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keep it real by jennifer sage

I’ve taken a few Spinning classes in the past, but I gave up on that pretty quick. The classes were intense and I liked the lively atmosphere, but man, those classes were totally pointless for anyone that’s actually a cyclist.

From what I’ve seen from indoor cycling classes (IDC,) I could never recommend them for anything more than burning some extra calories. They’re just too funny, haphazard, and weird to have any practical applications in bike racing.

So whenever I heard about a new ebook explaining what’s wrong with these classes (and how to fix them,) I chuckled softly and knew I had to read it.

Said ebook is called Keep It Real and it’s all about “keeping it real” in your indoor cycling classes. In other words, how you can use IDC and reap real-world benefits such as the ability to ride faster, stronger, and longer.

Keep It Real is written by Jennifer Sage, a Spinning master instructor who has been involved with the indoor cycling world for years. I had never heard of her before seeing this book, but she’s the real deal. (She was riding on solo, unsupported tours around Europe before I could ride a tricycle.)

Continue reading for my thoughts on this enormous book…

What You’ll Find In Keep It Real

Check this out – the book is a whopping 177 pages! I had no clue there was that much to know about IDC! (The actual book is 152 pages and the Appendix is 13 pages.)

The book is all about using indoor cycling classes to improve your outdoor cycling performance. (I think that’s great, since most spinning classes seem to do little more than burn calories. Not that burning calories is so terrible, but the mindless pedaling doesn’t fit with the goals of most real cyclists.)

Everything is covered – why a cyclist would want to ride indoors, what “Spinning” is and how it started, what to expect from the spinning bike, explanations of movements using during the classes, and my favorite section, the popular but unsafe movements and techniques you might find in most classes.

Keep It Real even goes on to cover proper indoor training and planning, periodization, and all the components of a great training, with examples of workouts and help to set up your plan.

(You can see the entire Table of Contents here.)

My Thoughts and Opinion on Keep It Real

To start with, this ebook comes in a nice PDF file, and it’s very well organized. It’s very easy to read thanks to the font and clear chapter headings. (That might not sound like a big deal, but stuff like this makes a difference when you’re reading 177 pages on your monitor!)

One of the first topics is the history of Spinning and details on their certification program. That might not be interesting to a cyclist just looking for a training plan, but you can easily skip that section and not get behind. (I kind of enjoyed it though.) If you’re considering becoming an instructor, it’s a very good read.

The description of a typical Spinning class a few pages in had me laughing out loud! It’s a stereotype, but it’s hilarious!

After reading the first section of the book explaining everything about IDC, you will be very well prepared for your endeavors. For example, when going to a gym or considering joining one, you’ll be much more aware of what you should look for when it comes to the indoor cycling classes, instructors, techniques, and the bikes themselves.

I learned a heck of a lot, and I’ve been riding and racing for years! I really liked the saying “even a flat road has resistance” and the story to it (on page 42,) which helps you avoid one common error in indoor riding.

The book continues with some basic bike fitting advice, but specifically for Spinning bikes. I didn’t even think about this, but there are a few odd variables with these indoor bikes that you don’t encounter with a regular outdoor bicycle. So this is vital info (on page 48.)

Really, that bike fitting info is no joke. I have some annoying knee problems due to using an ill-fitting stationary bike. I highly recommend avoiding any outdated bikes where you can’t get a near-perfect position. It’s just not worth it to do lasting damage to your knee.

Here’s the best part – what NOT to do during your classes! You’ll probably laugh at some of the outrageous movements some instructors use, but you might also think, “doh, I just did that move yesterday!”

I hate to admit it, but I’ve actually made at least one of these mistakes myself. (Who knew the aero position was so bad on Spinning bikes? I just wanted to stretch out.) Good thing I found this book before I did any serious training with Spinning or I’d be in trouble!

After those sections, most of the book is devoted to training. Topics such as heart rate zones, power training, lactate threshold, periodization, sprints, intervals, and more are all covered here.

This training information is not as in depth as in Joe Friel’s Cyclist’s Training Bible, but it is comprehensive. It’s a great overview for beginner cyclists or any cyclists new to structured training schedules, and Keep It Real does a good job of simplifying a complex subject so you can understand it and apply it to your indoor classes.

And while you don’t get a personalized training plan in there, there’s enough info that you can plan something out. (The sample workouts spell it out for you.)

