Contraindicated moves: Keeping it real in indoor cycling classes

Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it. – William Penn

To see the right and not to do it is cowardice. – Confucius

The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was. – Walt West

Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable. – Franz Kafka

Do you see a pattern here?  Every job, no matter how big or small can be done the right way, or the wrong way.  Today, in support of my fellow blogger and Spinning Master Instructor Jennifer Sage, I am sharing with you the right way to teach an indoor cycling class. 

Before we have this discussion, you should hop over to Jennifer’s blog and take a look at her posts on Contraindicated moves (CI moves), especially her latest: Just don’t do it in your indoor cycling classes! In addition to being one of the most respected and knowledgeable Master Instrctors at Spin Fitness, she is an avid road cyclist who owns her own bicycle touring company. She literally wrote the book on Keeping it Real in indoor cycling, so when she speaks up about the goofy stuff going on in classes these days, listen up!

Now, I’m not here to pass judgement on anyone who teaches their students CI moves, nor am I completely innocent of having included them in my classes the past. But I believe as Jennifer does that CI moves are hurting our students and hurting our indoor cycling programs. Students are being taught, through the introduction of CI moves, that they don’t need to take responsibilty for themselves or their workouts. They are being taught that it isn’t the quality of the workout that makes a difference in their health and wellness, it’s how much the instructor can make them hurt. And that is a shame.

I recognize that group fitness as a whole is suffering, and gyms are doing everything they can to keep participants in their classes. But I urge you as an instructor, if you are heavily loading your class with CI moves, especially like what Jennifer describes, please reconsider what you are doing. Not only are you putting your students at risk for injuries, you are failing to provide them with the true benefits of cycling. My mantra is, “If you wouldn’t do it on a road bike, don’t do it in Spinning class” and to that I would add, “no matter what they are doing on YouTube.” My students have always been appreciative of my ability to “Keep it Real” in Spinning class, and I know they will appreciate it from you too. And when they realize that you have empowered them to be stronger, fitter and faster, they will love you all the more!

Keep it real, guys!, Inc


16 thoughts on “Contraindicated moves: Keeping it real in indoor cycling classes

  1. Anything worth doing is worth doing right! I’m with you, Jennifer, and I know more instructors are out there thinking the same thing!

  2. Thanks for picking up the torch on this! I hope a few minds can be changed. I know I’m trying at my gym. Thanks Krista and Jennifer!

  3. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamen, Krista! Well said, as always.
    The related phenomenon I’ve been thinking about a lot is my threshold for “intervening” when I witness something contraindicated — i.e., if I’m SUBBING a class, I wouldn’t necessarily make a huge stink out of a hand position 2.5 or a hamstring stretch on the seat (vs. the base). But now I AM, and I’m feeling less awkward about it. I can’t accept PART of a torch in the name of science and safety, after all. Failure to educate when opportunity presents may not technically be as culpable as including CI movements in training sessions — but it’s a HUGE part of the problem in perpetuating the presence of CI stuff in Spinning and other group ex classes, methinks.

  4. History. Exercise bikes have been around for a long long time. I used them in Houston at the YMCA and a downtown Houston club starting in 1978. My wife and I owned a Tunturi (Finnish) exercise spin bike in the 1980s. I ran the Boston Marathon is 1980 & 81 and used the exercise bike as part of my training. I routinely pedaled with no hands, one pedal, moved from side to side and stretched on the bike. I also was in classes with the USA decathlon champ from Houston who was going to the Olympics in 1980 and he used the exercise bike no hands, jumps, push ups, hovers. Millions of people do these things on a spin or exercise bike and these “moves” are taught in classes and individual training sessions in the USA and throughout the word, especially Europe.

    The “spin class” with “spinning bikes” is purportedly the brain child of “Johnny G.” (Jonathan Goldberg). He claims to have “invented” spinning in 1989. Stop right there. So pre 1989 were there “contraindicated moves” ? No.

    Johnny G, is a 54 year old South African-born celebrity trainer, black belt martial artist, and ultra-endurance cyclist. In 1994 his “Spinning” program and “Spinning bikes” started certification. The Madd-Dogg (Johnny G) “Spinning” program now includes a whole list of prohibited /supposedly “contraindicated moves” — e.g. push up; hovers, one pedal, no hands, no stretching… “Certification” under the Madd-Dogg (Johnny G) program typically includes a “contraindicated moves” module. Zealous Madd-Doggers advocate “keeping it real” and feel obliged to point out people in class or instructors who do or teach “contraindicated moves.”

