Is This The Worst Health Story, Ever?

Harper's Bazaar published a piece titled 'Is Spinning Making You Fat?'—and then Redbook and even the Today Show followed suit.

Flywheel Sports photo provided.

Flywheel Sports photo provided

There are hundreds of crazy studies, stories, and click bait type of pieces that go out on the web (and in print) each month. And I know that I am guilty of publishing a few, too. But sometimes a magazine that I love (love!) such as Harper’s Bazaar publishes something that makes my blood boil.

In its August 2013 issue (and they tweeted it out again Wednesday night), the fashion mag published a piece titled “Is Spinning Making You Fat?” Wait…what? Redbook also published something similar, quoting Tracy—my gym costs $900 a month—Anderson, who says, “I have women who come into my office after spinning exclusively for six months, wondering why they can’t fit into their jeans.”

So that must be it. It’s not our love of brownies, that post-work drinks habit three times a week, sitting on our asses at a desk all day, or late-night pizza binges. It’s our cycling classes! How could we be so dumb?

Get real, people.

If spinning is making people fat, then clearly here in Boston we did not get the memo. A gazillion (scientific, I know) cycling studios have opened in just the past six months: Recycle was the first to open a few years ago and chose the South End (and then they were also the second when they opened their next location in the Back Bay last year), followed by the Handle Bar in Southie, Flywheel Sports in the Pru, Velocity and Pursuit in the Back Bay, SoulCycle coming this spring in Chestnut Hill (and they tell me they’re looking for a second location in Boston over the summer)—not to mention the longstanding Spynergy in Wellesley, the Inner Cycle in Beverly, and RealRyder bikes inside Sweat and Soul Yoga in Allston and BTone on Newbury Street. We also hear that the Handle Bar will be opening a second location in the Fenway this spring, and that Kendall Square will be getting its very own studio this spring called Turnstyle Cycle. Whew…and I’m surely leaving some out.

So, according to the logic of Harper’s Bazaar, there will soon be a whole lot of fat people walking around Greater Boston.

What’s more, the article quotes celebrity trainer David Kirsch, the man who famously got Heidi Klum back on the Victoria’s Secret runway just eight weeks post-baby. I’ve been inside his boutique gym in NYC. I’ve read his book, and I’ve even tasted his smoothies. While he is a pro, I have to wonder if trainers like Kirsch and Anderson, who work with models and celebrities all day, may be out of touch with the real world. The story says that he forbids fashion models to ride at all:

Kirsch, who notes that he is “not anti-Spinning,” rations clients’ classes—he lets, say, an apple-shaped woman with skinny legs go once a week—but forbids fashion models to ride at all. Michael Ciardulli Jr., the bodyworker of choice for New York’s A-listers, warns clients against it: “To be lean, you need to lengthen the musculature; cycling can shorten it.”

This way of thinking is archaic. This is like saying don’t do squats because it will make your butt big. Squats could possibly be the best exercise for your body—of all time.

Boston-area health and fitness professionals are as appalled as I am. Back in August, Red Sox nutritionist Tara Mardigan Instagramed the article to her followers. The comments are from some of Boston’s most popular fitness professionals. Nobody could believe their eyes. Here’s a selection of them below:

@alphaprep Ughrrr. So sad!
aliciaanskisrdThis pisses me off
katietherdThe article is a bunch of baloney.#spinandfindyourstrong
harvardmom12Where is this article? I have to read it for myself. I take 4+ classes a week
theplatecoachIt was it Harpers Bazaar @harvardmom12 & I think it’s ridiculous. Do what you like. Do what feels good. Do what makes you strong. That’s my 2 cents.

Rich Downing has been teaching indoor cycling for more than five years at places like Flywheel and Beacon Hill Athletic Club. He says that he has seen positive changes in his clients. “I’ve personally witnessed countless customers who have shed insane amounts of weight over just a few months—we’re talking Biggest Loser-levels here—from doing only cycle classes,” Downing says. “Not that I think that’s a good idea [because] cross training is critical to prevent injury. And instructing six to eight cycle classes per week has definitely made me skinnier. I have to pay a ton of attention to keeping my calorie intake above 3,000 per day, or I start to waste away. Even when I was running in college, I didn’t have to go out of my way to eat this kind of volume.”

So is this just a case of a poor headline choice? Maybe. But that doesn’t make it much better. Further into the story, the author backpedals a little, saying to just make sure you are doing other exercises as well. The bottom line is yes, professional cyclists may get bigger thighs because they are doing that type of exercise, and mostly only that type of exercise, for hours and hours a day. But taking a “spin” class after work a few times a week will not make you fat.

I’ll step off my soapbox now, but it’s irresponsible for a magazine to put out a story like this. Why scare people away from doing something that’s good for them? Maybe they think that people who indoor cycle will get too muscular to fit into the overpriced clothes that fill their pages?