Man up and sit down? It’s never that straight forward

I had a very busy weekend. It’s summer holiday season and everyone is looking for class covers so I had 3 classes this weekend. The one I want to tell you about though is one of my new classes. It’s a shared one too – every second Sunday.

Now those who know me know that I am always at least 30min early for my classes. And today was no exception. I cycled to the gym way ahead of schedule and was enjoying myself at the bar area for AGES and decided to go up to the studio 20min before the class was due to start. Or so I thought. Turns out I read the schedule wrong and at the time I was opening the studio door was supposed to be the start time! Oops!

But I knew what we were going to do and simply proceeded to go through set up etc and asked the usual: “Any injuries, pregnancies or medication?” question. The only gentleman in the small group of 4 waved me down. I approached him with music already on and he pointed to his lower back and bottom and mouthed: “Standing”. I thought I understood him. I interpreted it as: lower back issues so I won’t do any standing.

We started the warm up and 10 seconds in he stood up and proceeded this way. I walked up to him and realised his bike set up was very bad with the saddle at the height of a BMX performance bike. I said: “Let me get this up for you as it’s way too low”. He then responded: “No, no. I have back issues and don’t sit”. You should see the confusion in my face: “What do you mean? Not at all?! For 45min?”. “Exactly! That’s how I always do it. Don’t worry!”. You should see my face. I dragged my jaw along the floor towards my bike to try and digest this info.

I continued to teach and focused on the 3 ladies but from the corner of my eye I could see that his technique out of the saddle was absolutely awful and threatening serious injury especially with him being on the other side of 40…

It’s a tough act juggling a group and a case like that. Why did I have to confuse start time today! I should have had 15min with this guy before class!

To cut long story short: it got so bad I sat on a bike next to him for a while to demonstrate correct technique. I suggested that when he needs a break he should get off the bike for a while – no results. I was THAT close to asking him to leave but I felt I couldn’t as I didn’t know the whole story.

Finally the 45min was up. I walked up to him straight away worrying he may shoot off before I had my chance. I asked: “What is exactly your injury/issue and is it diagnosed or self-diagnosed?” He played it cool and said: “Oh, I just have a really sensitive bum and it hurts me too much when I sit. Don’t worry, I have been riding like that for years!”. WTF?! I don’t know what I was appalled at more: that he’s been doing it like that for that long or that other instructors were fine with it.

I seriously thought the God of Spinning would strike me with lightning if I allowed him to continue to ride like that! I told him that part of me as an instructor died in those 45minutes. He said: “Well, I will die if I don’t do any exercise and this is the only thing I like. I am getting fat but I used to be good at sports so my legs are strong. I can stand up on the bike.” “With all due respect Sir, not even TDF riders stand up for 45min without breaks.”

I said to him that he could not ride like that in my class as he was in too much of a risk of injury to his knees (straight all the time as he had almost no resistance), lower back and shoulders (right next to his ears as he was locking the elbows in all the time). He was quite chilled and just said: “That’s fine, just tell me when you teach and I will simply avoid these classes”. I was rendered speechless…

It wasn’t about removing him from my field of vision. It’s about knowing that he is hurting himself that was bothering me. I explained all the whys. I said he wasn’t really getting a workout – his HR judging from his breathing was not going up much due to lack of resistance. When asked if he tried other classes he said he only does ALL SPIN classes on the timetable.

“Let’s set you up properly so maybe you can take 30sec or 1min breaks in the saddle? It will also help you with your technique so you can feel where the saddle is”. I gave him a card with all the numbers. I gave him pointers on technique and said it would be better for him to get off the bike every 2nd song and stretch or do whatever he likes. I made him promise that if he comes back we will work on it.

When I had some time to digest it all after getting back home, I send a couple of messages into the ether asking whether anyone encountered anything like it. There came suggestions I was too shocked to offer the guy in the first place:padded shorts or gel seat. I felt so stupid for not mentioning it but I was literally gobsmacked.

I thought: if he does a few classes a week, if he started sitting down he would be fine within a couple of weeks. He should just man up!

