Fad Fitness: Making Adjustments on the Fly

Week 2: Poor cycling position lands our writer on the doc's examination table

“Well, well, well,” I thought, face-down on an examination table in a sports medicine clinic. “I hope you’re happy, The Active Times.”

Doctor Rao, whose office happens to be on the same block as Flywheel Flatiron, was busy manipulating my trapezius and levator scapulae muscles in my upper back into some kind of usable shape when it occurred to me that I ought to warn my readers before embarking on a workout regime: Remember your body.

See, I have an old whiplash injury that likes to flare up when I’ve been workin’ it a little too hard in my upper back and shoulders. I can’t say for sure it was my third Flywheel class that brought me past the edge into spasm mode—I’d also waited tables on Thanksgiving, carrying family-style feasts up stairs and empty platters down—but a certain avid instructor’s enthusiasm for handlebar push-ups didn’t help. I’m looking at you, Jesse A.

I shouldn’t blame him though, because I’d failed to take up the offer, made at the beginning of every class, to get help adjusting my bike. Dr. Rao, once I’d proffered the push-up theory, gave me some sound advice: I have what looks like a rower’s injury, so maybe my handlebars were too low, causing me to support my weight on my arms and shoulders for the length of the class. A common enough problem among cyclists, he said.


With that in mind, I made sure to ask for help before my next class, and sure enough, one of Flywheel’s helpers made sure my handlebars were as high as they could go and my seat was high enough—waist level—and far enough forward, that my rear was bearing enough weight to keep me balanced.

She also advised that, for third position, which is standing while holding the very tops of the handlebars, my butt should only be a couple inches off the seat.

What a very unpleasant difference that made.

Instead of slouching forward and holding the bars in a death grip while in third, my core was doing the work of keeping me upright and my legs felt freer to pump away at faster speeds. Easier on the shoulders, harder on everything else.

On to the nitty gritty.

I’m beginning to get a feel for the structure of these workouts. They begin with a warm-up of one or two songs, usually involving sprints of over 100 rpm and a modest amount of third position. Then a moment of sheer terror seizes me when the instructor announces that warm-up is over, and I look down at my cumulative power reading to see how far from 200 I am—so far I’ve been averaging in the 220s per class, which, puts me in the 35th percentile for my region.

Then we do a couple series of intervals involving hills and straightaways, the aforementioned push-ups, and whatever devilish combination thereof the instructor has planned.

And then, when I feel like my legs are wasted and useless, we bring the torq down to 15 or so and switch to weights. Weights consist of one 2-pound bar and one 4-pound bar, which we extend outward and upward and behind our heads, individually and in combination. More on the weights in my next entry, but suffice to say, holy hell, at least that part’s short.

And then the final push. In my most recent class, with Flywheel founder Ruth Zukerman, we did a series of 40+ torq hills, (that’s high), and finished with sprints.

And so where do I stand after two weeks and, thanks to my back, four classes?

My average RPM is stuck at 60—about 28 mph—my average torq and power readings haven’t budged, and I’m only tracking about 20 miles per class.

Let’s see what three or four classes a week can do.


About the Project: The Active Times' Fad Fitness Challenge is a six-week-long project in which five hapless writers will immerse themselves in five popular fitness programs—CrossFit, Insanity, Barre, Flywheel and Kettlebell classes—for the dual purposes of getting in shape and evaluating them for our readers. We guinea pigs will bust our butts, burn calories and discover muscles we'd long since mothballed and, if all goes well, emerge into the New Year with a well-rounded perspective of the top fitness fads. Check back every weekday from now until the New Year to come along for the ride without breaking a sweat. Click here to check out the rest of the programs.