Tag: Indoor cycling academy

Cycling: the anti-obesity drug

Strength training and cardio exercise affect the body differently, not only in the obvious ways – building muscle versus developing cardiovascular fitness – but at a hormonal level too. This is the topline finding of a new study by the University of Copenhagen.

At face value, this may not seem overly surprising: these are, after all, two very different methods of training. But although logically we might have expected this to be the case, in fact the evidence hasn’t historically been there to prove it; surprisingly little has been known to date about the contribution of specific forms of exercise to the overall health benefits of being active.

The Copenhagen findings, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation – Insight, are therefore significant and worthy of a closer look.

A metabolic boost

So what did the researchers discover? One key finding for all you cycling enthusiasts out there is this: cardio training on an exercise bike causes an increase in the production of the hormone FGF21 that’s three times as large as the increase observed from strength training with weights. And that matters, because FGF21 has a number of positive effects on our metabolism.

Let’s first take a step back and look at the FGF family of hormones in general, which are involved in a variety of biological processes including cell growth, morphogenesis and tissue repair. Within this, FGF21 – a hormone secreted by the liver – has been shown to act as a metabolic regulator that plays a role in controlling glucose homeostasis, insulin sensitivity and ketogenesis. Indeed, treatment of animals with FGF21 has been shown to result in increased energy expenditure, use of fat and lipid excretion.

FGF21 cardio workout vo2 max
In the study, the cardio workout involved cycling at 70% of VO2 max

It’s therefore hugely important to discover that indoor cycling significantly increases the level of this hormone in our blood.

The power of cardio

A quick word about the methodology of this randomised crossover study. The researchers took 10 healthy young men, randomly divided into two groups. All 10 men did both forms of exercise – cardio and resistance – once a week, with enough time between workouts to keep results distinct. The subjects also fasted overnight before all workouts, to ensure hormone levels were not impacted by food intake.

Both types of workout lasted for 60 minutes and were relatively tough: the cardio workout involved cycling at 70 per cent of VO2 max, while the strength training workout consisted of five exercises – each repeated for five sets of 10 reps – that worked all the major muscle groups.

The impact of the workouts was then measured by taking eight blood samples from all participants: pre- and post-exercise, plus six more samples over the following three hours. The researchers monitored levels of blood sugar, lactic acid, various hormones and bile acid in the body over this total four-hour period.

And the findings were notable. Specifically in relation the cardio workout, the researchers observed a significant increase in FGF21 production; there was no significant change in levels of this hormone in response to strength training. In addition, the researchers observed a robust increase in plasma glucagon preceding the FGF21 increase. This suggests that a fairly intense, 60-minute cycling workout can result in the co-ordinated regulation of FGF21 and glucagon – a hormone formed in the pancreas which promotes the breakdown of glycogen to glucose in the liver.

In contrast, glucagon concentrations were unchanged after strength training, and gradually declined during the three-hour recovery period.

“FGF21’s potential as a drug against diabetes, obesity and similar metabolic disorders is currently being tested, so the fact that we are able to increase the production ourselves through training is interesting.”

Exercise versus drugs

“We’ve known about the effects of various forms of training on more well-known hormones – like adrenalin and insulin – for a long time, but the fact that strength training and cardio exercise affect FGF hormones differently is new to us,” says Christoffer Clemmensen, associate professor at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, and one of the researchers behind the study.

“Endurance training on a bicycle has such a marked effect on the metabolic hormone [FGF21] that we now ought to take a closer look at whether this regulation of FGF21 is directly related to the health-improving effects of cardio exercise.

“FGF21’s potential as a drug against diabetes, obesity and similar metabolic disorders is currently being tested, so the fact that we are able to increase the production ourselves through training is interesting.”

FGF hormones blood sample test
Blood samples were taken pre-exercise, and then across the three hours after the workout.

A solid foundation

The researchers point out that their results are limited by the fact that blood samples were not taken more than four hours after training – the longer-term impact was not measured. Neither are they able to comment on the effects of a full training programme on the FGF hormones.

