5 Top Tips to Maximise Your Indoor Cycling Workout

It’s a very miserable bank holiday Monday. It has been raining all night and it still is. Breakfast done, soup for dinner is already on the stove and now just having an hour or so of me time before I cover a class in my local gym.

It has been a very busy week. Two classes almost every day plus I finally had my fitness testing session at Cadence. I must say I am really happy with the results as in most areas tested I am on a “trained athlete’s” level. Now the challenge will be to fit the training session into my day. Fingers crossed.

Today I wanted to talk about something that we as instructors witness and mention very often especially if you teach across many different locations: how to maximise the effects of your indoor cycling session. It all comes down to a few top tips. these are relevant at whatever your level as a rider.

Let’s crack on then:

1. BIKE SET UP.
I am like a broken record: I go through it at the start of EVERY class. I walk around and check it individually and then go through it again with the group. Please follow it. PROBLEM: with the wrong set up you can’t work as hard as you would otherwise, you risk discomfort and over time injury. SOLUTION: ask your instructor. In many cases people say: “I have it like that because I have back problem”. I often respond: “You have a back problem BECAUSE you sit that way”. It doesn’t apply to everyone but it does to many.

2. YOUR FITNESS GEAR – WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?
This is crucial. There is so much available in terms of gym clothes out there we are spoilt for choice. Even price wise. Yet still many people make basic mistakes.

First, wearing cotton T-shirts. PROBLEM: they get soaking wet in the more often than not incredibly hot studios. That means that they get heavy, you get very hot or very cold very quickly especially if you sit close to an air con vent. SOLUTION: get a proper moisture wicking gear that will transform your experience.

Second, wearing long sleeve tops and long trousers. Some people wear these because they want to sweat more and as a result burn more calories. PROBLEM: if you overheat your body, you cannot work as hard as you would if you were able to keep cooler. If you want to do a long endurance ride – same tempo without many surges or intervals then probably you can get away with it. Otherwise you are not doing yourself any favours. SOLUTION: I know some people feel cold when they enter a studio and only after the warm up they realise they may be overdressed: wear layers so you can take the long sleeve top off for the class and put it back on for the cool down/stretching.

Next is wearing loose trousers with wide leg. PROBLEM: have you seen people cycling outside with one leg of their trousers folded up or wearing a funny rubber thingy over their ankle? There is a reason for it: the trouser leg may get entangled in the pedal.

3. WHAT IS THAT ON YOUR FEET? PLIMSOLLS?!
My advice to anyone who takes even just 2 indoor cycling classes per week but regularly, to invest in the cycling shoes with cleats. Yes, they will set you back about £60-£70 at least but you will never look back after wearing them. And they will last you a couple of years at least (provided they are not the cheapest thing out there). I have seen people come to the class wearing normal trainers, MTB shoes, plimsolls and the barefoot running rubber-thingies. PROBLEM: with all these shoes are the soles. MTBs just don’t fit in the cages. Plimsolls or very thing soled trainers just don’t give you enough support and when you are to do a standing or seated climb with a lot of resistance your foot will arch. That means you are facing discomfort in the class, pain and over time even an injury.

Even wearing a good pair of trainers you will always face the dreaded STRAPS that are to hold your foot in the cage. These are very often broken or keep getting loose during the class and you need to stop to tighten them up.

When wearing the cycling shoes your foot will always be positioned in the right way above the pedal, you will be able to actually pull from your heel rather than just push down as you are one with the pedal. They will take some getting used to – especially clipping in and out 🙂 but they are so worth it.

4. THAT’S A BUMMER.
Yes, the bum. PROBLEM: We spend a lot of time sitting on it in a class. And no, it is not comfortable. The level of discomfort comes as a real shock to many beginners. After the first class (or if you only do one a week) you need to remember not to sit on hard surfaces for a couple of days after the class… People try to deal with it in different ways. Some fold a towel over the saddle. I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. The other week I have witnessed for the first time in 3 years someone who goes as far as to keep on his feet the whole 45 minutes rather than sit down on such an uncomfortable surface.

SOLUTION: first and foremost bike set up. That answer is like “switch it on and off” in IT 🙂 Then try taking 2-3 classes a week even for a couple of weeks. It should get the derriere used to the idea. Otherwise there are gel seats or those padded shorts. If you decide to go with the shorts make sure they are well fitted.

5. I AM NOT A SCIENTIST. I AM NOT A PRO ATHLETE. I AM NOT INTERESTED.
Did you guess what this one is about? The computer consoles on bikes. Thankfully, more and more gyms are putting in new generation bikes that are giving us back loads of valuable data so we can actually see where we are at in terms of fitness and whether we are getting any better.

