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.

Technique: Know Your Stuff

Instructors who teach lots of classes can get bored. It’s natural to try to spice things up and get creative. However, those changes should be shaped by sound training principles and biomechanics. What does that mean in practical terms?

“No psycho-spinning,” says Richard Lehman, a Spinning instructor with Christi’s Family Fitness in Vero Beach, Florida. Pedaling at paces greater than 110 rpm [revolutions per minute] not only means that momentum, not leg power, is generating pedal speed; it also means that fewer calories are burned, since less physical effort is required. Plus, the lack of control over the pedals can mean twisted knees if a rider’s foot slips even a little bit. “Help students learn to pedal with enough resistance so that they have the sensation of real road under their bike,” says Lehman.

“Don’t do push-ups on the handlebars,” says Melissa Morin, the regional group exercise manager for the Reebok Sports Club and The Sports Club/LA in New York City. “There is not enough resistance in that position to obtain strength benefits for the chest or arms.” Plus, the repeated forward flexion of the lower back can overload spinal disks and contribute to wear and tear—or worse.

“No bobbing or wiggling back on the bike,” says Keli Roberts, a Schwinn master trainer based in Los Angeles. “Not only would you fall off a real bike if you allowed your upper body to move excessively; you develop core stability if you maintain a centered torso.”

Let them sing, but not dance, to the music. A bouncing bottom on the saddle usually means students have too little resistance. If they feel the need to use their bodies to press through the pedal stroke, suggest they lower their resistance to where their legs alone can handle the load.

“Drop the weights, even if they are only 1 or 2 pounds,” advises Morin. There’s a reason why the weighted cardio workouts of the 1990s didn’t persist. Research showed that swinging weights were stressful to joints, they didn’t add much to the calorie burn and they were too light to obtain any strength benefits. “Although the heart rate can be elevated, especially when the arms are held high, appearing to intensify the workout, in fact the cardiovascular intensity of the workout is decreased,” says Roberts. “This is due to a ‘pressor response’ where the heart rate increases but the stroke volume, or amount of blood being pumped out per beat, does not.”

“Stay out of the superslow zone,” Roberts continues. “Occasionally drop down to 50 rpm, but aim for pedal speeds that stay mostly within the 60- to 90-rpm range.” While it’s true that on an outdoor ride you might encounter a hill that is so steep that revolutions per minute drop low, you change the gears to lighten the load on your joints and, at some point, you get off the bike and walk it up the hill. Your job is not to overload students with resistance, but to strengthen them with gradual doses of increased resistance so that they are better able to cope with hills as they become stronger.

Martica Heaner, MA, PhD

Martica Heaner, PhD, MA, MEd, has a weekly column on and is the author of several books. She has a doctorate in behavioral nutrition and physical activity and holds two masterÔÇÖs degrees in nutrition and applied exercise physiology from Columbia University in New York City.

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