And then someone else said this: maybe he’s got piles hence he said “sensitive” rather than “the saddle is too uncomfortable”. You see this is something I didn’t think of. If that’s the case I can completely understand why he wouldn’t want to sit at all and pedal.

But if it is, should he continue taking indoor cycling classes? I think since the group is small I can work out a programme for him where he gets off every second song and does a core exercise. I really hope he will come back 🙂

The conversation with him made me think of another issue: would you or should you exercise at ANY cost? Regardless of what the implications can be? I used to run long distance and loved it. But then the disk went. The doctors said: a year down the line and you would be able to go back to it. But I won’t risk it. The cost is too high. For the same reason I stopped all high impact activities. What if there was only one thing you could motivate yourself to get up and do but the way you did it was harmful in the long run? Any thoughts?

Look mum! No hands!

This post is inspired by what I have been seeing quite a lot of in my classes recently and also by a vivid discussion on one of indoor cycling instructors’ forums.

It’s about riding a bike hands free. A seemingly innocent topic that got a lot of instructors very agitated and if I am honest, it does rub me the wrong way sometimes when I see it in my class too. Why – you ask?

First, let’s discuss the issue from the favourite perspective: keeping it real. Which basically means, if you don’t do it outside, you don’t do it inside. But if any of you ever rode a bike outside, as a kid or teenager, or even watched kids ride bikes you know they DO do it. It’s not easy and it’s a kind of “right of passage”. It simply means you’re good! You are cool.

I have done it. I would sometimes ride almost all the way from school hands free! And (don’t tell my mum) I would take the two very dangerous turns downhill hands free too. Oh the thrill of it! It allows you to feel the bike. You realise how important little shifts in your body position are. You can actually turn hands free! I loved it.

You would also do it on a long ride to take a break and rest your back a bit, stretch a little.

Pro cyclists do it when they need their hands free: to eat, adjust helmet, glasses, take off an extra layer of clothing. Actually anyone who ever rode outside knows that it’s annoying to have to stop to take the jacket off only for the wind to change 5min later when you have to stop again to put it back on – waste of time unless you can let go of the handle bars and do it while riding.

http://www.active.com/…/articles/how-to-ride-with-no-hands

Therefore various benefits include: rest, balance/core work and practicality.

Now let’s move indoors. Rest? Sure. Especially if you are new to cycling and you find the normal position uncomfortable. I actually encourage little breaks where you roll the shoulders back, shake off you hands – a lot of beginners tend to squeeze the handle bars causing the shoulders to rise and the whole upper body to stiffen up.

I do however discourage sitting up for 30 sec or more at a time or doing it every minute. Why? As we are on a stationary bike when you let go of the handle bars you do not cause the core to engage in a more beneficial way – the bike doesn’t move, you do not need to balance. Pedalling technique suffers a bit as well, especially if you do it on a “hill”. And if you let go with too little resistance you are more than likely to be bouncing uncontrollably.

Mainly though, you are robbing yourself of a workout as sitting up significantly diminishes the power you are able to produce: you are not working as hard as when you are holding onto the bars. If you train on a bike with a power meter, try it: watch the Watts in both positions.

Now as an instructor you always look for reasons why people do things in a certain way, especially if it’s not something you do during the class so there must be other reason. I see 4 of them.

First, as mentioned above, stiff upper body due to squeezing the bars too tight. This can be trained over time.

Second, bad bike set up which is making riding uncomfortable. This can be easily fixed.

Third, issues that cannot be spotted unless the participant discloses them. It can be for example a chronic neck problem which again can be remedied by raising the handlebars slightly. Someone on the forum mentioned a participant who had the habit of sitting up a lot. It turns out he had a pacemaker and even with the handle bars higher than normal he found the position uncomfortable for longer periods of time. So as you can see there are exceptions to every rule.

