If you have been teaching for quite some time you would have seen this on numerous occasions. That person or people who come to your classes but seemingly pay no attention to your instructions, take no notice of their bike set up and just plod along looking more or less miserable. It’s very hard to not see them and as an instructor I find it very irritating. Or used to, I should say.
I love teaching indoor cycling and I give 100% every time I stand in front of my riders. I also will do my hardest to ensure that every person in that studio gets the best out of those 45 minutes, therefore I go through bike set up every class, I structure my sessions well, I give clear targets at the start and do my best to use various ways of motivating and conveying the intensity levels throughout the class – something for the visual learners as well as verbal ones.
If I see that for one reason or another someone is not getting what I want them to do, I will seek eye to eye contact to guide them and if that fails, I will approach them for a but of one to one.
I got into the habit of saying (while people are filing into the studio) that if anyone needs to take it easy because of an injury etc, to let me know so I will leave them in peace and people do give me heads up.
I would however get really wound up by riders who just walk in, usually last minute, and just plop on any bike without even checking if the locks are locked etc, with complete disregard for the set up rules, even if I had gone through these with them previously, and just proceed to do a big fat nothing in terms of a workout for the duration of the class.
As an instructor, I always feel conflicted when such a repeat offender comes in. On one hand my conscience is clear since I have tried everything with them, yet they decided to ignore my suggestions and instructions and still turn up like clockwork. Should I ignore them completely and after 4 or 5 classes not even bother adjusting their bikes again? Is that ethical to just let them be? Should I even waste my breath and thought on riders like these – they clearly don’t give a monkey’s?
I have discussed this subject with a few fellow instructors and even riders and the general consensus was that you can lead horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Don’t worry yourself with them. By ignoring you they are being rude and so you ignore them and focus on the rest of the group. It didn’t sit well with me but I decided to try my new approach and pretend I didn’t see them which is not difficult as they generally avoid eye contact anyway.
Then a couple of weeks ago I was listening to a brilliant podcast called Fitness Career Mastery on both motivating class participants as well as the dos and don’ts of a group ex instructor, as listed by a mystery shopper who takes classes as a client and then reviews them.
One of the things that mystery shopper talked about was that as important as motivation is in group exercise classes, it’s important to acknowledge that some people just want to have some time to themselves from their hectic office schedule etc and the intensity of the workout is not important to them. She mentioned a yoga instructor who had said at the start of her class that if the participants wanted to stay in child pose for the full hour, she was fine with that.
That took me slightly by surprise but it was real food for thought. If I as an instructor ask the riders to acknowledge their reason for coming in and that reason turns out to be escaping whatever else they were doing, then they accomplish their goal by just being there. I shouldn’t add to their stress by trying to make them work harder, all with good intentions, or tell them that by going easy they are wasting their time.
To be honest this went against my instincts as an instructor but it made me think if I had it all wrong.
Funnily enough, two days later I was covering a class in a place where I have two such riders. I was just about to leave the building when a woman walked in with a double buggy with what looked like a 14 month old and 2 or 3 year old. She smiled at me and I thought her face looked familiar but I was struggling to work out where I knew her from. She then pointed to the buggy and said: “This is the reason why I am always late to the class and why I have to rush off at the end. And why I cannot work any harder – I am totally exhausted”.
Only then did I realise that she was one of THOSE riders! Well, I never got a chance to talk to her before, she always avoided eye contact and I have never ever seen her smile before! I am telling you I felt so bad for thinking she was being rude, obstinate and just could not be bothered.
From that moment I have been making an effort in groups where I have riders like that or if I notice someone who fits the bill, to say something along the lines of:
I want you to think about why you came into the studio today. What is your reason? Is it to get a great workout? Is it to work on improving your FTP? Is it to sweat off the stressful week in the office? Or is it simply the only 45 minutes in a week that you are free from kids and responsibilities? If this is your 45 minutes of freedom and you want to take it easy – please do. I only ask you that you relax and enjoy it, maybe give me a smile from time to time so I know that doing it your way for the whole 45 minutes is your choice and not a result of you not understanding what I am asking of you. If this is your escape, we got you!
The first time I said that, there was this great vibe and energy in the room as if people found this refreshing and some took me up on that offer but they felt free to do that like they didn’t have to hide from me.
And next time I see that woman in my class, I will make a conscious effort to approach her and apologise.