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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You want to Rock the Bike? At what price?

Yesterday saw Rock the Bike founder Keith Thompson‘s – now a celebrity in his own right – assault on London indoor cycling scene. Here is an example that I think EVERYONE has seen on FB over the last year or so but just in case you have been living under a rock …

I chose not to attend. Why? I have seen what he does on Youtube and I would never do these things on the bike. Off the bike? On the dance floor? Challenge me anytime! The man has moves!

Now let’s give credit where the credit is due. The guy used to be obese and through determination has transformed his life and as a consequence his body. Great achievement! His own indoor cycling instructor was so taken with his personality and how he managed to get her own class, where he was only a participant, into a full blast fun mood that she found a way to get a scholarship for him to qualify as a fitness instructor. That included indoor cycling qualification of some sort. He jumped on the opportunity and qualified. Another big brownie point goes to Keith.

Soon his classes became so popular that the gym increased their weekly number and still could not cope with the demand. However, alarm bells started ringing as his unconventional approach to indoor cycling, basically what he was doing on the bike, caused some serious concern (even though I haven’t found specific details) and Keith and the gym parted ways. I should think that nobody in that gym with any recognised cycling qualification could look at what was happening in these classes anymore and finally the management had to say enough is enough. People’s health and the high risk of long term serious injuries are more important than 45min fun here and now.

A few months ago on my FB page I wrote a review of a class that was taught at my local gym by an outside company. They were doing loads of similar moves to those Keith does. All of them considered as dangerous for your joints, not very effective and simply unsafe. Another thing they had in common with Rock the Bike was that they brought the “Party on the bike!!!” feel into the studio. I love me a party, why not? But I love my 2 knees and my back more and having had a serious surgery on my disk once, I am not willing to risk another.

I can hear you say: but people and this guy included have been taking these classes for years and they are fine! I say: give it time…

But there is also an immediate risk when doing dodgy moves on a bike. I found this review of Keith’s class online: “I am not a skilled Spin dancer. In fact, any newbies should probably learn their way around a Spin bike before taking a class with Thompson — I almost fell off and I’ve been riding for ten years!”

Taking the outdoors in and indoors out – what is this blog all about?

Hello and welcome to my blog. I have been toying with this idea for a while. Every time I have got some thoughts after an indoor cycling class I have just taught or a teaching experience I would love to share with my participants or fellow instructors, I find that FB is not always the best place to put anything too lengthy. Not to mention Twitter! Hence I decided to give blogging a go.

This blog will have two sides. First, my take on indoor cycling as an instructor – so advice for people taking the classes both from the technical point of view and more general stuff from the group exercise perspective. I will be reviewing cycling programmes, giving my opinion on indoor bike types etc. and talking about challenges I set in my classes from time to time.

The second part will document my journey as I venture into the world of outdoor cycling, carbon wheels, Vaseline, least damaging saddles, Garmins, Strava and battling the winds on the hills of Richmond Park or occasionally Westerham Hill or Crystal Palace. Or more recently in the Tour of Cambridgeshire. I am only at the start of it so it will be great to have you on the journey.

I will also be reporting from more leisurely trips here. The ones taken on my trusted Pinnacle hybrid bike that took me around Norfolk, Sussex and Holland so far. Plus tales from cycling holidays using locally rented bikes: Spain already in the past and South America coming next in November 2015.

I am ready. I usually start my classes like this:

I am Izabela. we have 45min workout to do so let’s do it! Relax your upper body, your neck, roll the shoulders back and down, lean from your hips forward and get your hands comfortably on the handlebars. Resistance nice and easy but make sure you stay in control of your bike. Take a deep breath in and let’s go!