PROBLEM: For many people suddenly having a screen with many (sometimes too many) numbers feels like they can no longer have fun in the class. Now it’s all Watts’s this and Watt’s that 🙂

SOLUTION: if you take part in a power oriented class these numbers are vital to know how hard you should be working. However, you are always free to ignore them and follow other clues from your instructor like keep to the beat of the music, make sure it feels like a hill/flat etc. You may not care about the number of Watts you are producing and that is fair enough. However, you can always benefit from tracing your speed – RPM.

As an instructor I am thrilled to have these tools available so I can vary the focus of my classes. I used to do cadence/speed drills on the old school bikes and they did work well. But now when you can actually SEE what speed you are at and can keep yourself in check rather than GUESS whether you have slowed down or not, it makes for such a better and more challenging workout.

What I am saying is having a bike with a console only to put a towel over it for the whole class is like getting an Aston Martin or a Ferrari and just drive it at 20mph to the local corner shop and back. Just give it a chance, see what it can do. You don’t have to use all the gadgets. Also as the instructors do use these numbers more and more, you may feel a bit excluded having to work out where you should be while everyone else is just following a number.

Man up and sit down? It’s never that straight forward

I had a very busy weekend. It’s summer holiday season and everyone is looking for class covers so I had 3 classes this weekend. The one I want to tell you about though is one of my new classes. It’s a shared one too – every second Sunday.

Now those who know me know that I am always at least 30min early for my classes. And today was no exception. I cycled to the gym way ahead of schedule and was enjoying myself at the bar area for AGES and decided to go up to the studio 20min before the class was due to start. Or so I thought. Turns out I read the schedule wrong and at the time I was opening the studio door was supposed to be the start time! Oops!

But I knew what we were going to do and simply proceeded to go through set up etc and asked the usual: “Any injuries, pregnancies or medication?” question. The only gentleman in the small group of 4 waved me down. I approached him with music already on and he pointed to his lower back and bottom and mouthed: “Standing”. I thought I understood him. I interpreted it as: lower back issues so I won’t do any standing.

We started the warm up and 10 seconds in he stood up and proceeded this way. I walked up to him and realised his bike set up was very bad with the saddle at the height of a BMX performance bike. I said: “Let me get this up for you as it’s way too low”. He then responded: “No, no. I have back issues and don’t sit”. You should see the confusion in my face: “What do you mean? Not at all?! For 45min?”. “Exactly! That’s how I always do it. Don’t worry!”. You should see my face. I dragged my jaw along the floor towards my bike to try and digest this info.

I continued to teach and focused on the 3 ladies but from the corner of my eye I could see that his technique out of the saddle was absolutely awful and threatening serious injury especially with him being on the other side of 40…

It’s a tough act juggling a group and a case like that. Why did I have to confuse start time today! I should have had 15min with this guy before class!

To cut long story short: it got so bad I sat on a bike next to him for a while to demonstrate correct technique. I suggested that when he needs a break he should get off the bike for a while – no results. I was THAT close to asking him to leave but I felt I couldn’t as I didn’t know the whole story.

Finally the 45min was up. I walked up to him straight away worrying he may shoot off before I had my chance. I asked: “What is exactly your injury/issue and is it diagnosed or self-diagnosed?” He played it cool and said: “Oh, I just have a really sensitive bum and it hurts me too much when I sit. Don’t worry, I have been riding like that for years!”. WTF?! I don’t know what I was appalled at more: that he’s been doing it like that for that long or that other instructors were fine with it.

I seriously thought the God of Spinning would strike me with lightning if I allowed him to continue to ride like that! I told him that part of me as an instructor died in those 45minutes. He said: “Well, I will die if I don’t do any exercise and this is the only thing I like. I am getting fat but I used to be good at sports so my legs are strong. I can stand up on the bike.” “With all due respect Sir, not even TDF riders stand up for 45min without breaks.”

I said to him that he could not ride like that in my class as he was in too much of a risk of injury to his knees (straight all the time as he had almost no resistance), lower back and shoulders (right next to his ears as he was locking the elbows in all the time). He was quite chilled and just said: “That’s fine, just tell me when you teach and I will simply avoid these classes”. I was rendered speechless…

It wasn’t about removing him from my field of vision. It’s about knowing that he is hurting himself that was bothering me. I explained all the whys. I said he wasn’t really getting a workout – his HR judging from his breathing was not going up much due to lack of resistance. When asked if he tried other classes he said he only does ALL SPIN classes on the timetable.

“Let’s set you up properly so maybe you can take 30sec or 1min breaks in the saddle? It will also help you with your technique so you can feel where the saddle is”. I gave him a card with all the numbers. I gave him pointers on technique and said it would be better for him to get off the bike every 2nd song and stretch or do whatever he likes. I made him promise that if he comes back we will work on it.

