What to do when you are the ONLY one at your club that teaches a “real” cycling class.
I”™ve received this question quite a bit. “How do you handle teaching a class that is so different than what other instructors offer at your club?”. One of the reasons we have gravitated to ICI/Pro is because of the sound teaching and training concepts. Although we can be really excited to learn something new (or just get reinvigorated), the excitement can wane when we think of how it will be received by our riders or our club as a whole. Those who love our rides, are also bombarded by other indoor cycling classes that have little resemblance to biking or training.
Try to Avoid Bashing Other Instructors
We can find ourselves in an awkward situation from time to time when we are the only one who teaches a cycling-specific class at our club. Our classes tends to have more structure and purpose with a greater emphasis on proper form and technique. It is not uncommon for someone to approach me after class and ask why my classes are so different. We never want to speak bad about another instructor or even give off the impression that we think we are better than anyone else. This NEVER looks good and is not professional. But it is a tricky questions to maneuver around. My response is that it is more an issue of “style” than right or wrong. Since I”™m a coach, my approach is “training”. Other classes that may just be random fun rides for example, are not wrong or inappropriate, but just a different “style” of indoor cycling. Of course we know there are elements (sometimes many) of these other classes that are unquestionably incorrect (from a cycling or group fitness prospective), but it is never a good policy to “point” them out. I”™d rather focus on why I approach the class the way I do and relate it to my experience.
Now bike setup issues are another story and harder to talk your way around. I had a person approach me after class who was visibly and verbally frustrated. She was new to the area and club and told me that she had been given 4 very different ways to setup her bike in the last 4 days. Each instructor was adamant (and apparently a bit condescending) telling her, that what she was told previously was all wrong. Now here I was watching her recount everything she was instructed to do and thinking to myself “ah man, none of what she was shown was correct. Now I”™m going to be instructor number 5”. I tried to focus her on some changes she should try based on her injuries and fitness instead of focusing on why she was put in various positions in the first place. She would not let it go. “This is so different than what the other instructors told me — none of them knew what they were doing!” I was put in serious back-pedaling mode... “I”™m sure they based your settings on what they saw at the time”. Then I tried to focus her on how she felt and made some recommendations for shoes and clothing.
I”™ve talked to my various group fitness directors many times asking that we establish a standard so we are not providing members with a mixed message. I hate being put in that position.
Set The Expectation
Be different, but set expectations. Let your class know how you approach your ride and don”™t be afraid to leverage your experience or credentials. As part of my introduction, I let riders know that because I”™m a USA Cycling Elite Level Coach, my classes more closely resemble a structured training session. I mention what we”™ve been working on over the last few weeks, the day”™s plan and a peak into the upcoming weeks. For me, these sets up the expectation. It indicates my teaching style (coaching), and that my class is organized (structured), cycling specific (USA Cycling ...blah blah blah) and purposeful (planned classes). Yeah Tom, that works for you, you braggart! Wait a minute, don”™t dismiss this too quickly. Everyone has a purpose in how they approach and build their classes. What is yours? What motivates you? What are your “convictions” about cycling, fitness and training. Seriously, think about this and craft an opening that sets the stage for your class. When people ask why your class is different, you won”™t have to answer - your riders will answer for you. They will simply repeat what you told them, which IS, why they continue to come to your class.
Get a “Special” Class Description
See if your club will post a description of your class. You may not want to call it “special”, but it is good policy to set member expectations when they are making decisions about which classes to take. Many clubs have an area or board (or page on their website) that gives a description of each class. Think about what makes your class different (your above assignment) and ask if they can post a description with an appropriate title. This approach resonates well with most group fitness directors or coordinators, because it is member-focused. It also let”™s them “advertise” something about their program that is different than maybe what other clubs in the area are offering. My classes have been called everything from “Stage5 Cycling” to “Performance Cycling” to “Road Cycling” to “Ride with Coach Tom”. One of my directors even came to my defense when a regional director took my class and felt it was too “coach-y”. He apparently had a tough day and just wanted to chill (sorry, not my “style”). My director simply turned his focus to the board where the classes were described and said, “you should have read the description, that is why people take Tom”™s class”.
Try not to focus on “right” or “wrong” but rather on what makes your class and experience different. Set your riders expectation with a short and sweet description of your approach and see if your club will post (advertise) it. Being different can be tough, particularly when everyone wants to quickly jump to comparisons and finger pointing. Be professional, humble and confident — even that may appear different.
