It’s getting hot in herre so take off all your clothes!

We have all been there both as instructors and participants: an indoor cycling studio with an insufficient or broken air con system. Or a non-existent one. Or one that is set up to a temperature that is way too high for 45 people riding bikes.

Tony, who you learned a bit about in my last blog, recently picked up on that and asked me to write about it. We aim to please, so Tony here it is.

Anyone who has ever been to an indoor cycling class knows how warm the studio feels a few minutes into the class and how hot it gets half way through. And it generally does not matter how big the space is or whether it is full or not. Yes, it will partially depend on WHAT PROFILE people are riding and HOW HARD they are working. But the main WHY is simple: cycling is a strenuous cardiovascular exercise that by its nature raises the body temperature.

Hence even if the studio feels really cool when you walk in and you even resort to keeping your long sleeve top on or you towel over your shoulders, within the first few minutes of the warm up you notice the difference.

Now if you ask 5 random people in any indoor cycling class how they feel about their studio being not ventilated properly or getting really hot really quickly I guarantee you will have responses varying from: “that’s the nature of the class”, “it should feel really hot, shouldn’t it?”, “if the mirrors steam up that mean we are working really hard!” to “I feel like I can’t work as hard as I know I can if it’s too hot”. So which on is it?

IS IT THE CASE OF THE HOTTER THE BETTER THEN?

You know heat will raise your HR (heart rate). The important thing to understand is that that increase in HR has nothing to do with working harder. It makes your body work harder at the same power output just to deal with the heat.

Say what? Basically if you trained on a bike with a computer where you could see the power output in Watts and your HR, if the room was so hot your HR would raise as a result, you would sweat more and feel more tired (no doubt) but your Watts number would stay the same or lower.

What I mean is that your PERCEPTION may be that you worked much harder than usual! But the numbers will prove that you actually produced the same OR LESS power or if your focus is calories, you would have burnt the same number of calories (OR LESS) as in a class with air con on, lower HR and not feeling spent.

Let me say it this way: the higher HR may actually mean YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO WORK OUT HARD ENOUGH, SO IT REDUCES YOUR ABILITY TO TRAIN AT YOUR FULL POTENTIAL.

The misconception that the higher HR the better is the reason why many people love taking classes where they are encouraged to ride at crazy speeds (over 120RPM) without much resistance. It raises their HR significantly, making them sweat buckets hence the conclusion they draw is: this is a great workout. These ideas mainly thrive in places where bikes have no consoles and people don’t question their instructors.

If they had numbers in front of them they would see that higher speed makes the HR go up but all the important numbers down. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s much less comfortable to work up a sweat going at 80-90RPM with a decent resistance than 100-120RPM when it’s the bike that is riding you rather than the other way round… Yes, I have said it.

A good quality certification will cover the issue of thermo-regulation and the dangers of body overheating. That’s why I found it shocking that some boutique studios market “Hot Cycling” classes where they purposefully raise the studio temperature to seemingly make you burn more calories.

The argument for taking these hot cycling classes are that you warm up faster and sweating profusely will get rid of toxins in the body. I would say you risk mild cramps (unless you hydrate properly) and also unless you allow long cooldown and stretch, if you just run out of the studio like many people do, your muscles may just seize up which never feels nice.

I have made the joke: “Welcome to Bikram cycling!” a few times when we were faced with no air con from the start but I would not try telling my participants that this class would make them work harder due to the temperature of the studio.

Quite opposite: apart from reminding people to keep hydrated I have been known to change the class profile either half way through or from the start. I cannot expect people to do sprints or go for a HIIT class when there is simply not enough oxygen in the room to perfom these at the level required.

To quote an article from a medical professsional on from WebMD: “If the body can no longer cool itself, it starts storing heat inside. The core temperature begins to rise and you put your internal organs at risk”.

You may say: “Gee Izabela, you are exagerrating!” Well, if we are talking about a recreational rider who really is not pushing themselves that hard and not training to higher HR or power zones then maybe. But if they have high blood pressure issues or are pregnant, the risks are real.

