A Historical Perspective
Indoor cycling has been around for decades and used by cyclists to train to avoid fighting inclement weather. Cycling clinics offer training on rollers, trainers and stationary bikes or ergometers at home or in bicycle shops. Coaches would set up these training apparatus and place some music in the background to give the cyclists a tempo to follow.
So, indoor group cycling actually started with cyclists who were determined to train through tough winter weather.
More recently, indoor group cycling has evolved into a fitness phenomenon. A very prominent figure, who not only connected with a bike company but also marketed the concept, is Johnny Goldberg, also known as Johnny G. In the mid-80's Johnny G trademarked his concept as "Spinning ®". He developed a bike that is produced by Schwinn™. Indoor cycling was first introduced at two major fitness industry conventions by Mad Dogg Athletics (also known as Spinning®, with bikes designed by Schwinn™) in 1995. One year later both Keiser and Reebok developed their own programs. A team of group exercise specialists and scientists, including a biomechanist and sport psychologist, created Studio Cycling ™ (now known as Cycle Reebok™) by Reebok. Reebok's program is based on science, safety for the masses, detailed analysis of body alignment, and conservative exercise progression.
Former dancers and group exercisers developed Power Pacing™ by Keiser, with choreographer Karen Voight. Power Pacing™ is set apart by its emphasis on moving with musical rhythms, applying more body choreography (such as swaying, moving side to side or forward and back), and incorporating upper-body exercise into rides. Spinning®, by Mad Dogg utilizes a strict cyclist viewpoint to develop the concept of the program. Spinning® revolves around visualizing your ride, complete with wind, hills and butterflies, as if you were outdoors. Johnny G promotes classes to flow as a real ride and encourages empowerment in his participants.
Other programs are quickly evolving as independent instructors develop and create new curriculums for indoor cycling.
Indoor cycling is a great way to train during inclement weather. Due to an increase in outdoor cycling, there are a higher number of participants training indoors with a special commitment to stay in shape and perfect their cycling techniques. In addition, there are those who prefer to train aerobically without undue stress to their joints, indoor cycling fits this profile or need.
Originally, indoor cycling was an avenue for cyclists to train without fighting inclement weather. Now, this sport is attracting fit and not so fit individuals to find another way to burn calories, increase heart rate and enjoy a fun filled hour of fitness.
Benefits of Indoor Cycling
Cycling is an excellent cardiorespiratory activity with benefits similar to jogging and running. It is a good alternative for those who do not like to jog or run, or who have orthopedic limitations to weight bearing exercise.
Physical benefits of indoor cycling are many including increase of cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, decrease of body fat and increase of lean body mass, and a great weight management program in conjunction with a well-balanced diet.
Psychological benefits would include relieving stress, increasing beta-endorphins and a great, fun social activity.
Performance benefits would include increasing speed, endurance, leg strength and power. The basic advantages of indoor cycling are its convenience and relative safety. Indoor cycling can save time by maximizing your training within an hour rather than driving to and from a place to train outdoors. It can also be more of an intense workout. Distractions are minimized and allow the participant to concentrate and focus on maximizing or maintaining heart rate for the session without worrying about cars, potholes and other road hazards. Not only is the workout more intense but also it can be more precise due to less distractions and more focus on the planned profile or program. A student can improve pedal stroke action by focusing on a smooth and complete pedal cycle on each leg independently. An additional benefit is that participants have their own individual workout within a group setting. Participants can control their own intensity by modifying the resistance, cadence and body position. This workout can also be used for recovery as well. By working at a lower intensity a rider can massage and speed up lactic acid clearance from the muscle and diminish post training stiffness and soreness. Above all, it is a great workout when it is dark outside or there is bad weather.
The main force in cycling comes from the hip and knee extensor muscles during the downward push. With toe clips, the rider can use the hip and dorsiflexors to help return the pedal to the up position, if she or he makes a conscious effort.
The gluteus maximus and biceps femoris play a major role in hip extension from 0 degrees at top dead center to 180 degrees at bottom dead center. The rectus femoris, vastus medialis and vastus lateralis, the principle extensors of the knee, are active at the same time as the hamstrings, from 0 degrees to 75 degrees, and during the last 90 degrees of the recovery, helping to flex the hip. Their primary use is during the propulsion phase of the pedal stroke.
Knee extension and flexion are important in the production of force during cycling. The semimembranosus, biceps femoris, and gastrocnemius play a role in knee flexion. The cyclist needs to plan a strength-training program that works both the knee flexors and knee extensors.
