Indoor cycling – Proper form

In my last post about indoor cycling, I discussed what you could expect from an indoor cycle class. I want to follow up with one of the most important parts of an indoor cycle class, your bike set up and form.

In my classes, I always ask new cyclists to arrive 5 to 10 minutes early so we can find the right bike set up and discuss proper cycling form. If you are new to indoor cycling, plan to arrive early to your first few classes so you can have this discussion with the instructor. Having proper bike set up and form will ensure you have a comfortable, efficient, and safe workout. Below is an overview of these important considerations.

Locate the adjustment points

  • Most bikes have anywhere from 3 to 4 adjustment knobs, including:
    • One at the front for the handlebar height.
    • One under the handlebars for adjusting them forward and back.
    • One at the seat to move it forward and back.
    • One at the back of the bike to move the seat up and down.

Set up seat (saddle) height

  • This is where you will adjust how high your saddle is.
    • Stand next to the bike, lift up your leg (90 degree bend at the knee), and line the seat to the raised leg (it should be level with your hip bone).
    • Get on the bike with hips level and sitting on the widest part of the saddle.
    • If there is a foot strap, you want it at the widest part of the foot and tightened.
    • Start to pedal slowly. Think of the pedal stroke as a clock to check the height (12 at the top, 3 at the front, 6 at the bottom, and 9 at the back).
    • Stop the leg at the bottom (or the 6 o’clock position) with a flat foot, and you should have a slight bend at the knee to achieve a 25- to 35- degree angle.

Adjust the handlebar height/position

  • Next you need to adjust the handlebar height and distance. I recommend setting the seat height first so you can use it as a guide for the handlebars.
    • Start by aligning the handlebars with the height of your seat and see where adjustments need to be made.
    • When on the bike, you want a slight lean forward, shoulders and elbows relaxed when your hands are placed on the handlebars (position 1).
    • You also want a neutral spine while you are hinging from the hips.

Seat fore-and-aft adjustment

  • Decide if the saddle needs adjusted forward or backward from the handlebars.
    • Get on the bike with hips level and sitting on the widest part of the saddle.
    • Stop the pedal at the 3 o’clock position and check that the top of the knee is straight in line with the center of the pedal or widest part of the foot (vertically).
    • If it is not, you may need to move the seat forward or back.

Pop in and lock knobs tight

  • Finally, you want to make sure your knobs are locked in place before beginning your workout. Most of them have small holes into which the peg pops, so make sure you hear a click if they do. Others have an adjustment that has to be tight; give it a big turn to tighten.

Posture, form, and body position

  • When on the bike, you want to keep what’s called a neutral spine, which means you are engaging your core and your diaphragm with a slight arch in the low back.
  • Hinge at the hips and maintain a neutral position while sitting. Also avoid swaying of the hips as you ride.

Other adjustments may need to be made if you have an injury or special condition or are pregnant. Always check with your instructor, as some bikes have different adjustment recommendations. The ones listed here are for SPINN or Keiser bikes. I have also included a video for each of those types of bikes below.

Keiser Bike set up:

SPINN Bike set up:

Cycling is great workout, and proper form is essential for success. Use this guide for getting started and always ask your instructor for additional recommendations based on the type of bike you are riding, the class, and your goals.





SPINN Life Blog:

Keiser Spinn Bike set up:

What to expect from an indoor cycling class

We’ve all heard of cycling, right? But what about when winter hits and the ice and snow move in? You’re left with minimal outdoor options, and that’s where indoor cycling can help you maintain your fitness level all year around! Indoor cycling (also known as “Spinning,” its trademark name) is a high-intensity, heart-pounding workout to amazing jams lasting about 45 to 90 minutes depending on the class. And the best part is that most gyms offer it all year round. As a cycle instructor of eight years, I get a lot of questions. So I broke down the basics of this totally awesome and effective workout!

How much does it cost?

It depends. Most gyms have a cycle studio and classes built into their regular membership, which means for some it is totally free. There are also some new boutique cycle studios on the rise here in the Pittsburgh area and nationally that offer exclude cycle classes to members. They can be pricy but can have neat added benefits like cycle and strength classes and cycle and yoga pairings which can be a great benefit.

Who should try this workout?

Anyone! Cycling is a great non-weight bearing exercise for people with injuries and high-performance athletes alike. Instructors are able to modify movements and intensity to meet the needs of everyone in the room. Most instructors will give a recommendation on how hard you should be working, how fast you should be going (RPMs), and if your bike has a power meter and gears where you should be on that scale as well. This allows modification in a variety of ways for all types of riders.

