A few weeks ago, I had the great fortune to be able to attend the ECA conference in New York. My personal training client Gloria (who also takes my cycling classes in Vail) was going to be staying with her daughter Laura in Manhattan and offered me a place to stay. I was last at ECA in 2009 as a presenter with the Spinning® program, my third year presenting at ECA.
While in New York, I took three indoor cycling classes: Flywheel, Equinox Pursuit, and a Spinning session at ECA. The experiences were as diverse as going to three different genres of movies. Here are my reviews of each, followed by the type of movie they reminded me of.
I went with Gloria and Laura on Thursday night. Laura is a regular participant of indoor cycling classes, bouncing around between Flywheel, Equinox Pursuit, and others. She was eager for my two cents!
I try to keep an open mind when I visit boutique studios like this. I want to seek out the positive points of every studio, from the customer service to the interaction with the instructors to the music.
Every single class experience, no matter the philosophy of the program or studio, no matter the training of the instructor, begins with how the riders are set up on the bike. Once we were in the Flywheel studio, the room attendant set Gloria up. When she walked away I looked at Gloria and I couldn’t believe where they put her saddle—she was two holes too low and too far back. Gloria has major hip and back issues so this could have been very bad for her. Laura was also too low, and she told me that’s where they set her up and she’s been riding there for quite a while.
I raised both of them just in time for the lights to dim. The music started and the leaderboard was projected on the wall. Leaderboards are fun, and they have proven to motivate many participants of cycling classes. I was resistant to the idea at first but have since become a big fan (as long as riders have the ability to opt out).
This particular leaderboard was not particularly exciting compared to what is out there, but I admit, I found myself pushing harder to beat that silly anonymous person who dared to be ahead of me!
Flywheel has its own proprietary system of resistance that they call “torq.” It is roughly equivalent to watts since it is a product of both the resistance and your cadence, but it’s a completely arbitrary number. We were told to keep the torq between two numbers, often 20 and 25. But there was no explanation of what torq is, and there were no options given for those who might be more or less fit, like was ICA (and most programs) teaches instructors to provide when prescribing intensity with heart rate or real power. (Maybe if you go often enough and decide to ask an instructor what torq means, you can get a response. Perhaps I’ll ask Laura to inquire as a regular customer!)
The most frustrating thing was the cadence. Prior to going to New York, I posted online that I would be visiting Flywheel. Several instructors warned me that the cadence would be off. I had a hard time believing it, though—I mean, how is it possible to mess up cadence? Rpm is rpm, no matter where you are in the world. A speed of 60 rpm means something is moving in a circle 60 times in one minute, or once per second. It’s a fixed period of time! And unless they exist in a different space-time continuum, you can’t “make up” your own rpm.
But somehow, Flywheel has managed to alter cadence on their bike computers. Our instructor asked us to pedal at 50 rpm (which, if true, would be way too slow). She never used the words “cadence” or “rpm,” but instead told us to pedal so that the number on the computer was close to 50. But I know my cadences, and this wasn’t 50 rpm. 50 rpm is painfully slow.
Then she played the Yaz* song “Don’t Go.” I know this song is 126 bpm, which correlates to an rpm of 63, yet she still called out to pedal at 50. Later she asked for 110 rpm but participants were flailing their legs wildly at an rpm much faster than that.
[*Sidenote: I was surprised and thrilled that she played Yaz. It was nice to have an eclectic mix of music from mainstream to 1980s.]
I just don’t get it. First, anyone who is musically oriented would be driven crazy by the inaccuracy. But it’s also a deception, because when the computer says you are pedaling at 110, yet it’s really over 120 rpm, one has to wonder if it’s an attempt to hide the fact they are telling you to pedal at overly fast cadences.
I asked Sam, our instructor, afterwards, and she had no idea. She said maybe the computers were not calibrated. I told her that was not the case since both bikes on either side of me registered the same as mine did.
Thankfully, Flywheel doesn’t believe in push-ups or crunches, but there was one song of tap-backs. I tried them but it boggles my mind that anyone would find them “fun.” They hurt, and they mess up your pedaling big time. By the way, since I refrained from doing them and simply pedaled harder, I was able to overtake “anonymous” on the leaderboard, as she obviously had lower output while doing the tap-backs!
The upper-body portion at Flywheel is slightly less annoying than at the other (in)famous boutique studio known for weights. At least it wasn’t 1- or 2-pound weights. Flywheel has two 7-pound bars, and our instructor suggested we use both of them together. But holding 14-pound bars while sitting upright means that except for a little (very little) work for the biceps and triceps, everything else we did was a burn-out-the-deltoid fest. Of course the shoulders burn—because they are the only muscles being challenged! Sitting upright, it’s the only upper-body muscle group that is opposing gravity. Even though she told us we were working the chest and back (“pushing” the bar forward and “pulling” it back), we were not.
