10 Instructor Tips To Convert Indoor Cycling Newbies Into Regulars (Part 2)

And here come the other 5 tips ūüôā as a follow up to the previous post that you can read here.

  1. 1:1 ATTENTION

It can be challenging if you have more that 3-4 beginners especially if they are dotted around the studio. I encourage new people to sit in front by saying:

“No point in going to the back to hide – I walk around so I will see you anyway ūüôā If you sit in front you can see me clearly and I can give you corrections. Plus it’s scientifically proven that you burn 25% more calories in the front 3 rows because you are trying to look good! But it’s your choice ūüôā

If this is your first class your mission is to ENJOY THE MUSIC and make sure you feel like you are DOING SOMETHING. If your breathing is changing and you are sweating – you’re doing the right thing. The rule is: FEELS LIKE NOTHING – YOU ARE DOING NOTHING”

The balancing act of giving attention to those who need it most – read: beginners – without the others feeling like you have abandoned them is a tough one. And I will be honest with you,¬†I can’t imagine doing that from my bike. I have to get off and walk around.

I almost always have a long endurance track in my profiles 6-9min. I tell people what they need to do. Clear and simple:

“80-100RPM, steady tempo, RPE7. Resistance high enough so you have to fight a bit¬†for your chosen RPM. If you are doing it right in the next 3min you will hear your breathing and a puddle of sweat will start forming under your bike. If none of these is happening – adjust your resistance or speed.”

These are perfect¬†to switch the mike off and walk around. When I see beginners struggle (especially with no consoles) I describe with more detail how they should feel. then ask them: “Ok personal challenge for you: when the clock gets to 0:30 you push harder for 30sec then back off. Then again”.

I prefer this to saying: do whatever you feel like you can do, listen to your body etc. Let’s be honest, if you have never done this and it feels hard your body will tell you one thing – THAT’S TOO HARD. TAKE IT EASY. LET’S STOP FOR CRYING OUTLOUD!

I still want them to feel like they are taking the class and not doing their own.

Make sure however that every minute or two you say something to the whole group so they know you are still with them.

  1. PERMISSION TO STAY SEATED
Cyclist with stuck seat.

Cyclist with stuck seat.

The only thing I always allow first timers is to stay seated the whole class. Yes, it makes it more uncomfortable on the bum but some people really need to build some base pedalling technique and get an understanding of resistance to stand up.

“When we stand up, feel free to try. Remember you always need to add resistance before you do stand up. When you get up if you feel out of control or it feels awkward, try adding resistance. If it still feels wrong¬†or you’re not sure what I want from you – just stay in the saddle”

  1. CUEING – VISUAL & VERBAL

When you are not used to loud music with instructor talking over it, and you have this resistance knob to think of then keeping up with the beat, breathing and staying alive all at the same time makes understanding the instructor one thing too many. And if people around start doing different things it can all get too much for a beginner.

As an instructor use your face, exaggerated movements, point to elbows, knees, get off and mimic pedal stroke from the side. Do anything to get your message across.

Choose your music wisely to help yourself – get some instrumental tracks giving you space to explain stuff.

Get them ready: my warm ups always have a flat fast track first to cue the form. Then there is a slow hill to cue the standing form. Don’t get into a standing run straight away.

  1. CONSOLES/POWER METER

Do you remember your first spin class as a participant? I lasted about 2min. There was no set up. We went into a crazy speed (or I did at least, I had no clue and no direction) straight away. I left and it took me almost 2 years to try again. That was on an old school bike and I used to cycle outdoors as a kid.

Nowadays we have great bikes with monitors. Yesss! Or is it? Some of them have bright colours and all of them have sh******* of numbers on them! Imagine how the first timer feels walking into a studio with 45 bikes, loads of people wearing lycra, some funny noisy shoes, punching loads of data into the bikes, and they all seem to know what they are doing…

When I get complete beginners and I have consoles like on MatrixIC7, I do not set them on coach by colour. I leave the basic screen on with only¬†the basic data. And I explain that¬†they can go by the beat or by RPM (I ride to the beat most of the time, with options for those in-the-know ūüôā ).

“Top left hand corner is your speed. I will give you¬†a¬†direction like 80-90 or 64-66RPM and you can either check your numbers or if it is too much, you just listen to the music. It’s the same thing.¬†Top right is your resistance. You start around 20%. Every time you add or take off you just feel a slight¬†difference in your legs and match the beat.”

