Every so often a discussion unravels on the online forums for indoor cycling instructors: do you teach on the bike or off the bike? This post is not about pros and cons of each. I am also not trying to convince you that one is right and the other is wrong.
I have been a strong advocate of the opinion that these are two very different styles and teaching off the bike will not suit every instructor or be accepted by every group of riders.
I personally love teaching off the bike. The key word in this statement is “teaching” or as some may put it “coaching”. I sometimes feel like leaving the coaching to fully qualified cycling coaches so I prefer to use the term “teaching”.
I always get off the bike if I have a big studio with over 15 bikes arranged in a way when I cannot necessarily see everyone or those who need to adjust their posture, technique or intensity do not keep eye contact with me or do not follow my verbal and non-verbal cues.
I became an instructor because I like indoor cycling (and outdoor for that matter) but mainly because I wanted to teach people new skills, new things, help them improve their fitness. Admittedly, for the first year or so I would not dream of teaching off the bike as this is a skill that requires experience, confidence and good class structure as well as knowing your music inside out (as you walk around you can’t see your device with its timer countdown).
Then I witnessed a serious coach who was teaching a class consisting of triathletes, serious cyclists as well as regular ones of different abilities. Not only was he not on a bike. He had no music! Just a clear class plan that fitted within the periodised programme. Horror of all horrors! Yet people with goals were given direction, coaching and were tracking their results. I was teaching a regular class at the same gym starting about 30min after him so every week I would spend that 30min watching is style and making notes (oh yes, I did).
It helped me change my whole approach to structuring the class and adapt my teaching style to incorporate this newly found skill into what I was good at already.
It has now been over two years since I have been teaching off the bike practically in each of my classes. In some it’s just for a few minutes. In others I may be on for the warm up. It has forced me to spend my time on class building from the point of view of structure, progression and the WHY.
It made me polish my cues and really think hard of what I am going to say, when and with what tone of voice, of how I was going to sneak in some scientific facts without my riders even realising it yet still allowing those to be absorbed by them.
Walking around allowed me to get to know my riders better, their strengths, weaknesses, goals, friendships they developed in class.
It has brought outdoor cyclists to my regular gym classes.
The main thing though that I should thank my teaching-off-the-bike skill for, is that it has kept me learning, studying and developing as an instructor. It has helped me to keep the passion alive.
This week I had a class which is quite new to me as I have only been there for 4 weeks. After my class 4 or 5 people always come in to use the studio on their own. As I gather my stuff etc if I see that they have no idea about bike set up I will approach them and help them out.
This week there were two guys. One a total beginner who needed his atrocious set up corrected and a general idea what to do, how it all worked. I spent about 15min with him. We went through transition to standing, speed ranges etc.
Then another guy caught my attention. His set up was good but I offered to adjust it and he felt the difference immediately. I asked him what his goal was for that ride as he had been there for 10 min but you wouldn’t know as there was no change in his breathing, no sign of sweat, nothing. I knew why but I wanted to work out whether he knew what was or rather was NOT happening and why.
We ended up having a great, what can really be described as, 1 on 1 session. I asked him for his training plan and what he used these rides for. He knew exactly what he needed (he mainly does weights and wanted to use bike as a cross training session and cardio) just not how to achieve it. He was so eager to learn and so surprised to discover that after 2 intervals performed the way I instructed, his HR picked up, his RPE went up etc.
In the end I left the studio 45min after the end of my class and only because I made myself leave. I could stay there and chat about training for another hour.
I appreciate these moments the most. Like the 15-min chat after this week’s FTP test with a member who has never done it before and who was shocked he could push himself that hard. And he found this extra strength because I approached him about 4 times within the 20-min test giving him guidance and encouragement. I couldn’t do it from my bike, not personalised attention like that. Not when he was just one of the 33 riders.
I am aware that 2 years ago I could not give this advice or be able to explain many aspects of training on an indoor bike with that level of confidence.
The only disadvantage of teaching off the bike a lot that I can think of is that I don’t get the same level of workout as I used to. But getting my own workout in my classes is not why I became an instructor in the first place anyway…