According to Burke, analysis of the complete lower body movement would be the following flow and execution of the cycle motion. The movements at the hip, knee, and ankle during the downward portion of the pedal stroke (power phase) consist of simultaneous extension of the hip and knee along with some plantar flexion of the ankle. This is followed by the upstroke, commonly called the recovery phase, which involves simultaneous flexion of the hip and knee along with continued plantar flexion of the ankle. While it is clear that the muscles responsible for hip and knee extensors generate the majority of the force that drives the bicycle, the precise role of the plantar flexors of the ankle remains obscure. When interviewed, off-road cyclists reported that during the power phase they perceived active plantar flexion and that during the upstroke (recovery) their ankles were relaxed. (Burke, 1995)
In contrast to outdoor cycling a participant needs a few main items to provide comfort and to help increase efficiency throughout their ride. Each participant needs either a good pair of padded bike shorts and/or a soft padded seat to prevent saddle soreness. The primary function of the shorts is to reduce friction from moisture on the skin. Suitable footwear, apparel and a well-designed stationary cycle are also important for the safety and effectiveness of a good cycling program.
A low cut shoe that allows free movement of the "ankling" motions of the foot works best. Participants can wear athletic shoes or cycling shoes that have the appropriate cleat to match the pedal. The most common cleats are SPD and LOOK. It is important to avoid flexible footwear that bends easily underneath the arch of the foot. The pedal does not directly support the heel during cycling, and so the midsole of the shoe should be relatively stiff under the arch of the foot.
Clothing for cycling should be lightweight and fit comfortably. Clothing should enhance the cooling effect for thermoregulation of the body. Bike pants will help to prevent skin abrasion and minimize friction along the inner thighs during the class. Cycling gloves may help those that have sensitive hands but gloves are not necessary. The room or area in which the class is conducted should be well ventilated to create air circulation for evaporation.
Last, but not least, each participant needs his or her own water bottle to rehydrate before, during and after class.
Specific guidelines for indoor cycling included in established programs are as follows:
- Before starting class, make sure to ask if there are any new participants. Make sure that all of the students are set up properly on their bike.
- Review the safety features on the bike. Demonstrate how to use the emergency brake. Two common brakes are a knob that pulls up or a lever that can be pressed down. In case a foot comes out of the cage or off the pedal, legs should be separated and pulled away from the pedals so the pedals do not hit the shin.
- Check shoelaces to make sure that they are tucked inside the shoe and not loose.
- Always remind students to go at their own pace and listen to their bodies.
One important aspect to the success and longevity of a cycling program is proper bike fit. The rider must be positioned correctly so that he/she is comfortable in the saddle. By ensuring correct knee and hip alignment, students will be in a more biomechanical correct position to prevent stress injuries.
Instructors need to check and recheck the student's fit on the bike by looking at key areas. Does the student have a slight bend in the straight leg that is dropped down to a six o'clock position? Can the student bend the elbows slightly when he/she is in an extended position on the handlebars? Does the student have a hunched look in their back or are they in a neutral spinal position? Overall, does the student look relaxed and comfortable on the bike? Sometimes it takes a few sessions before the student is able to find that perfect fit.
Instructors and students need to realize that their height of the saddle or position of the saddle or handlebars may change. Checking with the student the next day is also a way to find out if there were any discomforts or unusual pain from their ride. These issues should be addressed immediately to see if there is a solution. First of all, the instructor would like to see the student leave class with a positive experience and look forward to returning to class.
On that same note, instructors need to recommend that new students experience a short ride for their first class. Most clubs and studios offer an introductory class for new students. By recommending a ride of 20-30 minutes for their first class, the participant will feel successful and walk away with a pleasant experience. A safe, fun and effective workout is of utmost importance.
According to Dr. Burke, the first thing to consider in pedaling technique is the shape of the stroke. Most people get on the bike and stomp on the pedals. They like to push down forcefully and rest on the upstroke. Unfortunately, pushing down on the pedals eliminates all the power of the other muscle groups in the legs, the calves and hamstrings. Since they are not using these muscles, they're delivering less power to the bike and the thighs will tire more quickly.
Also, pushing down on the pedals creates a very short, syncopated stroke. As a result one limits the momentum of the pedaling stroke with each revolution. Instructors have been known to say "pull up" on the pedals, using the toe clips or clipless pedals, in order to have the students involve more of the muscles.
However, studies undertaken by several research laboratories have shown that the direction of force applied by a rider pulling up is primarily directed to the back. There is only a minute amount of force directed up, and this plays a small role in helping performance. Actually, pulling up only takes place at very heavy workloads and at low cadences.
