Recently my posts have been like Romanian hit songs in the Top 40 – there is nothing for ages and then two come along at once 🙂
What happened to me in the last week prompted me to write this post.
We all read on forums and in professional articles for group exercise instructors: make an effort to get to know your group. This can be very challenging for various reasons:
- this is not America and people tend to keep themselves to themselves, especially in London 🙂
- groups are often large and you only see the same people once a week
- you have two classes back to back with as little as 5 min to changeover.
Mission impossible comes to mind.
Yes, you do get your regulars if you have a permanent class and you get to know their names but is that enough? And what’s more important, is it worth it? What’s the point? They come to exercise, if they follow me they will get a great workout – my job is done, right?
One of the reasons I started talking to quite a few people across the gyms where I teach, was the introduction of the MatrixIC7 and Stages bikes – basically teaching with power. This new revolutionary concept got people intrigued and talking. Power testing, power zones, FTP/FTW etc.
The main question that arises when you bring training with power to the equation is: I am not a cyclist why should I care? And when you explain the WHY, suddenly they become more talkative, you learn about their goals and the world of intrinsic motivation opens up.
So how do you go about making the connection?
TALK TO THE PEOPLE BEFORE/AFTER CLASS
I always come 15 to 30 min early to my classes. If I am waiting for a previous class to finish and my group starts coming – I start a conversation. Even if it’s a cover class – I try to get a feel for the group, what they are used to etc. You make a “friend” or two before you enter the studio.
After the class you get a perfect opportunity for a chat unless you teach a double or it’s early morning and people rush off to work. I have a FB page for my classes and always have business cards with me with my contact details so people can ask me questions via e-mail or FB if they want to. I post pictures from the classes. I let people know what is coming in the class that day. Works a treat.
WATCH YOUR RIDERS AND MAKE MENTAL NOTES
You can pick up if someone is a cyclist, maybe a mountain biker, rugby player etc. Make them aware you see that and then poyentially tailor their training to their needs – especially if you teach with power. When you explain the goals of the class or the adaptations that will result from the class make reference to the sport your riders play and look in their direction. They will appreciate it and most probably approach you afterwards for some more advice.
If you spot someone who is really dedicated and would benefit from a more focused training, talk to them. I have been teaching in a couple of gyms with the old school bikes. Some of them have power meters but they haven’t been calibrated for donkey’s years so I cannot make reference to these. They do show RPM though. But those gyms have Wattbikes and/or MatrixIC7 on the main floor.
I made an effort to chat to those people and agreed to spend 15min with one guy this morning after the class to show him MatrixIC7 bike and introduce him to training with power. The guy’s face lit up and he looked like Christmas has come early for him. He will still come to my classes but he will do his own training and step it up using power. He was so happy and grateful.
In another gym I have had very dedicated riders who would come to all my weekly classes. One girl in particular decided to compete in a triathlon. She got such great results in her first race that she only narrowly missed qualification for a major championships. As soon as I learnt how narrow margin that was, I had a long chat with her and advised her to move onto a Wattbike class. I told her: “You have now graduated to the next level and you need to train smarter using power”. No, I do not teach that class.
Oh, but you got one less person in your class, you say? Well, she still comes to mine when she can but it’s not about me. She will remember me as someone who enabled her to reach her goals. I have done my part but I could not take her where she was heading without the necessary tools. I actually directed about 3 people into the other class which by the way is on at the same time as mine so I really lost bums on seats. But they always greet me with a smile and a chat when I see them.
What will making the connection allow you to discover?
THE PEOPLE THAT CLEARLY DON’T LIKE YOU. OR DO THEY?
You know, the ones who always come to your class but never make eye contact and just seem to be doing their own thing? And come late and leave early so you don’t get a chance to chat? And ignore you if you try to correct them? Hear this.
Last week I was teaching Coach By Colour class on MatrixIC7. This class is always busy. Some people have done their threshold test, others are just using the bike predictive formula to try to work out what their FTP is.
