Confessions of a Cover Girl

I came across this picture on FB today. In the UK we say “cover” rather than “sub”, at least in the world of group exercise. There was a question to go with that picture:

Do you think our students in a cycling class sometimes do the cycling version of this with a sub? “When she says stand and climb we’ll all sit and sprint, pass it on!”

Covering classes has many aspects. I will just mention 4 here.

WHY DON’T THESE PEOPLE FOLLOW?

Thankfully I have never had a whole group completely ignore my instructions but it’s very common for a few people do it especially in the first few minutes of the class.

Reasons for people doing their thing in the warm up? They are used to their regular instructor and just like I do mobilisation and warm up routine without thinking, so do they. They are on autopilot. And or they know what they normally do works for them and they may not know where you are going with yours.

Why do people do their own thing later? You say speed endurance in the saddle, they go for a standing power interval etc.

Ok, if you are covering and your class seems to be going in a completely different direction to where it normally does people who are stuck in their way, or to put it politely like to keep their routine, want to do what they normally do.

I always say before we start what they class is about, what the focus is etc. I say that we will have 4 rounds of… or it’s all about form and speed today or it’s hills today. I think it gives you a clear picture what you will be getting and what you want.

It can be a double edged sword 🙂 In one of my classes I said: “Today we will be focusing on form and endurance so no sprints today”. To which came a very angry response from the front row: “What? Why? How can you not have sprints?!”

When you cover a class you need to pick your battles: do you have enough information what the group is used to? Enough time to explain how you can get fitness benefits from endurance work? What if the regular instructor says to go all out every time?

I go with my plan and then if someone is interested I have a conversation with them about my reasons behind the class structure.

PEOPLE LEAVE THE STUDIO AS YOU ENTER IT

I mentioned it in this blog already on other occasions: I have done it myself not giving a second thought to the instructor’s feelings.

Story from last week: every Tuesday I have a 6:45am class then go home and do whatever I need to do then I teach a double class in the evening. But last Sunday I got an e-mail from a desperate instructor who contacted 52 people on the cover list for a gym and nobody could help him on Tuesday lunchtime with a double class. So I said I would do it. Making it 5 class Tuesday…

First class went without drama. 15min to the start of the second one. The door to the studio was made of glass so as I was walking around chatting to the first 3 people in as they were setting their bikes I can see a couple of guys walk up to the door, then look at me and see their faces fall followed by a look of consternation. I could hear what they were thinking: Oh no! It’s not Sandro. WTF… Should we go and do some weights? I waved at them, walked towards the door and as they hesitantly opened it I said: “Guys, don’t knock it until you try it. It will be fine. Sandro trusted me enough to ask for cover so trust me I will do a good job”. They were not convinced: “But last week he asked someone and it was shit! Oh man… Is it going to be the same style as Sandro’s?”. I said: “Give me 10min. And if you think this is shit, you leave. Deal?”. They agreed. It was a risk as my warm up track was 8 min… 🙂

Long story short – they stayed to the end and gave me good feedback. I was asked by a couple other people if I teach a regular class at that gym but it wasn’t all trumps and funfair. A couple of guys left 15min into the class. I didn’t take it personally. It was a strength endurance class – not everyone’s cup of tea. Which leads me to the next point:

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR CLASS PROFILE FOR A COVER?

I will teach the hardest class ever. I will show them what a bad ass instructor I am! Right? Not necessarily…

Do you ask the regular instructor what they normally teach? Ask about the sound system, mike and bike type but also what type of group that is. Do people ask me? Not often. Do you always teach intervals? Do you ever play long tracks like 7min? What music do you play? Still it’s always better to be prepared with plan B.

I was recently told that the place I was to cover at had bikes with consoles, My Ride software and it was mainly cyclists. I got excited and prepared a good VO2 max intervals profile. Then as I arrived (thankfully much earlier) it turned out the consoles only showed RPM and HR. There were 3 people in the group of 25 who had cycling shoes and looked like could be cyclists but when I mentioned thresholds, VO2 & power they looked at me like I was an alien. Then I had 2 complete beginners who have never been on the bike and came 30sec before the class started and about 10 people who didn’t seem to have much clue about RPM.

Such a diverse group is normal but I knew that my planned profile was out of the window. Thankfully I always have with me 3-4 others suitable for various levels that I know like the back of my hand and can use them as and when.

HOW MUCH DO YOU CARE ABOUT PARTICIPANTS IN THE CLASSES YOU COVER?

This is tricky. I always do care about people I teach even if I think I may never see them again. If they have a really bad form I will correct them, I always go through the bike set up etc. but…  I covered a class a year ago. I did that on 3 consecutive weeks. People in there had no clue about bike set up and their postures have clearly never been corrected. I was horrified. But I ended up practically criticising them for 45min…

I realised at the end of the class that nobody was smiling and I was exhausted. And a week later when I came into the studio one woman was already there and greeted me with: “Oh no!” and left. That was a tough lesson in letting go: you cannot correct a lifetime of bad habits in one class and if you correct too much you will put people off.

Anything you want to share?

7 thoughts on “Confessions of a Cover Girl

      • People can be music snobs when comes to other instructors subbing their classes. Sometimes students feel that their regular instructor has the best music and don’t go to class when see someone subbing because they are unsure the music that will be played. Or you will that person in your class that wears headphones…. ugh ugh
        When I am covering a class I try to always have types of music that popular and current so I can get those individuals to stay or take off those headphones. Also I try to get there early so I am playing music before the class starts so the students gets taste of my music style. Students attend spin class for the workout but also for the music the drives them to work hard. My music motto is if “I would dance or sign to it… then it will be a good spin song”

        Liked by 2 people

      • Points well made. I don’t agree with the view that music is just a background. I love dancing and music. If music has a beat I will go with the beat. a few RPM here or there if I have a console is fine but can’t ignore it. If I am to work hard I need the music to help me. I don’t allow people to wear headphones – thankfully it has only happened twice over the years. I like the fact that you know that the music you play before the class is important to let people know what they can expect. I once took a class from a person who is a great coach and the class was planned with a great thought but I struggled so bad as the music was awful, not my type and didn’t go at all with what we were doing

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: I really hope he did get it this time | Spinbella : Tales From the Spin Room

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