You may say: but people cycle outside in high temperatures all the time! Yes, but if you have ever done that you know that the actual movement creates cooling airflow. Let me remind you: in indoor cycling class your bike is stationary.

MY ADVICE:

  1. Remember that higher HR does not automatically mean harder work. HR is body’s response to what you put it through and not a measure of your effort.
  2. If you are or may be pregnant or suffer from high blood pressure and the studio is too hot, please let the instructor know.
  3. Hydrate and listen to your body.

The Big One – Sheffield, 5th September 2015

We are back from Sheffield. This was my 3rd fitness showcase this year and I really enjoyed it. Especially that I finally managed to get a couple of friends to go with me. That’s how the three musketeers (Serena, Tony and I) found ourselves on the 6:37am from St Pancras to Sheffield yesterday. Not without trouble, mind you. Serena changing her mind about coming the last second, me going to the wrong station in the morning…

Anyway we had ambitiously all signed up to 5 sessions each a few weeks ago when booking the event. In my case it was 4 indoor cycling classes and PiYo (Pilates and yoga combination). But life always gets in the way somehow. Serena had had a tough week with a new qualification course and assessment, I had 2 weeks of 12 classes a week in a row with no day off. Hence on the 6:37am train we were a bit dubious of how the day would unfold, secretly hoping for a sauna or a lie-down area at the venue…

We took a cab from the station and headed for The English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. What a venue! Massive building with an indoors athletics track (full of kids having some sort of games or training), numerous studios, weights area, a whole room full of boxing rings etc. Pictures of locals like Jessica Ennis-Hill on the walls 🙂 It was so big you had an impression that there weren’t that many people attending the event itself.

The organisation was top notch. Registration area where we got our tickets, certificate of attendance etc was very well organised and surrounded by a few stalls selling fitness clothes, music, sound systems and the like.

You get this on arrival and registration

You get this on arrival and registration

Sheffield presenters

We headed for our first class – we all booked the same cycling class. We were late but thankfully they hadn’t started yet.

As we walked in they were 1 bike short and mine and Serena’s faces lit up (yes, you have read it right) so we each said: “Oh, shame. Don’t worry about me. You take the bike. I’ll just watch” while thinking: “YES! I can WATCH it and give my legs a rest!”. But the organisers swiftly came up with extra 2 bikes so we were both back on.
The instructor was Doyle Armstrong – a guy that I talked to over the phone and Facebook countless times but have never actually met. He is the one who told me about the whole event in the first place.

I must admit I was disappointed when I learnt a couple of weeks ago that the bike were not going to be MatrixIC7 but Technogym. I really wanted to see pros teach on Matrix. But it was a very good class nevertheless.

Doyle used My Ride video system so we didn’t have to visualise but could actually see the terrain we were supposed to ride through. The video was very good and Doyle’s sense of humour came through when throwing in little challenges that were tying up very well to what we were seeing.

Shame my legs were refusing to cooperate. And judging from the evil glances I was getting from Serena in the back row, her legs were on the same page. Both our sweaty faces seems to be saying: “3 more cycling classes today?! No way!”. Tony was soldiering through but then we all know: TONY IS NOT HUMAN.

The class was over. I went over to Doyle to introduce myself and was greeted with: “I know you’re Izabela!”. Underestimated the FB pictures again 🙂  Then it was Tony’s turn to head for the Kettlebells class and us two… well, we headed for… cafeteria…

OK, the little cafe was cozy but not big enough for the number of people there on the day. That was the only negative I can mention.

After a breakfast we headed to the registration area to swap our cycling classes tickets for something less strenuous. We signed up for an Old Skool Garage Jams and Shredded Body (?!). We also managed to both buy some useful instructors’ items.

Good prize and finally could see the actual size of the mic windshields before buying them!

Good price and finally could see the actual size of the mic windshields before buying them!

