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Cues and Shoes

Posted Nov 30 2010 8:01am

Lately I’ve been putting a whole lot more emphasis on the “Eat” in “Eat, Spin, Run, Repeat” than anything else, so today I’ve decided to dedicate a post to the “Spin” portion. You’ll have to bear without food photography just this once, but don’t worry, there will be plenty tomorrow! ;)

Pretend you’re in the following situation:

You walk into your gym, then into the spin studio for your weekly spin class. Everyone gets on the bikes, the instructor introduces themselves, has a bit of a chat with the class, then starts the workout. Throughout the class, he or she shouts out cues like “tip the hips forward”, “point your toes down”, “relax the shoulders”. You do it – after all, you’re supposed to do what the instructor says, right? You ride for the 45 mins or hour, sweat like a demon, cool down, stretch, then head for the showers. Done and done.

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But…. do you ever wonder why the instructor tells you to make those adjustments? Wouldn’t it just be easier for them to save their breath and let you ride? Well, yes it would. However, chances are that doing so would mean that you aren’t maximizing the benefits of your workout. No one likes wasting time, right? In addition, you probably also want to know why it’s better to ride with these form adjustments. If this sounds like you, it’s your lucky day because I am about to give you some answers! Depending on the type of cycling program you participate in (for example, RPM, Spinning, Schwinn cycling, etc), your instructor’s cues may vary. The following are a few that are very popular with RPM classes, and depending on the instructor, may apply to freestyle classes too.

The Cue: “Switch on your base resistance. This is the minimum load you should be riding with throughout the class.”

The Reason: Base resistance refers to the amount of load on the bike that allows you to feel a connection with the pedal. No road – even flat ones – have zero friction, so you should be able to ‘feel the road’ beneath you. This is important mainly for injury prevention purposes. By using at least your base resistance at all times, this ensures that your legs are in control of the pedals, not the other way around.

The Cue: “Relax the shoulders, keep them down and away from the ears. Elbows should be slightly bent and grip should be loose.”

The Reason: These are common cues in a warm-up situation , but apply throughout the entire class. Keeping your shoulders relaxed and back ensures that your chest stays open, which means that it will be easier for you to breathe when you are riding. Keeping a slight bend in the elbows and a relaxed grip ensures that you’re not carrying any tension in the arms. You want your energy to be used to pedal, not to hold onto the handlebars!

The Cue: “Brace the abs, keep the core tight.”

The Reason: Plain and simple, engaging the core muscles helps to avoid bouncing around in the saddle. (So does adding a little more load, so if you ever watch yourself cycle in a mirror and notice lots of upper body motion, try adding resistance and bracing the core muscles.) To learn more about what exactly your “core” is, check out my Cut To The Core post.

The Cue: “Tip the hips slightly forward in the saddle.”

The Reason: This one is used when heading into a race or fast-paced part of the workout. By moving the hips forward slightly, the knee is in a better position to execute force over the pedal, which means you can pedal faster. This position is directly over the knee when your pedal is between the 3-5 o’clock part of the pedal stroke.

When you’re not riding at race-pace in the saddle, the hips can shift further back.

If you’re wondering what the instructor is talking about when they refer to a clock face, 12:00 would refer to the top of the pedal stroke, when your knee is the most bent. 6:00 refers to the point when the leg is fully extended, or the bottom of the pedal stroke. So if you’re wondering what the instructor is talking about when they say something like “Push down past 3:00, scrape the foot across the floor at 6:00, pull up at 9 and kick over the top at 12″, this ensures that you focus on each point of the pedal stroke. All are important because, as you can see from this lovely diagram below (mad props to the forum source , because I think it’s fantastic), each point in the stroke recruits different muscle groups.

The Cue: “Point your toes slightly down, and avoid clawing the pedal.”

The Reason: Pointing the toes slightly downward when racing (or pedaling at high speeds) puts the foot in a more aerodynamic position, which would help you to pedal faster if you were outside on a real bike. However, when some people get pedaling quickly, they tend to try to grip the pedal with their toes (for example, in order to stay secure in the pedal cages if wearing running shoes). It’s important to give your toes a wiggle once in a while and avoid tensing them up during your workout, because curling them up can lead to numbness when you eventually stop riding. A way to avoid the clawing problem? Well, this leads me beautifully into the topic of….

Spinning shoes!

First things first: What are they? Depending on the brand, spinning shoes can look somewhat like regular shoes. The main difference is that underneath, they have a cut-out area where a cleat is held in place. The cleat clips into the bike pedal (on the side that doesn’t have the cage attached to it) and helps to hold your feet in place while riding fast. The sole is also more stiff than a regular shoe so that the foot doesn’t collapse on the pedal. (Yes, this does create a bit of a funny walk – they’re not for wearing outside!) A stiff sole also helps to make sure that as much power as possible is transferred to the pedal.

What’s this clip business all about? Are they all the same? No, they are not. The clips can vary depending on the type of pedal on an indoor bike. One very popular one (and the only type I’ve personally encountered) is the SPD clip by Shimano, which is common at many gyms and indoor cycling studios. They come with all these bits:

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And when assembled, they look like this:

 

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The cleat/clip is sold separately from the shoe, and you would purchase the type needed for whatever bike you’re going to be cycling on. I haven’t had experience with other types of cleat, but the SPD ones are really quite simple. They can easily be repositioned and tightened with Allen key (or hex key) so that the cleat lies in the right position when clipped into the pedal.

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What do the shoes look like? It really depends on the brand. They tend to look a little space-y…

 

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…and others, like mine, look a bit like a trail shoe:

If the shoe uses SPD clips, the bottom will look like this:

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Even though nothing protrudes from the bottom of the shoe, you probably wouldn’t want to wear these outside. The clips click into the little slots on the flat side of the pedal, and easily come out when you twist your foot to get off the bike (but not so easily that they slip out when you ride with high resistance or speeds).

 

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Are spin shoes just for advanced cyclists? Nope, absolutely not! One of the main benefits of spin shoes (apart from the fact that they kinda make you look like you know what you’re doing) is that they help you to stay in control of the pedals. Control is something that benefits all riders, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced cyclist.

I did spin classes regularly for about a year before I caved and bought my shoes, and I can honestly say I’d never go back. I’ve had mine for a good 2 1/2 years now and they’re not showing any signs of quitting. In fact, if by chance I happen to forget my shoes at home, I’ll change my workout plans to avoid having to wear running shoes on the bike (provided I’m not scheduled to teach a class of course!)

So tell me….

  • Do you have spin shoes? What kind do you wear? What do you love/dislike about them?
  • Are there any cues that you often hear in spin class that you don’t understand, which haven’t been listed above? Let me know what they are and I’ll do my best to explain. (Although I can’t make any promises – I’ve participated in some classes where the cues given really aren’t very safe!)

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