On other basic consoles I only use RPM.

  1. FEEDBACK

I always give group feedback in the cool down as we ride out for 1-2min.

“Congratulations to the first timers! It wasn’t easy. Reality check: it never gets any easier, you just push harder (wink wink)”.

Then I give 1:1 when necessary or when I get a chance. Good, bad and the ugly. It makes people realise you care and you actually watch them work. Even if they were in the back row.

These are my tips. Anything that you could add? Any tried and tested methods?

 

 

10 Instructor Tips To Convert Indoor Cycling Newbies Into Regulars (Part 1)

This post has been inspired by one on ICA page which you can read here if you are a member (and if you are an indoor cycling instructor but not a member I would recommend you become one).

It’s about the challenge we group exercise instructors face when new people come to our classes. And this topic is extremely relevant as January approaches and the New-Year-Resolution-Stampede is about to take place.

Queues outside the studios, face offs, cat fights for the bikes, the regulars getting peeved that THEIR bikes are taken, etc. It is always fun. You know it will last 3-5 weeks and things will be back to normal though.

"I'm really serious about exercising. Last year I only went to the gym twice, once to join and once to renew."

“I’m really serious about exercising. Last year I only went to the gym twice, once to join and once to renew.”

 

But wouldn’t it be nice to actually convert some of these newbies into regulars? As an instructor you only have those first 2-3 classes (sometimes only that first one) to leave an impression positive enough to make people stick with the classes throughout those first tough few weeks.

Here are my 10 tips that will help you do just that. And they apply to both January Madness and any other time of year. Oh, and yes, you ALWAYS get a new person (or a couple) in each class throughout the year but in January 30% of your group may be people who have never been on an indoor bike.

This post includes 5 and further five are coming next.

  1. BIKE SET UP

If you don’t pay attention to the set up and don’t instil its importance in the participants from day one, you risk them getting into bad habits at best and not coming back EVER at worst.

Do you remember how much your backside hurt the fist time? Or second? Or really until you started doing 3 classes a week or more? It can put you off completely. Therefore make sure you take time setting the bike up so they suffer for all the right reasons only ūüôā

TO DO THAT YOU MUST ARRIVE TO YOUR CLASS¬†AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE…

I also finish classes saying:

“Your butts are going to hurt. Maybe not today but tomorrow. You can’t help that. Don’t sit on hard surfaces. If you have another 5-10min stretch properly outside the studio so you can at least save your legs”.

“Give yourself 2-3 classes with different instructors, different times of day before you decide if you hate spin or not”.

2. BEGINNERS HANDOUTS

I have a great hand out that gives advice about shoes, clothes, bike set up etc plus included my contact details in case they have questions. I give these out at the end of the class.

I encourage new faces to come early or stay a bit after the class to check the bike and put down the numbers on the hand out. They can then transfer them onto their phones so next time they come they can set themselves up. It gives them more confidence in the second class.

3. GET FAMILIAR WITH THE BIKES – MAINLY RESISTANCE

I encourage people to use the studio (if the gym permits it, or bikes on the main floor) when there are no classes. Now they know their set up, they can ride with their own music and play with that resistance trying to keep the beat.

As a rule every time I have a complete beginner I ask them to turn the resistance all the way¬†down and see how that feels. Then to keep turning it right until their legs can’t move. Now they know both ends and have a better idea how hard it can get I say:

“We will never be working at any of these points in the class. Ever.”

4. CLASS PROFILE

Be prepared with your profiles in January. Have enough variety to choose from. You don’t want the first timers to think the classes are boring just because they don’t yet understand the intensity and resistance, nor do you want them to leave with an impression they are not fit enough to come regularly.

At the same time you want to keep your classes challenging with your regulars in mind. Can it be done? Ideally there would be some introductory classes on the timetable but hey, we don’t live in a perfect world.

  • beware of long endurance classes where 70% or more of your class is in the saddle – they can come across as boring to new people so make sure you choose some interesting tracks with clear beat
  • power intervals – I would wait with these for a couple of weeks
  • testing – yeah, wait…
  • mixed workouts will work best: in and out of the saddle, speed & resistance variation
  • long endurance tracks (around 7min) are great though giving enough time to settle into a pace and resistance

5. MUSIC

No, you will not please everyone but my advice would be to choose music with clear beat even if you have bikes with consoles showing RPM. Keeping an eye on the console and on you at the same time may be too much to ask. If you always teach with the beat they can keep an eye on you.