Man, the dance class was great! Garage music is so much fun. There were people of all ages. No wonder I get so many requests for garage music in my classes. The choreo was demanding though. At least for me. And as the class progressed every time we heard: “From the top!” Serena and I would look in horror at each other: “What is the top!? That was like hours ago!”.

The instructor Jo Parry-Ali was full of energy, infectious smiles and boy can this girl move! And on top of this she makes harem pants look cool when I can make them look like an oversized PJs in the best case.

10390473_493104747535477_2228720714220046380_n[1]

Then it was lunchtime. Armed with Google Maps we decided to look for a health food place called Nando’s… It took a while to get there and then by the time we found the way back filled up with nutritious chicken the chance of taking the Shredded class was just as likely as teaching it… Another short break. We looked exhausted. I was getting cramps in my adductors. Serena stretched out on the sofa in the canteen. Tony… bought a sandwich. But then we know: TONY IS NOT HUMAN.

Then it was time for next class. I was overjoyed with the prospect of lying down on my mat just a bit worried that if there will be too much yoga and relaxation nobody would be able to wake me up.

The instructor Rachel Holmes turned up wearing the most funky and colourful leggings I have ever seen. She was all colours, smiles and toned muscles. She clearly knew loads of people in the class.

And off we went. And I must say: I needed this class. Beautiful stretching, challenging core work and realisation that hit home: I need to do it regularly. My hamstring are so tight it is insane. Rachel does daily workouts on Periscope. You should definitely check her out. The class went in a flash.

We were all signed up for the final class. But just like a few other people that I saw walking around or sitting slumped up exhausted and yawning we decided to take a rain check. we headed off to the town instead. We only had like 40min before the train back to London but Sheffield town centre is so nice, clean and open spaced. We loved it.

SheffieldSheffield Tony
The train trip home was a right laugh. And don’t judge us. Yes, we had drinks on the train. Yes, Tony accidentally belched as loud as a Canadian moose prompting us to almost combust with laughter and embarrassment.

All in all it was a great event. Very good value for money as the whole day of classes was only £30. The train booked in advance cost us around £35 return. Nando’s around £10… Gin & Tonic £2.20…

I was overjoyed with the thought of having a day off today and so was Serena. I woke up at 8:45am after 10 hours sleep with the thought: I DON’T NEED to be ANYWHERE today! Serena is spending time with the family. And Tony? Tony had a Bodypump class at 9:15. But then we all know: TONY IS NOT HUMAN.

5 Top Tips to Maximise Your Indoor Cycling Workout

It’s a very miserable bank holiday Monday. It has been raining all night and it still is. Breakfast done, soup for dinner is already on the stove and now just having an hour or so of me time before I cover a class in my local gym.

It has been a very busy week. Two classes almost every day plus I finally had my fitness testing session at Cadence. I must say I am really happy with the results as in most areas tested I am on a “trained athlete’s” level. Now the challenge will be to fit the training session into my day. Fingers crossed.

Today I wanted to talk about something that we as instructors witness and mention very often especially if you teach across many different locations: how to maximise the effects of your indoor cycling session. It all comes down to a few top tips. these are relevant at whatever your level as a rider.

Let’s crack on then:

1. BIKE SET UP.
I am like a broken record: I go through it at the start of EVERY class. I walk around and check it individually and then go through it again with the group. Please follow it. PROBLEM: with the wrong set up you can’t work as hard as you would otherwise, you risk discomfort and over time injury. SOLUTION: ask your instructor. In many cases people say: “I have it like that because I have back problem”. I often respond: “You have a back problem BECAUSE you sit that way”. It doesn’t apply to everyone but it does to many.

2. YOUR FITNESS GEAR – WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?
This is crucial. There is so much available in terms of gym clothes out there we are spoilt for choice. Even price wise. Yet still many people make basic mistakes.

First, wearing cotton T-shirts. PROBLEM: they get soaking wet in the more often than not incredibly hot studios. That means that they get heavy, you get very hot or very cold very quickly especially if you sit close to an air con vent. SOLUTION: get a proper moisture wicking gear that will transform your experience.

