Spinning Master Instructor and former professional cyclist Josh Taylor took a break from teaching 1,000 instructors at a time to talk with Healthy Living about how to make the most of your indoor cycling workout.
How did you get into Spinning?
I'm a former professional bike racer. I ended up kind of falling into Spinning 16 years ago or so. It was the mind-body aspect that drove me to it. Nobody gets dropped, nobody gets left behind -- that aspect of it is great.
Now, I'm an international Spinning Master Instructor. I go around the world training instructors or helping them with continuing education. We do these speciality rides, sometimes with 600 or 1,000 bikes.
Indoor cycling has a ton of fans these days. What's the difference between Spinning and some of the boutique studios popular now?
The word in general, Spinning, that's where you have to be careful. You don't really know if it's Spinning that you're taking. Because we're the originators of indoor cycling, our name gets used a lot where it's really not our program. If people are going to seek out a tried and true class, the best thing to do is go to Spinning.com and see if it's a licensed Spinning facility and if the instructors are certified. That means they have our bikes, which is something we pride ourselves on, and that you're going to get a proper workout. Still, just because you're certified doesn't mean you're qualified, but for the most part you should get a fantastic, safe ride.
What is required of a gym in order to be a licensed Spinning facility?
They need to have our bikes and our certification amongst all their instructors. A lot of people confuse Spinning with indoor cycling, where you might get one instructor doing one thing and one doing another and there's no consistency and it confuses you -- should I be leaning? Doing crunches? My advice is just ride the bike. You know when you're going into a hill it's a lot of resistance, when you're going downhill it's a little lighter. Keep it pure. If you want to work on your upper body, get off the bike and work on your upper body.
What should riders know about setting up their bikes?
In our instructor certification we're very adamant about proper body alignment and biomechanics. Otherwise, you can hurt your knees, get numbness in the seat, neck and shoulder pain. With cycling, because it's a non-impact workout, it might take a little longer to see an injury.
There's a lot that goes into bike fit, including flexibility, body size, the length of your arms, the length of your legs, whether or not you're going to clip in using cycling shoes, fitness level. A trained instructor should look at you and ask the right questions. For example, if you've never done cycling before, you're not going to like the handlebars real low and you'll need to build up a tolerance to the saddle.
The three main adjustments are handlebar height, seat adjustment and fore-aft adjustment. You want a slight degree of bend in the knee at the farthest point the foot is away from the body when you're pedaling, so the foot would be at the bottom of the pedal stroke. You want 25 to 35 degrees of flexion at the bottom of the pedal stroke. That allows safety throughout the movement; you're not over compressing or overextending the knee. That 25 to 35 number does not come from the Spinning program, that comes from the professional cycling world. If that's what world-class coaches are saying for professional athletes, we're going to say that's good for the general public. Most people don't like to sit too high, but they will sit way too low, and that's crunching them up and can be dangerous for ligaments and joints.
After you get a seat height, then you adjust your fore-aft. The ball of the foot should be right on the spindle so as you're pedaling you've got the widest, strongest part of your foot pushing. You want the front of your knee right in line with the ball of your foot when the pedal is farthest forward, to put all those massive [leg] muscles right in the center of these circles you're turning.
Then of course you've got handlebar height. That's a function of comfort. If you're flexible, you've got a strong core, a strong lower back, you can ride a little lower. But if you're new, you want to be up a little higher to take the stress off. Ultimately, if you're comfortable you're going to be efficient, and if you're efficient you're going to be powerful, and if you're powerful you're going to burn calories.
What other mistakes do you see riders making in class?
Their cadences are way too high, and they're pedaling with no resistance. If you're up over 110 RPMs [revolutions per minute] really you're not doing yourself any favors. You start bouncing on the seat, it's not getting you anywhere. When an instructor says to you, "Go go go go go!" think of it as intensity, not leg speed. Slow it down a little bit, get yourself in control, use your muscles. Pedaling way too slowly can be another one. If you get down under 60 RPMs, you're super inefficient, and when you ride a bike it's about efficiency.
Another big mistake I see is upper-body movements on the bike. If you're clipped in and you start leaning, this starts putting a lot of stress on hip and knee joints. Use the bike as it should be used and you're going to get a lot more out of it. When you're on the bike you want to be using the largest muscle groups in your body: your legs. Spinning is a perfect addition to other training. If you keep it specific to what you should do on a bike, that's going to keep you injury-free, you're going to see results and you're not going to get bored, because you'll be constantly progressing. The bike isn't a weight bench, it's a bike. That's where Spinning has the edge in my opinion.
A lot of the cycling studios rent shoes. If you're going to a class at your gym in your regular sneakers, are you missing out?
Let's say you and I wear the same size shoe. Is the shape of our foot going to be the same? Is our bone structure the same? Even though we have the same size foot, probably not. If that cleat on the bottom of your shoe is not in the right spot, when you clip your foot into that pedal it can destroy your knee. Whereas if you just stick your feet in the toe strap and cage, your foot is usually going to go how your body structure wants your foot to go. If you're locked in with a cleat it might put your knee in a comprising position. If you love Spinning, and you've been doing it a little while now, go down to a bike shop, have them fit you, have them put the cleats on, so that the ball of the foot does line up where it should line up on the pedal and you get the most out of it. Being in the right spot with your foot can make your ride way more comfortable, way more efficient and way more powerful. If it isn't, that's where we get numb toes, Achilles tendon pulls. And you don't need to buy a $400 set of shoes. I would buy a half-decent quality shoe, a mountain bike shoe so you can walk around in them. A road bike shoe is like an ice skate with it's carbon fiber sole. For fit, biomechanics, safety and sanitary reasons, I would not be renting shoes. If I opened a studio tomorrow, I would sell shoes and fit them properly.
Is there any other gear worth investing in?
Padded cycling shorts. I'm going to be honest with you: The saddle can be an issue for some people. There's a lot of nerves there, there's a lot of blood flow. But a male isn't going to walk up to a female instructor and say, "I'm going numb in class." He's just not going to go anymore. Same with ladies. It's a sensitive area! The more an instructor asks you to lean side to side and sit forward, the more you're cutting off circulation. I cringe when I see that, I know exactly what's going to happen.
I urge anybody who finds an instructor that they like, at least check their credentials. You would never go to a doctor that wasn't certified! And it's not only about the music or their energy, it's about what they're making you do. If you're going to follow the leader, the leader better know where they're going. The bike is a machine, it's a piece of steel, it will beat you. If you don't respect it, you're opening that door up to injury. Good instructors give you proper training techniques and safety, they care about what you're doing on the bike, they look at your bike fit and they make it fun and exciting. You're spending money and time to be here, it's my job to help you reach your fitness goals -- and by the way, we're going to have a kick-ass time.
As told to Sarah Klein. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.