Saturday, April 5, 2008

Some "Contraindicated Moves" in indoor cycling - Part 1

Some people have called me the "Contraindications Queen" since I wrote the Contraindications continuing ed workshop for Spinning about 6 years ago, after being horrified by the "aerobics on a bike" I saw around the country. I must admit, I'm a bit sheltered up here in the Rocky mountains, since so many of our students are cyclists, they would laugh at or walk out on instructors who tried these moves. But when I traveled for Spinning, or talked with other instructors from other areas (even down in Denver, 2 hrs from here), I was shocked at what has become popular. So many of these moves are everywhere!

To create this workshop, I looked at the biomechanics of these movements, and interviewed well-known cycling coaches and scientist on some of them (including Joe Friel, and even Ed Burke shortly before he passed away. He's the author of countless books, like The Science of Cycing).

Of course, I always come up with resistance from the instructors who actually think aerobics on an indoor stationary bike that doesn't move is fine in the name of "fitness"... They don't know what to do to challenge their students if they don't do these moves. We'll discuss that in another post later on.

Unsafe moves on an indoor bike isn't about being a "cyclist" or not. They're unsafe or inefficient regardless of whether you ride outside or not, and regardless of what brand of indoor bike it is, or regardless of the philosophy of the program. Biomechanics is biomechanics.

Rule of thumb: if you wouldn't do it outdoors, don't do it indoors. That being said, there are some "safe" things we can do indoors, that are outdoor movements modified into drills for indoor use, to add variety without decreasing safety. Jumps for example, and Standing Flats. You wouldn't go down the street rhythmically jumping in and out of your saddle. Indoors it's fun and can improve your transitions and works your anaerobic system. Personally, I rarely jump in class. But students like it and they won't hurt you (just don't do them too fast). But again, it's a drill, like peppering a volleyball against a wall to improve your volleyball spike. That's not how you play volleyball, it's a drill to improve one aspect of your playing.

I'll be giving a comprehensive list over the next few posts on Contraindicated moves on an indoor bike. Mind you, this is not a "philosophy" difference between the different kinds of IDC programs. This is not just "Mad Dogg Athletics and Spinning" rules. This is looking at the science and biomechanics of these movements on an indoor bicycle. If someone says their "program" taught them it's ok to do isolations or squats, then you have to wonder if that program knows anything about cycling or biomechanics. These bikes are solid pieces of metal that don't flex or bend or move, and that has implications on how we should move our bodies while riding it. You can't go doing things that go against the proper biomechanical principles of riding a bike, and you must also take into consideration the differences (like, not flexing).

For each movement, we'll analyze the Risk:Benefit ratio.

Is there a risk? Can it injure joints, muscles, soft tissue, etc? Is it very easy to fall-off or lose balance? Does it take the body out of alignment while other joints (i.e.legs) are moving in a static pattern (pedaling)? Do you have to be a skilled acrobat to do it? If you answered yes to any of these, don't do it!

What's the benefit? Will it help your cycling (outdoors OR indoors)? Will it improve your endurance, pedal stroke, strength, leg speed? Will it cause positive physiological adaptations?

Is it just fluff? Just to fill the time?

Here's a partial list of Contraindicated Moves, or as I like to refer to them, Just Don't Do It!:

Isolations: AKA Freezes. Benefit: NONE! It causes tension in the muscles and pain in the joints. I've never figured this one out, why instructors teach this. It does nothing for balance, as some say. It does nothing for core, as some say. If you want to train your core - get on a stability ball! Because the bike doesn't flex, you must allow the energy created by the legs to dissipate through your upper body; Isolating or freezing stops this energy - and it goes right into a joint. No benefit: Risk is mostly discomfort and inefficiency.

Squats: similar to the above, but you lower your hips, or squat. This is one of the worst ones out there! Proponents claim to "love the burn in the quads." That burn is from mechanical inefficiency of the muscle fibers, not from increasing strength. It's not a good burn. Pay attention to the pain in the knees! There is a huge pressure buildup in the knee joint, the petello-femoral joint is at great risk, and the contact between the femure and tibia are where the cartilage is at its thinnest. And you're doing these at 60, 70, 80X/minute or more? Also, the forces on the knee are coming from below as the pedal pushes upwards. Not good. These instructors must get commissions from local orthopedic doctors...

