“It’s their workout, let them do whatever they want as long as they are moving”
As an instructor, I don’t believe in this approach in principle. I do care about what my riders do in my spin class BUT there are many circumstances under which I am absolutely fine when they do not carry out my instructions to the letter.
I believe as a group exercise instructor you provide a structured group exercise workout that the group should follow. When is it OK for them not to?
These days many instructors on various forums say that since you don’t always know what is going on in people’s lives you should let the participants do what they want: follow or don’t follow the instructor. I disagree strongly. I am responsible for riders’ safety and it’s my job to lead them through an effective session. I strive to make sure that everyone gets the best out of each class and to do that I need to know why they are doing or not doing a certain move or part of the class differently.
For that reason, before we start, I ask multiple times about injuries, offer help with the set up etc. During the class, I always give options for extra recoveries. I always give an option to do the whole class seated even if I cue standing. If a rider tells me before the class that for whatever reason they will be taking it easy, I have no problem with that. If I am not aware of any mitigating circumstances, then I will most probably approach them at some point during the class to work out why they are not following the instructions. Still, because some people may not be willing to discuss the full story with you, you need to be sensitive in how you confront people who seem to be doing their own thing.
If you read this blog regularly, you probably know I teach a lot using the coach by colour system on IC7s. I do not have a problem with someone not using the colours as long as they find the right intensity following my cues using the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale but what usually happens is that after a couple of classes not using the colours, the riders ask for my help in setting the console up.
There is a girl who started coming to my classes about 4 months ago. First few times she came with a friend and I advised them to just use the basic screen as they had never done indoor cycling before. They continued to come regularly, then the friend disappeared but the girl in question has stuck with my classes.
I noticed that she still would not put the colours on yet work extremely hard, always getting the intensity right as far as I could see from her body’s response.
I also see her train with a PT, and she is always focused and hard working.
Today we did an FTP test and she was there. This was her first 20min FTP test ever which is always a challenge. Again, I noticed she did not set the colours up but as they are optional during the test, I had no issue with it. She definitely worked as hard as she could for the 20 minutes, and I was very impressed by her dedication.
When everyone had left the room, she came back and said this was undoubtedly the hardest thing she had ever done and thanked me for my help and motivation. I asked her what her result was and pointed out that as she has been coming for a few months maybe it was time to start using the coach by
She said she had suffered from an eating disorder in the past when she was obsessed with calorie numbers, her weight etc so she doesn’t want to get too much into watching any numbers, competition mode and being fixated on percentages and averages as she is worried it can be a slippery slope in her recovery. She uses the basic screen to monitor her cadence and resistance, so she knows she’s holding whatever effort she is supposed to but prefers listening to her body when it comes to intensity than chasing numbers.
I must say such a mature approach to working out with her history was truly inspiring.
My take away? As an instructor, it is important to notice individuals in your classes. Yes, it is hard when you have 35-40 people in the room. I struggle remembering names (I really suck at that). But I will remember the rider’s injury or that they are preparing for a competition or what FTP we put in their bike last week. Try and develop a rapport with your regulars so they feel they can come and talk to you. It can be done by arriving at the studio early so you can chat with people as they come in or staying behind for an extra few minutes after the class has finished so people can come and ask questions.
Do not be fixated on everyone doing the same thing every single second. Yes, it looks cool, but it is not necessary. Allow a certain level of freedom so people can take responsibility for their own workout. If they are respectful towards you and other riders in the room and you have an understanding, let them do it their way.
“People will not remember how much you knew but they will remember how much you cared.