Nevertheless, the results are so significant that they provide a solid foundation for further research, including whether similar effects can be seen in other population groups based on sex, age and metabolic status.

For now, the take-away is this: if you want to boost your metabolism and burn fat… get on your bike!

Beating the downward cycle of dementia

Over recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in the way society has approached dementia.

Previously, options for the care of those with serious cognitive issues were limited, with daycare centres or full-time care homes catering for older people really the only choices. However, the latest research findings suggest a more active approach is needed – one that focuses not just on palliative care within care homes, but on rehabilitation and improving the quality of life for dementia sufferers.

A rehabilitative approach

Even though dementia is a progressive disease with no cure, many treatment centres have therefore begun to introduce a rehabilitative element into their treatment of dementia – and physical activity is an important part of this.

A number of studies have found strong correlations between brain health and levels of physical activity: inactive people have an increased risk of dementia, while on the other hand, regular physical activity can slow – and even reverse – cognitive decline. Among those already suffering from dementia, exercise can also enhance some cognitive functions and improve quality of life.

inactive people have an increased risk of dementia

Studies suggest this is due to the excretion of the neurotrophic protein BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) during exercise. BDNF plays an important role in maintaining our nervous system, including the formation of new nerve cells and nerve connections. Excessively low levels of BDNF are thought to be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Danish National Health Service has therefore produced a training guide for people with dementia, including suggested training activities and practical advice. Its recommendations around the level of physical activity are very similar to the recommendations made to the public as a whole: 30 minutes’ activity a day, including at least 20 minutes’ high intensity exercise twice a week.

In combination with other types of intervention – cognitive training, music therapy, sensory stimulation and so on – this level of activity is able to help alleviate the symptoms of dementia, and thereby improve people’s quality of life.

The positive impact of cycling

In practice, indoor cycling is often the chosen activity for dementia sufferers, as it requires no advanced skills and can be performed even by those with a severe degree of dementia.

We have to help people live with dementia, not just suffer from it.

In a recent Danish study – ADEX – researchers took a group of 200 people with Alzheimer’s. They were asked to train three times a week, for 16 weeks, with each session comprising one hour of moderate intensity indoor cycling.
The study showed these cycling sessions had a significant and positive effect on wellbeing and people’s quality of life, with a clear dose-response to exercise frequency and intensity: the subjects who exercised most, and hardest, experienced the best results. These positive results were not only physical, but also cognitive.

Similar results were also observed in a meta-analysis of 30 studies – a total of 2,020 subjects – with significant improvements noted in cognitive function as a result of exercise.

Furthermore, working out in small groups – with the social interaction that brings – has a positive impact on the effect of the training.

An interdisciplinary approach

In Frederikshavn Municipality, Denmark, we’ve therefore been putting together a programme to help citizens with dementia, seeking to improve their quality of life.

Over the last five years, a specialist team has been working together as part of this multi-disciplinary project – a team that consists of dementia co-ordinators (nurses with diploma-level education in dementia), a music therapist, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist (myself) and a psychologist.
We work both independently and as a group, helping local citizens suffering from all forms of dementia – both mild and more difficult cases. Operating out of activity centres, care centres and people’s own homes, we not only work directly with dementia sufferers, but also offer a number of services to the relatives of those with dementia.

dementia group workout cycling
A Danish study of Alzheimer’s sufferers reported both physical and cognitive benefits from regular cycling

We have, for several years now, based our approach on results from proven studies. Given our focus on rehabilitation, physical activity – such as indoor cycling – plays a key role in our programmes. We clearly see that this enhances people’s physical functionality, social life and overall quality of life.

However, although a lot of research from around the world has already observed a positive impact of physical activity on cognitive function, within our own programme the impact of exercise on cognitive function remains unclear.