What equipment do I need?

The gym provides the bike for you. But it’s probably a good idea to bring a small towel with you because you will definitely sweat! Some people wear bike shorts, depending on preference. Once you know if it’s for you, a good pair of cycle shoes is recommended but not mandatory. You will also want a water bottle; since the workout can reach a high intensity, you will need to hydrate throughout the class.

What happens in the class?

Your instructor will guide you through your ride, which should seem like you are outdoors on a bike. You can expect about a five- to 10-minute warm-up, about 40- to 70-minute session, and a five- to 10-minute recovery depending upon the length of the class and the format. There are also a few different moves your instructor will review with you like standing, sitting, climbing, and sprinting. Some classes also have drills and interval sets as well. The instructor will tell you how much resistance, how fast, and what movements. Allow yourself to be flexible, especially in the beginning when you are getting used to the class and the format. Depending upon your current fitness level, you can expect to be a little sore after your first session from the saddle (normal) and the workout. After a few classes, this should go away.

Overall, indoor cycling is a great workout and can add variety to your current fitness program. It’s also a lot of fun and very social experience with great music and an upbeat feel. Remember to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness routine. Also let your instructor know of any injuries you have, as modifications may be needed.


What to wear on your winter run

Running is such a great way to exercise: It doesn’t cost anything and you can do it year round! As temperatures drop, it is important to dress for outdoor exercise appropriately to reduce your risk of cold-related injuries or illness. Dressing in layers is a great way to stay warm, and allows you to add or remove layers as necessary. For some tips on what you need to stay warm this winter, check out the table below.

How to stay active this winter

As the days get shorter and the temperatures begin to drop, you may be tempted to hang up your exercise gear and hibernate, but don’t let those obstacles stop you from being active! There are many options besides the gym that will keep you active even on those cold and snowy days when you don’t want to leave the house. Here are some ways that you can staying active anywhere this winter:

1. Make your own home gym

  • Walk around the house, up the stairs, down the stairs, EVERYWHERE! In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 150-pound person burns 10 calories by walking up stairs for one minute!
  • Who needs fancy gym equipment to get a good workout? We all have soup cans, water bottles, laundry detergent containers. Use them as weights for resistance exercises.
  • Try workout DVDs. They can provide a great workout with limited equipment and space all without leaving home!
  • Check your TV. Some cable packages offer free workout stations and videos that you may not even know about.
  • Make up your own circuit. Jumping jacks, high knees, squats, and crunches are just a few of the exercises you can incorporate into your own workout routine. Do them all together or even during commercial breaks of your favorite show.
  • Just DANCE! Turn up the music and dance to some of your favorite songs for a heart-raising workout!

2. Think outside the box

  • When walking outside is not an option, take advantage of other places like malls, churches, or schools. Many malls open early for people to walk!
  • Try a new sport. Look into indoor sports and activities to join for the winter. Many places have indoor leagues over the winter. Whether it’s rock climbing, volleyball, soccer, or dodgeball, a sport will keep you physically active all winter long.
  • Change up your gym routine. Take a new group fitness class or try a new exercise. Adding something new can help you stay excited and motivated to exercise!
  • Use your phone. There are many free workout apps available, such as Sworkit and Nike+ Training Club. Many offer pictures/videos and a timer to guide you through an entire workout.
  • Set a goal for the spring. Whether it’s running a race in the spring or an upcoming summer vacation, setting a goal can help you stay on track with your training during the winter.


3. Take advantage of the snow

  • If the weather is not too bad, bundle up and take a walk!
  • Shoveling snow counts as activity! You can burn more than 400 calories shoveling snow for 30 minutes (WebMD)! Remember to watch your form to protect your knees and back!
  • Have some fun in the snow! Build a snowman, go sledding, hike the snow-covered trails, go ice-skating, or practice your winter sport. All of these activities can keep you moving in the winter.


It may be winter, but that’s no reason to forgo exercise. Your exercise options may seem limited, but many are available! It doesn’t have to be a long bout of exercise, but make it count. Think outside the box and find activities you enjoy, inside and out!

31 day plank workout challenge


When it comes to building a stronger core, planks are one of the best exercises you can do. Holding a plank can help strengthen the shoulders, back, chest, and core — all in one exercise! The best part is, planks can easily be modified to fit any level of strength.

