Moving From Apprehensive to Inspirational

“When you learn, teach. When you get, give” – Maya Angelou

I want to share a story about a woman who had no idea what she could accomplish. A woman who reluctantly attended her very first cycling class with me six months ago on the advice of her personal trainer. A woman who feared the bike and was one of the most hesitant riders I’ve ever seen. She is now one of the strongest female riders I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Her growth, confidence, and fitness have risen in a meteoric fashion and it all started by making that first ride right for her and showing her a glimpse of her own potential.

I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing coaches and mentors in my life, both in business and in sport. Some were people who, through their own accomplishments, inspired me to do something I never thought possible. Others were people I approached, and they took time out of their lives to listen and provide advice and feedback after I expressed that I wanted to put forth my best effort at accomplishing something. These relationships are the most rewarding and often grow into great friendships. Because of what I have received, I feel it is important to pay it forward. When you are a mentor, you are creating and presenting all types of possibilities for others. That is one of the reasons I love being a fitness instructor. I see the potential in everybody, and there is nothing better than when someone starts to realize their own potential—they become unstoppable.

When I teach cycling, it is very important to me that each class resonates with the rider. In order for this to happen, the ride needs to be one that works with that participant’s current level of fitness while allowing them the opportunity to progress over time. One of the ways to make a ride effective is to teach to an individual’s custom power zones. Just like every trip starts from a specific destination, so to does fitness. By establishing a baseline, then creating power zones from that baseline, we can begin to customize cycling classes that ensure each rider is working at their own current potential. Rides then become specific to each person’s ability and the results are limitless possibilities.

When I see a face in class that is new and unfamiliar to me, the first thing I do is walk over and introduce myself. I ask their name, set them up, and get some basic info on injuries and experience. This member, let’s call her Jill, looked petrified, unsure, and sat in the far back corner. Jill was in her mid-fifties, had never been to a cycling class, and was there not because she wanted to be, but because her trainer had recommended it. She wanted to lose weight and had never considered herself athletic.

I explained that the ride should done at whatever effort she felt comfortable with that day and that I’d like to talk to her after class to see if she had any questions. The ride started, as always, with me explaining what the focus for the day was, the drills we would do, the amount of time required at different levels of intensity, and also that there would be time for recovery. I reminded all riders to honor their bodies and that I asked nothing more than the best effort they had for the day.

After warming up, we set up for a short drill that would help them to understand their power potential for the class. I explained that all subsequent drills would be based on a percentage of this effort to ensure that the ride was the right intensity for each person. Jill would look apprehensive when words like intensity and discomfort were bandied about, but visibly relaxed when she heard me speak about recovery and individual effort. I introduced each drill with the length, intensity goal, how they may feel, and what recovery, if any, would occur.

Jill worked hard. She struggled. She listened and simply did what she could that day. At times she—as well as some of the others—really struggled. I will always take a moment during hard drills to remind riders that they are all feeling a level of discomfort or difficulty and it is OK to feel that way. These assurances were accepted, acknowledged, and assimilated.

Class ended and Jill made a hasty retreat while I was speaking with other members. She re-entered the room five minutes later and I beelined over to where she was standing, in front of her bike with her back to me. As I was about to ask her about her experience, I saw she had taken a picture of her bike and was typing a note into her phone. She explained to me that she took a picture of the bike because she wanted to keep a note of the things that terrified her. We talked for about 15 minutes and her final words that day were “When can I take another class of yours?” I encouraged her to try out the other instructors, as I teach two days in a row and find that alternating hard workout days is preferable for fitness gains. Since that day, I have seen her every single Thursday and Friday despite my attempts to get her to spread out her workouts.

Weeks later, Jill would tell me that she preferred my classes and appreciated my style of teaching to any of the other instructors’. Over these past six months she has brought in several new riders to my classes. She would seek me out after class with questions and each class her confidence and ability would grow. She would take every piece of advice, suggestion, and recommendation to heart and apply them each and every class. She felt comfortable knowing what the intensity goal was for each drill and that, because the class was set to her fitness level, each drill would be appropriate. She would flourish week after week, with both her fitness and ability growing.

The most amazing part of this story? Jill is now one of the strongest and most powerful riders I coach! Each distance, time, or power goal I set for her, she now has the confidence to work toward. She knows she will have good days and bad days and understands the reasons behind them. She is introspective and honest with herself and believes that she can rise up to any challenge. She trusts that my rides will create positive adaptations and never does something that is not on plan.

Jill has bought herself a road bike and now rides outside with her husband. She has done longer-distance rides with her friends that she brought to my classes. She understands her own potential and accepts that whatever is limiting her now, she can work toward removing. Her journey is progressing. Once utterly apprehensive, she is now absolutely inspirational.

2 Responses to “Moving From Apprehensive to Inspirational”

  1. Bill Roach says:

    Lovely story.

  2. JohnAndrews says:

    Great article. I agree and use many of the same practices in my classes. Thanks for sharing your approach Karyn. Very much appreciated.

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