Marietta Mehanni

Is your cycle class harming your pelvic floor? by Donna Ellerton

Written by Marietta

November 16, 2016

Cycle classes have always been considered as being safe for the knees, joints and pelvic floor.

Well… what if I told you that these classes can possibly be harming you?

A cycle class is a pretty regular fixture on most gym time-tables, and I have been to my fair share. They always guarantee a heart rate raising, sweaty work out. However, the origins of many of the cycle classes that appear on your gym timetable have not come from cycle science. But rather a forced marry of choreographed moves on a stationary bike to match the beats per minute of the music chosen. The pop tune moves coupled with the push for speed found in the the average cycle classes, may in fact, be harming you. Or more specifically, the delicate ligaments that are around your knees and pelvis that keep you stable, active and pain-free.

So how do you know when an instructor has a sound knowledge base and will lead a class that will get your heart rate up, give you a great core workout, but not harm you?

BEWARE when your instructor gets you to:

  1. Cycle at an incredible speed with little or no resistance. The fly wheel (which weighs between 10 and 20 kg) coupled with the inertia from pedalling really fast, means that the rider has little control as the legs are thrown around. This places enormous stress and strain on the ligaments surrounding the knees and pelvis.
  2. Does not cue correct posture. A common trait is to shift the hips to the back of the saddle, unfortunately this position may actually cause the woman to push down through the pelvic floor. The other issue is the knees start to take all the load and the core muscles are not recruited as there is a fair amount of locking through the upper body.
  3. Perform dangerous balancing moves on the bike – like standing perfectly upright above the pedals with a high resistance. Some instructors will tell you that this is a “core workout”, but the reality is that you will be loading through the Achilles and knees. This bracing will in effect “turn off” your core stabilising muscles.

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To find out exactly how to avoid pelvic floor, knee and hip injuries in your cycle class, I asked cycle Master Trainer Donna Ellerton for her expert advice. Donna has had nearly 20 years experience in teaching cycling. She was living in Europe when the rise of the Spin phenomenon began, and because of her background in road cycling was asked to study to be a Master Trainer.

Donna shared her expertise as Master trainer across Europe before returning back to Melbourne in 2003. Donna teaches regular Cycle classes, continues to be a Master Trainer for Cycle Excel and presented at this years Women’s Health and Fitness Summit. Donna has also created fantastic* online training (for both instructors and attendees) to help educate all cycle enthusiasts, the safe way to ride. Click here

* Donna’s courses are registered with both Fitness Australia and Physical Activity Australia, so you will also be able to earn Professional Development Points.

Here are Donna’s 3 top tips to safe indoor cycling workout – by choosing a cycle instructor who:

  1. Delivers correct posture cues. The correct position is to sit on the centre of the saddle and gently tuck the pelvis under, creating a lovely long c curve using all the joints of the spine and core to support us. Imagine popping a balloon low between the hip bones, the balloon deflates and we relax the shoulders and the upper body. The pedal stroke technique involves lifting up from the gluteals and the hamstrings, so instead of pushing down, lift up. Perform the entire pedal stroke lifting from the gluteals and the hamstrings.
  2. Understands the importance of correct load. Ideally the warm up is the opportunity to educate all participants, so that they are able to modify the work out specific to them and their physical needs on that particular day. Every group work out should have the ability to be modified so to accommodate the individual. The message is, add the load first, then increase the speed if necessary.
  3. Speed is only introduced when point 1 & 2 are nailed. Speed should be kept at 60 -100 RPM and only occasionally going up to 120 for short periods of time during the class.

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You will know a good cycle instructor and class because you will feel grounded on your bike, feel everything working together and most essentially, feel no pain.

Like many areas of the fitness industry there is a myth that is often perpetuated by Fitness professionals that if there is “No Pain, there is No Gain!” It is good to remember that it is the true role of a Fitness Professional to keep you active, not just for that short time while they are instructing you (or thrashing you) but for the long term. This means taking care of your joints, ligaments, always including posture cues and checking in with how you feel on a day to day basis.

Or as Donna told me, “You can get a solid ride and offer longevity to your joints. Your cycle workout should be about health, wellness and longevity.”

Click on these links to learn more about Donna’s on-line courses or face cycle training courses.

And remember, you don’t need to be an instructor to learn more about how to make something you love doing, safe for you for the long term – these courses are suited to the general public as well.

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