“Spinning won’t make you fit”. Or will it?

This week I came across an article on one of the forums for indoor cycling instructors: http://www.stack.com/2015/09/16/spinning-probably-wont-make-you-fit-heres-why.

It has caused quite a stir so I decided to respond to it. I will just take out the main points it makes to allegedly prove why indoor cycling will not make you fit as opposed to having a personal trainer and lifting weights. It is based on an interview with a personal trainer Brian Nguyen. He’s not just a PT. He’s “trainer to Mark Wahlberg” which clearly makes him much more of a fitness authority. Let’s dive right into it.

“Spinning is tough. After an hour of pedaling at high speed, you’ve probably left a puddle of sweat on the floor under your bike. (…)The classes are fun, and the routines can easily lead to the assumption that participants get a great workout”.

Anyone who has taken a properly well structured indoor cycling class with a qualified instructor will ask: are we talking about the boutique style “dance-on-the-bike-doing-crazy-stuff” type of class or are we talking about a proper indoor cycling class? Because the latter involves much more and the speed used in these classes is way more controlled.

If however you refer to the classes advertised as a full body workout involving using tiny weights, resistance bands and full of what we call “fluff” then I wholeheartedly agree. But please do not put us all in the same bag.

“Spinning produces similar effects in the body as jogging. (…) Once you finish a spin class, your body no longer burns calories”

Here is where I got really kind of pissed off (my blog, I can say that 🙂 ). He didn’t even say “running”. He said “jogging”. I used to jog. I lost a bit of weight, gained some muscle but I agree, the results were not WOW. Question to FF CJS members who have ever taken Jitka’s, Cheryl’s, Serena’s or my class: would you compare it to 45min of “jogging”?! What classes has this dude taken in his life to make such a statement? The answer is: really bad ones…

If I were to give an “expert opinion” the way he has I would say even a workout with a personal trainer using weights and what not has the same effects. How? If you have a bad trainer who tells you to use weights that aren’t enough to cause an overload. One that makes you follow a programme that’s not tailored to your needs. What kind of PT would do that?! A bad one. Have I ever seen these? Yes, I have.

Now as far as the second part of the statement goes – that the effects of the class finish as soon as you get off that bike? I really question fitness qualifications of that guy. Whatever exercise you choose: rowing, cycling, running etc you can do them at different intensities, with different goals in mind: speed or strength endurance, HIIT, threshold work etc. If every spin class involved pedalling at the same tempo for 60min who on earth would keep doing it?

And I have news for you Brian. You better sit down though and brace yourself: YOU CAN DO TABATA ON A BIKE!

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I am convinced this guy either took ONE class and it wasn’t a good one or is basing his opinions on hearsay. He doesn’t seem to think you can do intervals in a spin class.

Here comes the big one folks:

“Spinning doesn’t build muscle.(…) Cycling never makes your body gain lean body mass, and that’s the thing that burns fat. At the end of the day, metabolism isn’t improved on a bike.”

First reference to spinning is already incorrect but Mr Nguyen goes far beyond that and refers to “cycling” in general. I would ask him to check out a few names and relevant pictures of their legs: Marcel Kittel, Chris Hoy, oh hell: Tom Scotto! And I would invite him to watch this (extreme) little clip:

“Spinning doesn’t give individual progression”

It definitely used to be true however you could always test yourself periodically and compare the results. But these days we have bikes with computer consoles and data. We have coaching by colour brought by MatrixIC7 bikes. Please Mr Nguyen, do your research first.

Finally we get to the last one:

“Spinning reinforces common injuries”

Yes, cycling involves sitting, we agree on that. But it is also the best low impact activity next to swimming that actually helps with many health problems and is used in physiotherapy. There is such a thing as bike fitting Brian, and any good instructor will ensure your set up prevents any back or other discomfort. As per the core not being engaged: you need a strong core to be a strong and efficient cyclists even indoors. You may not feel it as much indoors as outdoors but no, cycling is not a “complete full body workout” nor is it claiming to be. If you refer to those “fluff” classes that make that claim – please make the distinction between those and SPINNING or proper INDOOR CYCLING.