When I had some time to digest it all after getting back home, I send a couple of messages into the ether asking whether anyone encountered anything like it. There came suggestions I was too shocked to offer the guy in the first place:padded shorts or gel seat. I felt so stupid for not mentioning it but I was literally gobsmacked.

I thought: if he does a few classes a week, if he started sitting down he would be fine within a couple of weeks. He should just man up!

And then someone else said this: maybe he’s got piles hence he said “sensitive” rather than “the saddle is too uncomfortable”. You see this is something I didn’t think of. If that’s the case I can completely understand why he wouldn’t want to sit at all and pedal.

But if it is, should he continue taking indoor cycling classes? I think since the group is small I can work out a programme for him where he gets off every second song and does a core exercise. I really hope he will come back 🙂

The conversation with him made me think of another issue: would you or should you exercise at ANY cost? Regardless of what the implications can be? I used to run long distance and loved it. But then the disk went. The doctors said: a year down the line and you would be able to go back to it. But I won’t risk it. The cost is too high. For the same reason I stopped all high impact activities. What if there was only one thing you could motivate yourself to get up and do but the way you did it was harmful in the long run? Any thoughts?

Look mum! No hands!

This post is inspired by what I have been seeing quite a lot of in my classes recently and also by a vivid discussion on one of indoor cycling instructors’ forums.

It’s about riding a bike hands free. A seemingly innocent topic that got a lot of instructors very agitated and if I am honest, it does rub me the wrong way sometimes when I see it in my class too. Why – you ask?

First, let’s discuss the issue from the favourite perspective: keeping it real. Which basically means, if you don’t do it outside, you don’t do it inside. But if any of you ever rode a bike outside, as a kid or teenager, or even watched kids ride bikes you know they DO do it. It’s not easy and it’s a kind of “right of passage”. It simply means you’re good! You are cool.

I have done it. I would sometimes ride almost all the way from school hands free! And (don’t tell my mum) I would take the two very dangerous turns downhill hands free too. Oh the thrill of it! It allows you to feel the bike. You realise how important little shifts in your body position are. You can actually turn hands free! I loved it.

You would also do it on a long ride to take a break and rest your back a bit, stretch a little.

Pro cyclists do it when they need their hands free: to eat, adjust helmet, glasses, take off an extra layer of clothing. Actually anyone who ever rode outside knows that it’s annoying to have to stop to take the jacket off only for the wind to change 5min later when you have to stop again to put it back on – waste of time unless you can let go of the handle bars and do it while riding.

http://www.active.com/…/articles/how-to-ride-with-no-hands

Therefore various benefits include: rest, balance/core work and practicality.

Now let’s move indoors. Rest? Sure. Especially if you are new to cycling and you find the normal position uncomfortable. I actually encourage little breaks where you roll the shoulders back, shake off you hands – a lot of beginners tend to squeeze the handle bars causing the shoulders to rise and the whole upper body to stiffen up.

I do however discourage sitting up for 30 sec or more at a time or doing it every minute. Why? As we are on a stationary bike when you let go of the handle bars you do not cause the core to engage in a more beneficial way – the bike doesn’t move, you do not need to balance. Pedalling technique suffers a bit as well, especially if you do it on a “hill”. And if you let go with too little resistance you are more than likely to be bouncing uncontrollably.

Mainly though, you are robbing yourself of a workout as sitting up significantly diminishes the power you are able to produce: you are not working as hard as when you are holding onto the bars. If you train on a bike with a power meter, try it: watch the Watts in both positions.

Now as an instructor you always look for reasons why people do things in a certain way, especially if it’s not something you do during the class so there must be other reason. I see 4 of them.

First, as mentioned above, stiff upper body due to squeezing the bars too tight. This can be trained over time.

Second, bad bike set up which is making riding uncomfortable. This can be easily fixed.

Third, issues that cannot be spotted unless the participant discloses them. It can be for example a chronic neck problem which again can be remedied by raising the handlebars slightly. Someone on the forum mentioned a participant who had the habit of sitting up a lot. It turns out he had a pacemaker and even with the handle bars higher than normal he found the position uncomfortable for longer periods of time. So as you can see there are exceptions to every rule.

Fourth, and that is my own observation: those unwilling to work hard do sit up A LOT. Mainly because when you are sitting on a bike for 45min, unless you are pushing hard enough to make it uncomfortable and raising your heart rate, it is plainly BORING. The only variation would be to sit up, look around trying to spot the clock praying it will show it’s almost over…

To sum up, sitting up hands free on an indoor bike for a few seconds to have a drink, a stretch etc is fine and is not dangerous. Longer or frequent periods in that position are just inefficient.