Second, wearing long sleeve tops and long trousers. Some people wear these because they want to sweat more and as a result burn more calories. PROBLEM: if you overheat your body, you cannot work as hard as you would if you were able to keep cooler. If you want to do a long endurance ride – same tempo without many surges or intervals then probably you can get away with it. Otherwise you are not doing yourself any favours. SOLUTION: I know some people feel cold when they enter a studio and only after the warm up they realise they may be overdressed: wear layers so you can take the long sleeve top off for the class and put it back on for the cool down/stretching.

Next is wearing loose trousers with wide leg. PROBLEM: have you seen people cycling outside with one leg of their trousers folded up or wearing a funny rubber thingy over their ankle? There is a reason for it: the trouser leg may get entangled in the pedal.

3. WHAT IS THAT ON YOUR FEET? PLIMSOLLS?!
My advice to anyone who takes even just 2 indoor cycling classes per week but regularly, to invest in the cycling shoes with cleats. Yes, they will set you back about £60-£70 at least but you will never look back after wearing them. And they will last you a couple of years at least (provided they are not the cheapest thing out there). I have seen people come to the class wearing normal trainers, MTB shoes, plimsolls and the barefoot running rubber-thingies. PROBLEM: with all these shoes are the soles. MTBs just don’t fit in the cages. Plimsolls or very thing soled trainers just don’t give you enough support and when you are to do a standing or seated climb with a lot of resistance your foot will arch. That means you are facing discomfort in the class, pain and over time even an injury.

Even wearing a good pair of trainers you will always face the dreaded STRAPS that are to hold your foot in the cage. These are very often broken or keep getting loose during the class and you need to stop to tighten them up.

When wearing the cycling shoes your foot will always be positioned in the right way above the pedal, you will be able to actually pull from your heel rather than just push down as you are one with the pedal. They will take some getting used to – especially clipping in and out 🙂 but they are so worth it.

4. THAT’S A BUMMER.
Yes, the bum. PROBLEM: We spend a lot of time sitting on it in a class. And no, it is not comfortable. The level of discomfort comes as a real shock to many beginners. After the first class (or if you only do one a week) you need to remember not to sit on hard surfaces for a couple of days after the class… People try to deal with it in different ways. Some fold a towel over the saddle. I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. The other week I have witnessed for the first time in 3 years someone who goes as far as to keep on his feet the whole 45 minutes rather than sit down on such an uncomfortable surface.

SOLUTION: first and foremost bike set up. That answer is like “switch it on and off” in IT 🙂 Then try taking 2-3 classes a week even for a couple of weeks. It should get the derriere used to the idea. Otherwise there are gel seats or those padded shorts. If you decide to go with the shorts make sure they are well fitted.

5. I AM NOT A SCIENTIST. I AM NOT A PRO ATHLETE. I AM NOT INTERESTED.
Did you guess what this one is about? The computer consoles on bikes. Thankfully, more and more gyms are putting in new generation bikes that are giving us back loads of valuable data so we can actually see where we are at in terms of fitness and whether we are getting any better.

PROBLEM: For many people suddenly having a screen with many (sometimes too many) numbers feels like they can no longer have fun in the class. Now it’s all Watts’s this and Watt’s that 🙂

SOLUTION: if you take part in a power oriented class these numbers are vital to know how hard you should be working. However, you are always free to ignore them and follow other clues from your instructor like keep to the beat of the music, make sure it feels like a hill/flat etc. You may not care about the number of Watts you are producing and that is fair enough. However, you can always benefit from tracing your speed – RPM.

As an instructor I am thrilled to have these tools available so I can vary the focus of my classes. I used to do cadence/speed drills on the old school bikes and they did work well. But now when you can actually SEE what speed you are at and can keep yourself in check rather than GUESS whether you have slowed down or not, it makes for such a better and more challenging workout.