Choose your music wisely – get some instrumental track giving you space to explain stuff.

My warm up always have a flat fast track first to cue the form. Then there is a slow hill to cue the standing form. Don’t get into a standing run straight away.

The remaining 5 tips coming up next.

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t call me baby.You got some nerve, and baby that’ll never do”.

There is so much to think about when you are a group fitness instructor: you create a class profile, scour iTunes for music & make sure it all makes sense. Then there is the¬†practical side: remember¬†your kit, your shoes, iPod, back up CDs, mic shields, every type of batteries under the sun, water bottle, beginners’ hand outs, pens etc.

You arrive at the gym and¬†two bikes are broken and the class is fully booked, mic is not working, you find the electric fan DOA. Life happens ūüôā I am not complaining. Nobody made me do it.

But only once you start teaching the class, that’s when¬†the¬†REAL challenge begins. You are facing anything between 1 to 50 people. All¬†individuals with different expectations.

We have all heard the famous: “you cannot please everyone” and it is true. Not with your musical taste, class structure etc. But I want to focus on something else today: client/participant approach.

Say what? Well, how do we refer to the people who came to take our classes, how do we come across? Are we aware of that? Do we ask for/get any feedback?

Today I had a girl in my class whom I have never seen before. She came 15min early and she was very clear and vocal: “I take 4 classes a week. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But not on Wednesday. I cannot stand the teacher. She keeps calling me “sweetheart”! I told her my name is Georgia and¬†I am not her sweetheart but she kept doing it!”

It¬†can be¬†a struggle to be friendly and approachable but not condescending. Especially if you are not sure if people didn’t hear your advice or just decided to ignore it. And if they did – was¬†there a reason for it?

That is why trying to develop a rapport with your groups is so important. I know, I know: what about the places where you get new people every class? I make it a point to be at the studio and set up 15min before a class. If I teach on a weekend it is sometimes 30min.

This gives me the precious time to walk around, give 121 attention, get people’s attitude sussed out: are they going to be receptive or they already know it all? Will they¬†laugh at¬†a joke?

I also try and stay there for 10min after a class for the same reasons.¬†And believe me, walking around the studio during the class helps too. Sometimes you keep repeating a cue: “Shoulders down. Elbows in.” but the person you are directing it to doesn’t react. But when you go by and gently tap their elbow or shoulder – they do.

I personally don’t like when people I don’t know call me honey, sweetheart, babe, whatever. I do my best to avoid it when referring to people in my classes.

I also tend to say before the start: “If you hear me say NO BOUNCING for the 15th time and you feel like you may throw your bottle at me if I say it again – I am fully aware of how many times I have repeated it. There is a reason for it: someone is still bouncing. Look around: if you can see nobody¬†bouncing – IT IS YOU!”

I also have my feedback forms that I give to people about once a year where I ask about my catch phrases, any pet peeves etc. Then I sit down with a glass of wine and go through them andI know what needs work. The forms (even if e-mailed) often work better that face to face conversation as people won’t always tell you in your face what negative points they find in your teaching.

How do you get your feedback? How do you refer to your participants? Are you good with names? How well do you know your regulars? Do you ever meet socially outside the gym as a group? I would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Indoor Cycling? Find the right fit and do it with class.

I recently wrote a guest feature on GymBox’s website about indoor cycling. You can read it here:

http://gymbox.com/blog/feature-indoor-cycling.

It’s about the 3 types of cycling classes GymBox offers. And that got me thinking about all the gyms across London where I have been teaching for the past 3 years.

WHAT IS OUT THERE? (LONDON)

Well, you have boutique studios with the Soulcycle-type of classes advertised as a whole body workout (weights, resistance bands etc), then you have studios which go much more into the real cycling style like Cyclebeat (https://www.cyclebeat.co.uk/) which is a cycling only facility with Keiser bikes and integrated digital display which sends you your results by e-mail after each class.

H2 (https://www.h2bikerun.co.uk/) in SoHo offers indoor and outdoor classes where you ride your own bike in the park with the instructor leading the session.

