5 Cycling Class Myths Debunked for the Plus Size Woman

This past week (June 19, 2014), Toronto hosted the annual Bike for Tykes bike-a-thon fundrasier, in which people who work in the the downtown core, have the chance to cycle and raise funds for children’s cancer research. Since 2012, the beneficiary of this event is the Peter Gilgan Centre for Researching and Learning where 2,000 SickKids researchers, trainees and staff can meet and collaborate on ideas to transform the current state of child health care.

Photo credit: Bike for Tykes

I’ve participated in this event multiple times in the past and it’s a lot of fun.  However, my team has always been formed with fellow cycling enthusiasts from my gym, so while my colleagues tried to recruit a team this year, the multiple “no” responses reminded me of the stress or anxiety that can be associated with trying indoor cycling.

Bike for Tykes charity bike-a-thon

“Indoor cycling intimates me, it’s so hard core.

Everyone comes out all sweaty.”

So I want to demystify some myths around indoor cycling classes and address some concerns that other plus size women have shared with me,  as it is a great a workout that can compliment many sports and can be easily worked into your lifestyle. I love cycling outside, but during the work week, an indoor class helps me get my workouts in.

If you’ve never heard of cycling classes, it’s an aerobic exercise class that takes place on a specially designed stationary bike.  As you pedal, motivating music plays and the instructor talks you through a visualization of an outdoor cycling workout or a series of intervals.

  During the class, the pace is varied — sometimes pedalling as fast as you can, other times cranking up the tension and pedalling slowly from a standing position. This helps you to focus inwardly and work on your mind as well as your body.

Photo credit: Spinning.com

Myth # 1 - I’m TOO heavy to cycle

Depending upon the make and model, most bike shave a maximum user weight of 250-350 lbs. I’ve been doing cycling classes for 10 years and have rode multiple bikes for varying lengths of time (longest 4 hour for a charity event) and my weight sits right in between this range. I’ve never broken a bike.

Indoor bikes are tested up to 4 times the max load to ensure the bike will not breakdown. If you’re concerned, ask at your gym, or find out the model and contact the bike maker. If you think you might be embarrassed to ask, don’t be. It’s a lot easier and safer to ask first, the gym staff will respect you for looking out for your needs and not putting them at risk for a lawsuit.

Myth#2 - I’m not in shape to cycle

Even if you have a strong fitness level from another activity or sport, clycing classes use different muscles so it will take time to get use to it and build your muscular endurance. Everyone starts from ground zero.

At a minimum, instructors should be doing a 10-minute warm up (on a 45-min class), if they only do 5 minutes (I’ve seen it happen) keep warming up on your own. You will know when you feel ready to add in more tension and work a bit harder. You can still follow along in class but keep your tension and effort lighter until your body is warm.

It takes time to get in touch with your body and know how it feels at different exertion levels. A common mistake for beginners is that they pedal too hard with too much tension, burning themselves out. Instructors will always give you cues of how you should be feeling during any point of the class. They may use a number i.e. 70% maximum heart rate, but combine it with a description “you should feel like you could ride here for a couple of hours”.

The most important thing is you have total control over how much tension is on your bike. Sweating is a good thing as it’s your body’s natural way of keeping cool while you work hard. Overtime you will notice that what tension levels use to make you sweat, are now easy peasy and you’ll need to add in more to keeping getting the benefits. Look out, that’s your body adjusting and becoming stronger and fitter.

Myth #3 - Everyone will be looking at me because my BIG BODY is bouncing

Hate to break it to your narcissistic self, but no one is watching you except the instructor to make sure everyone is working hard and ok. Yes, there are mirrors in the studio, but they are there for a reason, for you to spot check your form, not one another.

As for bouncing, there are only 2 kinds of bouncing and both have corrective measures. If your butt is bouncing in the saddle you either need to add in more tension or you need to smooth out your pedal stroke because you’re only pushing down and not pulling back with your hamstring. As an certified Spinning instructor, I can spot a “poser” in a second, the person who is pedalling super fast usually has no tension therefore not getting any benefit. It’s inefficient and ineffective and honestly just a waste of your time.

Photo credit: Enell

The second kind of bounce, your boobs, can be corrected as well. Strap them in by getting a good quality sports bra. I have been wearing Enell sports bras for 10 years, did all my triathlon races in them so they are excellent for swimming. Take good care of them and they will last for years.

A couple of extra bonuses:

1) Every year Enell comes out with a new colour, I’ve seen purple, red and even a black and white check.

