// The science behind the ride

By incorporating the scientifically-based approach of mixed interval training into your indoor cycle classes, you can keep your sessions innovative enough to ensure participants’ long term adherence, says Rachel Kalwy.

A common challenge for educators from every walk of life, from school teachers to workplace trainers, is keeping their material fresh and inspiring. As fitness instructors we are no different, and it is a constant test of our resourcefulness to prevent ourselves becoming complacent and our classes becoming more and more like the last one we taught. After teaching a class for a time, our enthusiasm can plateau and we can find ourselves stuck in a rut, playing the same music and delivering identical instruction week in, week out. When this happens, it soon becomes apparent that members are not returning to your class each week.

I was faced with this scenario a few years ago, and after taking stock I realised that my ‘motivational’ technique had become stale and boring, and my class preparation and execution had stagnated. I had to take a step back and ask how I could make things interesting again. How could I keep my participants coming back and how could I sustain longevity?

With these questions in mind my research began. I was on a mission to find new ways to motivate and challenge my participants, even if that meant breaking a few textbook rules. The questions that kept me going were ‘how can I make my riding style different to every other instructor’ and ‘how can I keep my participants feeling challenged?’

Finding a focus

I decided to adopt an approach that I use in the personal training sessions I deliver, and give each class a specific focus in order to maintain participant interest. For example, in one class I would say ‘today we will be riding hard intervals’ and the following week ‘in today’s session we’ll be focusing on endurance’.

Through trial and error the riding style that seemed to get the best response from members was Fartlek training, a style of mixed interval training which puts stress on the whole aerobic system. This riding style is quite common among indoor cycle instructors, but the way in which it is executed will determine the energy and success of your class. When planning the class, consider where mixed interval training belongs in the workout, at which point you can insert a high intensity interval track and how many you can use. The beauty of freestyle cycle is that you can place the high intensity number almost anywhere – you just need to be conscious of which tracks you have programmed immediately preceding and following it.

In order to keep classes fresh and unpredictable, it is vital that freestyle indoor cycling instructors don’t only use CDs with riding profiles which they blindly follow. We should challenge ourselves and design our own riding profiles. After a while it will become apparent which style best suits you and your participants and you will be able to confidently explore endless variation in your class design.

In order to construct your next interval riding profile or mixed interval riding profile, it is useful to have an understanding of the science behind it.

The following diagrams are a useful tool for demonstrating some of the perimeters to stay inside of during training.

sub max high intensity
Aerobic interval training

max high intensity intervals

However, music doesn’t understand that when we work really hard for 10 seconds we need a 30 second break, so we ride to the music the best way we know how and adapt the intervals to the music, as the following example demonstrates.

CD: Free ride 2 – Trax Music
Track number: 8, Sandstorm – 4:35            Riding profile: Hard sprint intervals

Time (mins/secs) Profile Intensity/Resistance Timeframe

13 – 38 secs

SPRINT

70%

25 secs

39 – 1:03

Active rest

50%

24 secs

1:04 – 1:28

SPRINT

80%

24 secs

1:29 – 1:52

Active rest

50%

23 secs

1:53 – 2:17

SPRINT

90%

4 secs on, 4 secs off – Duration: 24 secs 
Total work time: 12 secs

2:18 – 2:55

Active rest

50%

37 secs

2:56 – 3:20

Active rest with resistance increase

60%

24 secs

3:21 – 3:45

SPRINT

80%

24 secs

3:46 – 4:10

Active rest

60%

24 secs

4:11 – 4:35

SPRINT

90-95%

4 secs on, 4 secs off – Duration: 24 secs
Total work time: 12 secs


This track pushes the perimeters of intervals and sees participants riding 1.44 mins in total interval with the rest of the track consisting of active recovery, so the output of energy is massive. However, there are also plenty of rest periods included, leaving the class ready for more. My favourite part of the track is the 4 secs on and 4 secs off; I tried this in my class to see what sort of a response I received, and through trial and error it emerged that it was most successful when the resistance was high, creating a large amount of energy output and leaving the participants quite breathless.

Planning your class

Every class should be unique, but it helps to have some structure to your freestyle planning. The following steps should help when designing your class.

  1. Choose really motivating music with a heavy beat to encourage participants to get out of their comfort zone through the tough work periods.
  2. Design a class with a focus, e.g. ‘today we will be focusing on intervals’. Think about how many interval tracks you would like to use in a class.
  3. Once you have chosen your tracks, dissect them, second by second. Map out the highs and lows.
  4. Insert your own magic in the high points, think about how you want participants to feel by the end of the track and make sure you have a very realistic track setup (avoid starting a track at maximum intensity as this will leave you with nowhere to go and will be unachievable for participants, especially if you keep telling your class to crank up resistance).
  5. Once you have designed a few tracks, think about where you would place them in the workout – would you put three interval tracks back to back? You could do, but it would not be achievable for the majority of participants. Keep in mind that you want an amazing workout but you also want your class members to feel like they have achieved something.
  6. Now the ‘fill in’ begins. Select the tracks you will program around the interval tracks. This should vary from class to class, but an example might be;

    1. Warm up
    2. Easy climb
    3. Interval 1
    4. Flat road
    5. Interval 2
    6. Sprint
    7. Endurance/ Jumps
    8. Interval 3
    9. Sprint
    10. Cool down
    11. Stretch

  7. Once you have programmed your playlist, you have a class plan you can call your own. All that’s left now is to unleash it on your participants!

The benefits of intense interval riding or Fartlek riding are immense; you can almost say that by spending less time working out (during the active rest periods) and then working at intensity for short bursts, your participants reap double the benefit of their workout. Just make sure that you keep an eye on participants and gauge their responses – are they becoming breathless throughout their ride because they should be or have you programmed too many high intensity tracks back-to-back? With smart planning, you can ensure great oxygen saturation, increased muscle metabolism, weight loss and strength gains – meaning that participants will see results while being taken out of their comfort zone and on an exciting and original ride every week.

Always stay open to fresh ideas, understand your perimeters and try to work closely within them – if you are unsure about what’s right and what’s wrong, research it. And above all this, always stamp your own identity onto your class plan, stand out from the crowd and own your workout.

Rachel Kalwy
With nine years’ industry experience, Rachel’s fitness career has encompassed group fitness instruction, management and running her own successful PT business. She is also a national indoor cycle presenter and Cluster Personal Training Manager at Fitness First Campbelltown, NSW. Her passion lies with the development of new personal trainers and in mentoring new group fitness instructors.