To sum up, Brian seems to know his stuff when it comes to what type of exercise gives what effects but clearly knows nothing about spinning/indoor cycling when he says:

“When combined with strength training, spinning may give you that extra calorie burn you need to accelerate fat loss. When done on its own, your results from spinning will likely fall short of your expectations.”

Spinning is all exercise I do. In 2.5 years dropped 3 dress sizes and kept it off. My recent fitness tests show that my cycling performance levels are that of a trained athlete.

So Mr Nguyen, I respectfully disagree.

It’s getting hot in herre so take off all your clothes!

We have all been there both as instructors and participants: an indoor cycling studio with an insufficient or broken air con system. Or a non-existent one. Or one that is set up to a temperature that is way too high for 45 people riding bikes.

Tony, who you learned a bit about in my last blog, recently picked up on that and asked me to write about it. We aim to please, so Tony here it is.

Anyone who has ever been to an indoor cycling class knows how warm the studio feels a few minutes into the class and how hot it gets half way through. And it generally does not matter how big the space is or whether it is full or not. Yes, it will partially depend on WHAT PROFILE people are riding and HOW HARD they are working. But the main WHY is simple: cycling is a strenuous cardiovascular exercise that by its nature raises the body temperature.

Hence even if the studio feels really cool when you walk in and you even resort to keeping your long sleeve top on or you towel over your shoulders, within the first few minutes of the warm up you notice the difference.

Now if you ask 5 random people in any indoor cycling class how they feel about their studio being not ventilated properly or getting really hot really quickly I guarantee you will have responses varying from: “that’s the nature of the class”, “it should feel really hot, shouldn’t it?”, “if the mirrors steam up that mean we are working really hard!” to “I feel like I can’t work as hard as I know I can if it’s too hot”. So which on is it?

IS IT THE CASE OF THE HOTTER THE BETTER THEN?

You know heat will raise your HR (heart rate). The important thing to understand is that that increase in HR has nothing to do with working harder. It makes your body work harder at the same power output just to deal with the heat.

Say what? Basically if you trained on a bike with a computer where you could see the power output in Watts and your HR, if the room was so hot your HR would raise as a result, you would sweat more and feel more tired (no doubt) but your Watts number would stay the same or lower.

What I mean is that your PERCEPTION may be that you worked much harder than usual! But the numbers will prove that you actually produced the same OR LESS power or if your focus is calories, you would have burnt the same number of calories (OR LESS) as in a class with air con on, lower HR and not feeling spent.

Let me say it this way: the higher HR may actually mean YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO WORK OUT HARD ENOUGH, SO IT REDUCES YOUR ABILITY TO TRAIN AT YOUR FULL POTENTIAL.

The misconception that the higher HR the better is the reason why many people love taking classes where they are encouraged to ride at crazy speeds (over 120RPM) without much resistance. It raises their HR significantly, making them sweat buckets hence the conclusion they draw is: this is a great workout. These ideas mainly thrive in places where bikes have no consoles and people don’t question their instructors.

If they had numbers in front of them they would see that higher speed makes the HR go up but all the important numbers down. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s much less comfortable to work up a sweat going at 80-90RPM with a decent resistance than 100-120RPM when it’s the bike that is riding you rather than the other way round… Yes, I have said it.

A good quality certification will cover the issue of thermo-regulation and the dangers of body overheating. That’s why I found it shocking that some boutique studios market “Hot Cycling” classes where they purposefully raise the studio temperature to seemingly make you burn more calories.

The argument for taking these hot cycling classes are that you warm up faster and sweating profusely will get rid of toxins in the body. I would say you risk mild cramps (unless you hydrate properly) and also unless you allow long cooldown and stretch, if you just run out of the studio like many people do, your muscles may just seize up which never feels nice.

I have made the joke: “Welcome to Bikram cycling!” a few times when we were faced with no air con from the start but I would not try telling my participants that this class would make them work harder due to the temperature of the studio.

Quite opposite: apart from reminding people to keep hydrated I have been known to change the class profile either half way through or from the start. I cannot expect people to do sprints or go for a HIIT class when there is simply not enough oxygen in the room to perfom these at the level required.

To quote an article from a medical professsional on from WebMD: “If the body can no longer cool itself, it starts storing heat inside. The core temperature begins to rise and you put your internal organs at risk”.