Before you begin the challenge, start with a quick plank test to identify your starting point. Start by setting a timer and getting into the plank position. Time how long you can hold the exercise while keeping form and not having to drop down. That’s your base time! Each day, you will add the number of seconds listed on the infographic below to your starting time.

Ready to get started?


  1. Start with your hands directly under your shoulders, as if you were about to go into a push-up position.
  2. Next, you want to make sure that your toes are pointed into the floor. Make sure you are not locking your knees. Try to squeeze your glutes (butt) here to help with stabilization.
  3. Next, position your head so that your neck is in a neutral position. You can do this by picking a spot on the floor just beyond your hands to stare at. This will then put your head in line with your back.
  4. Finally, hold the plank for your allotted time. Make sure to breathe throughout the exercise.


  • If you need to, you can drop down and do this exercise on your forearms.
  • If starting in a standard position is too challenging, drop your knees to start as if doing a modified push-up (in the up position).
  • If you need a step up, try a side plank. Just remember to stack your hips and prop up on one hand or elbow. Then, if you are brave, go one step further and lift one leg or arm for an even greater challenge.


31 day plank challenge | UPMC Health Plan

Don’t forget, proper form is the most important part of any exercise! For the perfect plank, make sure that you are not raising your butt into the air, sinking your lower back, dropping your head to your chest, or forgetting to breathe.


Information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It’s always best to check with your doctor before starting any new diet or fitness routine.

30 day kettlebell workout challenge

30 day kettlebell challenge | UPMC Health Plan

Kettlebell training can burn up to 20 calories per minute, making it a quick, effective way to attack both cardio and strength. You don’t need lots of space for this workout, making it a great workout for home or the gym!

This challenge will ease you in, introducing you to these basic kettlebell moves. As the month goes on, we’ll build on those sets, working up to a full circuit by the middle through the end of the challenge. Before you get started, get to know our four featured exercises:

Kettlebell swing

  1. Start with your feet about shoulder width apart. Your toes should be pointed out, your knees slightly bent with the kettlebell between your feet (on the floor). Bend at the hips to grab the kettlebell using two hands and an overhand grip.
  2. Swing the kettlebell by keeping the arch in your lower back and extending your hips to swing the weight. The kettlebell should swing by the transfer of momentum in your hips rather than your shoulders doing the work.

Kettlebell deadlift

  1. Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and toes pointed out.
  2. Squat down to pick up the kettlebell using an overhand grip. Keep your chest up and back straight.
  3. Stand up by driving through your heels while keeping the chest up and head forward. Make sure to squeeze your butt at the top and then return to the starting position by returning the kettlebell to the ground between your feet.

Kettlebell halo

  1. Start with your feet hip width apart and the kettlebell in both hands with an overhand grip.
  2. Exhale slowly and raise the kettlebell above your head. Make sure to keep your elbows bent.
  3. Circle the kettlebell around your head, keeping the elbows bent and a neutral wrist. Return to starting position after completing a round of repetitions.

Kettlebell walking lunge

  1. Start with both feet together. Hold the kettlebell close to your body at chest height, with an overhand grip on both sides of the top of the kettlebell.
  2. Lunge forward while maintaining your position: Keep holding the kettlebell close to your chest with your head up and eyes forward.
  3. Alternate sides by completing one repetition and then moving forward with the opposite leg. 

Are you up for the challenge? Let’s get started!

30 day kettlebell workout challenge | UPMC Health Plan

Always remember that proper form is the most important part of any exercise. Have fun, and good luck!

The scoop on protein powder


You hear a lot of side conversations at the gym between bench press or squat sets. Lately I have heard a lot of conversations about protein shakes! The participants typically share their experience about a specific brand of protein powder. They share their favorite flavors, when they take the protein powder and how often — but they seem to forget to share what type of protein they are taking and why. So let’s answer some basic questions.

What are protein powders made of?

There are actually three different popular types of protein powders. The three different types are whey, casein, and soy protein.

Whey protein 

This type is a water-soluble protein from milk, and the most commonly used protein. Think of it as the watery portion of milk that is separated from the curds to make cheese. Whey protein can come in a powder form that is ready to mix with water, or it can come in a ready-to-drink option. It contains all nine essential amino acids. People who are sensitive to lactose or allergic to casein may choose whey protein because it’s low in lactose. It is also considered a fast-digesting protein, so it acts quickly in the body, unlike casein.3

Casein protein 

Casein is the main protein in milk next to whey. Unlike whey protein, it is insoluble in water. You can think about casein as the curds being formed in milk. The biggest difference between casein and whey is how fast the body digests them and the amount of lactose they contain. Casein is digested more slowly, so it is good for a slow and steady release of amino acids.3 Some athletes take casein right before bed so they will have a steady release of amino acids that are helpful for muscle development.

