A cycling instructor wears many hats: coach, trainer, motivator and mentor. But one title many of us would happily relinquish is “enforcer.” It’s never a pleasant job to police workout etiquette. From time to time, though, situations arise that must be dealt with. Knowing what to do, or at the very least knowing how to respond, can make tricky cycling studio dilemmas less uncomfortable and easier to manage. Here are effective responses to five sticky situations.

Texting During the Ride

We’ve all done it: sent a last text message as the lights go down in the movie theater or snuck in a few extra texts during a meeting. But what about participants who continue to text or who check their phones while working out? In a society driven by instant communication, it’s hard to shut down—even for an hour. The Nielsen consumer research company found that “not only are consumers
spending more time using their phones [over 34 hours per month], they can’t seem to put them down” (Nielsen 2014). Yes, we are addicted. But it can irritate fellow attendees. So what can you do?

First, it may help to have a facility-wide policy. Post a workout code of conduct in a visible location. It’s a helpful reminder about proper exercise etiquette. Still, while this policy is nice to have, people don’t always read it or take it seriously. Another strategy is to address the issue head-on. At the start of class, make a sweeping statement: “I am looking forward to a great workout with you. To make the most of the next hour, please ensure your bike is set up properly, your water bottle is filled and your cellphone is turned off.” The comment is directed not at any one individual, but at the group as a whole.

Dan McDonogh, senior manager of group training and development for TRX® and a cycling instructor at 24
Hour Fitness® in San Francisco, finds that humor, with an underlying message, can work well in these situations. “When I notice someone on their phone in the middle of class, I have said, ‘Since you’re on your phone, would you mind checking your GPS to make sure we are riding in the right direction?’ More often than not, offers McDonogh, “they smile and recognize what they are doing.” Direct comments can be tricky, though. It’s all in the delivery and the connection you have with the group. Fortunately, humor can go a long way.

Julz Arney, Schwinn® Cycling education program director, takes a different approach. She works “phone breaks” into her recoveries. “I let riders know they will be given opportunities to check their phones at three specific moments during the workout. I’ve found that this simple trick relieves anxiety, and many participants never pick up their phone even when I allow them to.”

And if none of that works? There is only so much you can do. “I let the behavior go,” shares Arney. “Who knows why they need to continue to be on their phone, and who am I to judge whether it is legitimate or not? Perhaps their children need them, or they need to be available to solve some problem at the office.”

Because the show must go on, continue to teach your workout as you normally would. It’s never good to get into a tiff with a member. Your goal is to teach. If you do that well, ultimately you have done your job. And as Arney observes, “Forcing people to uncouple from their technology is not my role. Teaching a fantastic class is.”

Talking in Class

When you consider the close proximity of the bikes and the upbeat environment in most indoor cycling studios, it’s a given that participants are going to want to talk to each other. You want to encourage connections, but having a few members chatting throughout class can become a distraction.

Responses to this situation include turning up the volume of the music, increasing the intensity of a drill or publicly calling the offenders out. Usually, though, these three strategies are ineffective. First, loud music distracts from the workout and potentially damages people’s hearing. Plus, more often than not, the talkers will just chat louder. Next, asking people to work even harder in a drill punishes the nonoffenders. Regrettably, the talkers may not even notice the intensity change, because they weren’t listening to begin with. Last, asking chatty participants to stop talking can be difficult to navigate. Instructors are taught to address the group as a whole. If you publicly embarrass individual participants, they may become defensive or never return to class.

Arney notices that conversations tend to take place more often during the warm-up or at the end of recoveries. “I try to draw my riders back in with a change of music and try to pull them
out of their conversations,” she notes. “I give the whole class a very specific task, such as bringing their focus to the console and finding a new pedal speed or looking at their wattage.” If that doesn’t work, Arney counsels, “I wait until the next recovery—or skip to it—and ask everyone to close their eyes and focus on my words.”