Fourth, and that is my own observation: those unwilling to work hard do sit up A LOT. Mainly because when you are sitting on a bike for 45min, unless you are pushing hard enough to make it uncomfortable and raising your heart rate, it is plainly BORING. The only variation would be to sit up, look around trying to spot the clock praying it will show it’s almost over…

To sum up, sitting up hands free on an indoor bike for a few seconds to have a drink, a stretch etc is fine and is not dangerous. Longer or frequent periods in that position are just inefficient.

Now going hands free whilst STANDING is a totally different matter. Nobody would do it outdoors and you definitely shouldn’t do it indoors. It DOES NOT work your balance and core more – the bike is not moving so you do not really practice that skill. It puts unnecessary pressure on your knees and lower back, your pedal stroke is no longer circular and smooth plus you run a risk of losing your balance and leaving your teeth on the bars.

Exaggerating? This is what happened to me in June during my last class before the Tour of Cambridgeshire race. We were climbing out of the saddle and I let go of one hand to make a motion: keep your bum back and your bodyweight on your legs, when my cleat came loose and my foot came out. To prevent myself from falling I had to grab the handle bars quickly and trying to do that I jarred my index finger into the bars. My hand swelled up for a few days. Two months later and I am waiting for an x-ray results as my finger is not fine. I can’t shake hands with people as squeezing it is very painful, I can’t write with a pen without wincing and lifting a mug or a kettle causes discomfort too.

Consider yourselves warned 🙂

The Big Leap – pondering on my life as an indoor cycling instructor

Another amazing sunset in Wandsworth tonight. It was a beautiful and busy day. In fact a busy week.

This post is to update you a bit on what’s happening now in my professional life as an indoor cycling instructor. And quite a lot is happening actually.

Those who know me know how passionate I am about being the best instructor I can be. I have now taught over 900 indoor cycling classes. Some will say that is nothing compared to their 10 years of teaching but it is a lot for me. Approaching the big 1000!

I have taught at GymBox, FF, VA, Nuffield, GoodVibes, various corporate gyms, 37 Degrees & The Fitness Mosaic. Variety of people, bikes, sound systems, class length and expectations. I have taken many professional courses to date and more are still coming. I am off to a big fitness event:The Big One in Sheffield with some friends from FF Clapham Junction on 5th September (please contact me if you want to join us! http://www.chrysalispromotions.com/shop/products.php?product=The-Big-One-2015) Then a week later off to Manchester for a big conference on new media. Exciting stuff. Then finally in November the biggest cycling trip so far: Costa Rica, Panama & Nicaragua!

And all my hard work seems to be finally paying off with gyms now contacting ME to offer classes just based on referrals from other gyms and instructors.

That’s why I feel like I am finally ready for making the Big Leap in my career and moving into fitness. Full time? Probably not yet. But it’s becoming much more of a WHEN rather than IF question.

Why? There comes a point in your life when you have to make a choice: are you satisfied with comfortable life or do you want actual professional satisfaction and fulfilment? I now know where my passion is. And I have met the right people to help me make the leap.

Without getting too philosophical, I do believe that you meet certain people for a reason. So if you ever come across someone in real life or online and you have a strong feeling that you should get the person’s contact number, even if you were on your way out – go back and ask for the details. If you know the person’s name but it’s too late there and then – find them online. I have met one of the most influential people as far as my career path choice is concerned at a Barclays branch! She was my personal banker – accidentally became one. Then I found her on FB. Then after she had left the job we kept in touch and I visited her and her family on the Isle of Wight. Now she’s very much present in my professional development and she and her husband helped me make many important decisions. Including starting this blog! So thank you Izabela Russell!

Tyrese Gibson said: “People come to your life for a reason or for a season” and I agree. Many people in my life turned up for a reason but they only were in for a season – when I needed their help. Others have stayed.

Now, why would I even consider swapping a cushy office number for a freelance indoor cycling instructor job? With the unsteady hours, stupidly early or late classes, troublesome mikes etc. Honestly? If I were to only be an instructor – have my own workout in front of a bunch of people I have no connection with and get paid for it – I wouldn’t do it. But I love TEACHING, motivating people, being there when they have their “light bulb” moment, when they do a challenge and achieve their goals. The plan is to move into coaching, training etc. I also have got something else I have been researching for a while but I will tell you about it on a separate occasion.