You may say: “Gee Izabela, you are exagerrating!” Well, if we are talking about a recreational rider who really is not pushing themselves that hard and not training to higher HR or power zones then maybe. But if they have high blood pressure issues or are pregnant, the risks are real.

You may say: but people cycle outside in high temperatures all the time! Yes, but if you have ever done that you know that the actual movement creates cooling airflow. Let me remind you: in indoor cycling class your bike is stationary.

MY ADVICE:

  1. Remember that higher HR does not automatically mean harder work. HR is body’s response to what you put it through and not a measure of your effort.
  2. If you are or may be pregnant or suffer from high blood pressure and the studio is too hot, please let the instructor know.
  3. Hydrate and listen to your body.

The Big One – Sheffield, 5th September 2015

We are back from Sheffield. This was my 3rd fitness showcase this year and I really enjoyed it. Especially that I finally managed to get a couple of friends to go with me. That’s how the three musketeers (Serena, Tony and I) found ourselves on the 6:37am from St Pancras to Sheffield yesterday. Not without trouble, mind you. Serena changing her mind about coming the last second, me going to the wrong station in the morning…

Anyway we had ambitiously all signed up to 5 sessions each a few weeks ago when booking the event. In my case it was 4 indoor cycling classes and PiYo (Pilates and yoga combination). But life always gets in the way somehow. Serena had had a tough week with a new qualification course and assessment, I had 2 weeks of 12 classes a week in a row with no day off. Hence on the 6:37am train we were a bit dubious of how the day would unfold, secretly hoping for a sauna or a lie-down area at the venue…

We took a cab from the station and headed for The English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. What a venue! Massive building with an indoors athletics track (full of kids having some sort of games or training), numerous studios, weights area, a whole room full of boxing rings etc. Pictures of locals like Jessica Ennis-Hill on the walls 🙂 It was so big you had an impression that there weren’t that many people attending the event itself.

The organisation was top notch. Registration area where we got our tickets, certificate of attendance etc was very well organised and surrounded by a few stalls selling fitness clothes, music, sound systems and the like.

You get this on arrival and registration

You get this on arrival and registration

Sheffield presenters

We headed for our first class – we all booked the same cycling class. We were late but thankfully they hadn’t started yet.

As we walked in they were 1 bike short and mine and Serena’s faces lit up (yes, you have read it right) so we each said: “Oh, shame. Don’t worry about me. You take the bike. I’ll just watch” while thinking: “YES! I can WATCH it and give my legs a rest!”. But the organisers swiftly came up with extra 2 bikes so we were both back on.
The instructor was Doyle Armstrong – a guy that I talked to over the phone and Facebook countless times but have never actually met. He is the one who told me about the whole event in the first place.

I must admit I was disappointed when I learnt a couple of weeks ago that the bike were not going to be MatrixIC7 but Technogym. I really wanted to see pros teach on Matrix. But it was a very good class nevertheless.

Doyle used My Ride video system so we didn’t have to visualise but could actually see the terrain we were supposed to ride through. The video was very good and Doyle’s sense of humour came through when throwing in little challenges that were tying up very well to what we were seeing.

Shame my legs were refusing to cooperate. And judging from the evil glances I was getting from Serena in the back row, her legs were on the same page. Both our sweaty faces seems to be saying: “3 more cycling classes today?! No way!”. Tony was soldiering through but then we all know: TONY IS NOT HUMAN.

The class was over. I went over to Doyle to introduce myself and was greeted with: “I know you’re Izabela!”. Underestimated the FB pictures again 🙂  Then it was Tony’s turn to head for the Kettlebells class and us two… well, we headed for… cafeteria…

OK, the little cafe was cozy but not big enough for the number of people there on the day. That was the only negative I can mention.

After a breakfast we headed to the registration area to swap our cycling classes tickets for something less strenuous. We signed up for an Old Skool Garage Jams and Shredded Body (?!). We also managed to both buy some useful instructors’ items.

Good prize and finally could see the actual size of the mic windshields before buying them!

Good price and finally could see the actual size of the mic windshields before buying them!

Man, the dance class was great! Garage music is so much fun. There were people of all ages. No wonder I get so many requests for garage music in my classes. The choreo was demanding though. At least for me. And as the class progressed every time we heard: “From the top!” Serena and I would look in horror at each other: “What is the top!? That was like hours ago!”.