The top end of this spectrum in the city is Athlete Lab (http://athlete-lab.co.uk/) – a state of the art cycling studio using actual road bikes and a mind blowing digital display (at a mind blowing prices). It’s a training facility. Not a place to take classes.

Venturing out of central London you have Cadence in Crystal Palace which is a great facility with a bike shop & workshop and training rooms where you can test your FTP, VO2 etc but also take a WattBike class (http://www.cadenceperformance.com)

That’s all great but what about all the gyms where an average Joe goes?

WHAT ABOUT GYMS?

How do you know what’s behind that name on the timetable?¬†“Spin”, “indoor cycling”, “V-Cycle”, “Tour de…”. How do you choose what is right for you? How do you know what to expect? Honestly? If the description is generic you can expect anything… It will all depend on the instructor. the only definitely consistent class would be Les Mills RPM.

Some gyms do the right thing and have different difficulty levels marked on the timetable: 2-3-4 stars but in real life do the instructors always know about what kind of level the class is supposed to be? Do they pay attention to it?

An average “spin” class can be very intimidating to someone who has never participated in one. And if your first one is really bad or¬†well above your fitness level and you do not get guidance from the instructor, you may never be back.

I truly believe gyms should put on a couple of tailored classes to entice people in who would otherwise never be brave enough to try. Clearly described on the timetable and adhered to by the instructors.

INTRODUCTION TO INDOOR CYCLING CLASS

Every gym would benefit from a beginners’ class.¬†I have had the proof of that when I decided to put on a 30min cycling clinic at one of the studios I have worked for until recently. Targeting people who have never done cycling classes it involved bike set up, riding technique, resistance & cadence introduction and a little practice in and out of the saddle. I was doing it right before an actual class so¬†people had an option to stay for the class or not and come when they were ready. It was great! Neither I nor the participants felt the pressure that we were¬†rushed, they had time to ask questions and as we would have 2-4 people at a time it was a non-pressure environment.

There could be a beginners’ programme that would be delivered over 4 classes. Otherwise just a normal 45min novice class would be beneficial.

SPECIAL POPULATIONS

Certain gyms have quite a few kids attending. A Virgin gym where I have a couple of regular classes, has a Kidz programme with a couple of classes for 10-15 year olds. It does not include cycling.

Through instructor forums¬†I have come across family indoor cycling classes or classes purely run for kids. I love the idea but I haven’t seen that in any of the gyms I teach at. I know they do have youth classes on offer on an actual track at Lee Valley (http://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/en/content/cms/london2012/velo-park/youth-activities/).

Talking about special populations, classes for silver foxes are a great way to attract older generation. I think London gyms and leisure centres are missing a trick here.

Finally, as the outdoor season ends we have the outdoor cyclists who are not interested in exercise classes. They want to train over winter to keep their form up but they want clear goals, tests, a whole programme. Some gyms are halfway there since they have brought in great bikes like the MatrixIC7 with a console providing the all important data to track your progress. In my opinion in a few gyms I teach at, a specialist cycling class would work a treat.

Don’t get me wrong:¬†I am not about excluding people as in “only¬†outdoor cyclists wearing lycra allowed”. ¬†All that would be needed is a clear indication –¬†BEWARE: you need to know why you are here, you may have 30min in the saddle non-stop, it will be goal¬†focused and as much as it still can be fun it is geared toward achieving specific results at the end of the programme.

So far one gym chain I have spoken to is excited about incorporating a few weeks’ specialised programme that would go along a challenge that they run.

HAVE YOU DONE IT AT YOUR GYM? HAS IT WORKED?

I would love to hear from you if your gym runs any specialised indoor cycling classes. Whether you are a member or an instructor. If you created a programme and managed to get it approved, please share your story.

“Spinning won’t make you fit”. Or will it?

This week I came across an article on one of the forums for indoor cycling instructors: http://www.stack.com/2015/09/16/spinning-probably-wont-make-you-fit-heres-why.

It has caused quite a stir so I decided to respond to it. I will just take out the main points it makes to allegedly prove why indoor cycling will not make you fit as opposed to having a personal trainer and lifting weights.¬†It is based on an interview with a personal trainer Brian Nguyen.¬†He’s¬†not¬†just a¬†PT. He’s¬†“trainer to Mark Wahlberg” which¬†clearly makes him much more of a fitness authority. Let’s dive right into it.