Herein lies the problem with lifting weights on a bike. It’s a lie. (I won’t go into that in detail in this post; you can read more here.)
Overall, it was a decent workout (aside from the weights and tap-backs), and both Laura and Gloria enjoyed it. Our instructor, Sam, was always smiling and she was very friendly and easygoing when I spoke to her afterward. She eagerly told me the name of one of the songs I inquired about. Her coaching was extrinsic, with cues that simply said to do this, do that, turn it up, put your “torq” here, lift your weights, pedal faster. This kind of cueing is not very motivational because there was nothing inspiring you to dig in deeper.
I can see the attraction Flywheel has for some participants. It just had nothing to offer me or many of the riders I know.
Movie genre: Lighthearted comedy, not very serious.
Rachel Buschert Vaziralli is a master trainer for Schwinn and has been making a name for herself in New York the past few years. She invited me on Friday night to take her Pursuit class at Equinox and I jumped at the opportunity.
My cab was a little late and I got there just as class started, so unfortunately, I wasn’t there in time to register my bike with the system. But I pretended I was someone else up on the leaderboard, and believe it or not, it still motivated me to work harder. As a result, I didn’t miss out on the competitive power of the program.
Wow! I have to say, I was bowled over. The digital games projected on the large screen are a powerful motivator and makes for an amazing workout. (Since I don’t have time and space here, you can read about ICA contributor Billy Coburn’s experience at the Pursuit here—he explains the games in excellent detail.)
Rachel’s music was great, but the sound system made it very hard to hear what she was saying. Between songs and during the recoveries I could hear her much better, and it is obvious that she knows how to coach in an empowering way, and not just tell us what to do like my experience at Flywheel. The room was divided into two teams and she skillfully inspired each side to work together as much as possible. She knew her riders and called them by name, and it was evident they were motivated by her coaching.
The overall goal to burn a certain number of kilojoules as a group really helped drive the class to work harder. After each game, Rachel posted our progress, which motivated us even more during the following game. At the end, when she posted the final result, you cannot help but feel a huge sense of accomplishment!
Like Billy, I loved the experience! However, I don’t think I could do a Pursuit class more than once or twice a week. It would be (for me) sensory overload and too much high intensity too often. But as a part of a varied program, it’s a great way to get your hard interval workouts in. It’s a different kind of motivation than what I describe in the Spinning ride (next).
Movie genre: Exciting, action-packed thriller with lots of explosions. A movie experience that leaves you impatient for the sequel.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a chance to experience a true Spinning ride from a master instructor (2009 was the last time). I took Mark Tickner’s Fury Road at the ECA conference. It was a simulation of the 2015 World Road Cycling Championships that took place in Richmond, Virginia (which happens to be where Mark lives, though he’s originally from England). His profile consisted of four laps of the 16 km race, with visuals (both still and video) of the actual footage from both the women’s and men’s world championship race.
Mark is an avid cyclist, so he is an expert at bringing the outside inside through vivid descriptions in a totally engaging way. He described the road and what it was like to be in the peloton. He explained the strategy of the race. He led us up the cobblestone climb, reminding us that it was better to stay seated because we risked losing traction. He asked us to dig in; he challenged us to attack or to hang back in the peloton if we preferred. The ride ebbed and flowed in intensity just like the real race. For the final lap, Mark led us through the race in real time (the approximate 15 minutes that the racers experienced it). The finish of this race is truly one of the most exciting finishes in years. (Watch the actual footage of the race here; start at the 47-minute mark to see the amazing final few kilometers.)
Mark is a master at storytelling and inspiring his riders. He expertly built up the excitement and energy for the final few kilometers, inviting us to leave nothing on the table and to raise our hands in victory as each of us crossed the finish line in first place. There is no other word for it: it was thrilling!
Movie genre: Suspenseful drama, with a storyline that keeps you hanging on every word, and a soundtrack that helps guide the emotional ebb and flow of the film, leading you to a memorable climax.
On the last day of the conference, I also got to observe part of a ride led by Josh Taylor called Rock and Roll. I snuck out of another session to catch the second half of this one. The music was all classic rock songs from artists like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, etc. But it was so much more than just the music; in true Josh form, he mixed comedy with motivation. He asked questions of the class to get them to think about what they were doing. His impactful coaching inspired riders to want to perform solely for the pure joy of riding. Nothing out of Josh’s mouth sounds clichéd because it is truly coming from his heart and soul. There are few instructors anywhere in the world who can coach quite like Josh Taylor can.