The instructor Jo Parry-Ali was full of energy, infectious smiles and boy can this girl move! And on top of this she makes harem pants look cool when I can make them look like an oversized PJs in the best case.

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Then it was lunchtime. Armed with Google Maps we decided to look for a health food place called Nando’s… It took a while to get there and then by the time we found the way back filled up with nutritious chicken the chance of taking the Shredded class was just as likely as teaching it… Another short break. We looked exhausted. I was getting cramps in my adductors. Serena stretched out on the sofa in the canteen. Tony… bought a sandwich. But then we know: TONY IS NOT HUMAN.

Then it was time for next class. I was overjoyed with the prospect of lying down on my mat just a bit worried that if there will be too much yoga and relaxation nobody would be able to wake me up.

The instructor Rachel Holmes turned up wearing the most funky and colourful leggings I have ever seen. She was all colours, smiles and toned muscles. She clearly knew loads of people in the class.

And off we went. And I must say: I needed this class. Beautiful stretching, challenging core work and realisation that hit home: I need to do it regularly. My hamstring are so tight it is insane. Rachel does daily workouts on Periscope. You should definitely check her out. The class went in a flash.

We were all signed up for the final class. But just like a few other people that I saw walking around or sitting slumped up exhausted and yawning we decided to take a rain check. we headed off to the town instead. We only had like 40min before the train back to London but Sheffield town centre is so nice, clean and open spaced. We loved it.

SheffieldSheffield Tony
The train trip home was a right laugh. And don’t judge us. Yes, we had drinks on the train. Yes, Tony accidentally belched as loud as a Canadian moose prompting us to almost combust with laughter and embarrassment.

All in all it was a great event. Very good value for money as the whole day of classes was only £30. The train booked in advance cost us around £35 return. Nando’s around £10… Gin & Tonic £2.20…

I was overjoyed with the thought of having a day off today and so was Serena. I woke up at 8:45am after 10 hours sleep with the thought: I DON’T NEED to be ANYWHERE today! Serena is spending time with the family. And Tony? Tony had a Bodypump class at 9:15. But then we all know: TONY IS NOT HUMAN.

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!

Testing. Testing 123? I’ve got the POWER! You’ve got WATT? I’ve got the COLOUR POWER!

This is a post relating to the last one from earlier this week: http://spinbella.com/2015/07/28/empower-your-spin-class-training-may-the-force-be-with-you/.

I wrote the last one as I had just tweaked my two existing class profiles to turn the focus in them onto power. I simply adapted them to Coach by Colour on MatrixIC7. Did it mean changing the music or what I was going to do with each of the songs? Not at all. It was about deciding what to say and what NOT to say so as to get the participants concentrate on how HARD they were actually working.

It can be a bit tricky if you are used to teaching using RPMs and RPE scale or even gears estimation, to suddenly have this EXTRA thing to talk about. It can throw you off as an instructor. Why? Because you have your way of saying things, directing people so the workout is still a group exercise class rather than each to their own. And now the bikes have consoles with all those numbers, percentages, zones, symbols like >, <, % and your head starts spinning (no pun intended).

First time I tried to integrate teaching with colours in my usual class I felt it was a mess. The feedback wasn't bad at all but I felt like the class was not up to my usual standards. I felt I didn't have enough time to explain about power enough for it to make sense, and adding just extra information on top of all I normally say was just information overload.

So I decided to take a break. I allowed people to get used to the consoles and setting the colours up if they wished but I wasn't coaching by colour. I would still use only RPMs and resistance. Then I did all the reading and training I mentioned in my last post. And a couple months later – last Tuesday to be exact – I felt ready.

And boy did it work!!! I lead from the colours and kept people focused on the WATTS and how that number was changing and why. I asked them to try and beat their highest number in each consecutive interval (before you bash me there were only 3 in each sequence). The feedback was overwhelming! I loved teaching it and people really worked their butts off. Numbers were reached which I would have never expected to see:

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The main Takeway Golden Tip for instructors: in power focused training RPMs are/can be of less importance. Someone can be riding fast at 90 RPMs while someone else is on 68RPMs and they will both be in the same power zone depending on the resistance. It may look less “synchronised” but if you use Coach by Colour as long as the bikes light up in the colour you asked for, you know people are working as hard as you want them to (yes, you can train certain RPM brackets too but that’s another class).

