A Smoother Ride

by Martica Heaner, PhD on Oct 24, 2011

Group Ex Skills & Drills

These 10 tips will motivate and inspire your indoor cycling class and keep people coming back for more.

You’re not likely to find a line of members waiting to use the bike on the gym floor; however, indoor cycling classes often have waiting lists. Why do members flock to ride in a group setting? Because a cycling class is much more than a workout: it’s an experience. A great cycling class is a confluence of motivation and technique from the instructor and inspiration from the music. Here are 10 tips from top teachers—and a few astute cycling class members—for giving your students the ride of their lives.

1. Begin With the Bike-Fit Moment

Start bonding with members the minute they walk in the door. Use the bike-fit moment to get to know newbies and calm their fears, suggests Jay Blahnik, Schwinn® master trainer based in Laguna Beach, California. Indoor cycling has a tougher-than-tough reputation, so many first-timers are nervous that they won’t be able to handle it. Even if your class is full of regulars, offer to recheck bike alignment. “Use this time to connect and make old-timers feel welcome and appreciated,” says Blahnik.

2. Let Them Know What to Expect

Whether it’s at the start of class, or at the beginning of each song, students will be better able to pace and mentally prepare themselves if they know what to expect. “I go crazy when the instructor just yells, ‘Sprint!’ without giving any idea of how long the sprint will last, how much recovery I’ll get and how many times I’ll have to do it,” says Amy Dixon, a Schwinn master trainer and group fitness manager of Equinox in Santa Monica, California. “Always let them know how fast to pedal, the type of terrain, the level of intensity you want them to aim for, and for how long.”

3. Keep It Simple

“Pick one objective for class,” says Shannon Derby, a Spinning® master trainer/master Spinning instructor and the owner of Mountains’ Edge Fitness in Boulder, Colorado. “Focus on theme music, hill repeats, pedal stroke drills or heart rate—just don’t try to make it all happen in one class.” Says Keli Roberts, a Schwinn master trainer based in Los Angeles: “Be confident that if you’re playing good music, you can stay silent some of the time and allow the highs and the lows of the music to teach for you.”

4. Visualize Sparingly

Too much touchy-feely talk can get corny. “One instructor started her class by asking us to ride from our souls,” says one club member. “I mean, really?” It’s fine to ask members to zone in and focus on their rides, but choose your moments (and your comments) wisely.

“You don’t have to talk the entire class,” says Rosemary Hohl-Chriswisser, MS, a Schwinn master trainer and professional triathlon coach based at Life Time Fitness in Austin, Texas. “Stick to one visualization per class if you do them at all, and use instrumental music (like Robert Miles’ ‘Children’), so that your story does not compete with lyrics,” recommends Hardy Pollard, a cycling instructor at The Houstonian in Houston.

5. Provide Effective Coaching

It’s one thing to be positive and motivating. It’s another for the instructor to yell ‘Woo hoo’ for 45 minutes. “Make sure that coaching doesn’t turn into senseless cuing,” says Dixon. “Comments should add depth and clarity.” Focus instead on creating an incredible playlist. You won’t have to whoop, because your members will do it for you.

6. Push Them (But Only to Their Limits)

Indoor cycling may have such a grueling reputation precisely because some instructors push participants until they can hardly pedal. “Some teachers keep telling you to ‘turn it up’ after you’ve already reached your limit,” says Mick Emmett, a club member in New York City. Could this be you? Notice how students respond to your cues. Are they ignoring you? What you’re saying may be annoying or unhelpful. Are they adjusting their resistance or position after you cue them? If not, you may be asking them to do something that does not feel right. “Instead of yelling at students to ‘Go, go, go!’ all the time, acknowledge that some folks need to work harder, but some may need to go easier,” recommends Derby.

7. Soften High-Intensity Moments

You can make a tough workout feel super- hard. Or you can make it feel easier—to help your class muster extra firepower. One way to manipulate perceived exertion is to distract students from their effort by shifting their focus to technique. “When we’re at the steepest part of a hill, I have them concentrate on circling so smoothly that they can’t feel the pedal under their feet,” says Richard Lehman, a Spinning instructor with Christi’s Family Fitness in Vero Beach, Florida. “I then ask them to maintain their tempo while adding resistance, but never so much that they lose the ‘no-pedal feeling’ under their feet.”

The right song can also help give the class a surge of energy. A song with rising crescendos can help rev students up. The final minute of Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama,” the upbeat chords in Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” the chorus bursts in Def Leppard’s “Photograph,” the last 2 minutes of Snow Patrol’s “Open Your Eyes,” the final sprint in Black Country Communion’s “Song of Yesterday” and the frenzied buildup of Foo Fighters songs like “All My Life” and “The Pretender” can spur the class to push harder, but without feeling like doing so takes extra effort.

8. Ditch the Screaming

A microphone is a powerful voice amplifier, and you might go microphone-less because you feel like your voice is powerful enough on its own. But that doesn’t mean that your yelling is motivating. If your students complain about the music being too loud, they may be trying to tell you in a nonconfrontational way that you are too loud. “There is no need to shout. Your voice should be loud enough to be heard above the music, but not overpower it,” says Roberts. “Don’t be afraid of silence—let the music do some of the teaching for you and give people a chance to enjoy it.”