Soy protein

Unlike whey or casein, this type of protein comes from a vegetable. It’s a great source for vegetarians and vegans looking for a non-animal protein source. Soy protein contains all nine essential amino acids, just like whey and casein. It also offers additional nutrients such as fiber and omega-3s, and it’s naturally cholesterol free and low in saturated fat.

How much protein do you really need?

Most people and even athletes can get their protein needs by eating sources of lean protein like meat, chicken, and dairy products. Healthy adults are recommended to get about 45 to 56 grams of protein per day. Here is the protein recommendation chart from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (depending on your goals):2

Endurance training:  0.54-0.64 g of protein per pound of body weight

Strength training (to gain muscle): 0.72-0.81 g of protein per pound of body weight

Strength training (maintain muscle):  0.54-0.64 g of protein per pound of body weight

What’s the best way to choose a protein powder?

I know there are many protein powders out there. So I would recommend taking a step back and looking at what you are trying to achieve with the protein powder. Here are some recommendations on how to choose a powder:

  1. Do your research. Each brand offers different amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
  2. Determine what your goals are. Are you becoming an endurance athlete or are you trying to gain muscle mass? Keeping your goal in mind will help you find a good target for your daily protein intake.
  3. Try a sample packet of the protein before buying a big container. Many brands offer a little sample pack to try. This will let you determine if you like the taste of the powder and keep you from wasting money on something you don’t like.


  1. Dangin, M.,Boirie, Y., Garcia-Rodenas, C., Gachon, P., Fauquant, Callier P., Ballèvre, O.,          Beaufrère B. (February 1, 2001). The digestion rate of protein is an independent regulating factor of postprandial protein retention. American Journal of Physiology, 280, 2, E340-E348.
  2. United States Anti Doping Agency:
  3. Willoughby, D.S., Stout, J.R., Wilborn. (September 20, 2006). Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids, 2007, 32,467-477.                

Ways to stay active this fall


Summer is officially over, school is back in session, and schedules are busy.

With the change of seasons, the cooler weather and the beautiful scenery, it is the perfect time to rethink and restart your exercise plan! Here are a few tips to keep you moving this fall season:

1. Take advantage of the weather.

The humidity is finally gone, the temperature is cooler, and the leaves are changing.   Take advantage of this great season and move your exercise outdoors. Walk, bike, or hike in your neighborhood, local park, or on trails and see all the fall foliage. And remember, it doesn’t have to feel like exercise to be a great workout! Raking those falling leaves or walking through a corn maze can get your heart pumping.

2. Go kayaking or canoeing.

Paddling around a lake or down the river is a great way to get some exercise and try something new. Paddling is a great form of resistance exercise, plus, the beautiful scenes on the water are a great source of stress relief.

3. Go apple picking or to a pumpkin patch.

Nothing screams fall quite as much as these two activities. Enjoy a 10- or 15-minute walk around the orchard before picking pumpkins or apples.

4. Go on a hike.

Pittsburgh has some amazing parks and hiking areas. Pack a healthy lunch, lots of water, and hit the trails for a hike to get some exercise.

5. Take a bike ride.

Along with hiking trails, Pittsburgh has bike trails too! Fall is a great time to bike outdoors. Grab your bikes, or rent some and get those legs moving. Biking is a great form of cardio and helps strengthen leg muscles.

6. Make your own walking tour.

Play tourist for a day and map out a walking tour of Pittsburgh. Visit some favorite places, and discover some new favorite places along the way. Set a step goal and get moving.

7. Register for a fall 5k.

Fall is the perfect time to do that race you’ve been thinking about. The weather is more comfortable and you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful leaves during your run.

8. Make it a habit.

It takes about 30 days for a new routine to become habit. Commit to 30 days of exercise to make it a habit before the holidays sneak up.

CrossFit review


In the last few years CrossFit has continued to grow in popularity with participants, and The CrossFit Games has proved popular with TV viewers. So what is it about CrossFit that is attracting all of these people to join these gyms called “Boxes”? To find out, I decided to join myself and see what it’s all about.

What is CrossFit?