Actually, it would be even better if your Spinning instructor bought a copy of this book and then used those workouts as the basis for their classes!

But you could still use the workouts on your own, and certainly make use of the example drills for skills and efficiently (such as improving pedal stroke.)

There’s even a Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR) field test you can perform on an indoor bicycle (p 116) so you can better personalize your training.

Finally, the Appendices cover abbreviations used in the book, references, tips on clothing selection for indoor cycling, hydration, music, and more. Some important tips are in there, so read through that if you get the book.

*Note: example page numbers I listed were according to Adobe Reader, not the numbers listed on the pages.

What I Didn’t Like About Keep It Real

Overall this turned out to be a great book, but I did have one complaint.

While I like how there are pictures of proper and improper form, and it’s clearly stated which is which if you read the book, it might help to have small text captions on each picture with “correct” or “incorrect” just to make it more clear. Or perhaps even a “correct” and “incorrect” photo for each technique.

(I’m sure I’m not the only one who would skim through a book and look at the pictures before reading the details!)

My final verdict is…

First, let’s be clear – if you’re a pro or aspiring pro cyclist with a great knowledge of training principles who has no intention of partaking in indoor cycling classes (perhaps you have your own Computrainer or you live in a warm climate,) this book probably isn’t for you.

But I enjoyed this book. If you have the least bit of interest in Spinning classes, or you participate in them already, I highly recommend this book.

And especially if you tried Spinning but quit because it seemed like an aerobics class on a bicycle, read this! You’ll love it. It’s a cathartic experience knowing you were right about typical spinning classes!

If you are a Spinning instructor, I very highly recommend this book. Actually, you must read it! Not reading it would be doing a disservice to the riders in your classes.

Official website: IndoorCyclingAssociation.com

Product Review Details
Company: Indoor Cycling Association
Product: “Keep It Real In Your Indoor Cycling Classes” Ebook
Reviewed by: Coach Levi
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Date last updated: 2009-01-22
Obtained Product: Free sample from company.
CoachLevi.com Advertiser: Yes; paid affiliate.
Click here if you would like to get your product reviewed on CoachLevi.com.
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  1. Finally! Someone who dares point out and address the hazards and errors made by these so called ‘instructors’. These very people whom we’re paying hundreds of dollars to attend their classes.

  2. Ha, this hits home! I considered my spin class to be choreographed, but I still keep within spinning tradition. My philosophy is, if you can’t do it on a real road bike then don’t do it in class. I have seen instructors pull out weights and have us do shoulder presses while riding and it drives me crazy!

  3. @Catherine

    I agree. There are lots of things that can be replicated on a spinning bike. Getting in and out of the saddle, looking at racers behind you, riding no hands, getting stuff out of your jersey pockets, one-leg riding, etc. Why would you need to start lifting weights?

  4. At my gym we had a physiotherapist come in as a member and she complained about the spinning classes. We were not doing anything crazy but there was standing while spinning and hover and pushups. After her complaint we could only do sitting while spinning for an hour. Nothing else. Classes that were impossible to get in before started having empty bikes. Many classes were cancelled for lack of interest and now they are getting rid of the entire program.

  5. @Cindy

    Bummer. From one extreme to the other. There was definitely some room to find a happy medium.

    Or, had the instructors read this book, they may have come up with other ways to make the class interesting! 😉

  6. “Never, ever change the way people train! Don’t be creative! Do not evolve, you sheep!”

    Is that the premise?

    When saying one shouldn’t do anything that he doesn’t do on a bike… It’s like saying: keep doing your 3×12 sets on your circuit routine machines forever. But above all, stay away from those new trends like Crossfit or else. They are not good for you. You’ll get hurt! Put mustard, relish, ketchup and maybe lettuce and tomatoes in your burger but nothing else! A veggie burger?!?!??! Burgers are made out of a beef patty. Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun!

  7. @Marty

    I understand that being your initial reaction. But that’s the complete opposite of what Jennifer is actually saying.

    To go with your analogy, what Jennifer is saying is more along the lines of “don’t do bicep curls in the squat rack” or “don’t do push ups at the bottom of the swimming pool.” She advocates against ridiculous, unsafe practices. She’s not against creative, innovative approaches.

    I do run away from veggie burgers though, so we’ll have to agree to disagree on that! 🙂

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