Don’t get me wrong: I have loads to learn and knowledge is POWER 🙂 but a couple of months ago I simply didn’t know enough about this concept, didn’t understand it well enough to teach with it. But I am on my way. Onwards and upwards.

Now the ball is in your court as training with power only makes sense if you have a benchmark. What am I getting at? YOU NEED TO DO A POWER TEST. You need to know where you are currently at, to set yourself a target you want to head towards so you will know at any point in time where you are on that journey.

If you train on MatrixIC7 ask at your gym when the next ramp test is coming. If you work on any other bikes ask whether any kind of power tests are organised: FTP, PST, ramp tests, anything. If your gym doesn’t run any testing – suggest it. If enough people do, they may put something on.

You need a test to have the starting point and then retest every 3 months.

What if testing is not available? The next “best thing” on MatrixIC7 bikes would be experimenting over the next few classes with your colour zones. If you hit red in the warm up when your breathing doesn’t even change, your FTW number is way too low. If you hit red every time as soon as you stand up, your number is still too low – adjust it. But if you are giving it your 100%, feel like your heart is going to explode and you are panting like a steam train and you are still in yellow – your FTW number estimation was too high.

If you work on other bikes you can still have a go at doing an FTP20 test on a Wattbike.

Work with your instructor. Or even contact me here or via my FB page: Smart Fitness Izabela Ruprik if you want advice.

I am looking forward to my own testing at Cadence which has been put off due to me being ill for the past week. But I will share my experiences when I have done it. The 60s was Flower Power. It’s 2015 and we’re into Colour Power!

Empower your spin class training. May the force be with you!

I first heard the word POWER used in relation to indoor cycling when I had my basic instructor training on Wattbikes. Well, I have heard about power being used on Keiser bikes but I was not taught about how to use it, let alone teach with it.

So I learnt a bit about the concept of using power in your training on a Wattbike but there was an issue here – these bikes are fantastic for training but not so much for exercising. It’s like using an Aston Martin to nip up for milk to the corner shop. I ended up teaching the “old school” way on them: using the RPMs and resistance.

But then a gym where I have regular classes brought in those new shiny bikes that light up in different colours and have the most futuristic name to go with it: Matrix IC7. And the concept of POWER in cycling came up again. Like it or no Izabela – Welcome to Coaching with Colour.

I was a bit sceptical to begin with. There is loads of data that the bike feeds back to you but why would an average Joe be bothered with it? However since the bikes came in a couple of months ago I have done loads of reading, online research, online training and actual 2 day course on training with power in indoor cycling or cycling in general. There is still loads for me to learn but I feel ready to write this little guide directed as much at an average spin class attendee and someone who wants to take their fitness to another level. Or even an outdoor cyclist who may be a bit doubtful how sitting indoors can make them any stronger or better outside.

WHAT IS POWER? In simplest terms related to cycling: it’s your speed/cadence x your resistance/gear. It is measured in WATTS. The number of watts you produce is a MEASURE of how hard you are working. With no consoles you can only guess your speed and resistance. Do you want to see it?

I DON’T EVEN OWN A REAL BIKE SO WHAT DO I CARE ABOUT POWER?
I spoke to Ruth, one of my regulars and now more like a friend, last week in the changing rooms: “Hey Ruth, I haven’t seen you in the class today?”. “No, I had to change my gym routine. You see I started putting on weight again. I can see the change in my body. Cycling doesn’t seem to do it for me anymore. I am doing weight training now”. So Ruth used to do about 5 indoor cycling classes a week. On Tuesdays she would do both mine back to back. What happened then? Has she reached the level of too-fit-for-cycling? No but it is quite simple: we do not appreciate how clever our bodies are.

If from nothing you go to 2 classes a week with the intent of losing weight, you will lose it. To a point. Until your body gets used to your gym timetable. When I kept teaching more and more classes a week: 3-4-5-6 I was constantly hungry but I seemed to be able to eat loads and still lose weight. Now I am on 10 a week and I don’t anymore. Why? Because this is now a regular number. The body knows what is coming and it found a coping strategy. I hit the dreaded plateau. I can see you screaming: WHAT?! 10?! AND NOT LOSING WEIGHT!? I CAN’T DO MORE THEN 10?! And that’s not the way forward. You change the WHAT or HOW and you don’t have to change the HOW MUCH.