First, let’s clarify what CrossFit is. It’s a program developed to improve all parts of our fitness by having you perform functional movements that constantly change at high intensity levels. CrossFit seeks to improve cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, accuracy, balance, and coordination. Wow, that was a mouthful! This type of fitness program sounds like it is geared for a gold medal winning Olympian, but it isn’t. All of the movements in the programming can be scaled to fit all fitness levels and all ages.

CrossFit Basic Classes

Participants start by learning the basic movements and fundamentals before being able to join the regular classes. I had to complete 7-10 basic classes before graduating into the regular classes. These classes are very important because they helped set the tone for what can be expected during a regular class. The coaches went through proper form and techniques, proper progressions of the movements, explanation of which muscle groups are being worked during a functional movement, the importance of flexibility or mobility exercises, and the community that forms with being a CrossFitter.

Regular CrossFit Class

The regular classes at first can be very intimidating. You have the CrossFit veterans performing the more technical movements, lifting heavier weights, and doing the workouts at an incredible pace. What I found helpful with these classes is the encouragement from everyone in the class. For example, one of the veterans told me that he couldn’t do a specific Olympic lift movement and has worked his way up the progressions to finally get where he is with his form. That was very encouraging because it shows that everyone starts somewhere and with continued practice you will get better. Another example of the encouragement found at CrossFit gyms are the support from the rest of the class with finishing the programmed workout of the day (WOD). It doesn’t matter who you are and what level you are in, the entire class will cheer each other on to finish a lift or complete the programmed workout. The support and encouragement became an added motivation to continue to work hard and push myself to improve my fitness level.

Pros and Cons of CrossFit


  • Any of the movements can be modified to the participant’s fitness level.
  • Very supportive community that will encourage you through the entire class.
  • The workouts are programmed to be intense to help improve all parts of your fitness.
  • The classes can only hold a certain amount of participants each time to ensure that everyone can get proper coaching throughout the class.


  • Memberships can be costly.
  • Classes have a cutoff for the number of participants. If you don’t sign up for a class and it’s full, you will have to try the next class.

How to pick a CrossFit gym

1. Do your research.

Investigate CrossFit gyms near you, checking their schedule of classes and what people are saying about them.

2. Try a free trial class.

Many CrossFit gyms offer a free trial class. This will allow you to see if this is something for you.

3. Talk to the coaches.

Talk to the coaches to see how knowledgeable they are in CrossFit. Having an awesome coach will help you achieve different goals that you had no idea were possible. The coach can also provide you valuable information and critiques to help you avoid injuries.

Those are the basics. Now get out there and try it yourself!

5 Fall Races You Should Run

5 Fall Races You Should Run

Fall is in full color in western Pennsylvania. If you’re a runner, you know what that means — perfect running weather. The fall is my favorite season to run. The air is crisp, the views are absolutely gorgeous, and the temperatures are spot on for running. Also, I love running-themed races, and the fall has everything you want, from Halloween fun runs to turkey trots.

Here are five Pittsburgh fall races to add to your calendar.


Buffalo Creek Half Marathon:  Oct. 15, 2016

This half marathon is on the Butler-Freeport Community Trail with a majority of the course on a crushed limestone surface. The gentle downhill course with a slight uphill grade near the end allows many finishers to run their personal best times. Spectacular fall foliage makes this course one of the most scenic you will experience.

Marathon on the Mountian- Full, Half, and 5K:  Nov. 5, 2016

Marathon on the Mountain takes place at Seven Springs in the beautiful backdrop of the Laurel Highlands. This challenging Marathon and Half Marathon will not only promise a few hills but also great views!

Zoo Zilla 5K: Nov. 5, 2016

This scenic stroll through the Pittsburgh ZOO is perfect for a seasoned runner, the leisurely walker, and all in-between. Enjoy a winding 5K through all of your favorite animals in this adventurous 5K walk and run.

EQT 10 Miler: Nov. 6, 2016

Have you ever run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon? Imagine the course backwards and you get the EQT 10 Miler. Starting near Station Square, you will experience five different neighborhoods, a few bridges, and finish in the heart of downtown.

YMCA Of Greater Pittsburgh Turkey Trot:  Nov. 26, 2016

You don’t have to look too far to find a turkey trot on Thanksgiving, but one this one has something for everyone. The race includes a 1-mile family fun run/walk, 5k run, and a 5-mile run. Plus, the Collins-Wardle Double Gobble includes the 5k followed by a 5-mile run. Bring the entire family and get your daily dose of activity before the feast begins!