And for stories like the one from this morning when I was covering a class. I asked about injuries and this girl put her hand up. I went over and she told me she had a wrist injury so it was hard for her to stay out of the saddle unless she put her weight on her left forearm.
I said: ‘Don’t worry there is not much time out of the saddle planned for today’.
‘Oh! are you one of THESE then?’
‘Pardon?’
‘One of these instructors that will make us stay in the saddle for 45minutes?’
I kind of ignored that one, gave her a smile and told her: ‘Don’t worry you will be fine’.
After the class ended she came over and asked if I had a regular class at that gym. I said: ‘Ermm, no. However THIS class will become my perm class in a few weeks’ time’.
‘Great!’ she said with a genuine smile. Then added:
‘Don’t get me wrong: I HATED IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH but you were so motivational and your energy was so high I pushed myself the extra mile. I think I have become a bit complacent in my classes. See you soon’. Another satisfied customer! (was a comment from Tony, one of my regulars)

Watch this space!

Testing. Testing 123? I’ve got the POWER! You’ve got WATT? I’ve got the COLOUR POWER!

This is a post relating to the last one from earlier this week: http://spinbella.com/2015/07/28/empower-your-spin-class-training-may-the-force-be-with-you/.

I wrote the last one as I had just tweaked my two existing class profiles to turn the focus in them onto power. I simply adapted them to Coach by Colour on MatrixIC7. Did it mean changing the music or what I was going to do with each of the songs? Not at all. It was about deciding what to say and what NOT to say so as to get the participants concentrate on how HARD they were actually working.

It can be a bit tricky if you are used to teaching using RPMs and RPE scale or even gears estimation, to suddenly have this EXTRA thing to talk about. It can throw you off as an instructor. Why? Because you have your way of saying things, directing people so the workout is still a group exercise class rather than each to their own. And now the bikes have consoles with all those numbers, percentages, zones, symbols like >, <, % and your head starts spinning (no pun intended).

First time I tried to integrate teaching with colours in my usual class I felt it was a mess. The feedback wasn't bad at all but I felt like the class was not up to my usual standards. I felt I didn't have enough time to explain about power enough for it to make sense, and adding just extra information on top of all I normally say was just information overload.

So I decided to take a break. I allowed people to get used to the consoles and setting the colours up if they wished but I wasn't coaching by colour. I would still use only RPMs and resistance. Then I did all the reading and training I mentioned in my last post. And a couple months later – last Tuesday to be exact – I felt ready.

And boy did it work!!! I lead from the colours and kept people focused on the WATTS and how that number was changing and why. I asked them to try and beat their highest number in each consecutive interval (before you bash me there were only 3 in each sequence). The feedback was overwhelming! I loved teaching it and people really worked their butts off. Numbers were reached which I would have never expected to see:

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11822814_477481169097835_2786048814718784313_n[1]

The main Takeway Golden Tip for instructors: in power focused training RPMs are/can be of less importance. Someone can be riding fast at 90 RPMs while someone else is on 68RPMs and they will both be in the same power zone depending on the resistance. It may look less “synchronised” but if you use Coach by Colour as long as the bikes light up in the colour you asked for, you know people are working as hard as you want them to (yes, you can train certain RPM brackets too but that’s another class).

Don’t get me wrong: I have loads to learn and knowledge is POWER 🙂 but a couple of months ago I simply didn’t know enough about this concept, didn’t understand it well enough to teach with it. But I am on my way. Onwards and upwards.

Now the ball is in your court as training with power only makes sense if you have a benchmark. What am I getting at? YOU NEED TO DO A POWER TEST. You need to know where you are currently at, to set yourself a target you want to head towards so you will know at any point in time where you are on that journey.

If you train on MatrixIC7 ask at your gym when the next ramp test is coming. If you work on any other bikes ask whether any kind of power tests are organised: FTP, PST, ramp tests, anything. If your gym doesn’t run any testing – suggest it. If enough people do, they may put something on.

You need a test to have the starting point and then retest every 3 months.

