Fitness means different things to different people and getting fit can be a daunting prospect. Whether someone feels the pressure from the media, themselves or their GP warned them about their blood pressure or gave them the dreaded BMI number and the word “obese” was mentioned, they decide to make the first step towards the new, better version of themselves.
This can mean joining the gym or maybe trying a class for the first time. If they are feeling particularly brave and motivated, they may sign up for a spin class even though the flashing lights, loud music and the amount of Lycra on display can raise their heart rate before they even touch the bike.
Today I want to talk about how scary working at a high intensity can be, particularly in a spin studio. If you take a HIIT class on a gym floor or in a studio, you may just walk out if it gets too much. No big deal. But if this is your first class on a bike and you are not so sure how to release your feet safely, it is dark, the bikes are closely packed, the music is blasting – it’s easier said, that done.
These guys who find enough courage, make their way into the spin studio but they have never done intensive cardio work. They may know what to expect as in they will be moving their feet fast, they will be up and down but what about physiologically?
I have had a few riders over the last couple of years that were truly petrified of going anaerobic or VO2 max, of working hard enough for the legs and lungs to burn, for the heart rate to soar, to feel like you don’t have much more left to give. Forget that, they were scared as soon as their breathing would start to change, and they could feel the heart rate go up.
We are not to confuse lack of commitment or laziness here with the actual FEAR of never having been in a self-induced state of this level of effort.
We will not know what brought them to this point – prior experiences or lack thereof. The question is, are we willing to take them on this journey – provided that they want to get there themselves? If we are, then this will require some one to one attention. This means getting off the bike for certain parts of the work out when that personal attention is needed.
How do you recognise that this is what the rider is facing? It’s not that easy to spot that difference as these riders can look like you and me. They do not have to be obese, or of certain age or sex.
I say the eyes and the face will tell you they are scared but they may actually say it if they get a chance, that is if you ask how they feel. For some just getting a bit breathless brings a level of fear that would be comparable to bungee jumping for you or me.
When I have a rider like that, I work with them off the mic, coaxing them to push on every interval just slightly out of their comfort zone but giving them the control. If we are doing 30 second pushes, I may ask them to go for 10 or whatever they feel they can do, then take a break, then try a few seconds longer on the next one. If we do long intervals, over 5 minutes, I give them permission to start from 30 seconds, and take it up when they are ready. I then make a point of standing next to them for one or two of these pushes, so they get reassurance they are doing it right and they know I am there if the fear strikes again.
Your standing next to them in case they need you, is giving them confidence to push. The fact that you give them the power to choose the length of the interval gives them control. Remind them about the emergency break on the bike – something so obvious to us that we often forget to mention it.
If you want those riders to come back and overcome their fear, you need to give them the sense of achievement even if their final results are different from the rest of the group.
Recently I had a lady in my class – it was her second ride with me – who has a very cheerful personality and is always smiling a lot. We ride on Stages bikes and we were working through 6 minutes intervals. She needed a bit of guidance in resistance and RPM balance, so I gave her a bit more of one on one attention. I made a point of going up to her a few times to make sure she was OK.
You know the riders who make a happy whooping sound when they enjoy a song? Well, she made that sound a few times, but I realised that it wasn’t in sync with her face – she didn’t look like she was having fun. Then I realised it was more of a reaction you would have on a roller coaster which may feel like fun in retrospect but not always as it is happening.
When we got to do 1 minute in at VO2 max and I got to her side, she started tearing up, looked at me and mouthed: I am panicking! At that moment she looked just like I did when I was taking swimming lessons and I was (still am) petrified of water. She could not stop a sob from coming out and was hyperventilating. This is how I felt when I was cycling in Colombia and without a warning we came up to a 20% gradient: clipped in, in a big group of riders, stuck behind a lorry.
I gave her my reassurance, permission to back off, asked to focus on slowing down her breathing. She steadily decreased her RPM and calmed down. She still attempted the second round at that level, because she wanted to, and she felt it was her choice. She came up to me after the class to say thank you for the class and to say that was what she needed.
This lady practically had a panic attack during the class, but she sat through it and finished the workout. That woman is a warrior!
Please look, and I mean REALLY LOOK at your riders. Do not always have all the lights off or flashing lights effects on or if you do, take a walk around your studio to check on the people you are there to teach and help.