If these tips are unsuccessful, try this strategy: Begin a drill. Continue to cue the drill as you get off the bike. Start walking around the space, instructing and motivating as you go. Gradually and nonchalantly make your way toward the talkers. Without making eye contact or acknowledging the talking, place yourself between them. Continue to cue, and focus on other participants. Stay there for a moment before moving on.

Placing yourself between the talkers is an automatic deterrent, because talking through you is difficult. This works. The added benefit is that you don’t have to call anyone out, crank the music volume or change your workout plan for just two people.

Riding to Their Own Beat

Some participants come to class with their earbuds in, apparently listening to their own music. Because they’re attending a group fitness class, the assumption is that they’re there to learn with the group. The best solution in this situation may be to speak to these playlist pariahs after class. Ask them what types of music they like to ride to and suggest that for the next workout you will try to incorporate some of their favorite tunes if they will agree to work out to the class music from start to finish.

Coming Late to Class

In a sense, the instructor should be happy that tardy students make it to class at all. Perhaps latecomers are new to the studio and are still finding their way around their new workout environment. Or maybe they were trying to make it to class on time but got waylaid by traffic, were delayed dropping kids off at school or encountered any num-
ber of unforeseeable challenges. Suzette O’Byrne, a yoga therapist and Keiser® master trainer based in Calgary, Alberta, doesn’t take lateness personally or make a big deal out of it. “I acknowledge [late-comers] as they come in and then try to be as welcoming and helpful as possible,” she says.

In this situation, it may be best to change your mindset. Instead of viewing late participants as a disruption, accept that perhaps they had a valid reason for being late. This will make the transition to the workout easier and more efficient. Quickly set latecomers up while continuing to cue the warm-up for the rest of the class. Assist tardy class members as best you can, and remind them to warm up at an easy intensity. At the end of class, set aside a little extra time to review proper setup and answer any questions.

Note that some studios have a no-late-entry policy. If that’s the case at your facility, it is up to management to help enforce the rule. If you must turn members away, ensure that the microphone is turned off when you thank them for coming and tell them that you would love to have them join you next time.

Insisting on Incorrect Bike Setup

The preclass review is a necessary part of the introduction and warm-up. During this time, you demonstrate correct bike setup while walking around and assisting riders. Sometimes, participants need additional adjustments. But what if you make suggestions and they say, “No thanks.” Now what?

“You may need a different approach,” advises O’Byrne. “No one wants to think that they are doing something incorrectly.” Suggest that the change will add to their cycling experience. “If we raise your seat slightly, you will have a more efficient pedal stroke and increase your power output.”

Offer riders feedback in the context of how it will benefit them; this is always a better and more palatable approach. And if they still don’t want to make the changes? Just let it go. It is their body and biking experience. Ultimately they can choose to implement your suggestions or not.

What Counts Most Is the Experience

At the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to provide a fabulous workout and create an engaging class experience for all riders. Unfortunately, if participants are detracting from that positive
vibe, the instructor is left to manage the situation. Do your best, and determine what is important. If you’re doing a fantastic job, chances are that your participants will be talking less, turning off their cellphones and policing themselves. All you need to focus on is doing what you do best: riding and coaching.


Nielsen. 2014. Newswire: How smartphones are changing consumers’ daily routines around the globe. Accessed Nov. 2014. www.nielsen.com/content/corporate/us/en/insights/news/2014/how-smart-phones-are-changing-consumers-daily-routines-around-the-globe.html.

Krista Popowych

Krista Popowych inspires fitness leaders, trainers and managers around the globe with her motivating sessions. She is the 2014 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and a three-time (2016, 2008, 2003) canfitpro Canadian Fitness Presenter of the YearShe is Keiser’s global director of education, as well as a Balanced Body® master trainer, JumpSport® consultant, DVD creator, published writer, Adidas-sponsored fit pro and IDEA Group Fitness Committee member.

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