So, what is the better pedaling stroke? Unfortunately, a good pedaling stroke is not easy to acquire and takes lots of practice. Basically, one wants to pull back as they ride through the beginning of the upstroke. This is not like the motion of pulling up, as you want to pull back starting at the five to six o'clock portion of the stroke to about the seven o'clock position, in other words, at the bottom of the down stroke. By pulling back, one involves all of the lower leg muscles into the motion. The student will also be able to apply power for a longer period in the upstroke.
More important, their stroke will create a smooth transition from up to down stroke. This is not a natural movement and will need to be practiced.
One of the most important aspects of correct pedaling technique is being correctly fitted on the bike. If the participant has incorrect overall height or pedaling position, they will have a difficult time reaching optimum efficiency in their pedaling technique. Participants will find that their riding will improve when they combine pulling back on the pedals with a correct overall height and pedaling position. Soon, their pedaling style will be more fluid and they will eliminate the dead spot while using more of their leg muscles.
Students can direct attention to the specific muscle group and focus internally. By closing their eyes and actually visualizing a hill, they can "feel" the hill. An instructor can direct a student to pay attention to their breathing to promote relaxation. Deep, rhythmic breathing can help a student focus internally and pay attention to alignment, pedal stroke and specific muscles that are being used. Using visualization helps the rider feel as though they are outdoors.
Cueing visualization for successful performance can help increase performance and skill. Many athletes have improved their performance through visualization techniques. Visualization can be used before, during and after the class, as in the cool down period. For example, an instructor can describe the feeling of completing a steep hill and the successful feeling of accomplishment.
To increase speed, the instructor might describe a chase up a hill or on a flat road and ask the students to be the first one up the hill or end of the road. Visualization can also help students be distracted from a difficult segment of the class. Creating a pleasant visual scene for the students may help them become more relaxed for the difficult segment.
Exercise intensity can be measured by assigning a numerical value (6 to 20 or 1 to 10) to subjective feelings of exercise exertion. The popular name for this method is the ratings of perceived exertion (RPE). Originally designed by Dr. Gunnar Borg, it is sometimes called the Borg Scale. RPE takes into account all that the exercising client perceives in terms of exercise fatigue, including psychological, musculoskeletal and environmental factors. The first Borg scale begins at 6 because originally it was used to approximate exercise heart rate.
For example, an RPE of 6 would approximate a heart rate of 60. In recent years, a revised Borg Scale has made it easier to use because of its simpler 1 to 10 rating. On this revised RPE Scale, a student at an RPE of 4 would be in the somewhat strong category. Perhaps the most appropriate use of RPE is as an adjunct heart rate monitoring, using more than one method.
Each cycle class is different. Some clubs or studios have a separate room for cycling. If so, fans and proper ventilation should be provided. Floors may get slippery and students should have extra towels to mop up excess water on the floor so that they or someone else does not slip.
Some rooms have special lighting, disco lights, videos, shining lights, etc. If the room is dark there should be a flashlight for an emergency situation. Indoor cycling instructors should always make a point to speak with new students prior to class
Components/format of the cycle class Cycle classes are usually between 45 to 60 minutes. The first 10 minutes is a warm-up and the last 5-10 minutes is a cool-down. This leaves about 25-40 minutes for a variety of profiles or a planned program. The instructor must establish the goals for the ride. The order of the music, tempo of the music and profile needs to be planned by the instructor before each class.
The warm-up usually starts gradually with little resistance, pedaling at a moderate speed. During this time the instructor can review safety procedures, postural alignment, hand positions and a general statement that the workout is for each student and competition with another is not necessary.
The warm-up allows time for the body to gradually warm-up, physically and emotionally. The heart rate will gradually elevate and there is a systemic, overall preparation for the upcoming activity, indoor cycling. After about 10 minutes, the main part of the ride can begin.
Certain songs can be programmed so that the instructor may want to start a climb, stay on a flat, increase speed or jog out of the saddle. The following 25-40 minutes will vary from class to class. An organized profile or plan needs to be established. The last part of the class will bring the heart rate down, slow down the leg speed, decrease resistance and gradually cool-down. This leads directly into a stretch for the major muscle groups that were used during the ride.
The basic variations of indoor cycling are the profiles of the ride. One day you might have an endurance ride and another day you might have an all-terrain ride. Musical themes are another way of bringing excitement to the class, for example, a disco night or rock and roll ride.
Planning specific classes to be taught before or after cycling may give students excellent options. For example, a yoga class that is conducted directly after a cycle would be a wonderful way to stretch and relax after a vigorous cycle class. A body sculpting class prior to class would be another way to complement the cycling class to add weight training to the program. These are just a few examples of how a studio or health club can offer their participants a more complete workout and options.
About Norma Shechtman
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