific to their talents. Some people-in-charge (PIC) have a tendency to just say “git-r-done” without assigning specific tasks/roles within the team. Instead, ask individuals on the team to do what they’re good at, treat them like specialists. Specialists don’t assume that their contribution won’t matter.

-Acknowledge Individual Contributions To The Team (This is very different from giving everyone a goddamned trophy just for showing up. If that’s happening in your kid’s school, you might want to consider what this will do to their future work ethic.) When the project is complete, take the time to say thank you to team members by name for the specific contribution they made to accomplishing the goal. Based on the size of your team, this may be difficult. You may end up (intentionally) leaving some people off of the thank you speech because they didn’t give their strongest effort. In that case, see the next suggestion.

It’s worth mentioning… Make sure that you can see the effort in full before you judge it to determine each player’s level of contribution. This is easy on a 5-person basketball team, not on a 100-person corporate team.

-Conduct Individual Meetings This is the most important way to improve any team. Preaching to the choir is pointless. They already believe in the gospel. When one teammate is fucking up, don’t send out a choir email suggesting that everyone stop doing [fill in the blank] when there are only a few fuck up ducks that are doing [fill in the blank]. I’ve asked PIC to not send me emails asking me to stop doing things I’ve never done. It’s a form of passive aggressiveness. It’s even worse when a PIC sets up a meeting to make sure that everyone is on the same page. The same thing happens at every meeting, the fuck up duck goes quack and never shows. So, the entire choir is sitting around listening to the gospel while the heathen (the reason for the team meeting) is not in attendance. Set a one-on-one meeting with the fuck up duck and set them straight. It’s the only way the weak link in the chain will be fixed.

-Role Reversal When possible, have your team members walk in each other’s shoes for a while. Maybe this only makes sense during a practice session. But, there’s no better way to form appreciation for what the rest of your team does than by doing it. As the PIC, try to make this happen during your next team building exercise and then talk about feelings and shit to make sure that everyone gets the point of the exercise.

It’s worth mentioning… Not being a team player isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So, as a PIC performing an interview, encourage people to be honest about their feelings towards teams. If someone says, “I’m not a team player.” Ask why and let that answer be the catalyst of your decision. If someone claims that they work harder on their own, think back to the Ringelmann effect. They’re not just blowing their own horn or bullishitting you. People actually work harder when they think that all of the responsibility is on them.

Until next week (and beyond), continue to work hard on your own! Work harder (than 78% effort) on your team while being communicative, consistent, and considerate. Don’t be a fuck up duck!
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