Yes, you can change your routine completely and move into weight training but what if you really, really like indoor cycling? You re-focus your training. Do you actually know how hard you are working? Do you know if you are any stronger on the bike than you were 3 months ago? Do you know what your strong and week points are?

NO STRESS – NO ADAPTATION.
Until the bikes with power meters came around we had really no way of measuring any of this. Now we can. Now you can test yourself and retest 3 or 6 months later and see if you got fitter. And by watching the numbers on the consoles and working towards your goals you can still keep the same number of classes a week and if your goal was to do with losing weight – you will keep losing it. I kid you not!

Don’t worry though: this does not only apply to HIIT classes. It doesn’t have to be all out effort each time.

WHAT DOES POWER TRAINING DO FOR ME?
It will increase your muscular strength. It will improve the toning of your legs (hello!). It will improve your cardiovascular fitness overall. It will add variety and motivation to your training: you will know what you are working towards and you will know when you get there. Hell, it will make you a better runner too! I can put you in touch with Russ who takes my classes twice a week and over the last 12 months his half marathon times improved significantly since he added indoor cycling to his fitness routine.

MAKE IT PERSONAL – SPECIFIC
Do you want to get stronger? On the Matrix bikes you keep to your colour zones and pay attention where you are in the zone: lower end or higher end. Maybe you want to get faster? When given an RPM bracket stick to the higher end – you can see your speed in a number format so you can monitor it.

IT ALL SOUNDS LOVELY. IT SOUNDS LIKE LOADS OF FUN. YAY!
DISCLAIMER: NO. IT CAN REALLY, REALLY SUCK. You know me. I tell it as it is. But it will get unpleasant. It will get uncomfortable. You will be panting and sweating more than what you are used to. Exercise can be fun. Training is great fun when you put it into use on a race day or when you achieve your goal in the class by hitting that RPM or that WATT number you were aiming for. A wide grin and a fist pump will come. Later. But not during. It is hard. Your brain will tell you: “Stop now, I don’t like it. Why? WHY? You could have been in a pub right now!” You will leave a puddle of sweat underneath your bike. When given a 2 min recovery song in an exercise class you go: “Oh God, 2min!? Boring! Let me check the view outside…” When you train you go: “Oh, God! 2min?! I need 4. Please, please can I have 2.5?!”.

Now in a group class environment you will always have yourself as the worst enemy. You will have that little devil on your left shoulder saying: “She can’t see you now… She doesn’t know what your goal is anyway… Take a bit of the resistance down… You know you can push 200 WATTS, you KNOW it. You don’t actually have to DO it now… Just scrunch your face so it looks like you are pushing it…” But at the end of the class when you press your SUMMARY button and see those numbers and actually see whether you have achieved your targets you will KNOW you won’t have to GUESS. I don’t need to see it. But YOU will.

WHY THEN? WHY?!
The key is knowing why you are training. You hear me ask this question at the start of many of my classes: “Why are you here? Why are you in an (often) hot studio, willing to sweat next to other 20 people instead of being somewhere nice, relaxing?”. “Why are you training?” is a bit of a broader question that will focus not on that one class but a few weeks or months. In simple terms in any sport you train to be faster or stronger while suffering less in the process. This will not apply if your goal is workout pain: unless you are sliding off the bike after every single class and have to be reminded where the changing rooms are you don’t consider the class good.

But if you want to know where you are at with your fitness, where you can or should take it to become better and you want to see in black and white (or colour) the journey and the results – welcome to the world of training with power.

Are you willing to take on the challenge? I am actually getting a coach myself and will be embarking on this fitness road with you so watch this space. Starting in a couple of weeks!

Meanwhile keep an eye on the next post coming: the importance of fitness testing when training with power.

From cover to cover

Every new instructor has to start somewhere. Nobody is going to give you a permanent class a day after you get you indoor cycling qualification. This is how most of us began their careers as instructors: taking on a cover or as American like to call it “subbing” a class.