What I am saying is having a bike with a console only to put a towel over it for the whole class is like getting an Aston Martin or a Ferrari and just drive it at 20mph to the local corner shop and back. Just give it a chance, see what it can do. You don’t have to use all the gadgets. Also as the instructors do use these numbers more and more, you may feel a bit excluded having to work out where you should be while everyone else is just following a number.

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:

11694099_477481189097833_7766179013818827299_n[1]

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!

Top Tip for instructors: Never Stop Learning

It’s late. It has been a long weekend. The weather was stunning. Not that I could make any good use of it as I was stuck inside a meeting room most of those two days with the exception of getting into the spin studio a few times. Yes, this weekend I attended a @Spinning training called SpinPower so I really wish it could be Sunday again tomorrow 🙂

But let’s get to the point: was the training any good? Why did I do it? Wouldn’t I benefit more from resting or maybe cycling outside topping up my fading Croatian suntan? I have done enough training with well recognised bodies to teach in most places. There are people who have been teaching indoor cycling for much longer than I have and they only have their original training to their name. Surely it would be enough?

The answer is quite simple: as a fitness instructor, indoor cycling instructor or PT you should always try and stay on top of your game. Sports science has made incredible progress in the last 10 years. High end technology and testing that used to be reserved for top end athletes are now available to anyone who wants to try it as long as they can afford it. The bikes that you end up teaching on introduce new concepts and new technology which gets upgraded on a regular basis.

As an instructor I find myself embarrassed if I turn up to cover a class and cannot set up the console on the bike or people expect me to use the software provided and hear me say: “Sorry, I have never used that before. I don’t know how it works”. Yes, you may not always have the opportunity to get proper training on all bike types and visual display systems but I would advise you before accepting a cover to always ask what type of bike and technology the studio uses and what software system you would be expected to operate. This way even if you have never used it before and you have not been trained, you avoid the “WTF” expression when you face the group who are probably already not happy as they wanted their usual instructor.

The course I attended this weekend was very informative and opened my eyes to what else I can do in 3 of my regular weekly classes which are taught on this specific bike Spinner Blade Ion with power consoles. Does that mean that what I have been teaching in these classes for the past year was wrong? No. It’s just that there is so much more in terms of actual training rather than just making people exercise and monitoring their results that can be done.

Since my initial qualification almost 3 years ago I have done 4 additional courses plus various workshops both live and online to help me practice my skills and gain new ones.

I constantly find there is so much to learn about indoor cycling. Now I just have to work on learning how to convey more of that knowledge into meaningful and simple to understand messages that would help my participants to learn something new about their body, energy systems used and simply how to get better, stronger and fitter and be able to measure it.

It is a challenge to pass important and relevant information without breaking into a 10 minute lecture. As Sandro the instructor today said: “You have to know your shit”. And you have to know it well so you can explain it in a few ways so that various people will get it: some like numbers and formulae, some just need and explanation. But to do it while teaching an indoor cycling class is a skill that comes with loads of practice.

It is always so frustrating when a great piece of technology is made available to the instructors but due to lack of training it is all abandoned and forgotten and a state of the art bike console with all various useful numbers that can help you monitor your fitness levels, is used purely for RPM tracking.

I am aware of how much there is still for me to learn and I wish I could devote all my time to learning and teaching without spending 8 hours Monday to Friday in an office. Oh well, that just means I need to be patient.

Have I learnt anything new? I sure have: training (as in proper training with power when you work hard and you actually know what number HARD represents so it is no longer a guesstimate) is bloody exhausting. But it is also rewarding. And knowing what number you have to aim for to become better is a great motivator. I also happened to benefit from the years and years’ of Sandro’s experience as a coach and a former athlete and got a great tip about my own riding technique. And just this golden nugget was worth spending today indoors. And being on the receiving end of an indoor cycling class helps you to understand what it feels like to people who come to take their first class, it helps you remember that what feels natural to you is very overwhelming to beginners.

What is more, talking to someone and learning from someone who clearly is so much more knowledgeable than you is a good reminder how far you still have to go.

