High tech, low tech or no tech? Music-based or data-focused? Indoor cycle comes in many flavours, so which is best for your participants, asks instructor Emma Masters.
My purpose as a group fitness instructor is simple. I want to get people moving in a safe and effective manner. I want to educate them on why that is good for them. I want them to understand that everybody is different, and I want to speak to every participant in my class so that they all leave feeling successful. And, honestly, I work in group exercise, so I also want them to have a little fun!
I believe that a great many of us enter the fitness industry so that we can change people’s lives for the better. Whether PT, group fitness instructor or wellness coach, isn’t that a widely shared motivation?
And yet… time and time again I see us butting heads over one issue or another, arguing which theory is the right one, which program or methodology works best, which study has decreed that such-and-such will be the next big trend… Don’t get me wrong, debate is a good thing – but the singled-minded insistence that there’s only ‘one true way’ of doing something is not.
The cycle studio debate
There’s a big debate at the moment in the area of group exercise where it all began for me – the world of indoor cycle.
Cycle, like many group fitness programs, has a broad spectrum in which it can be taught. It’s been almost 25 years since Johnny G famously started the first Spinning™ classes in the 1990’s, and since then indoor cycle has evolved into an industry in its own right.
The last 10 years saw the spectrum truly grow. With the introduction of technology to our trusty bikes that went nowhere, the options for class design, choreography and coaching increased enormously. Studios and fitness facilities now have a multitude of options when it comes to deciding which bikes to purchase, which programs to run and how to train their instructors.
Any cycle studio you enter today can be classified as either ‘high tech’ (all the bells and whistles, power metres and/or on-screen display), ‘low tech’ (some kind of metric-based console reading anything from resistance level, RPM’s or road speed), or ‘no tech’ (your indoor cycle bike, as it comes). Along with the choice of tech level comes the decision about what style of class to teach: metric or rhythm – or something in between!
If you are not an indoor cyclist, let me elaborate.
Rhythm cycle basically means you are riding to the beat of the music. The BPM of the music will help dictate the RPMs the instructor will coach, and therefore also allow the use of visualisation to create the experience that the member is either climbing a slow heavy hill or racing a flat road.
Often, instructors teaching rhythm classes will use the typical set up of a traditional pop song as the structure of their choreography (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus), where the rest or set up would be in the verses and the effort would come in the chorus, or where the music builds or beat drops.
Purists in this field often add choreography such as presses on the handle bars or to-the-beat movements in and out of the saddle, all led by the ebb and flow of the music. Big boutique chains, particularly in the US, have a huge following offering this style of freestyle cycle class.
Metric, or power-based, cycle classes typically reverse the class construction order, with the instructor establishing a goal based on data made available by the technology, and creating sets or intervals around this. For cycle athletes, training using this methodology might involve periodised programming that supports their training goals, or simply using the data as an external motivator. Music, if used, will typically be layered in later in the process.
Depending on the level of technology in any given studio, on-screen displays may also be used to provide additional data and visual stimulation, from heart rate or power displays, to virtual terrains or metric-based ‘game play’ in which mode participants can get competitive.
Something in between…
Then, of course, there’s everything in between, from pre-choreographed cycle programs, to freestyle boutiques unique offerings.
Horses for courses
So, who wins? Which should you teach? What should your studio offer? As you may have guessed, I’m not here to take sides. I’m of a rare breed that teaches pretty much the whole cycle spectrum. I teach high tech, low tech and no tech. I coach classes with power and on screen display, and I teach rhythm.
Why make life hard on myself when I could just pick a style and stick with it? Because – getting back to my purpose – I understand that everybody is different, and that different members and participants will respond to different stimuli.
For example, hands up all you rhythm riders, dance floor divas, girls and guys that just can’t help moving to the beat of the music, wherever it may be. When you walk that shopping cart down the aisle and your jam comes on, you’re strutting with sass through Woolies! You don’t just enjoy, you love your dance and beat-based classes – the way they make you feel, the endorphin rush, the switch off from the outside world, that feeling of moving in sync with your tribe.
OK, now, hands up all you tech geeks. Driven by data and numbers, you want to know all the information at all times. You want that after-class email telling you how far you rode, how much improvement you’ve made, maybe even how many beers you’ve earned this weekend! Understanding and logic is what gets your blood pumping. Comparing your stats with your crew over a post-class coffee is your idea of heaven, and you can’t wait to upload it all to your tracking app or excel spread sheet when you get home.
Now hands up if you’re somewhere in-between. Yep, a fair few of you, thought so.
Different styles resonate with different people. When I teach, my purpose is to just be the best instructor I can be in the program or style that the studio wants me to teach. How do I do that? I don’t see the cycle world as two sides – instead, I allow the two to speak to each other!
If you want to reach as many people as you can through your instructing, the most important thing you can do is upskill and educate yourself in as many styles as you can. By doing so, you’ll be able to allow the different coaching techniques to speak to each other, and to make a real connection with more of your class participants.
5 tips to teach a better cycle class
Here, in brief, are some nuggets of know-how you could implement tomorrow:
1. Safety is the number one rule!
No matter what you are teaching, you must ensure everything you deliver is safe. Ask yourself the purpose behind the movement you are delivering, and allow time to set and coach your members though it clearly and efficiently.
2. Have a clearly defined goal
Always start with a goal. Whether it be more traditionally metric-based (create a distance benchmark in set one, then aim to beat it), or RPE, technique or intention-based (I want my members to smile five times today in class), always have a goal.
3. Drive success
Once you have a goal you can drive a feeling of success in your class. The key to that? Make all goals personal. No good coach or instructor compares apples to oranges. Goals should be as personal as your underwear drawer!
4. Anchor time and effort
3, 2, 1 GO! Participants want to know what’s in store and to pace themselves accordingly. Tell them how hard they should be aiming to go, and how long for!
5. Know the importance of music
No matter whether it’s the first or last consideration in your class plan, you must appreciate the intrinsic importance of music. It drives all of us, so choose mindfully, with purpose. Cue to your whole class, not only those that evidently feel the beat, and remember that it’s not your personal playlist – it’s tailored to your class demographic. Allow the music to shine through: sometimes the lyrics, beat or feel of the music is enough to drive participants, so give your vocal instruction a rest from time to time.
If you can implement these guidelines into your classes, no matter which cycle instructor cap you’re wearing, you’ll be fulfilling your purpose and changing lives through the power of group fitness, one revolution of the wheel at a time.
Emma Masters is a motivated and dedicated speaker, educator and instructor with 10 years’ experience in the fitness industry. Emma’s purpose is to empower and educate as many fitness professionals as she can. She can be found heading up the Cycle programming for Virgin Active and Master Educating for STAGES Indoor Cycle, currently teaching at Virgin Active Barangaroo and can be found sharing her insights, tips and playlists on Instagram @ema_masters