TBT: Ask the Expert: Balancing New, Unfit, Late-Arrivers With Your Regular Students (Part 1)

This article first appeared in February of 2013. It has been updated and edited.


Bogna, an instructor in the UK sent me an email and described the following challenging scenario. I have encountered this in the past and know that it is not uncommon. It can be a frustrating position to be in, especially for new instructors. Therefore, knowing what you should do beforehand will provide you peace of mind.

Dear Jennifer,

First of all I would like to thank you for your endless support—your website and blog help me to become a better and wiser instructor and consistently improve my knowledge. I qualified only a year ago but I must say I never expected this amount of positive feedback and good energy from my riders. I would like to thank you for that because you are my biggest support and reliable source of knowledge.

I am writing to you because of the situation I encountered today in class. What I am about to describe raised many questions in my head.

After becoming an instructor I learned a lot about myself and about people in general. I became much more aware of peoples’ fear about joining a spinning class. There are a lot of misconceptions about spinning like “you have to be fit in order to join it” or people being traumatized with unpleasant experiences from other clubs. I promised to myself that my new riders will always get as much support and personal advice as possible to make their first experience positive. (I remember my first Spinning class, which put me off for nearly two years before I joined another class again.) This approach includes always being early for my class to set it up and be ready to receive my riders, get to know them better or support my newbies. So far this approach has been very successful. It helped me build much more patience and empathy for people.

Today however I was pushed to the edge of my nerves and honestly at some point I felt totally helpless. 

On Sundays I teach in a small club with only a few riders. I managed to establish a regular audience and my relationship with my riders is much more personal than in other, bigger clubs. On this day, I also had 2 new ladies. Lady #1 arrived a bit earlier but still later than everyone else. She was so stressed that she was hyperventilating. It took me a while to calm her down, we discussed her injuries, I explained to her how to work at her own intensity and that she is welcome to take a break at any time. I got her water (she forgot to bring her own) and was ready to start class when my second lady arrived. She was late and unprepared, also didn’t have any water with her. I took time to set her up.

I started my class 15 min late. My regulars became impatient and made some comments about the class starting late. But that wasn’t the end of the show: we didn’t finish warm-up when my lady no 2 started commenting really loud about how tired and unfit she was. I was all the time giving supportive comments. She managed to drop her bottle, so I got off the bike to give it back to her, a few minutes later she lost control and slid both of her feet from the pedals so I got off the bike and strapped her in again. After 10 min into the class she announced she had enough and she is going to leave. I don’t know how I managed to do it but I asked her politely to just sit in the saddle and roll her legs slowly and focus on breathing. She stayed till the end of my class. Both of my ladies not only survived the class, they thanked me for the encouragement and support and both bought further credits.

Although I am happy with this outcome, my question to you is this: how far are we supposed to go in supporting new riders? Because I felt today like I abandoned my regulars. During the class I spent time to observe this one lady who not only arrived late and unprepared, she also got all my attention. So in a way I felt like I rewarded her for this. She wasn’t focused and was disruptive but on the other hand I was afraid she would do something silly.

I just need to know how to draw a line; when someone arrives late, very unprepared and announces “I’ve never done this before…” and on the other hand you have your devoted regulars who arrive on time, prepared and ready to roll, who simply deserve the best of your energy.

After this incident I decided to speak to the manager because I think we need leaflets with guidelines for the first timers. This club focuses more on Pilates training and indoor cycling is still fairly small here.

Wow, Bogna really had her hands full! Those of you who have been teaching a long time have encountered similar scenarios, I’m sure. I have, but it was never two unprepared, unfit, late, new students at the same time! Kudos to Bogna for a job well done.

I have three suggestions to help the instructor deal with this.


In part 2 of this article, I will describe how I handled a similar situation and went back and forth between my regulars and my new, unfit rider who needed my attention.

3 Responses to “TBT: Ask the Expert: Balancing New, Unfit, Late-Arrivers With Your Regular Students (Part 1)”

  1. Sharon Lieberman says:

    I instruct at a big box club and have done so for 6+ years. There is rarely an “adult” in charge who is on-site. I have a reputation as a hardass when it comes to members arriving on time and new members wandering in at any time during a class. Yet, one non-adult manager once screamed at me that I should allow members to enter my under way classes 15 minutes late. They of course miss any warm up at all and are usually members who have never done indoor cycling and/or have no idea how to set up our bikes. I cannot bear to watch these people ride with their seat posts at the near-lowest setting, so I end up fitting them while also cueing and coaching the on-timers who are already in other work zones. I have sadly become adept at shaking my head “no” when late-comers stand at the door at the 16 minute mark. Club managemen culture in big box chains does not in the least promote or encourage respect for their instructors. So it is up to each of us to discipline participants, which I so dislike doing.

  2. Vivienne Naylor says:

    I think that this can be a bit of a mine-field……trying to accomodate everyone. As a one off, I wouldn’t want to make a newbie feel unwelcome (although 15 minutes late in starting is a bit much) but it’s important not to create the impression that class start is flexible. It’s rarely been an issue with new to class, unfit, nervous-to-join us types……they’re rarely ballsy enough to do this, in my experience.

    I made a bit of a rod for my back a few years ago when a group of 3 or 4 regular attendees…….young moms with kids in elementary school…..asked if it was OK to come a few minutes late as their kids’ school bus didn’t arrive soon enough to allow them enough time to get to the gym. In their case ” a few minutes” was literally that……no more than 5 minutes, they arrived discretely, grabbed the closest available bikes and caused no disruption.

    Over the years, this tardiness seems to have been catching (although the fitness director assures me it’s not just my class) with the result that one particular group of ladies regularly arrived 5 minutes+ late with the need to meet and greet for a few more minutes. One day, no-one had shown by 5 minutes after the hour so I started to pack up, shut everything down and was walking out at about the 10 minute mark……only to bump into one of these gals who, I swear was the first of another 5 or 6 whose butts were eventually in the saddle by 15 minutes after the hour. They all arrived at what was their usual individual time……but all together which made their rudeness very obvious. Things got *muuuch* better after that so it manifestly wasn’t real need. I’d effectively trained their behaviour

    Vivienne

  3. YumikoHayashida says:

    Great suggestions, Jennifer. My club will not set up a introductory class, but I pass handouts so that they can review them even after the class. They are too excited to remember everything said in the class. It is posted as club policy, but many of them do not read and some instructors allow students to take class even they come in late. If they come in without prior knowledge, I ask them not to do what we do in the class, but just sit and ride. If they are really late, ask them to come back next time but to come early. The class must start on time in my opinion. If I was taking a class, I would not want to waste not even 5 minutes of my workout time because someone came in late.

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