Many people falsely assume that anyone can teach an indoor cycling class as long as they are in shape, have a great personality and spend a ton of time on their tunes. Plenty of fitness enthusiasts are diving in because let’s face it, from the outside it looks like all you have to do is pedal, push and repeat! How hard can it be?
Well, that’s just the thing. It’s not hard to teach a cycling class but if you truly want to provide the best experience for the widest variety of participants with the most opportunity for success, there’s more to it than meets the eye. It doesn’t have to be hard to pull off a fabulous class, but it’s essential that you learn where to put your time and energy to build a class that everyone can enjoy. Let’s take a look.
The number one way to prepare to be a great cycling instructor is with specialized education. I am bothered by the apparent lack of attention spent on the education side of indoor cycling. Sure, there are tons of fitness pros getting their sweat on during full-day training workshops and at conventions across the globe. But there are just as many people being hired because they ride a bike outside, are fit, or have taken cycling classes or other group fitness classes for years. While each of these experiences will certainly lend to creating a great instructor, there is still a reason to necessitate a vetted cycling training before you put the mic on.
In cycling trainings, you learn the differences between riding a bike that goes nowhere and one that actually transports you from point A to point B (yes, there are similarities, but there are also differences that are important to consider when programming and instructing). Second, you learn about form and technique specific to the indoor riding community and ways to get that information across to a large number of participants who do not participate in the outdoor sport. Lastly, you must spend some time learning about group teaching techniques in this unique environment. How do you lead a group of people, in the dark, with loud music and varying levels of athleticism?
While you might think you can figure this out on your own or learn from going to other popular instructors’ classes, I would beg you to reconsider investing eight hours of your time into building a solid foundation. Pick a reputable company with history, trusted voices and loads of resources. You may know a lot of what will be discussed, but guaranteed the nuggets you walk away with will make all the difference in the world to you and your participants.
Most instructors think if they put all their time and energy into music, the rest will fall into place! This is when I use two movies most of us have seen to illustrate the difference between a one-hit wonder cycling instructor and a fitness professional with longevity in indoor cycling.
Both Slumdog Millionaire and Grease were undoubtedly memorable movies. But one of these films won tons of awards and the other, none (that I know of)! What’s the difference? We love them equally, but for different reasons. Grease had great music, great costumes, great personalities and a fun story line. But, once you strip that all away, it was not a screenplay you’d want to put on your iPad and read over and over. Compare that to Slumdog Millionaire, which had all the same (music, costumes, personality), but meat to its storyline that was told in a sophisticated, engaging way — from start to finish.
The same is true for cycling classes. You can have a great playlist, look great playing the part, be fun and tell some great stories, but if there’s no solid foundation (storyline) or solid coaching to engage your riders, you’ll have a hard time outdoing yourself week in and week out (remember Grease II?)
First, focus on the how of your ride: technique, leg speed, intensity and duration. Then, focus on the why: because of how you tell them, the journey you take them on or the music you play that motivates them. The content is much more important to get right, before the bells and whistles that will make it uniquely your own. (P.S. you’ll learn about this in a good cycling training!)
Remember, above all, that cycling is one of the only group activities that is truly an equal opportunity. It’s low impact, it’s variable intensity, it’s sans choreography (hopefully), it’s for the rhythmically challenged and it’s easy to cheat (OK, maybe that shouldn’t be a reason…).
But when classes continue to be approached from a harder, faster, stronger mentality with an instructor who plays follow the leader (1/2 turn, stand up, sit down, faster!), the success factor starts to drop for a large number of people who need this format.
Sure, you can continue to tell people to take it at their own pace, remind them that the resistance knob is up to them, and so on, but unless you make it OK to “find your own way,” they won’t. They’ll just find their ways out the door and never come back. Coaching is a crucial skill to learn when teaching indoor cycling — more so in this class than almost any other.
Program from an intensity perspective because that’s universal! Everyone knows what to do and expect if you say easy, moderate, hard and really hard. And everyone is capable of achieving these intensities, but what it looks like to the newbie and the veteran is very different. Deliver your class in a way that ensures everyone can get to easy, moderate, hard, and really hard the way they need to. The resistance knob is the key: People must be given the rest of the details (the leg speed, the position on the bike and the duration followed by the intensity) and allowed to determine what to do with that knob!
The bottom line is that we want broad-based appeal: more people in fitness, not more people competing in the cycling studio. Cycling is a definite win for everyone if it is taught appropriately. And as you probably realize, that is way harder than it looks. But once you master the basics of class design and delivery, it just gets easier. Happy pedaling!