What if testing is not available? The next “best thing” on MatrixIC7 bikes would be experimenting over the next few classes with your colour zones. If you hit red in the warm up when your breathing doesn’t even change, your FTW number is way too low. If you hit red every time as soon as you stand up, your number is still too low – adjust it. But if you are giving it your 100%, feel like your heart is going to explode and you are panting like a steam train and you are still in yellow – your FTW number estimation was too high.

If you work on other bikes you can still have a go at doing an FTP20 test on a Wattbike.

Work with your instructor. Or even contact me here or via my FB page: Smart Fitness Izabela Ruprik if you want advice.

I am looking forward to my own testing at Cadence which has been put off due to me being ill for the past week. But I will share my experiences when I have done it. The 60s was Flower Power. It’s 2015 and we’re into Colour Power!

Empower your spin class training. May the force be with you!

I first heard the word POWER used in relation to indoor cycling when I had my basic instructor training on Wattbikes. Well, I have heard about power being used on Keiser bikes but I was not taught about how to use it, let alone teach with it.

So I learnt a bit about the concept of using power in your training on a Wattbike but there was an issue here – these bikes are fantastic for training but not so much for exercising. It’s like using an Aston Martin to nip up for milk to the corner shop. I ended up teaching the “old school” way on them: using the RPMs and resistance.

But then a gym where I have regular classes brought in those new shiny bikes that light up in different colours and have the most futuristic name to go with it: Matrix IC7. And the concept of POWER in cycling came up again. Like it or no Izabela – Welcome to Coaching with Colour.

I was a bit sceptical to begin with. There is loads of data that the bike feeds back to you but why would an average Joe be bothered with it? However since the bikes came in a couple of months ago I have done loads of reading, online research, online training and actual 2 day course on training with power in indoor cycling or cycling in general. There is still loads for me to learn but I feel ready to write this little guide directed as much at an average spin class attendee and someone who wants to take their fitness to another level. Or even an outdoor cyclist who may be a bit doubtful how sitting indoors can make them any stronger or better outside.

WHAT IS POWER? In simplest terms related to cycling: it’s your speed/cadence x your resistance/gear. It is measured in WATTS. The number of watts you produce is a MEASURE of how hard you are working. With no consoles you can only guess your speed and resistance. Do you want to see it?

I DON’T EVEN OWN A REAL BIKE SO WHAT DO I CARE ABOUT POWER?
I spoke to Ruth, one of my regulars and now more like a friend, last week in the changing rooms: “Hey Ruth, I haven’t seen you in the class today?”. “No, I had to change my gym routine. You see I started putting on weight again. I can see the change in my body. Cycling doesn’t seem to do it for me anymore. I am doing weight training now”. So Ruth used to do about 5 indoor cycling classes a week. On Tuesdays she would do both mine back to back. What happened then? Has she reached the level of too-fit-for-cycling? No but it is quite simple: we do not appreciate how clever our bodies are.

If from nothing you go to 2 classes a week with the intent of losing weight, you will lose it. To a point. Until your body gets used to your gym timetable. When I kept teaching more and more classes a week: 3-4-5-6 I was constantly hungry but I seemed to be able to eat loads and still lose weight. Now I am on 10 a week and I don’t anymore. Why? Because this is now a regular number. The body knows what is coming and it found a coping strategy. I hit the dreaded plateau. I can see you screaming: WHAT?! 10?! AND NOT LOSING WEIGHT!? I CAN’T DO MORE THEN 10?! And that’s not the way forward. You change the WHAT or HOW and you don’t have to change the HOW MUCH.

Yes, you can change your routine completely and move into weight training but what if you really, really like indoor cycling? You re-focus your training. Do you actually know how hard you are working? Do you know if you are any stronger on the bike than you were 3 months ago? Do you know what your strong and week points are?

NO STRESS – NO ADAPTATION.
Until the bikes with power meters came around we had really no way of measuring any of this. Now we can. Now you can test yourself and retest 3 or 6 months later and see if you got fitter. And by watching the numbers on the consoles and working towards your goals you can still keep the same number of classes a week and if your goal was to do with losing weight – you will keep losing it. I kid you not!