    Apparently many spin devotees have bought into this Madd-Dogg/Johnny G/Spinning mantra of “contraindicated” moves (“CI moves) and the belief that this “certification” from Johnny Goldberg is the “real” and the “proper method.”

    Well, being older than Johnny G (by 3 years) and having used exercise bikes (in classes w/ trainers) at least a decade before Johnny G “invented” spinning in 1989, I call bullshit on Johnny G and his “contraindicated” moves. Elite athletes have used exercise bikes and trainers for years w/ very complex and athletic moves and balances. Other certification programs and trainers — that have been around much longer (for > 30 years) e.g. AAAI (American Association of Aerobic Instructors) and IFTA (Interactive Fitness Trainers of America) use a host of supposedly “contraindicated moves” (that is to say contraindicated in the minds of Johnny G/Spinning/Madd Dogg). The main reasons the Johnny G spinning program advocates prohibiting certain moves is the fear of injury to novices, of liability (unfounded given waivers) and the perceived harm to their lucrative training, advertising program. Admittedly out of shape newcomers to the spin bike might fall or injure themselves if they tried one hand, behind the back and some of these moves. But that is no reason to ban them any more than saying that a person can’t do a handstand or scorpion pose at a yoga class. People pay to be a member of gyms and have a freedom to exercise. The so-called “contraindicated moves” should be a personal choice as they do not harm others or the bike.

    Spin class instructors need to re-think drinking the Johnny Goldberg kool-aid if they delight in thwarting creativity and innovation and force class participants stick to “positions 1, 2 & 3”.

    • David,

      Thanks for making your way over here. As GoSpin points out, this is a fairly old post, so I am curious to know how you found it. I can see it strikes a chord with you. Human beings have an innate repulsion to the concept of “Can’t” as in “You can’t do hovers on a Spinning bike.” Never mind that the cost of doing something as inefficient as a hover is at best a wasted opportunity to grow stronger as a cyclist and at worst broken body parts. You are correct that the elimination of CI moves is based in safety and liability. Those are both important concepts to me and they are absolutely required in today’s litigious society. But they are also based in what real cyclists do when they are training. Your example of inversions in yoga doesn’t make sense, because the advanced moves of yoga are considered safe for those who have developed the skills to attempt them. Competitive cyclists do not train to one day be good enough to sprint with no resistance. It is true that not every person will destroy their ligaments from popcorn jumps just as not every person will become obese from eating McDonalds fast food. But the most effective way to streamline your physique is by eliminating McDonalds from your diet completely and the most effective way to become a cycling machine is to put your butt in the saddle and crank out the power. Popcorn jumps, pushups, hovers…. They are chicken nuggets with a side of fries. My friends and I who advocate the elimination of CI moves feed our students a steady diet of pure protein, whole grains and veggies. Finally, age is only a positive quality in relics and architecture. It would not take long to find dozens of things from 30 years ago that are hopelessly obsolete and outdated. Rotary telephones, lead paint, ironing your hair, and Jack Lalanne come to mind. When research and experience teach us lessons about what works and what is a waste of time, the smart money moves forward.

      I appreciate you sharing the opposing view. It is good for us to consider all sides, an absolute requirement of truth seeking. I’d be curious to know more about you David, and I invite you over to pedal-on to have a discussion. I already lit up the board with my knee jerk reaction to the first sight of your comment, but in careful consideration I believe you offer those of us “drinking the johnny goldberg kool-aid” an opportunity to really understand where your side is coming from. I mean that without any irony. Our world is quickly becoming divided up into sects and parties and sides and no one really tries to understand each other any more. It’s a shame, and one that we can rectify in some small way. If anyone else has a thought they’d like to share, please come on over to The thread is in the Advocacy and Safety forum and it is called “The Dissenting Opinion on CI Moves.” I hope you’ll hop on over and share your insights and forgive me for my initial rash post. I am completely guilty of “siding” as well as “inciting” and I would like to make up for it.


  5. Further to the above post, I am interested in the comment about elite and advanced athletes using exercise bikes; the general populace that we teach to are not elite and are not educated in what is safe. Alas, people are like sheep – they follow the flock leader, e.g instructors. Like lemmings, they would jump off a cliff if we told them it would tone their butts, help them lose weight and be stronger, faster, sexier, etc etc.

    Here’s the way I think about it, as a triathlete and half marathon runner:
    You would not train to swim faster one handed, or by trying to isolate any specific muscle.
    You would not train to run faster by hopping along on one leg or running backwards.
    So why cycle in any fashion other than as you would on a bike?