“Spinning is tough. After an hour of pedaling at high speed, you’ve probably left a puddle of sweat on the floor under your bike. (…)The classes are fun, and the routines can easily lead to the assumption that participants get a great workout”.

Anyone who has taken a properly well structured indoor cycling class with a qualified instructor will ask: are we talking about the boutique style “dance-on-the-bike-doing-crazy-stuff” type of class or are¬†we talking about a proper indoor cycling class? Because the latter involves much more and the speed used in these classes¬†is way more controlled.

If however you refer to the classes advertised as a full body workout involving using¬†tiny weights, resistance bands and full of what we call “fluff” then I wholeheartedly agree. But please do not put us all in the same bag.

“Spinning produces similar effects in the body as jogging. (…) Once you finish a spin class, your body no longer burns calories”

Here is where I got really kind of pissed off (my blog, I can say that ūüôā ). He didn’t even say “running”. He said “jogging”. I used to jog. I lost a bit of weight, gained some muscle but I agree, the results were not WOW. Question to FF CJS members who have ever taken Jitka’s, Cheryl’s, Serena’s or my class: would you compare it to 45min of “jogging”?! What classes has this dude taken in his life to make such a statement? The answer is: really bad ones…

If I were to give an “expert opinion” the way he has I would say even a workout with a personal trainer using weights and what not has the same effects. How? If you have a bad trainer who tells you to use weights that aren’t enough to cause an overload. One that makes you follow a programme that’s not tailored to¬†your needs. What kind of PT would do that?! A bad one. Have I ever seen these? Yes, I have.

Now as far as the second part of the statement goes – that the effects of the class finish as soon as you get off that bike? I really question fitness qualifications of that guy. Whatever exercise you choose: rowing, cycling, running etc you can do them at different intensities, with different goals in mind: speed or strength endurance, HIIT, threshold work etc. If every spin class involved pedalling at the same tempo for 60min who on earth would keep doing it?

And I have news for you Brian. You better sit down though and brace yourself: YOU CAN DO TABATA ON A BIKE!

shocked-face[1]

I am convinced this guy either took ONE class and it wasn’t a good one or is basing his opinions on hearsay. He doesn’t seem to think you can do intervals in a spin class.

Here comes the big one folks:

“Spinning doesn’t build muscle.(…) Cycling never makes your body gain lean body mass, and that‚Äôs the thing that burns fat. At the end of the day, metabolism isn‚Äôt improved on a bike.”

First reference to spinning is already¬†incorrect but Mr Nguyen goes far beyond that and refers to “cycling” in general. I would¬†ask him to check out a few names and relevant pictures of their legs: Marcel Kittel, Chris Hoy, oh hell: Tom Scotto! And I would invite him to watch this (extreme)¬†little clip:

“Spinning doesn’t give individual progression”

It definitely used to be true however you could always test yourself periodically and compare the results. But these days we have bikes with computer consoles and data. We have coaching by colour brought by MatrixIC7 bikes. Please Mr Nguyen, do your research first.

Finally we get to the last one:

“Spinning reinforces common injuries”

Yes, cycling involves sitting, we agree on that. But it is also the best low impact activity next to swimming that actually helps with many health problems and is used in physiotherapy. There is such a thing as bike fitting Brian, and any good instructor will ensure your set up prevents any back or other discomfort. As per the core not being engaged: you need a strong core to be a strong and efficient cyclists even indoors. You¬†may not feel it as much indoors as outdoors but no, cycling is not a “complete full body workout” nor is it claiming to be. If you refer to those “fluff” classes that make that claim – please make the distinction between those and SPINNING or proper INDOOR CYCLING.

To sum up, Brian seems to know his stuff when it comes to what type of exercise gives what effects but clearly knows nothing about spinning/indoor cycling when he says:

“When combined with strength training, spinning may give you that extra calorie burn you need to accelerate fat loss. When done on its own, your results from spinning will likely fall short of your expectations.”

Spinning is all exercise I do. In 2.5 years dropped 3 dress sizes and kept it off. My recent fitness tests show that my cycling performance levels are that of a trained athlete.

So Mr Nguyen, I respectfully disagree.

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 ūüôā

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.

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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā 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.