See Jane Ride: Special Considerations for Female Students

Whether in Spinning® class or on the road, women are reaping serious benefits from cycling. According to American Sports Data, 45% of fitness cyclists and 54% of Spinning participants are women. Help your female students ride strong and derive maximum benefits from your next class with these tips.

More Core
Hip, abdominal and back muscles tend to be weaker in women than in men. This impacts cycling performance because women with weak cores use their arms to support their upper body while riding, which is not only inefficient but can also lead to pain in the triceps, traps and neck or cause early-onset fatigue during long rides. Core strength also stabilizes and balances riders during standing climbs. Female riders should aim to strengthen their abs and lower backs at least 2-3 times per week. Using an exercise ball for for abdominal and back strengthening exercises is a fast and easy way to build core strength that will yield tremendous benefits on the bike.

If the Shoe Fits
Women tend to have smaller, more narrow feet than men. Whether they’re using pedal cages or clipless pedals, a properly fitting shoe is imperative to preventing numbness in the toes and promoting a powerful, efficient pedal stroke. Here’s what to look for in cycling shoes.

  • Shoes should fit tightly at the heel. The heel cup should be snug against the heel so there is absolutely no slipping during the pedal stroke.

  • Because women’s feet are typically shorter, it is extremely important to position the ball of the foot over the middle of the pedal when using toe cages. Most riders are inclined to shove their foot all the way to the front of the cage, which can cause toe numbness or cramping in the arches.

  • Whether lacing up or using Velcro straps, make sure the shoe is snug, but not tight. It is helpful to let the foot move a bit inside the shoe (especially the toes) to ensure adequate blood flow and circulation.

A Need for Speed
Women tend to have a higher percentage of fat burning enzymes than men do, because our bodies are genetically programmed to store more fat than a man’s. While this may seem unfair, it is actually beneficial because having more fat burning enzymes means women naturally recruit stored fat as an energy source more readily and efficiently than men. This is why, after riding for an hour or two, women still feel somewhat energized while men may be seeking carbs to fuel their efforts.

Given that women naturally burn fat for energy, they are generally more predisposed to be successful endurance athletes. Long, slow, sustained efforts, fueled by fat, make women great marathon runners but not-so-great sprinters. This means that women need to train their weaknesses and Spinning classes are a great way to improve speed and power. Intervals and short, powerful sprints are unbeatable ways to train the body to perform better under anaerobic conditions.

Bone Building
Women’s bones weaken more easily than men’s. Women need more calcium because they lose much of their vitamin and mineral intake during menstruation. Cycling is a non-impact, non-weight-bearing sport—which makes it easier on the joints—but weight-bearing activities are needed to promote bone strength and density. Female cyclists should consider adding weight bearing activities like running, walking or aerobics to their fitness regimen to compensate for cycling’s lack of impact.

Saddle Up
Saddle width is very important for women. The Spinner bike’s saddle is appropriately sized for men and women, but your students who ride outdoors may need guidance on selecting a seat for their bike.

While the male anatomy allows most men to ride comfortably on virtually any saddle, women’s bodies prefer a slightly wider saddle. Women’s sit bones are further apart than men’s so wider seats provide better support and less pressure. If the seat is too narrow, women end up supporting their weight primarily on their groin, which can cause discomfort and a host of problems including:

  • Sore triceps, shoulders, traps and neck as a result of trying to hold oneself up and off of the seat.

  • Saddle soreness, which can lead to inflamed glands, numbness that can become permanent, and general discomfort that can last several days.

  • The hamstrings may be almost neglected in the pedal stroke, because lifting up on the pedals with the feet causes more discomfort in the groin.

Female students may benefit from using lotion or chamois butter to minimize the risk of irritation.

Set your female students up for success. Proper technique, the right gear and a sound approach to training can transform a half-hearted class participant into your most loyal and successful student. Empower your female students to embark on rides that maximize effectiveness and minimize discomfort and you’ll help them grow stronger and more powerful for the long road ahead.

Megan Hottman is a STAR 3 Spinning Instructor and has been teaching since 2000. She owns a coaching business and manages a women’s cycling and triathlon team. In addition, she is a licensed attorney who competes as a semi-professional road cyclist on behalf of the TREK-VW racing team. Her husband and fellow road racer, Rob Helton, RN, BSN, also contributed to this article.

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