How Safe or Unsafe are Indoor Cycling Classes?

Updated: 7/11

My mic failed this morning. We were about 10 min. into our hour class when any small movement of my head caused the loud crashing sound many of us have experienced. I was teaching to our latest Audio PROfile, Paceline Cycling in France and had everyone set up for our first 20 min. effort when I thought; Houston… we have a problem!

I’ve had enough “technical difficulties” in my career as an Instructor to know the best response in this situation is no (or a very minimal) response. Any attempt to solve the problem just leads to a big disruption in your class, so you just go with it. So off goes the headset. I offered a short apology for the problem and then I explained to everyone; “I see you all as self-directed athletes and now is your chance to prove it” :)

And they did.

Because I had given everyone a full explanation as to what’s to come, they didn’t have any trouble following the video and by all appearances everyone seemed to enjoy the class… and no one hurt themselves.

While we all rode along I got to thinking; “what would be different if I wasn’t here?” I was thinking specifically of Jim Karanas’ last post about using a virtual ride DVD as a substitute Instructor. I am convinced that,  left to their own motivation, my class would not work as hard as they do with my prompting. But would they be less safe?

My personal observation – no.

I’ve been participating and/or teaching Indoor Cycling since 1995. Over that 17 or so years I can only think of one specific time where someone was injured. That’s once out of – it must be over a thousand classes.

The only injury that I can remember was during the first week our club began offering indoor cycling classes. We had these shiny new Johnny G Spinners and Amy was all excited to begin teaching a class that I could actually attend. I don’t know if they’ll came as standard, or if the club purchase them separately, but in those very first classes the bikes used some very aggressive mountain bike pedals. When I say aggressive I’m referring to how the pedal platforms featured serrated edges, designed to keep muddy shoes from slipping off. The concept of a fixed gear bike was new to everyone. During the class a woman’s foot came out of the toe clip and when the pedal completed another revolution, it carved a nasty gash in this poor woman’s calf. The next time I was there, every bike sported a set of smooth Schwinn triple link petals.

So where do the concerns over safety come from? Because I don’t see it.

My perception is that Indoor Cycle probably the safest activity you can do at the club. Orthopedic surgeon’s dream homes are built from repairing 40-year-old Achilles tendons, torn from running up and down the basketball court… treadmills spit people off on a regular basis and I personally had to have my biceps tendon reattached from curling too heavy of a dumbbell.

People trip, fall and crash into one another in step & Zumba classes. I know a number of victims who hobbled out after a yoga class complaining; I think I pulled something :( And yet class after class, year after year no one gets hurt in my (or anyone else’s) Indoor Cycling classes.

Am I missing something here?

Update 7/11

Screen shot from http://www.spinningtv.com

I’ve been digging into this more and started to think about all the home users of Indoor Cycles. Spinningtv.com says they have sold nearly 1,000,000 Spinners to at-home users. With Amy’s involvement over at ShopNBC I’ve learned all about the crazy numbers of sales they make via infomercials. Based on the number of infomercials Spinningtv.com runs, I’m going to bet that “Nearly 1,000,000 Sold number isn’t an exaggeration!

When someone orders a home version Spinner bike they also receive a selection of DVD’s featuring Josh Taylor or other Instructor who leads the customer through a virtual ride. I haven’t watched any of these DVD’s so I can’t say with certainty, but I’m going to guess that Josh and Co. lead viewers through changes in positions and intensities… just like we do in our classes.

I Googled “spinning bike lawsuit” to see if some enterprising attorney had attempted to seek damages for a user (s) who was injured riding sans Instructor. All I could find were two #1 #2 lawsuits. Each had resulted from mechanical failures, both in clubs.

My next search was for “spinning bike consumer safety” to see if there were any warnings, recalls or other notices from some regulatory agency. I found nothing.

When you consider that indoor cycling has been popular since the late 90′s, there have been millions of indoor cycles sold, who have been ridden by many millions of people – at all levels of experience – over 10′s or 100′s of millions of hours, I’d have to say that Indoor Cycling is a pretty safe activity for most anyone.