  6. Interesting discussions.
    I’m another Johnny G-Kool-Aid addict!
    Yes, maybe people used stationary bikes before Spinning was “invented”, but Johnny G has developed a discipline that is a SAFE and effective training program. Spinner bikes were designed to complete his vision. Sounds like David thinks just because cavemen found fire, lighters are not to be considered an “invention”!
    We have all been to classes where contraindicated movements are cued by the instructor. We have all done them either out of respect for the instructor, or before our certification when we didn’t know any better! They are unsafe, heck, I’ve been injured myself doing the “isolation” nonsense!
    Jeniffer, those videos on your older post are quite sad, yet I could not help laughing at the ignorance of the instructors, as well as the riders. May the Lord himself keep them safe!

  7. I have to put my two cents in here. I am a certified Group Exercise Instructor who has been teaching indoor cycling for almost 2 years now. Prior to that I took cycling/spinning classes for 8 years. All different types, some were the Madd Dogg way and some were more non-traditonal. Personally I was never a fan of traditional Spinning classes, I have never been an outdoor cyclist nor ever wanted to be. when I worked out I wanted to sweat my butt off and have a good time and I enjoyed the more non-traditional cycling classes. I say cycling because I know you cannot call the class spinning unless it is taught the Johnny G way. Before I became an instructor I did not realize how big of a controversy this whole spinning vs cycling debate really was. The instructor I trained with was trained through Johnny G herself but taught class in a more non-traditional manner, 3-5 minute songs, hover’s, up for 4’s hover for 4’s,2’s and singles and I never enjoyed a cycling more! The time would go by so quick, I would sing a long to the music in my head, memebers would cheer when their favorite song came on. It wasnt so serious and that’s what we liked and the classes were insanely packed. Where as the few instructors that taught the Johnny G way, there classes were always empty. Since she has left and myself and a few others have taken the majority of the classes we have kept this same style but also added our own personal touches to it. I have incorporated a bit of the Johnny G style but I also mix it up with this fun more what I call Cardio Cycle type class. My classes love my music, usually a mix of what popular on the radio, maybe a 80’s or 70’s song here and there depending on my crowd. I don’t tell my members it is a spinning class, and I am very aware that my style is a lot different but our gym loves it. People fight for bikes in my class, we have 40 and some people get there almost an hour early and sit on their bike till class starts. I do teach safety in my class and let them know what to watch out for, show them proper set up for the bike, show them to control the movement so they are not flopping around. It just bothers me that so many of you have it out for us who don’t teach the Johnny G way. Would you want every Kickboxing, Sculpting, Step, Bootcamp, Yoga and Pilates class to be exactly the same. It would get boring. We have one Johnny G instructor at the gym and all she does is bad mouth us, she has actually been written up a few times for it. Is that right? I never bad mouth any instructor no matter how they teach, I actually promote the other cycling class so people change things up every now and then. I have never had anyone hurt in my class in 2 years, I am also a health care worker and always look out for signs of fatigue or pain in any of my members. At least once a week I have new people who come to try my class tell me how much they enjoy my style and never thought a cycling class could be so much fun. See I understand there is a difference I just don’t get why there is such a hatred for us who teach different way, why is it that big of a deal? Everyone has a right to their own preference and some just don’t prefer the Johnny G way. Go out and enjoying teaching instead and bashing other instructors, is it really worth all the anger!

  8. @ myriadgreen:
    uh. yes, one armed swimming is a very good swimming drill. it improves technique and efficiency, thus, making you faster.

    additionally, funny that you mention it, but one legged hops do, in fact, improve running speed by increasing power. i could cite many journal articles but i have a feeling that running magazines and websites might be able to express the science behind this in a more concise manner that the general population will understand. the layman’s term for this exercise is plyometrics and strength and conditioning coaches for high school, colleges, and professional sports teams use this type of drill every day.

    finally, cycling backwards can cause injuries…but so can cycling forwards. tibialfemoral compression forces are actually diminished when performing backwards pedaling. HOWEVER, backwards pedaling increases patellofemoral compression forces as well as increases the anterior to posterior directed forces on the knee (which is what causes stress to the ACL). what this all means is this: if you have an ACL injury or have patellofemoral syndrome then don’t pedal backwards. If you have a meniscus injury or osteoarthritis, then pedal ing backwards can be beneficial and is in fact less stressful for these exercisers.

    so, unless every spin instructor insists on having every person in his/her class fill out a health status questionnaire and that instructor is proficient at interpreting this information then stating that certain moves are harmful is not only wrong, but potentially harmful.

  9. I discovered your blog site on google and examine a number of of your early posts. Proceed to maintain up the very good operate. I just extra up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to studying extra from you in a while!…

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