Don’t worry though: this does not only apply to HIIT classes. It doesn’t have to be all out effort each time.

WHAT DOES POWER TRAINING DO FOR ME?
It will increase your muscular strength. It will improve the toning of your legs (hello!). It will improve your cardiovascular fitness overall. It will add variety and motivation to your training: you will know what you are working towards and you will know when you get there. Hell, it will make you a better runner too! I can put you in touch with Russ who takes my classes twice a week and over the last 12 months his half marathon times improved significantly since he added indoor cycling to his fitness routine.

MAKE IT PERSONAL – SPECIFIC
Do you want to get stronger? On the Matrix bikes you keep to your colour zones and pay attention where you are in the zone: lower end or higher end. Maybe you want to get faster? When given an RPM bracket stick to the higher end – you can see your speed in a number format so you can monitor it.

IT ALL SOUNDS LOVELY. IT SOUNDS LIKE LOADS OF FUN. YAY!
DISCLAIMER: NO. IT CAN REALLY, REALLY SUCK. You know me. I tell it as it is. But it will get unpleasant. It will get uncomfortable. You will be panting and sweating more than what you are used to. Exercise can be fun. Training is great fun when you put it into use on a race day or when you achieve your goal in the class by hitting that RPM or that WATT number you were aiming for. A wide grin and a fist pump will come. Later. But not during. It is hard. Your brain will tell you: “Stop now, I don’t like it. Why? WHY? You could have been in a pub right now!” You will leave a puddle of sweat underneath your bike. When given a 2 min recovery song in an exercise class you go: “Oh God, 2min!? Boring! Let me check the view outside…” When you train you go: “Oh, God! 2min?! I need 4. Please, please can I have 2.5?!”.

Now in a group class environment you will always have yourself as the worst enemy. You will have that little devil on your left shoulder saying: “She can’t see you now… She doesn’t know what your goal is anyway… Take a bit of the resistance down… You know you can push 200 WATTS, you KNOW it. You don’t actually have to DO it now… Just scrunch your face so it looks like you are pushing it…” But at the end of the class when you press your SUMMARY button and see those numbers and actually see whether you have achieved your targets you will KNOW you won’t have to GUESS. I don’t need to see it. But YOU will.

WHY THEN? WHY?!
The key is knowing why you are training. You hear me ask this question at the start of many of my classes: “Why are you here? Why are you in an (often) hot studio, willing to sweat next to other 20 people instead of being somewhere nice, relaxing?”. “Why are you training?” is a bit of a broader question that will focus not on that one class but a few weeks or months. In simple terms in any sport you train to be faster or stronger while suffering less in the process. This will not apply if your goal is workout pain: unless you are sliding off the bike after every single class and have to be reminded where the changing rooms are you don’t consider the class good.

But if you want to know where you are at with your fitness, where you can or should take it to become better and you want to see in black and white (or colour) the journey and the results – welcome to the world of training with power.

Are you willing to take on the challenge? I am actually getting a coach myself and will be embarking on this fitness road with you so watch this space. Starting in a couple of weeks!

Meanwhile keep an eye on the next post coming: the importance of fitness testing when training with power.

Blowing my own trumpet – can’t help I am fabulous

You know I like to experiment. With music, class format, type of workouts etc. I spend hours scouring YouTube and Googling stuff that would shake things up in my indoor cycling class a bit. I have talked about music in one of my previous posts. Today I would like to talk about class format and workout types.

I read this article today and I couldn’t agree more: http://greatist.com/connect/militarization-fitness.
People feel that if they don’t get a whole body workout or all-out-gonna-puke indoor cycling session, they wasted 45 minutes. In indoor cycling it basically translates into HIIT interval session. What’s my take on it?