There is nothing quite like a Spinning class led by a master Spinning instructor. With these two, I felt like I was home again!
Jennifer it is always great to see you and catch up and I am so pleased you enjoyed my ride. I just teach classes that are something that I believe in and know is real and safe. With 1000’s of ways to keep riders engaged I am never lost for ideas and don’t need gimmicks or faddy exercises on the bike to keep riders engaged.
If you are passionate about something it will show!
so many instructors could learn from what you just wrote Mark! No gimmicks needed…just passion! =)
I did Fury Road at WSSC Miami… one of the toughest rides I’ve done… loved it. If you can Mark, bring it back one day… I’ll battle it again. Lol
It was great to see you in NYC Jennifer! Thank you so much for the kind words and for doing what you do! Your a true “fighter” in more ways than one and I have always respected you for that…
thank you Josh! It was so great to see you again and watch you in your element. I hope there are ways that ICA and Spinning can work together, since we are all in this together! All ships rise in a high tide!
Jennifer, can you please explain what tap-backs are? I am not familiar with that term. I want to make sure that we are not doing something that is not good for our spinning community. Thanks so much! Thanks for sharing your feedback on your recent trip to NY.
Great review Jennifer, I miss Mark over this side of the Atlantic!
I used to take his 3 back-to-back sessions London when I lived there. He always nails it either in the studio or on stage at a conference / marathon; his awesome “Athlete’s Hour” ride still comes up in conversation on the European marathon circuit.
If anyone reading this gets a chance to ride or take a workshop with him, DO IT!
Brian you are very kind. I just love teaching rides that are close to my heart and my passion! I miss you too buddy!
I am hole-hearted with the Spinning® Program! It has changed my life both mentally and physically! Now my mission is to change as many lives as possible 1 pedal stroke at a time! Opening my own Spinning® facility has been a dream come true. If your ever in Florida it would be an honor to have you ride at “A” Vicious Cycle! Great article!
Amanda, I watched you on Facebook as you opened your studio and have been following you ever since! I would be honored to come ride there next time I’m in Florida! Can’t wait!
Jennifer, I really enjoyed reading your reviews. With Josh’s ride I would have loved to have been there to experience his comedy and motivating questions. Could you give me an example of a type of question he might ask? I enjoy doing new and unique things with my class. Love to offer a little entertainment for their ride. Thank you, Suzanne Smith
yes, if you ever have the opportunity to ride with Josh, or Mark, or Rachel or any master instructor with any reputable program…don’t miss it!
Josh has a very conversational style of coaching. He’s talking to the class like he’s talking to a friend he’s trying to encourage. But he has a unique skill to be able to do this without talking too much, or without sounding contrived. And he uses inflection, so he is never monotone—that helps keep it so engaging.
Like I said above, nothing he says sounds clichéed.
Early on in my Spinning instructor career, I used to go to master instructor rides and write down every word they said; beginning with 20 years ago. I’ve got scores of notebooks from dozens of rides! I often sat on the sidelines or sat in the back with my notebook on the handlebars. This time, I just wanted to sit and absorb it all.
I don’t remember specific questions Josh asked, I just remember sitting there listening and thinking how powerful that kind of coaching is. I do it a lot with my riders, so hearing Josh do similar made me realize the effectiveness of the technique.
For example, instead of telling the class what to feel, say, “what are you feeling in your legs as you climb? Your breath?” You can expand on that by asking, “Is it holding you back”
When you want them to work harder, instead of saying “turn it up” or “push harder” you can ask, “what can you do to increase your challenge?” or, “can you take yourself just beyond your comfort zone right now?”
There is a very powerful psychological boost when you frame a question this way. It becomes a request they can’t say no to!
You’ve given me a great idea to create a whole article on this kind of coaching. Thanks!
Yes, I love Spinning. I just love really good coaching that inspires riders in an intrinsic way, regardless of the program. I’ve experienced that in Spinning, Schwinn, Real Ryder, as well as by instructors who have been certified with a few other programs.
The thing about Spinning is the foundation of this type of coaching, using the connection between the mind and body, has been around since its inception. It started with Johnny G and is still pervasive. Do all Spinning instructors coach like this? No, not at all. But the most inspiring and empowering classes I have experienced have all been taught by Spinnings MIs.
Thank you Jennifer Sage, great article and information! as usual!
Josh Taylor is absolutely the very best – I agree with you. No one can teach a class like he does. Thank you for doing this “research”; it just proves once again nothing beats Spinning.
Spinning® family is forever. There is nothing like it. Loved your review.