I will never forget mine. I just gained my YMCA Keiser certificate and was about to volunteer for YMCA as a gym instructor and an occasional indoor cycling cover. Then I went to visit Inka, my instructor friend at my own gym, who says: “I am going home for Christmas. I need my classes covered. I will put your name down. You will be fine!”. God Almighty! I could not sleep between that conversation and the date of the class. Which was a fair few days.

The class was on Boxing Day if I remember correctly so the gym was quite empty. Which was great as I thought that if I failed there would be not too many witnesses. The night before I was waking up every hour… I was a nervous wreck! Only 3 people turned up but it was good. It gave me the confidence.

Then I got onto a FB cover page for London instructors and agreed to cover a class at 7am in Canary Wharf… Very wise Izabela as it meant getting up at 4:30am to make my way across town…

Anyway, with time you get more picky about what covers you accept – mainly depending on transport connections and time constraints but it is an invaluable part of becoming a good instructor whatever you teach, for a few reasons.

1. You become a sound engineer.
From technical point of view you get to teach on various kinds of bikes so you become familiar with their set up and quirks. But the main point is the SOUND SYSTEM! iPod only here, CD only there, finding magic buttons in dark corners of the room which finally make the sound come to life after turning hundreds of dials in various combinations for 10th time. You also learn about existence of battery sizes you have never heard of and you start carrying a bagful of them everywhere you go. Just in case.

2. Turn up really EARLY.
Due to the very reason described above you learn that turning up 30min before the class is not crazy at all. especially if it’s for a 7:15am class, fully booked, and the sound system is DOA and NOBODY from the gym management can revive it. Thanks to a MacGyver though they put your back up CD into the DVD slot so you play your music via TV screen which makes it crap sound quality but beats you having to sing.

3. Back up music.
I use iPad since my iPod died due to sweat damage and overuse 🙂 I have a couple of playlists on my iPhone but also carry back up CDs. NOTE: make sure the CDs are not from 2005 and you actually remember what is on them! And yes, get two: 45min, 60min and a just-in-case-the-other-ones-skip one.

4. Riding gear.
Covering classes especially last minute puts you in good books of gym managers or fellow instructors and you can be sure you will need them to return the favour sooner or later. So be ready! Have a spare kit in your office. I have in the past nipped to my local Sweatshop next to the office to buy a new kit so I could take a class. And on two occasions GymBox have been so desperate for cover that hearing that my only obstacle was lack of kit, they gave me their branded top, leggings and socks 🙂

5. Challenge for every instructor.
You have been teaching your regular classes for a while. They know you and like you. You have your loyal followers. Then you turn up in a new place to cover a class with a smug smile on your face and… they don’t get you. It is a fantastic way of keeping you on your toes. You learn the importance of different types of motivation, how to explain the same thing in a different way. Sometimes it’s the opposite: you know you have a good class but the reaction at the end is a raucous applause as if you just won an Oscar because suddenly your usual jokes are new and so are your catchphrases. It’s a great feel. But the main lesson is that different gyms attract different crowds and your teaching approach needs to be flexible.

6. Ask the right questions.
To minimise any unnecessary stress when getting to a class make sure you don’t only ask where they gym is, how long the class is and what the sound system is like, but also what bikes there are, what type of workout people are used to. Are there towels? You may be like: what? towels? Yes! I sweat. OK. A lot. I have to have a towel across my handlebars. Now you’d think it’s a standard that every gym gives you a towel. Some actually would give you two if you are an instructor so I assumed that was a standard across the board. Until I accepted a cover in Brixton and once in Angel. Believe me, here is when coming early comes into play again as I had to rush out and look for an M&S or TKMaxx. I found them on both occasions but have you ever tried to use a NEW towel that has never been washed to dry yourself? Mission Impossible.

I am sure there are a few more points you could add here – feel free to put them in the comments. I like covers to keep it fresh and interesting. And it’s a great way of building a reputation of being a reliable and solid instructor.

Oh, and one more thing: please do not think that every time you cover you have to deliver HIIT class so they all crawl out of the room. Leave an impression of an instructor who “knows their shit”, cares about the participants. Chat to them after the class, get their feedback. They may be instrumental in you being asked back.