2) They have an ambassador program which includes a complimentary bra, race fees and more. They are still accepting applications for 2014.

Myth# - 4 I won’t know what to do do

Most gyms offer beginner classes where they teach you the basics, beginning with:

  • how to set up your seat post height
  • how to set up your saddle position
  • how to set up your handlebar height.
  • describe the 3 different hand positions on the handlebars – 1st 2nd and 3rd position
  • how to add in/reduce resistance on the bike
  • how to ride in or out of the saddle
  • safety techniques

If you don’t see this type of class on the schedule, ask for one. Chances are you are not the only one feeling a bit trepidatious about trying a cycling class. Once you get into it, you quickly learn what style of teaching you like and go to the same class over and over again. So instructors see the same people all the time and will usually notice if someone is new. It’s natural for new people to join indoor cycling studios and gyms all the time, therefore instructors constantly need to introduce themselves to you.

Don’t be alarmed if they ask you a few questions including your fitness level, it’s not a judgement on your body weight or type, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Since you can’t determine anyone’s fitness level by looking at them, they need to ask.

Myth #5  - My butt will never get used to it

This one is partially a myth. It’s true that you may leave your first couple of classes with a sore bum, but I promise you, your body adjusts and very quickly. I once hurt my lower back and had to stay away from cycling for 6 weeks. When I finally came back, my sit bones were a bit tender but after a couple of classes, everything adjusted back to normal.

Alternatively, you could ask the gym/studio if they have any gel seat covers, they sometimes keep a few around for beginners. And if you really like the cyclign classess, investing in a pair of cycling shorts will be a good long term investment.

Every cycling instructor has their own style of teaching.  Some like to play games, change moves with each song or replicate a profile from the Tour de France course, there is something for everyone.  It’s easy to become a groupie of a favourite instructor.  I have 2 instructors in my roster, that I love to attend their classes, but 99% of the time I only go to the first one, and have been doing so for 10 years.

Remember, you have total control of your tension and pace so don’t let those sweaty people intimidate you.  Give indoor cycling a chance.

It's a power move.

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7 Responses to 5 Cycling Class Myths Debunked for the Plus Size Woman

  1. Nancy March 11, 2018 at 4:47 am #

    Can you tell me the brand names of some of the bikes you like? my husband is 6’6 and 400+ we’re looking at a few bikes but would appreciate any insight you may have

    • Krista H. September 14, 2019 at 3:40 pm #

      Try Litespeed’s titanium line up. Sorry for the very late reply, didn’t realize there was a message.

  2. Maria Milagros Garcia February 16, 2017 at 9:33 am #

    Hello! I have a question. I’ve just started spinning classes and i am obese. Everybody obviously starts cycling no sitting for some intervals, i am afraid of doing it because my knees might suffer holding on my weight. What do you recommend?

    • Krista H. February 16, 2017 at 9:45 am #

      Hi Maria, getting clearance from your physician when you are starting a new exercise program is key. We hope you have had that conversation and discussed any specific movements to avoid whether you have a pre-existing condition or the potential to injure yourself. Don’t feel compelled to follow everything an instructor asks of you in a spin class by doing intervals out of the saddle. Have you ever watched the Tour de France? Professional cyclists ride out of the saddle for a very small portion of their time overall. It’s great to do when you need a burst of power or climbing up a hill. In spin class, I think they do it strictly to add some variety to the routine. Another thing to consider, your knees already hold your weight when walking and you didn’t mention any issues there. I think because this is all new you are being cautious. With more time in the saddle your confidence will build and will be prepared to try 5 or 10 seconds out of the saddle. But above all, you’re not required to do it so don’t sweat it.

  3. Jennifer Hu May 26, 2016 at 4:23 am #

    You make some good points. Spin bikes are generally a lot stronger than their maximum weight capacity, and there is nothing wrong with taking a gel seat cover to your spin classes. Once you get into it, spinning is great fun!!

  4. Kristin @ ExerciseBikesExpert.com April 20, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    I LOVE spinning!I do it once a week to change it up from my running…and my teacher is AWESOME, she plays the most pumping music (very important for my spinning experience) a lot of bon jovi, beatles, michael jackson and it gets you super pumped! Ive noticed my legs get toner, which helps with my runs, and my obliques and back toning up nicely too!!!

  5. Nell August 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    I totally get what you mean by groupie of an instructor that is definitely me! I love your site it makes me feel a lot better that I can be larger but still as fit or more as the smaller athletes 🙂

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