Rolling Hills and Switchbacks—My 2002 WSSC Session

On one of the indoor cycling forums on Facebook, someone asked about the song “What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes. She wanted to know what to do to it.

I presented a session at WSSC many years ago in which I used the song for switchbacks on a climb. So I started digging through my files and found my original handout for that presentation from 2002 at WSSC Miami and at WSSC Chicago a few months later.

On that Facebook post, I explained that I used the song for switchbacks, standing up on the chorus and sitting on the verses.

Looking at my handout got me thinking about that session and its impact, as well as how much I’ve changed my coaching. Prior to that, all Spinning climbing sessions at conferences followed the protocol of what they call the Strength Energy Zone, or SEZ. Back then, it was basically a class with high resistance and slower cadence (60–80 rpm) the entire time outside of warm-up and cool-down. The working part of the ride was held at 75%–85% of max heart rate.

In the early days of Spinning, there was little to no reference to the undulations of hilly rides and switchbacks (I personally had never heard them in the many sessions I took that were led by my MI peers), and no reference to downhills that you can use to propel you up the next hill. In fact, some (including Johnny G) said you can “never ride downhill” in a Spinning class.

My thinking was, you never truly ride uphill either, so if we can visualize climbing uphill, we can also visualize riding down. Why not just use it as a recovery? This Rolling Hills and Switchbacks session in 2002 was the first session at WSSC, or any fitness conference for that matter, that touched on how to coach rolling hills and switchbacks in a realistic manner that added excitement and real world application to classes.

That doesn’t mean that Spinning “Strength” (aka climbing) classes weren’t based on real riding—they were. It’s just that these climbing terms had not been implemented officially yet. That also does not mean there weren’t instructors out there doing rolling hills and switchbacks in their classes. If they were avid cyclists, especially those who lived in hilly or mountainous areas, I bet they were—it just hadn’t been done at any conference or workshop level.

Remember, back in 2002, the studio cycling players were very few and included Precision Cycling, Keiser (in their early days; they weren’t committed to real cycling techniques back then like they are now), and a few others. Schwinn manufactured the bikes for Mad Dogg Athletics and Spinning, so they were partners back then. Precision master trainers later became Schwinn trainers when Spinning and Schwinn “broke up” and Star Trac began making the Spinner® bike. Star Trac had made the Precision bike, which became a part of the Spinning family (and soon discontinued). Oh what a complicated industry this has been!

This 2002 workshop was instrumental in laying the groundwork for teaching instructors to use visualizations to describe outdoor riding experiences and bring them indoors. It does several things. It makes indoor cycling more real, and it makes indoor cycling more fun.

You are welcome to my handout…but before I give it to you, let me explain first.

I want to give you my original handout from that 2002 WSSC session—warts and all. Please ignore the awful font, the excessive exclamation points, and the dire need of editing. (Oh, and my maiden name is Ralph if you didn’t know me back then—this was a few months before I got married. And no, that email at the top doesn’t work anymore, but yes, Funhog was my nickname for years!) 

I have changed how I teach both rolling hills and switchbacks. In fact, I’ve got a lot more cues and music tips to give you for both simulations. So I am going to publish two upcoming OCD (Obsessed with Cycling Drills) posts on these two topics. To be honest, I personally don’t call them “drills,” I just consider them different ways to simulate climbing like we do outdoors. But I’ve noticed many instructors label them as drills so I’ll go along with that. You can take these climbing “drills” and insert them into any profile where you plan on hitting the mountains.

Your first one comes tomorrow. Get ready for numerous ways to describe and to coach switchbacks! It will include lots of visuals that will help you explain them to your riders.

Feel free to download my 2002 WSSC Rolling Hills and Switchback session handout and playlist.


EDIT: Here is part 1 for the Switchbacks OCD. Click on the link in the article to access part 2. 

Here is a Wednesday Timeless Classics with three awesome songs for rolling hills and how to teach them. 



3 Responses to “Rolling Hills and Switchbacks—My 2002 WSSC Session”

  1. Jason Turner says:

    Jennifer, its amazing that you still had a copy of this, and its awesome you uploaded it in its raw format. I look back at classes I created years ago and its interesting to see how my coaching has developed over the years.

  2. NinaMallette says:

    Fantastic information as always. Two things stand out: your nickname, and the fact that you dug into your files from that far back, and actually found the thing you were looking for! You must be a master organizer as well as a master instructor!

  3. Barbara Janish says:

    Jennifer, I loved this session back in 2002 in Chicago (Yes, I was there!!) and so happy to see it back and refreshed!! Thank you!!

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