As instructors we often face this dilemma. How do I get new people in my class? How do I get people to try an indoor cycling class? How do I make people who are less fit feel like they are one of the gang?
At one of the boutique studios I used to teach at I used to have a Cycling Clinic sessions before every class: 30min when I was available for anyone who felt too intimidated to just walk into a spin class. We would go through the setup, standing, gears etc. We would practise, have Q&A and then the participants could stay for a class straight after. It was to give them confidence and make them feel included in the class.
Grading the Level of Difficulty
This is a bit tricky with indoor cycling as ultimately it is the participant who really decides how hard the class is intensity wise.
My class profiles vary from fun mixed workouts led by music like 80s or 90s only, to rolling hills, long speed endurance rides to power intervals and sprint training. There are profiles I can do with any group. None of them is too easy – I can always direct people at a higher RPE or if consoles are available we can go for longer intervals, higher speed or Watts. I have a few though that are quite demanding and would be hard if you are not conditioned.
I teach 13 different groups a week. I do have regulars but as I only teach at gyms, it never happens that I have exactly the same group every week so I can build a programme and progress it. 30-40% of these groups come every week. The other 60% either come as much as they can or are random people who just decided to try a class and mine happened to be on.
For that reason, I may plan something really challenging but if that requires a great deal of experience, I always have a plan B at the ready. It’s always easier to give the regulars a modification on how to make it harder, rather than the other way round.
Before I started teaching I used to be a gym member and take various classes. The timetable clearly stated the level of difficulty: I knew I was ok with the beginners’ step but there was no chance for me to pick up the choreo in the advanced class. But that was fine because I knew the prerequisites which were made clear by the gym.
Manging People’s Expectations – What Is This Class About?
I am really happy that a couple of gyms I work at have started recognising that different people mean different levels of fitness and that those who like training more than just exercise, appreciate making it clear to them what they can expect in a given class. And it’s not necessarily about the intensity level but the content.
I now teach two types of classes at Third Space for example: a typical indoor cycling class – mixed workout, intervals, hills etc and Tour Cycle which is more of an endurance class. You can expect 30min climbs, cadence drills, speed endurance training etc. In the Tour class you are expected to be more focused, to be willing to suffer long periods of work in the saddle and you are more in charge of your workout as I am not telling you what to do every 10 seconds. Anyone can take any of these but the difference in clear.
Making The Class Easier?
Some instructors lower the level of intensity by directing everyone to the same (lower) resistance (on bikes with consoles) so then everyone can go in unison including the less fit members.
You don’t have to do that if you have MatrixIC7 bikes where you can coach the class by colour. Everyone is working within their own limits but the level of intensity is the same across the class.
Is it important to get everyone feel included?
Of course it is! You want them to come back, right?
Should Every Class Be Meant For Everyone?
I think this is the key question.
If I decided to put on an advanced level class where I would expect people to use explosive power, push themselves to the limit and at the same time only have 30min to do that I would definitely put down requirements: you should have been taking at least 6 months of 2 regular indoor cycling classes a week, know a good form, have experience of working with power.
Special Indoor Cycling Programmes: VP & Pro Cycling
(Firstly, a disclaimer: this is not a critique of any of the two programmes)
What prompted this post in the first place was me talking with some members about these two particular types of indoor cycling classes available in the UK which were created in collaboration with one of my favourite British athletes and Olympians, Victoria Pendleton. They are based on indoor track cycling training.
I have taken a couple of these classes myself and I was asked for my feedback by one of the managers. My opinion was: great concept, excellent training session at a crazy intensity level. I had one big BUT though.
These were only 30min long sessions which did not give much time to warm up for what was expected. I know some will argue that 3-5min warm up is plenty but it is not if this is your first class ever.
There was not much time for set up or basic technique pointers AND warm up to the level needed for the intensive interval session requiring you to go at 150% of your FTP at times. If I were to get the best use of that session I would get on that bike 10min earlier.
This was not a class for beginners. I saw people having next to none resistance and looking very lost. I saw people who didn’t break a sweat in that session. Yes, some were not willing to do so but others – clearly inexperienced – looked like deer in the headlight. If that was my first experience of indoor cycling I would not go back.
There were also people who knew what they were doing and loved the session. They got exactly what they came for. But they knew what hard 7-8RPE feels like and were not afraid to get there.
I personally don’t think you could make a class like that feel more inclusive. To keep this session safe and effective this should be marketed as advanced class.
The latest class out there is ProCycling, still created in cooperation with Team GB Cycling Team. And again I think the idea is fantastic. It brings something new to the table. Athlete inspired TRAINING.
What caught my attention are some of the coaching points that are to be conveyed to participants. The first one is in regards to max power efforts where the instructor is to say it’s OK to lose some technique to achieve best numbers.
I would be really cautious here: if you have someone quite experienced who has good technique and is ready to work with their max power, it is absolutely fine to say this. They will still strive to keep the best form and will be aware when it all starts going downhill. But if you say that to someone who is only starting, they will take it as a permission to abandon any form in favour of the highest number of Watts.
The same goes for fast cadences where in sprints the focus seems to be on highest cadence possible without thinking that much about form. In my classes when people’s form goes either because their gear is too high or too low I say: “If you have so much resistance you can no longer pedal smoothly, you have too much resistance. You will get there. Just not today. If you are all over the place when going fast, you need to take a step back and build your technique up until you are ready for 100RPM”.
I am not criticising any of the two programmes. I think they are terrific. What I have reservations about is should they be marketed as all level class?
What are your thoughts?