Why Do They Come to Class if They Don’t Want to Work?

If you have been teaching for a long time you will have seen this on numerous occasions: those people who come to your classes and seemingly pay no attention to your instructions, take no notice of their bike setup, and just seem to plod along looking miserable. It’s hard to not see them, and as an instructor I find it irritating. 

Or used to, I should say.

I love teaching indoor cycling and I give 100% every time I stand in front of my riders. I will do my utmost to ensure that every person in that studio gets the best out of those 45 minutes. I go through bike setup every class, I structure my sessions well, I give clear targets at the start, and do my best to use various ways of motivating and conveying the intensity levels throughout the class.

If I see that someone is not following my instructions, I assume they struggle to understand what I want them to do. I will seek eye-to-eye contact with them to guide them and if that fails, I will approach them for a bit of one-on-one coaching.

While people are filing into the studio, I have made it a habit to announce that if anyone needs to take it easy for whatever reason, say because of an injury, to let me know so I will leave them in peace. People do take me up on it.

I would, however, get really wound up by riders who just walk in, usually last minute, plop on any bike without even checking if the adjustments are locked and with complete disregard for the setup guidelines, and proceed to do a big fat nothing in terms of a workout for the duration of the class.

As an instructor, I would always feel conflicted when such a repeat offender would come in. On one hand, my professional conscience is clear since I have tried educating them and helping them out, yet they decided to ignore my suggestions and instructions and still turn up like clockwork. Should I ignore them completely and after four or five classes not even bother adjusting their bikes again? Is that ethical to just let them be? Should I even waste my breath and thought on riders like these? They clearly don’t care!

I discussed this subject with a few fellow instructors and even some riders, and the consensus was that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, so I should not worry myself with them. By ignoring me, they are being rude and so I should ignore them and focus on the rest of the group. It didn’t sit well with me, but I decided to test my new approach and pretend I didn’t see them in my next class.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a brilliant podcast called Fitness Career Mastery* on how to motivate class participants and the do’s and don’ts of group ex instructing.

One of the things talked about was that as important as motivation is in group exercise classes,  it’s equally important to acknowledge that some people just want to have some time away from their hectic office or personal life schedule and the intensity of the workout is not important to them. They mentioned an example of a yoga instructor who would say at the start of her class that if the participants wanted to stay in child’s pose for the full hour, she was fine with that.

That took me slightly by surprise, but it was real food for thought. This is not something I would even think of doing as a participant, so it was hard for me to get my head around it. The crux of this approach was that if I, as an instructor, ask the riders to acknowledge their reason for coming in and that reason turns out to be simply escaping whatever else is happening in their lives, then they accomplish their goal by just being there. I shouldn’t add to their stress by trying to make them work harder, albeit with good intentions, or tell them that by going easy they are wasting their time or even worse…failing.

To be honest, this went against my instincts as an instructor, but it made me wonder if I had it all wrong.

Coincidentally, two days later I was covering a class in a facility where I have two such seemingly apathetic riders. I saw a woman walk in with a double carriage and what looked like a baby and a toddler. She smiled at me and I thought her face looked familiar, but I was struggling to work out where I knew her from. She then pointed to the carriage and said, “This is the reason why I am always late to your class and why I have to rush off at the end. And it’s why I cannot work any harder—I am totally exhausted!”

Only then did I realize that she was one of those two riders! I never got a chance to talk to her before or after the class, she always avoided eye contact during the class, and I have never ever seen her smile before! I suddenly felt so bad for thinking she was being rude, obstinate, or just could not be bothered with my instruction.

From that moment on, I have been making a conscious effort in groups where I have riders like that, or if I notice someone who fits the bill, to say something along the lines of the following:

“I want you to think about why you came into the studio today. What is your reason? Is it to get a great workout? Is it to work on improving your FTP? Is it to sweat off the stressful week in the office? Or is it simply the only 45 minutes in a week that you are free from your kids and responsibilities? If this is your 45 minutes of freedom and you want to take it easy—please do. I only ask you that you relax and enjoy it, maybe give me a smile from time to time so I know that you doing it your way for the whole 45 minutes is a choice and not a result of you not understanding what I am asking of you. If this is your escape, we got you!”

The first time I said that, there was a great vibe and energy in the room as if people found this message refreshing, and some took me up on that offer, but they felt free to do that without trying to hide from me.

And next time I see that woman in my class, I will go up and apologize.


*Fitness Career Mastery, Episode 93: 12 Top Tips from a Professional Class Reviewer for a Five-Star Class Experience

16 Responses to “Why Do They Come to Class if They Don’t Want to Work?”

  1. Basia N says:

    I remember a rider that came regularly and one day, he came up to me and said I’m not feeling it today but I do want to ride. That was my ah-ha moment that they may not be doing what I’d planned but wanted an experience.

  2. Gerry Greschner says:

    I always tell my class that this is their workout. I will give them the opportunity to work hard and really get a sweat on but if that’s not who they are today that’s okay. My only rule is that you must keep pedaling! I don’t care about the tension or pace just pedal.

  3. Sara Pomish says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful article. I’m sure we’ve all had riders like this, and while I’m not the type to keep pushing someone who doesn’t want to be pushed, it’s a good reminder to remember that our riders all have different goals.

  4. Lynn Barrera says:

    Very insightful read. I teach several classes and sub frequently and recently picked up a new spin class that I will bring your intro message to get to learn their why. PS: I just subscribed to the podcast. Thank you, Lynn Barrera

    • Izabela Ruprik says:

      Thank you! Make sure you check out the episodes on motivation, 12 tips for instructors and studio audience and the two episodes on how to use and take care of your voice x

  5. Finally, someone who says it. I get very irritated with trainers and instructors who can’t seem to cut the client a break. You have hit the nail on the head. If we can empathize with our clients, they’ll be ours for a very long time. If we try to put them in the box that looks like what we want, they’ll feel disconnected and leave as soon as possible.

    • Izabela Ruprik says:

      But it’s not easy despite our good intentions. I have been teaching for 7 years and still only now have had the realisation. There is a fine line I believe between acknowledging the point of the article but still caring about the rider and having the attitude: allow them to do whatever, at least they are moving 🙂

  6. Coach Karis says:

    Smart approach. Learnt something new😊

  7. Bravo! This article really touched us. Please feel free to reach out to us anytime. We’d like to support you and share this article and your story with our community. We are beyond thrilled that this episode inspired you and gave you new insights into your clients experience. Love your message to the class. Thank you so much!

    • Izabela Ruprik says:

      I have been recommending your podcasts to many of my colleagues. Keep up the good work. The learning never ends. And thank you for reaching out!

  8. Bill Roach says:

    Great message. Story well told. I teach at a YMCA where we consider “Mind, Body, Spirit”. I remind myself that body is only one part of that triad. Your story shows real wisdom.

  9. Colleen O'Brien says:

    This is a wonderful approach. Feel the love.

  10. Laura Iwan says:

    This is awesome! Thanks for sharing this insightful experience.

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