In comes the lady that has been coming to my classes for at least a year. She looks around 50. She always sits on the same bike, always looks unhappy, never makes eye contact and in the past has always ignored my corrections and advice – she would always ride a heavy hill regardless of whatever we would be doing. My thoughts for the past year? She doesn’t like me nor my class but this is the only slot she can make. Until that day that is.
I actually saw her walking into the gym earlier as I was right behind her in the street. The thing is I didn’t recognise her as she was wearing GLASSES. She was all smiles and looked like a different person!!! And the penny dropped…
She wasn’t making eye contact in the class as she never wears glasses when she rides so she did not see me properly. I then walked over to her bike to check her console set up and knowing what I know, I realised that she had problems seeing some of the numbers on the display! Duh, Izabela!
I helped her with the set up, explained what was necessary and off we went. After the class I found her in the changing rooms and for the first time had a proper chat. She is lovely! She said she enjoyed the class and loved working with power zones. I gave her a handout to take home and get even more familiar with the concept before she comes back.
THE ONES WHO DON’T WANT TO WORK HARD. OR DO THEY?
I have had this girl who would come to my classes like clockwork. But she would always come in 5 min late so I would need to set her up without explanation as the class would have already started. On multiple occasions when I would walk around, I would point out to her that she needed to pick up her RPM and point where to look at at the console. I would explain what it should feel like, how her breath should be – NOTHING. No sweat, no difference in HR. NADA. Still she would be there every week.
On Monday she turned up to the class EARLY! And she was the only one. I waited extra 5min then asked her if she was OK doing 1:1 class. She agreed. I didn’t get on my bike at all, just hovered around hers. I tried all kinds of motivation, cues, explanation – still she was at a very low intensity. When I pointed out the RPM reading which was 70 and asked for 80-90, she would get there for a few seconds then drop. Still RPE would be 3-4. I said: “I will make you sweat today. We will crack this!”
Then I covered the console with the towel and asked her just to “go by feel”. That looked a bit better. I realised she is bad at coordination. If I said: “Relax your elbows and shoulders” she would relax EVERYTHING which meant her legs would slow down to 40RPM. She is particularly unable to coordinate when standing. She can only do it really slow and at low intensity. She cannot follow the beat, cannot get a rhythm. This was a shock to me.
I had an idea: “Look at the RPM number and get it to 80.” I then threw a towel over the screen and asked her: “Now add resistance and work HARD. Get the feeling in your legs, add resistance if you need to make sure it feels like honest work. Go hard. Keep the same feeling” and BINGO! I peeked under the towel and she kept the pace steady, even going to 90RPM – something she was never able to do! She would hold around 70.
The main thing was she held steady tempo and intensity for 1 min intervals. And when we moved to 15 sec all out – for the first time ever she was breathing heavy, her hair was sweaty – she was killing it! I was so proud of her. Her face lit up and I could see it was an achievement for her.
She wasn’t lazy. It’s just something that I took for granted is a skill for her that she has to yet master. Watching numbers, she cannot focus on how she feels. And it’s hard for her to keep to the beat of the music. We both left the room with big grins across our faces.
THE ONE WHO NEVER GIVES YOU EYE CONTACT
One of my regular clubs has just changed hands so I got a few new people on Monday. There was a guy who looked around 60. He came early but then left. He came back when we were already in the warm up song. He started setting up. He was wearing cleats so clearly has done that before. He kept looking down at his shoes even though I tend to mention in my classes to look ahead and not down on the floor. His set up was not all wrong but it needs to be addressed. Now I have learned that some people do not like me approaching them when the class has started and changing anything so I leave it till after the class.
The point was he wasn’t exactly following the class and I could not encourage or correct him much as he kept looking down. Even when I was walking around and stopped next to him, he would not look up. I have not made a judgement though – I know many instructors ride and do not walk around which is fine. But if you have someone not giving you any eye contact, you need to find ways. However this is not something I would expect everyone to be used to. I will chat to him next week.
- Make an effort to get to know your riders – their goals may be easier to remember than their names.
- Be bothered to build a connection – remember what they told you last time. Give eye contact. Smile. Say thank you at the end of the class.
- It’s not that they don’t like your class but you do something so different in your approach it will take some getting used to.
- Don’t be too quick to judge.