But I’m still confused… where do the concerns about Indoor Cycling safety come from?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Macgowan

Publisher / Owner at Deep Breath In, LLC - ICI/PRO

Host of the Indoor Cycle Instructor Podcast - the #1 Internet radio show for and about Spinning / Indoor Cycling Instructors and Fitness Professionals. John holds certifications from; Schwinn, Heart Zones, Team ICG and Life Time Fitness. When the weather permits, you'll find him riding and leading outdoor groups by himself or with his Tandem partner (wife) Amy.

Comments

  1. Jim Karanas says:

    Great stuff John. In total agreement. We are still receiving comments on the Sub article and so glad to see you reference it here. Something I have not mentioned in any of my posts was that I have noticed an increased attentiveness by the students in a virtual class. It seems that they might be listening to the virtual cues with greater concentration possibly because things are not repeated as often. LMK if you have noticed this.

    Where did you find that video?

  2. John says:

    I did a Google search for Treadmill fail. It’s an animated .gif image – I normally don’t alike them but couldn’t pass up using it here :)

  3. TaraH says:

    Generally speaking, indoor cycling is safe, but like all things in life, is certainly not risk-free. A group of knowledgeable, self-directed athletes (like outdoor riders) can certainly follow a video and achieve a good, safe workout. I would still advocate that SOMEONE qualified in CPR/First Aid needs to be appointed the safety official — so that someone is responsible for taking action if there’s something completely serious and unpredictable — a heart attack or fainting or asthma-induced emergency).

    But many of us don’t have the luxury of teaching to that population. So, I’m thinking about my new-to-the-gym folk that need to see (and hear) someone model good form on an stationary bike using real resistance. I’m on the lookout for knee injuries which may not be apparent today, but may become apparent over time as a result of insufficient resistance and too high cadence. I’m thinking of the new guy, who is carrying an extra 100 lbs on him, who, despite my cautions to take it easy, is now draped over the handlebars looking like he’s going to lose his lunch. Or the woman wearing a knee brace who is oblivious to the fact that her mashing the pedals is likely exacerbating her injury. These are the clients who benefit from a Real Live Instructor (TM) being there to lead the way, encourage, and model good form and effort, to avoid not just falling off the bike (a rare event, I’d agree), but the repetitive ones caused by poor form or misguided enthusiasm.

  4. Jim Karanas says:

    TaraH: Thanks for this post. I have to disagree completely from experience. I have viewed many virtual classes first hand and the degree of attentiveness, particularly from beginners, is surprising. Keep in mind that a virtual class can incorporate “safety features” regarding bike set-up, intensity and ride and hand positions. These videos can be displayed before every virtual class. Plus, if the virtual class is produced well, there will many cues, with imagery, directing the new participants toward correct form during the ride.

    I am currently on the road and just took a class from an instructor that should be replaced by video. The instruction was so poor I turned to my wife and asked if she would rather be doing a virtual class? She adamantly agreed. I don’t blame the instructor. She is simply satisfying an industry need being a cost-effective instructor that is willing to show up at a specific time to fill a time slot so the club owner can offer a competitive schedule. The club owner has NO OTHER option. This is where video will LIFT the standard.

    I can immediately tell from your post that you are a caring instructor. You work hard to do a good job. You maintain not only your IC certifications but all safety certifications as well. There are THOUSANDS of instructors in the industry that do not follow your example. They dilute our industry and drag our profession down to a commodity. I suggest that you should (for your efforts) probably be paid 2-4X what you are being paid. The problem has been that the club owners have had no other option to save money so they pay the lowest amount possible. This is what being a commodity is all about.

    Video is not the problem. Bad instructors are the problem. Well-produced video classes will offer a solution that will help club owners hire, and pay, quality instructors.

    In the class that I took there were 13 of 26 bikes filled. 6 of the the riders had fits that would injure them over time. My wife and I were newcomers to the class. The instructor never said hello. Never acknowledged our presence. She did not seem like someone that could administer CPR (let alone AED) and probably would not know what to do with someone who was feeling lightheaded because they did not eat within 6 hours before class. Her bike fit was bad and her form even worse.