This is why our team is now planning a pilot project, starting at the end of this year. We will encourage local citizens with mild dementia to take part in indoor cycling sessions, and will monitor its impact on their cognitive functions – functions such as maintaining attention, remembering, learning and solving problems. The project will last a period of 14 weeks, with three weekly sessions – each session being one hour of indoor cycling, done at an intensity equivalent to 75 per cent of HR max.

Our aim is to prove and clarify the impact of aerobic exercise, such as cycling, on cognitive function – and, of course, to establish whether such an offer is attractive to the participants. Ultimately, the more we can do to improve people’s lives, the better. We have to help people live with dementia, not just suffer from it.


Dementia is an overall term that describes a group of conditions, marked by a decline in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. The term ‘dementia’ covers not only impaired memory, but also other symptoms such as reduced initiative, orientation, language, language understanding and motor skills. And there’s still no cure. All that can currently be done is alleviate the symptoms, and sometimes slow the decline, through medication… and exercise.

10 key signs of dementia are as follows:

  1. Memory loss, disrupting daily life
  2. Difficulties in planning or solving problems
  3. Finding it hard to complete familiar tasks
  4. Losing track of date and time
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. Problems with words, both speaking and writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Diminished or poor judgement
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Change in mood and personality




The best of all worlds

I started out on my indoor cycling journey in the early days of Spinning®, as a master instructor for Mad Dogg Athletics and Spinning. That was 1997 – 21 years ago. I’ve since travelled the world and trained thousands of instructors, presented at dozens of conferences and live workshops, written some of the continuing education curriculum for Spinning, and taught thousands of classes.
I discovered early on that I have a knack for inspiring others while on the bike. There’s no greater feeling than hearing from instructors who told me I changed their lives as they learned how to become better and more inspiring coaches.

However, I began to spot new trends in indoor cycling that I found concerning…

Keeping It Real

In 2003, I created a workshop for a Spinning conference called Keep It Real, which addressed some of the emerging trends in the industry that seemed a bit, well, troubling. That session soon became a continuing education workshop called ‘Contraindications in Spinning’ – by which we meant “just don’t do it”. It challenged many of the techniques that had been popping up in classes; moves such as push-ups, crunches, squats and lifting weights while riding the bike.
The thinking was this: none of these non-traditional moves add to your fitness in any appreciable way, nor do they increase calorific consumption. But they do detract from the effectiveness of pedalling the bike. They may also cause discomfort and, in some cases, injury.

In 2007, I put this thinking into an e-book called Keep It Real, which focused on the idea that indoor cycling should stay true to ‘real’ cycling techniques, cycling science and proper training principles – even if you don’t ride outside.

This resonated with instructors around the globe, with hundreds contacting me to find out how they could get their riders to understand how important it was to ‘keep it real’.

How could we get more of that magic on the keep-it-real side?

The great divide

However, not everyone agreed with this ‘keep it real’ concept. I noticed a large schism was forming in my beloved industry.
On one side were the ‘purists’ – the instructors who kept true to cycling technique, sometimes even to a fault. One of their mantras was: “If you don’t do it on a bike outside, you shouldn’t do it indoors.” (This was a step further than even my ‘keep it real’ concept; I believe there are some things you can do indoors that you wouldn’t do outdoors. You just have to ensure everything is based on proper biomechanics for an effective workout.)

On the other side was the ‘party on a bike’ brigade – those who felt an indoor cycle wasn’t like an outdoor bike, and that you could therefore do whatever you wanted on it. Their focus was on music, high energy and fun above technique or performance. It was all about dancing to the music rather than music as a backdrop. They believed a class that ‘kept it real’ was boring and meant that riders sat in the saddle the whole time.

They weren’t entirely wrong! Even though I have always been on the side of proper technique, I recognised what they were rebelling against.
I had seen the poor instruction, inadequate motivation, even downright boring classes. Classes that were technically correct, but no more.

Meanwhile, I could also see the party crowd were doing something very right. They excelled at the fun factor and drew big crowds as a result. SoulCycle had taken the industry by storm and Flywheel followed soon after. They had touched on the magic of entertainment and musicality and focused on customer service.