Personally I am not the biggest fan of HIIT as an instructor. I mean don’t get me wrong: this type of session has its place. It’s a great workout. From the instructor’s point of view though, taking into consideration my passion for teaching and helping people to gain new skills I find them somewhat tedious to teach. Oh my, I hope I won’t face a backlash here from both fellow instructors and participants 🙂

What I mean exactly is I would prepare the playlist and tell the riders: up, down, fast, recover, slow, run up this hill, recover etc. But my view is that for a really good and powerful interval session you need to be conditioned. Going all gung-ho with poor form and technique will just tire you out but you won’t gain half as much as from a more “boring” endurance session which will allow you to practice riding efficiently. Or a proper sprint training session. Or long hills.

If you take 3 or more classes a week and try to make them all HIIT sessions you face fatigue and possibly an injury.

A friend who teaches Pilates told me once she could never teach indoor cycling as there was nothing to teach. She couldn’t be more wrong, believe me.

I remember creating my first DIFFERENT session: warm-up, then 3 fast pace 80-90RPM songs followed by 15min hill climb. I was worried people will be bored with the first 20 minutes in the saddle but I was so wrong. The feedback was so positive. Or after the first class with a 30 min climb.

Which brings me to the main point. The feedback. You have no idea how important it is for an instructor. Now sometimes the energy is so high in the studio you don’t need any words. At other times you think throughout the class: “This is not working, they are looking bored. Why? It worked in the other group…” And one of the two things follow: despite your reservations people come to you after the class saying they thoroughly enjoyed it DESPITE looking like zombies 🙂 or this class just wasn’t right for this group. It may be the music, their fitness level, whether they are used to using their intrinsic motivation or maybe your own energy wasn’t there?

I always ask people for feedback. I say: “I am here for YOU not the other way round so if this is not what you want to do, please let me know”. Now mostly people who loved the class will come and speak to you. The ones who didn’t enjoy it just leave quickly. I make a point of trying to talk to these guys after the class, even in the changing rooms. I also give out my cards so they can FB me or e-mail me and I do give out questionnaires once or twice a year. These are anonymous and very helpful.

We as instructors need particularly the constructive criticism. We know we won’t be able to please everyone. I always make it clear at the start of the class what we will be doing and why. If this is not your favourite type of training just remember that by doing the things we don’t like doing we get better at them.

But if you didn’t enjoy the class because you found it boring as we did the same thing for 30min and I didn’t motivate you enough to keep focus, I talk too much, my instructions were not clear, you find using a video distracting etc I need to know so I can improve your experience and improve as an instructor. Maybe get some extra training.

I love positive feedback – let’s be honest, we all do! It’s great to hear my classes are different and that you love coming to them. This definitely tickles my ego and puts a smug smile on my face. But I know how to blow my own trumpet – I know I am fabulous. Runs in the family. What I need is for people to tell me the bad and the ugly. So please don’t be afraid to speak up. Bother me anytime.

It’s your workout – make sure you are working out

I had a last minute cover today in a gym I used to be a member of. I like the crowd and I think they like me too because I always get asked if I teach a regular class there. Unless they want make sure they don’t accidentally run into my class ever again 🙂

Today as per my motto “keep it real” we climbed for about 30min. Mostly steady with a few hill attacks. Now bike set up is always important but in a class where you spend 50% of your time climbing and 80% of that time in the saddle, if your bike looks like a cruiser (or I call it Boris bike) it will: impede your performance, get your upper body tired, you won’t be able to really give your best because sitting upright in the saddle you haven’t got much power in your legs.

And if you can’t really challenge yourself then it’s a very long and boring 60 minutes. I did emphasise all this before we started. I went through the set up, walked around checking those who asked and some who didn’t. Still you can never reach everyone individually.

But there was a girl whose set up was so wrong, I assumed there must be a medical reason for it. I walked up to her during the class and asked her to chat to me at the end. And she did so I asked: “Do you have any medical issues, lower back or disk problems that you should have told me about? Is there any reason your bike is set up this way? You were very uncomfortable, your arms were getting tired etc. You really need to correct it.” The response that came back just took me aback: ” Yeah, yeah, I know. I am sitting too low, my handlebars are too high. I know.” Followed by a disarming smile and a shrug.