9. Minimize Information Overload

“One instructor brings in charts to show what happens with lactic acid, and walks around to every single bike to show it,” says one student. While explaining the science behind the workout is a good idea, knowing how much detail to give is key. It’s safe to assume that the majority of students will find the science less interesting than you do. Give them enough information to increase their awareness, but always remember that it’s a workout, not a university lecture.

10. Stay Away From the Zone

Sure, you want students to get into the zone, a state of focus where they concentrate on technique or the sensations associated with their ride. But you should stay out of it: “I’ve seen instructors teach an entire class and never make eye contact with participants,” says Hohl-Chriswisser. Or even worse: “I’ve seen instructors retreat into a head-down, eyes-closed ride for the whole hour,” says Denise Druce, MPH, a Schwinn master trainer. “Students need to see that you care. Cycling should be a mind-body experience, but for them—not you. And it’s your job to give it to them.”

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

IDEA Fitness Journal , Volume 8, Issue 11

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Martica Heaner, PhD

Martica Heaner, PhD IDEA Author/Presenter


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  • Martica Heaner

    Great comments, Jennifer, thank you for your insights!
    Commented May 29, 2012
  • Jennifer Sage

    just saw a typo in my post. Bad one. Ooops. 3rd paragraph from bottom, "Ao hoq" should be "And how...".
    Commented Feb 29, 2012
  • Jennifer Sage

    Martica, I bow before you! Thank you, thank you, thank you for adding your voice to this growing problem (especially the "Know Your Stuff" segment). I have been preaching much of this for 15 years, first as a Spinning Master Instructor for 12 years, then as an independent educator and author (in my eBook Keep it Real in Your Indoor Cycling Class), and now as the founder of the Indoor Cycling Association. With the rise and popularity - due to a well-funded marketing juggernaut and an uneducated and naive public - of so many ineffective and unscientific-based programs, we must find ways to keep this warning on the forefront of all indoor cycling education. The rise of these popular programs is very troubling, because what they are promoting may actually injure students. It doesn't do the industry any good either when they are selling "snake-oil" about the effectiveness of their techniques (like lifting 1-lb weights or crunching or doing pushups while sitting upright), because it adds to the lack of understanding in the general public about effective fitness methods. This education needs to get to the end-user, the unsuspecting and ignorant student. I was able to do that recently by encouraging a well-known fitness myth-buster to write an LA Times article last fall questioning the benefits of a certain popular program (about the same time as you wrote this). I have also been contributing to Active.com on this subject. But we as an industry need more - we need widespread public awareness. It's one thing to educate the instructor (which you are doing so beautifully with this article) but we need to reach the students and the club owners, and teach THEM what not to do in class, and when to walk out (or sit in silent protest) when asked to hover, squat, do crunches or pushups, or isolate a part of the body. It is very unfortunate that some club managers, and even some GX Coordinators, do not seem to care about safety and effectiveness of a cycling program. If it puts butts on bikes, that's all they seem to care about. Is it because they are legitimately ignorant, or are they choosing to ignore the facts? I have received so many emails from instructors lamenting that their GX manager is the worst perpetrator of contraindicated moves in their cycling program, so they have no one to turn to. They've been told to "shut up" or mind their own business when they bring articles with proof of the ineffectiveness of certain popular moves. My hope is that those managers will read this article and may finally, finally get it. Even if you convert ONE person with this article, you have succeeded! Cycling is the sport that has been studied longer than ANY other sport in the world. The ergometer was developed over 100 years ago! It is all about science - physics, biomechanics, physiology, kinesiology - how the body works best on a bicycle with moving parts, and how to maximize the moving of that bike while optimizing the performance of the rider. We (meaning the exercise science world) KNOW what is proper movement and position on a bike, and what things (like messing with proper movement and position) will inhibit power output and hence, caloric expenditure. Even if it is a bike that is sitting indoors going nowhere. People need to respect the fact that an indoor bike is still is a bike. What is bad, ineffective or unsafe for a cyclist is bad, ineffective or unsafe for an indoor cyclist too. I also want to thank you for finding contributors from a variety of programs and clubs. Hats off to Shannon Derby of Spinning, Jay Blahnick, Kelly Roberts and the other Master Trainers from Schwinn, all wise voices in the industry. There is not a single REPUTABLE indoor cycling certification program that teaches or condones any of these contraindicated movements - none! Not Spinning, nor Schwinn, nor Keiser, nor any of the relative newcomers based purely on cycling training principles like Cycling Fusion or C.O.R.E. Cycling. Ao hoq is it that these unfounded, unscientific and unsafe moves so popular? It really boggles my mind. I especially appreciate the input from Melissa Morin of The Sports Club in NYC, advising not to do pushups. Way to stick up for intelligent training Melissa, especially in a city where pushups on the bike has become a part of a popular trend that people pay entirely too much money to do, yet get nothing from it. The Indoor Cycling Association educates and inspires indoor cycling instructors to teach fun, engaging, effective and SAFE classes, without the need for "extra-curricular" activities on the bike. We would love to partner with IDEA in some manner to continue to spread the concepts of this type of instruction. Thanks again for the wonderful validation of proper instruction. Ride on, Jennifer Sage, Founder, Indoor Cycling Association www.indoorcyclingassociation.com
    Commented Feb 29, 2012

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