I love participating in FB forums for indoor cycling instructors. I have a few firm favourites that are serious mines of knowledge, advice and examples of class profiles.
There is one for power coaches that gets so deep into serious coaching, data analysis etc that it would seem a complete gibberish to an outsider or even a new indoor cycling instructor! I mean you may like watching Star Wars or Star Trek or you can dress up every year and go to the convention. This forum is like the second option for indoor cycling 😊
Anyway, the topic of varying fitness and experience levels within the same group of riders was raised. If you teach at a general gym, this is what you face. You have your regulars, but you also get newbies probably every week.
I wrote two posts relating to this issue in the past here and here. One of them is from 2015 and I must say that as I have evolved as an instructor since then, my opinion on a couple of the points I had raised has changed as well.
Many new faces will grace our spin studios in January as the New Year’s Resolutions are made so the question is: can you keep the classes interesting, achievable, challenging and effective for all involved? The complete newbies AND the seasoned regulars? Or do you need to compromise and either leave your regulars feeling like they have been short changed or the newbies feeling like they are not fit enough to comeback?
Allow me to answer this right away: NEITHER. There are certain requirements you need to meet in order to achieve that: knowledge of the subject of indoor cycling training, meticulous preparation of your class profiles and last, but not least experience in teaching group exercise.
I am not saying the relatively new instructors will fail at that or that someone with 5 years of teaching experience will automatically be amazing at this but if you have been honing your skills as an indoor cycling instructor for a good few years, educating yourself on exercise physiology, biomechanics, teaching with power and have experience of teaching various size, age, etc groups you will find tackling this issue infinitely easier.
WHAT IS THIS CLASS ABOUT – MANAGING THE EXPECTATIONS – LEVEL OF EXPERIENCE
Some gyms run specific cycling programmes and name them accordingly. They then label the classes with a proper description of what one may expect from them: fun to the beat, endurance training, power training etc. These at least give potential attendees some idea of what to expect and whether they even want to try the class.
If the timetable simply says INDOOR CYCLING/SPIN, your job as an instructor and MOTIVATOR gets a bit harder as you may have people in front of you who after the first 10 minutes realise that this is not what they wanted to do. How to stop them from leaving and ensure they will come back?
PRIMO: BIKE SET UP. SEGUNDO: BIKE SET UP
This should be the first thing you do in EVERY class. Yes, you will feel like a flight attendant going through this when seemingly nobody listens. They still do it on every single flight though, don’t they?
In my case as people file into the studio I say every 2 minutes:
Any injuries, pregnancies, you need help setting up or with the console – wave.
I then proceed to walk around and look at people setting themselves up and say:
Let me check this out for you.
before I go through the saddle, handlebars, foot position, shoelaces, console.
Then in the last few minutes before the start I will go through the set up AGAIN from my own bike with the microphone, as by then many people would have come in at the same time so one to one is no longer possible. Whenever I can, I turn my bike sideways, so people can see exactly what I am talking about.
Finally, during the warm up if I see someone badly set up (oh yes, it will STILL happen) I walk over to them and ask off the mic if there is a reason for such a set up and if there is none, I change it.
CONSOLE SET UP
I teach with consoles in all my gyms even though the bikes and data delivered vary. On bikes with colour power zones (IC6 or IC7) for total beginners who only just started ANY exercise, I leave the console on basic set up so without the colours as the amount of data can be intimidating and if the predicted FTP is too high or too low it may further confuse them. I focus on RPE to direct them.
If I get someone new to my class but used to outdoor or indoor cycling, then we go through the power zones set up and then I leave them with a caveat:
I will give you RPM range and describe what the intensity should feel like and then what colour corresponds with it. You match RPM first, then the feeling, if you are also in the colour I ask for, we are onto a winner. If the colour is completely different but this is your first time using colours – IGNORE THE COLOUR and focus on the feeling. I repeat this to the whole group during the warm up as well.
POSITIONS AND RECOVERY BREAKS (RBI).
We only ride in the saddle or out of the saddle in my classes with the first one being prevalent. We don’t do any upper body moves. If beginners come in nice and early, I tell them:
When we stand up, please try, but if it feels awkward and out of control, stay in the saddle. You don’t need to stand up at all.
I repeat this again before we stand up for the first time in the warm up.
Another thing I say 121 and repeat once we start the proper work is:
Only you know how you feel intensity-wise and what your goal for the class is. I can tell you what the class goal is, and you make a decision if you want to go there. If you need a break – you take it.
If we are about to start a set of 10 intervals or 3 sets of 5, I make this point:
Remember, QUALITY OVER QUANTITY. Sit out every second interval if you need to but the ones you do, you do to the intensity I ask for. If I ask for 2 min of very hard effort and you can only give me 1 min – that is fine. I’d rather you do that then go gentle because you think you may not be able to hold that effort that long.
BEGINNERS’ HANDOUT. POWER ZONES HANDOUT.
I always have a few of these with me. I ask at the end of the class if anyone needs them or just put them down next to my bike, so people see them and can pick one up.
In 2015 I wrote that endurance profiles, VO2max intensity level intervals or FTP testing should not be done with beginners or they may be put off. We are now at the end of 2018 and I have changed my tune 😊 It’s all about your cueing and coaching using the RPE or whatever tools you have available (console). There are shorter options for FTP than 20 min but even if it was a 20 min – it can still be done. It may be quite an experience but now I have taught FTP test classes so many times I would have no issues teaching profiles containing the test to any group.
If you have an established style of teaching and regular riders, you should not have to alter it completely to accommodate a few new faces. It may require more coaching and a very descriptive RPE but it’s doable. To achieve it though you as an instructor must have a very good knowledge of your profile, the class goals and if you use power zones you need to be able to describe each of the intensities.
Verbal cueing should be descriptive enough so even someone who has never been to your class can get a pretty good idea what you want from them. Don’t just say: “Give me 7!” unless you say “7 out of 10”. And even then, you need to follow with what that means. What is 1 and what is 10? What does it feel like? How is the breathing? Are the legs heavy or already hurting? Is the mouth open or shut? Is the sweat just about coming up or dripping? Can they talk?
Be specific about how long the next interval will be and stick to it – build the trust, don’t ruin it on the first day.
Use visual cues – exaggerate bad form to drive the point. Use hand gestures, mimic facial expressions or breathing sounds that correspond to the given intensity to help people understand if they are where they should be.
Encourage feedback and give feedback. Discuss the results at the end – data if you have any or just the general feeling. Ensure people know they can come up and ask questions. Seek contact with the new faces just for thumb up or go over to them and ask how they feel. Give them praise for staying for the full class.
TEACHING OFF THE BIKE
This skill is invaluable if you have any first timers or people who struggle with their fitness. I would encourage you to try it. It will not suit everyone, but it builds a great connection between the instruction and an individual rider.
What methods and solutions do you use as an indoor cycling instructor to give everyone, regardless of their level of experience and fitness, a good workout and a great experience? Or maybe you have had a fantastic instructor who did something in particular that made you come back?