If you are actually AWARE your set up is wrong and not good for you, you know WHAT the problems are, why are you choosing not to correct them?!

And guess what, I think I figured it out. People associate hard, challenging workout with being uncomfortable. If you are uncomfortable just because of your set up you simply can’t exert yourself to the level you would if it was correct. Hence you have a great excuse to take it easy on yourself WHILE STILL feeling uncomfortable and exhausted. Yes, the main parts that are exhausted are your upper body and poor hip flexors but your body aches so it must have been a good class, right? You are sweating buckets so you are working hard, right?

Well, I hate to break it to you but no. That fact that a muscle aches doesn’t mean it is getting stronger and isn’t that why you train? If you carry your weekly shopping home and it takes you and your 7 bags 20 minutes to reach home, by which point your arms feel like they are 10 inches longer, does it mean you can skip the Bodypump class you planned to attend? If you pick up 1lbs weight and do bicep curls for 10min, will your arm be tired? Yes. Will you have made any lasting effect on it as in helped to build it and make it stronger? No.

The answer to the sweating argument? There are 17 people in a closed room with no air con, just massive alien looking units that blow super humid air at the temperature of 23 degrees right in your face: You will sweat even by thinking hard…

So next time whatever class or workout you do, listen to your body and be honest with yourself. It’s your workout. You are only going to get out of it what you put in…

But this is for cyclists – there are no cyclists in my class. They won’t get it!

As I was signing in at the reception before my Friday lunchtime class, the group exercise manager who was covering reception said to me: “You know, I am thinking of coming to your class. If I do though, it’s probably only going to be 20min because my break is short but I will sit next to the door so I can sneak out.” Management watch alert!

And she made it in. As per the plan we did a warm up, a couple of preparation songs and went into a 20 minute climb. Both standing and sitting but no breaks as such. RPE 7-8 even a bit of 9 at the end of the 4th song. It was a tough class mentally since people had to push themselves for a long period of time with no gimmicks – just in and out of the saddle.

I love leaving people to find their own motivation. I have read this phrase on Cuez that you use before a long climb: “You now have 7 minutes uphill. Stay in the saddle as much as you can but if you need a break stand up. Now our roads split here. You are going right and I am going left. I will come to check up on you half way through but then I will see you at the top!” Then I take off my mike and walk around giving people 121 attention when needed. Or even just thumbs up if they are doing a cracking job.

I know some instructors or even gym managers say: you can’t leave the group to its own devices. People get their motivation from looking at the instructor. They will get lost.

OK, but I am not leaving the room. I walk around it. Before I do, I give clear instructions so people know what speed to keep, they have heard me talk about posture and pedal strokes about 10 times by then. It’s just sitting in the saddle, pedalling. I don’t expect them to do discover a new position.
They also get 121 attention without anyone else hearing what I say to them. Sometimes I just tap their shoulders and they immediately relax them, I make a pedal stroke movement with my foot and they correct their foot position.

What is equally important is that those few minutes of just music and beat without my voice is very much appreciated by those who want to get in the zone. And it’s not easy not to talk. I leant that unless I leave my mike behind, I can’t resist the temptation.

I believe it’s important to enable people, teach them the intrinsic motivation so they don’t need you to talk to them throughout the 45minutes.

This 121 time allows you to give people personal feedback at the end of the class too.

I have learnt that if you leave the group with the right message it works like a charm: “You know how long it’s going to be. You know it will be tough. It’s getting personal now – just you and your bike. You and that little voice in your head telling you that you can’t do it. Prove it to yourself! Are you up a hill? Really? If you are not pushing your limits this will be the longest and most boring 7 minutes of your life. Embrace the discomfort.”

I had a new guy come to me after today’s class to thank me for a great challenge and the manager, who actually stayed until the end , came up to me saying those magic words that I appreciate so much: “That was a great class. It was proper cycling. I loved it!”

So you see, attention to technique or making people do “same” thing for 20minutes at a time doesn’t have to be boring. It took me 12 months to build up this class from 2-3 participants to a waiting list but I did it just by making them cycle. And they do get it.