Off road DC Jennifer Sage

Bridging the gap

I wanted to bring the best of both sides together. I knew I could have an impact on the ‘boring’ instructors if I had an opportunity to teach them about motivational coaching, music, profile design, public speaking skills and building a connection with their riders. I also knew I could have an impact on the ‘party’ instructors, showing them how to keep it fun, motivating and on-the-beat while adhering to proper biomechanics and training principles.

I felt bridging the gap in this way could help heal my industry and vastly boost the success of participants around the world. There were negatives and positives to both sides – all I needed was a platform to showcase the best of all worlds and raise the level of instruction across all indoor cycling programmes.

That platform came in 2011, when I launched the Indoor Cycling Association (ICA) – a global online educational resource for indoor cycling instructors.

Introducing the ICA

The ICA is not a certifying agency. Neither is it attached to any one programme; it doesn’t matter the certification or the bike you teach on. We simply want to help instructors get to the next level of knowledge and inspiration once they’re certified, with online content that combines evidence-based technique, inspirational coaching, technology, entertainment, music and fun.

One of the primary missions of the ICA is to be a driving force in the industry, so that all bike manufacturers and programmes will continue to thrive, and so that boutique studios and clubs can stay in business. We want to be the rising tide that lifts all boats.

The goal of the ICA is to take the science of cycling and make it more accessible and interesting to instructors. We teach them how to coach their riders with technically correct classes, without blinding people with the boring side of science. We teach the physiology and the biomechanics of indoor cycling, but we also show instructors how to be motivational coaches who make their classes fun.

In the belief that haphazard training produces haphazard results, we teach instructors how to create solid classes based on effective training principles, rather than throwing together a mishmash of movements.

Once they’ve designed their class, it’s time to think about the music. This has to match the message and tempo of the class profile, so the ICA teaches instructors to find music based on beats per minute (bpm) in order to match the desired cadence (rpm). The ICA has literally hundreds of theme-ride ideas and playlists to keep the entertainment factor high.

Jennifer Sage bike set up

There’s also advice on how to use new technology to your advantage: apps, video displays, virtual rides and training with power meters. Used wisely, these technological enhancements can increase class participation and engagement; used poorly, it may end up deterring riders.

And finally, one of the signature features of the ICA curriculum is the educational content on coaching and cueing. Being a coach is more than just yelling out platitudes like “Find the champion within.” The most impactful instructors coach their riders to look inward for intrinsic motivation, not outward for external distraction. They inspire riders to push themselves beyond their own self-imposed limitations, encouraging them to use mantras and affirmations and helping them set and meet personal goals.

When instructors learn how to engage riders through inspirational coaching and mind-body connections, there’s no need to resort to ineffective distractions such as push-ups, tap-backs, crunches or weights. Instead, riders will excel through the mental strength techniques they learn in class.

This is the ICA approach to bringing together the best of both worlds – technique and inspiration – to ensure riders get results as well as enjoyment, and the indoor cycling sector continues to thrive.

For more information

The ICA website has an archive of over 1,000 educational articles and videos on every topic an instructor might need, from new instructors to 15-year veterans. There are also 800+ posts just on music for indoor cycling classes. New content is added weekly:

[button link=”https://www.indoorcyclingassociation.com” size=”medium” color=”default”]Indoor Cycle Association[/button]

If you’re an instructor looking to raise the bar of your own knowledge, download this free guide: 101 Ways to Be a Better Indoor Cycling Instructor

[button link=”https://www.indoorcyclingassociation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/101-Ways-to-Be-a-Better-Indoor-Cycling-or-Spinning-Instructor.pdf” size=”medium” color=”default”]101 Ways to Be a Better Indoor Cycling Instructor[/button]

And, for both instructors and participants looking to understand what it means to keep it real in your cycling classes and why certain techniques are contraindicated, you can find the Keep it Real ebook right here

[button link=”https://www.indoorcyclingassociation.com/kir_ebook-3/” size=”medium” color=”default”]Keep it Real ebook[/button]

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