    The system of group exercise having to offer competitive schedules has created this paradigm. THOUSANDS of poor instructors have flooded the market and dragged the compensation of quality instructors down because club owners see indoor cycling as a commodity. Just get someone to fill the slot and try to save money.

    I hope you eventually see virtual classes as a way to lift indoor cycling from this current dillema. Recently, I had an individual take my class. He immediately went to the director and said he’d like to teach indoor cycling. “It looks pretty easy and fun. Pick a bunch of songs you like and lead people through a ride.”

    The director asked me if I thought he could build a class.

  5. Joan Kent says:

    Jim, your last sentence is, of course, the distressing part of the scenario you describe. However, the fact that the “individual” in question wanted to teach after taking your class is less distressing than a testament to your teaching skill. I know first-hand how easy you make it look; that’s why he thought he could do it. Put him in front of a room of beginners — unknowledgeable, undisciplined, unfocused beginners — and the easy job would suddenly seem a lot harder.

    Would the same man want to teach IC after attending the class that you & Angie just took and felt should have been replaced by video? That instructor probably wouldn’t have inspired the same response.

    Thanks,
    Joan

  6. John says:

    Interesting conversation here. My intent wasn’t necessarily directed toward “selling” the concept of virtual classes as a safe alternative to an Instructor lead class. I’m more interested to learn if we (the Instructor community) haven’t perhaps over stated safety concerns over our desires to ensure everyone, regardless of level of fitness or cycling experience, has an enjoyable experience in our classes. Which could result in our classes becoming a bit stiff and/or sanitized.

    This has me thinking that it maybe time for another big survey to find out.

  7. pascal hannecart says:

    IDC with a heavy flywheel bike is safe if you know how to use it !!!
    It is not because someone ride outside that he or she will better ride on a heavy fix flywheel bike … there are a lot of outdoor rider who do not know how to ride, even some of those who go fast …
    The bike we use are quiet technical to use, the more there are variety and change of rythm the more technical it is and I am not talking about CI move.

    IDC world have been so much destroy by all those non qualify instructors same as the fitness world … that nowaday you can not say that it is safe UNLESS you have a all population that have been well educate and coach on how to ride a heavy fix flywheel bike.
    Facility that mostly offer IDC classe have more chance to have this kind of population but it is a small part of the market.

    Bike like Keyser M3 are more safe as it does not react the same.

  8. Chuck Cali says:

    just playing the devils advocate for a moment, why would the money saving owners after choosing to invest in virtual then decide to pay live instructors – those not replaced by virtual – two to four times their current wage?

    You’ve suggested that we’ve become – or are in danger of becoming – commoditized. If that is the case then salaries won’t change much except for the stars. Certainly not on the order of two to four times. That would be analogous to bringing back all the work shipped off shore.

    I relate this to acting. The stars get the big bucks. The rest starve. In our industry the best do get paid more but they are far and few between.

  9. John says:

    I’ve updated my post above, separating these two discussions; Video Instruction | IDC safety and focusing on the later.

  10. pascal hannecart says:

    Chuck you got it ! This subject is not interesting for instructor but more for manager … we instructors will not gain anything from it.

  11. Chuck Cali says:

    Thanks Pascal.

    I do think there is ONE very important/interesting fact for instructors to take away from this discussion. Here it is:

    If they are doing nothing to up their service, to get better and smarter, to add quality content to their craft, really understand heart rate and power, teaching to video or connecting to their riders, they WILL get replaced either with a star instructor or by a virtual instructor.

    From John’s edit above there seems to be no evidence that cycling on an indoor bike is unsafe. Millions of people are doing it everyday all alone in their homes. I’ll quote Jim, “Video is not the problem, bad instructors are the problem!”

    Club managers are going come around and figure it out; IDC is safe and not because there is an instructor in the room. Poor instructors can be replaced by quality virtual coaches coupled with stunning video. The best instructors will be used for prime time to keep the masses motivated and they will be appreciated and paid better average.

    You clearly care and have done a good job of preparing your riders and yourself. Your voice has been heard on this and other forums. I see you as one of the stars. The question is, does your boss?

Leave a reply

Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software