You never stop learning, that’s for sure.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. find out what it means to me

We are all guilty of that. We are all busy trying to fit a workout around the busy lifestyle so if we spend 45min in a class all we want is to be out of the door ASAP, 30sec shower and we want to be on our way.

We don’t think it’s that important. I am fine I don’t have any aches or pains. I don’t need it. What am I talking about? The ugly sisters of a workout: COOLDOWN & STRETCH.

I started using a phrase from Cuez at the end of my classes: “Now is the time to say THANK YOU to your legs for doing such a great job. Respect your body. Allow it to go back to the resting mode. Don’t just jump off the bike and go.”

Some will say that the 2 min after the class is not enough anyway. Well, maybe not but in 90% of the cases this is all stretching the people will do, so it’s better than nothing.

I used to think that I had to pack my class with the workout itself and people would be getting impatient if the warm up or cool down were too long. Now I know these two elements are so important for the quality of the class and the experience overall that I don’t compromise on these. Well sometimes. In 1% of the cases. If for some reason I get delayed.

My warm up is at least 2 songs. One sitting with increasing resistance, one with a slight incline where we practice standing up. Nice and easy hill 64-66RPM. That’s for a mixed class. If we are going into long climbs – as in over 20 min uphill – I will use at least 4 songs to gradually prepare the participants.

The cool down is usually 2 songs as well: easy ride to get the HR down in first and get off the bike in the second. Yes, there will always be those running or walking out as soon as you mention easing off. I stopped worrying about them and instead focus on the ones who do stay behind. I also recommend stretching outside of the studio using the foam rollers etc.

From time to time I mention that getting a sports massage as a great way of rewarding yourself. And I find it really strange when people think this is a waste of money or when they give me the impression that they are too tough for that with a dismissive: “Naah!”

I have a regular who is around mid 40s and plays any sport imaginable: squash, tennis, he runs, takes about 8 spin classes a week and then jumps on the trampoline with the kids. Yeah, I know. No, he works full time. He has a few bad habits when it comes to indoor cycling like freezing his upper body and sprinting with not enough resistance, that I have been trying to correct for months. I warned him that these might cause him lower back issues in the long run. And about 2 months ago the “I told you so” moment arrived. I advised him to see a physio or at least get a sports massage. Every week I would ask him how he was and every week I would hear: “No change” yet he wouldn’t go to get help.

Why is that? Maybe because he was worried he would be told to slow down? Or maybe he was worried he was going to be told: “Well, you are not exactly a spring chicken…” I also blame the culture that plagues the fitness industry of all or nothing workout: you have to be nearly sick every time the 45min is up! You gotta man up! No pain no game!

We had an interesting discussion with two of my regulars today about different instructors and the different types of classes we teach. I teach interval/all out classes once every few weeks but they are not my favourite to teach. I always feel like unless I have a group at the same experience level (not fitness, just technique, ability to stand up, understanding what a sprint is), such a class may be great for regulars but a car crash for newbies. Hence if I do it every so often and then make other classes focus on other elements giving people a chance to learn how to do it safely and efficiently, they will get better next time. If I did all out class EVERY time, when would I teach? This is again about respecting your body and conditioning it for a HIIT class.

I am currently running a TDF challenge where people earn points for the cycling classes they attend. But they get extra points for attending as many Pilates, Yoga or Bodybalance classes too. When I ran my 4 months challenge at the end of last year, the mission was to complete 50 classes in 120 days. One of the options was to do 25 cycling classes and 25 any other classes on the timetable. Many people tried yoga and Pilates and actually stuck with these after the challenge was over. They quickly realise the benefits.

I created a Cycling Clinic workshops which I delivered last year too. These included a section of stretching for cyclists. I wish we could all go out after each class and do 15 min stretch. But if you lack ideas, there is a great book out there called Yoga for Cyclists by Lexie Williamson. I took a workshop with this lady before the book was released. I really enjoyed it and the book is a great resource.

So guys, please listen to the Queen of Soul. She may not have had cycling (definitely not Soul Cycle) in mind when she was singing this but it’s a fitting closing to this post 🙂

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.