Try this to highlight how silly this movement is: next time you see a long flight of stairs, climb them without straightening your legs. You would soon tell me I'm crazy because it hurts your knees, that there's a lot of pressure in the knee joint. And I might say, "but wow, isn't that a great burn in the thighs? Wouldn't you continue that in the name of 'fitness'?" Of course you wouldn't! So why do people let IDC instructors tell them to do this? You want that leg workout? Go to the gym and do leg presses - it has no place in an indoor cycling class. Or come to a properly conducted Strength class on some steep hills and get the burn in the quads without getting a ticket to the orthopod! High risk: zero benefit.

Hovers: pushing your butt back over the saddle (and freezing). Supposedly this is to mimic a mountain bike position...but if you've ever gone downhill on a single track (the only time you'd do this), YOU'RE NOT PEDALING and you're moving your bike side to side underneath you to avoid rocks and ruts! Doing this indoors on a stationary solid metal bike that doesn't flex or move will do you no good! It puts the PCL on stretch and greatly hinders a proper pedal stroke so you can't ride with good form. High risk: no benefit, no skill transfer.

More later...

Any questions?

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Anonymous said...

This blog rocks, Jen.

You put your heart in it and it's going to catch on.


kbshughes said...

Thanks again, Jennifer. Great ideas, well put together, and the profiles look awesome! I can't wait to dig in.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jennifer,

I think I figured out how to
leave a comment on your blog!!
It is a favorite of mine already.
Thanks a million for this wonderful
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You GO, girl!

- darlene

victoria said...

Hi Jennifer and all spinning fans!
I will appreciate if anybody can explain to me what´s the meaning of PCL? i don´t understand what stands for...
thanks in advance!
Star 3 Spinning Instructor
Costa Rica

by flexing ,Jennifer, what do you mean exactly? "because the bike doesn´t flex..." I think I understand what you mean but JUST want to be sure.

Jennifer Sage said...

Hi Victoria,
Sorry for the delay in answering your question - something called WSSC got in the way!

PCL is the Posterior Crusciate Ligament in the knee joint. Most people know about the ACL (anterior crusciate ligament) in the knee. These two ligaments cross, and hold the joint together, keeping it from hyperextending or keeping the tibia (lower leg bone) from pushing forward at the knee. Shame on me for thinking that everyone knows what I'm talking about- much less my foreign visitors!

The ACL is the one most often damaged in an accident (skiing, falling, stepping into a hole), but the PCL can be stretched as well. You don't want to put the knee into a position that stretches either of these, and some of these contraindicated positions will do that on an IDC bike.

Also, when I talk about a bicycle flexing, I am referring to a road bike outside. The frame can actually flex and absorb the shocks of the road. different materials flex better than others, e.g. aluminum bikes are very stiff and titanium or carbon frames flex more. This flexion, along with the side to side movement in the frame as you ride is the reason we keep our upper bodies still when riding outdoors. The energy can be dissipated in the movement of the bike. A Spinner bike does not flex or bend or move in any way, so without a slight rhythm release, all the energy you've created through your pedaling will get trapped in your joints (neck, shoulders, back, hips). That's why we ride slightly different indoors than outdoors!

I hope that makes sense, if not, email me and I can go into it more deeply.


victoria said...

Thanks again! Understood 100%! you rock!
and...SOMETHING CALLED WSSC?? I CAN imagine all the work for such a big event.. don´t have to apologize... I admire your work and I know your are always busy :)....hey, I just downloaded the file about the music ... can´t wait to read it ..I gave a glimpse at it and wow... goose pumps!!! (I will send some songs from AN AFRICAN SITE I LOVE ...consider this my way of saying thanks for all knowledge, inspiration, ideas and music I´VE learned through you!))thanks for sharing.. I´ll be there someday!!!

Susan said...

Jennifer, a good friend of mine has started at a gym and was floored by the routine use of CI movements. I've pointed her to your blog for an excellent explanation as to why she should "just say no." As always, you are a font of information!