Before every class, I scan the room for unfamiliar faces. If there are any, I make a point of approaching them, introducing myself to make them feel welcome, and then asking if they need any assistance with their bike setup. Several weeks ago, there was a couple that was new to me but not new to indoor cycling. During our brief discussion, they mentioned that they were experienced riders and were fine with their setup. I noted that they looked properly set up on their bikes, so I began the class.
Usually I get off my bike to check on new riders during the class, just to make sure that things are OK. But I didn’t do that this time. The ride was “Let Freedom Ring from Every Hill and Every Mountaintop—A Tribute to Martin Luther King.” I was so caught up in the moment, the music, the man, and his message that I completely ignored these new riders. I’m not proud of it, and that’s not my usual practice, but I was having a near spiritual experience on the bike that day. After the cool-down (an awesome mix of King’s speeches over “Moments In Love” by The Art of Noise), as people were leaving, the couple approached me. They wanted to ask me a few questions, which I welcomed.
They initially asked why I didn’t perform any upper-body stretches during the warm-up, which is what they were used to doing. My response was that studies have shown static stretching before exercise provides no benefits. The best way to warm up is to perform the planned activity at lower intensity for several minutes, followed by dynamic stretching of the working muscles. Since cycling is a lower-body exercise, we’d have to get off and then back on the bikes to do this, so I skip the dynamic stretching and just pedal at lower intensity levels for the warm-up. Static stretching of our upper body doesn’t prepare our working muscles for the upcoming activity, so I just don’t do it.
The couple then nodded in agreement and said that other instructors tell them what gear they should be riding in (on Keiser bikes). Why didn’t I do that? I told them that first, I didn’t know them. I don’t even know my regulars well enough to tell them which gear they should be riding in, since their fatigue and fitness levels may vary on any given day.
Even more important, everyone is different. Using them as an example, I stated that the husband was much bigger than his wife. Because of his mass, he could be capable of riding in a bigger gear than his wife at the same cadence. Given the differences between the two of them, how could I cue a room of over 20 people of varying levels of fitness, experience, and weight to all ride in the same gear? Instead of telling people their gear, I suggest the cadence through the bpm of the music. Then, I specify the target intensity by verbal descriptions or via zones. Individually, they can find the proper gear that gets them to the RPE goal at the suggested cadence. It could be different for everyone. They liked this answer, and expressed their appreciation.
This prompted them to ask one more question. They wanted to know why I didn’t tell them when to sit and when to stand like every other class that they participated in. I explained that this was more a case of style, not science. My rides are based on the experience of riding a bike outside. I’ve never been on a ride where someone yells at me to “sit” or “stand,” so I allow my indoor riders to choose the position that suits them best at that time. There are exceptions, such as when we’re working on a specific technique. There’s nothing wrong with an instructor suggesting positions in a class, as long as they are optional, not mandated.
With that, the couple thanked me for my time and I stated my appreciation for their questions as they departed.
There were some thoughts that I took away from this post-class conversation. First, I was encouraged that these people asked me questions. I shared this experience with my other classes that week and told them that they should feel comfortable asking me, and other instructors, why we are or aren’t doing something. They are the paying customers and if they don’t understand the “why,” they have a right to ask us.
The second and more important takeaway is that instructors should have answers to their riders’ “why” questions. “Because that’s the way that I do it” isn’t a proper response. “That’s how I was trained in my certification” is marginally acceptable. Being able to explain the reason using science—while keeping it at a layperson’s level—is the best kind of response. Your members will learn something and respect you for sharing your knowledge.
Even if the riders don’t ask questions, instructors should be prepared to answer for themselves why they are doing something. If it doesn’t make sense to you, if you can’t answer your own “why” question, then how are you going to be able to respond when your members ask questions?
Bill, this article is well written & supported. The organization & points of interest make it powerful. Common sense to most but missed by many.
I think the fact that you set the tone by stating how approachable you are prepares readers to receive your important message: a teacher teaches you not only how but why. Your approach invites students to feel free to inquire further.
Thank you for this nugget of gold!
GREAT article Bill!!!!
Thank you for this article…it validates the way I teach my own classes, as I never tell riders what gear to be in, and I always let them know that standing is optional. Like you, I guide them in terms of RPMs and in terms of level of effort. So thank you for this validation!
I encourage my riders to see their fitness as a 0-10 scale. 0 being no resistance when spinning to 10 being just being able to keep cadence with the most resistance. And of course everyone has to understand their own 0-10 fitness level. I engage my class a lot. Exhorting them to relax their shoulders, faces and grips, as well as working on different ways to cycle. Sometimes we push down, other times we pull up from our knees, all depending on the goal of the song. I also spend a lot of time telling them to hydrate. I find people want to be led. But I like the idea of treating the session like an outside ride. I do that with a song sometimes, but I will consider making it longer.
I’m glad that they cared enough to ask the questions after class…..good for them!! One can never assume. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
Good stuff ! And a great point of explaining to your riders the why of what you’re telling them to do, (or not telling them)
I’ll say that if they are interested I can send them some articles etc to explain it in more depth. I don’t want anyone to think I’m just making this stuff up.
Regarding which gears to use, I tell them that it would be like going upstairs to the gym and telling everyone to grab a 50 pound weight and start lifting it over their heads. To some people it’s way to much weight, and others it’s not enough.
I don’t do any stretches at the beginning either, thanks for your explanation, which is better than mine.
The weight analogy is a great one. There is an ICA article in the queue in which I explain why specifying a specific gear, specific watts or absolute gear or watts above ‘base’ isn’t appropriate cueing.
Great story Bill and I also encourage questions and discussion. I find that I have many experienced riders in my class and often I will refer to them at the end of a class to be a part of the discussion. We all then start contributing to the discussion about power, speed, technique etc.
Although I encourage questions regularly, most people hurry out of my classes at the end in order to get on with their busy day. I was pleased that these people took some of their valuable time to ask me questions about things that they didn’t understand. I wish more of my riders did that.
Terrific article, Bill. Good information in a good context. Thanks.
Nothing very profound, just simple common sense advice.