Now going hands free whilst STANDING is a totally different matter. Nobody would do it outdoors and you definitely shouldn’t do it indoors. It DOES NOT work your balance and core more – the bike is not moving so you do not really practice that skill. It puts unnecessary pressure on your knees and lower back, your pedal stroke is no longer circular and smooth plus you run a risk of losing your balance and leaving your teeth on the bars.

Exaggerating? This is what happened to me in June during my last class before the Tour of Cambridgeshire race. We were climbing out of the saddle and I let go of one hand to make a motion: keep your bum back and your bodyweight on your legs, when my cleat came loose and my foot came out. To prevent myself from falling I had to grab the handle bars quickly and trying to do that I jarred my index finger into the bars. My hand swelled up for a few days. Two months later and I am waiting for an x-ray results as my finger is not fine. I can’t shake hands with people as squeezing it is very painful, I can’t write with a pen without wincing and lifting a mug or a kettle causes discomfort too.

Consider yourselves warned 🙂

The Big Leap – pondering on my life as an indoor cycling instructor

Another amazing sunset in Wandsworth tonight. It was a beautiful and busy day. In fact a busy week.

This post is to update you a bit on what’s happening now in my professional life as an indoor cycling instructor. And quite a lot is happening actually.

Those who know me know how passionate I am about being the best instructor I can be. I have now taught over 900 indoor cycling classes. Some will say that is nothing compared to their 10 years of teaching but it is a lot for me. Approaching the big 1000!

I have taught at GymBox, FF, VA, Nuffield, GoodVibes, various corporate gyms, 37 Degrees & The Fitness Mosaic. Variety of people, bikes, sound systems, class length and expectations. I have taken many professional courses to date and more are still coming. I am off to a big fitness event:The Big One in Sheffield with some friends from FF Clapham Junction on 5th September (please contact me if you want to join us! http://www.chrysalispromotions.com/shop/products.php?product=The-Big-One-2015) Then a week later off to Manchester for a big conference on new media. Exciting stuff. Then finally in November the biggest cycling trip so far: Costa Rica, Panama & Nicaragua!

And all my hard work seems to be finally paying off with gyms now contacting ME to offer classes just based on referrals from other gyms and instructors.

That’s why I feel like I am finally ready for making the Big Leap in my career and moving into fitness. Full time? Probably not yet. But it’s becoming much more of a WHEN rather than IF question.

Why? There comes a point in your life when you have to make a choice: are you satisfied with comfortable life or do you want actual professional satisfaction and fulfilment? I now know where my passion is. And I have met the right people to help me make the leap.

Without getting too philosophical, I do believe that you meet certain people for a reason. So if you ever come across someone in real life or online and you have a strong feeling that you should get the person’s contact number, even if you were on your way out – go back and ask for the details. If you know the person’s name but it’s too late there and then – find them online. I have met one of the most influential people as far as my career path choice is concerned at a Barclays branch! She was my personal banker – accidentally became one. Then I found her on FB. Then after she had left the job we kept in touch and I visited her and her family on the Isle of Wight. Now she’s very much present in my professional development and she and her husband helped me make many important decisions. Including starting this blog! So thank you Izabela Russell!

Tyrese Gibson said: “People come to your life for a reason or for a season” and I agree. Many people in my life turned up for a reason but they only were in for a season – when I needed their help. Others have stayed.

Now, why would I even consider swapping a cushy office number for a freelance indoor cycling instructor job? With the unsteady hours, stupidly early or late classes, troublesome mikes etc. Honestly? If I were to only be an instructor – have my own workout in front of a bunch of people I have no connection with and get paid for it – I wouldn’t do it. But I love TEACHING, motivating people, being there when they have their “light bulb” moment, when they do a challenge and achieve their goals. The plan is to move into coaching, training etc. I also have got something else I have been researching for a while but I will tell you about it on a separate occasion.

And for stories like the one from this morning when I was covering a class. I asked about injuries and this girl put her hand up. I went over and she told me she had a wrist injury so it was hard for her to stay out of the saddle unless she put her weight on her left forearm.
I said: ‘Don’t worry there is not much time out of the saddle planned for today’.
‘Oh! are you one of THESE then?’
‘Pardon?’
‘One of these instructors that will make us stay in the saddle for 45minutes?’
I kind of ignored that one, gave her a smile and told her: ‘Don’t worry you will be fine’.
After the class ended she came over and asked if I had a regular class at that gym. I said: ‘Ermm, no. However THIS class will become my perm class in a few weeks’ time’.
‘Great!’ she said with a genuine smile. Then added:
‘Don’t get me wrong: I HATED IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH but you were so motivational and your energy was so high I pushed myself the extra mile. I think I have become a bit complacent in my classes. See you soon’. Another satisfied customer! (was a comment from Tony, one of my regulars)

Watch this space!