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i think your first 2 sentences that begin paragraph 3 are an excellent description and mantra. this is something i will add as a post it note on my laptop to practice each day while i’m doing my class planning. a great way to turn the focus when put in that awkward position and want to be professional. thanks, tom.
So when someone come in your classe and ask why you don’t do freezing, sprint for 3 minutes, stay in the saddle, … you just say that you are different ?!
People who comes to my classes barelly go to any other. Because I explain why we do what we do and why we don’t do other stuff (mostly when I have new face, I don’t like like to say something if I don’t have to …); my riders repeat it to other so the critic is there without beeing direct.
We have to clean and increase the level in fitness, if we just say that we are different it is perhaps more politicaly correct but nothing will change, what we have to clean is so deaply incruste in people mind …
Great to give his credential and background … but that is putting us also in a situation not easy to manage … some would take that as being arrogant … I could extan that in my case but that will open a thread I do not want to open, that would not be constructive for international IC pro member.
Good article. I am confronted with this where I teach also as the instructor that is different.
Well, one of the “credentials” that I usually give if I have cause to explain “why…” or “why not…” is that for approx the first 9 months or so of taking IDC classes, I had an instructor who gussied up the class a bit with some of the contraindicated moves out there……along with no bike set up, form correction etc. etc. Apart from the multiple popcorn jumps hurting my knees (at least I had the gumption to sit them out)
Nothing felt dangerous per se, in fact, after the first few classes or so, I huffed and puffed a bit but most things felt pretty good……which I interpreted as gaining the superior fitness that comes from IDC. Until I changed classes to a decent instructor and realised that after about the 3rd or 4th class I’d probably made no fitness gains at all in exchange for valuable time spent at the gym.
And once the muscle memory is there for poor technique, it takes a lot longer to correct than nailing it in the first place.
It’s good to have instructors with varying styles in their approach to this type of group fitness class. I have discovered that there will always be people who enjoy the class with more contraindicated content (the hovers, the ultra-fast, bouncy-little-resistance-pedaling, pedaling backwards while standing up, etc.etc..) but the people who, for some reason, gravitate towards my style are the ones who are most interested in becoming fitter and leaner (changing body composition: increasing muscle mass while decreasing body fat and real goals of being a better cyclist outside- about 30% of my class ride outside; both mountain or roadies). Members have often joked with me about instructors who are “Benny Hill Bunnies” (these are the female instructors who bounce a lot and ride with little resistance at ultra high cadences, etc…). I find this amusing…and I say “whatever works for them…it’s their style”. They just avoid those types of classes. Members are smart enough to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t. Sore knees, pain in hips will alert them that something is wrong after a ‘spin’ class that is full of contraindicated content.
We are in an industry where most of us are fortunate enough to express our personal styles in teaching. Let’s hope that more people will realize the more structure and purpose.
Great post, Tom!
I call my class Indoor Cycling instead of Spinning. That gives them a hint right off the bat. I also say that whatever people do for fitness is better than sitting on the couch. BUT, if they want to improve all the time, get more bang for their fitness investment, and have the possibility of advanced fitness, following sound coaching and science matters.
Oh, and I quote Tom a lot. Seriously.
Ditto what Pascal said!!
Hey Pascal, I did not know we teach at the same facility!!!
Anyone who has spent any amount of time around me knows I am not hesitant to correct. Now if someone approached me and asked “specifically” why I don’t do freezes or 3 minutes sprints, I would give them specific mechanical and physiological reasons why they are not appropriate either for safety reasons and/or functional training in cycling.
One of the reasons I love what ICI/Pro is doing is because as instructors we are getting educated in the “WHY”. I’ve seen instructors tell riders that what other instructors are doing is wrong, but couldn’t give a good reason (or were wrong themselves). Not only is this misleading and not truly helpful, it puts the instructor in a bad light.
I am first and foremost a coach and educator. One thing I have learned over the last 10 years is that if you shut a person down, you can’t teach them or influence them. People must have an open mind in order to “listen” and “learn”. If you immediately start slamming someone (or a class) they like, they are already on the defensive because you are also slamming them for liking it. When an instructor is quick to talk down another instructor or what they do, I interpret this as immature, insecure, unprofessional and arrogant.
If you question my conviction on “true” cycling, ask Gene (Nacey). Gene has had to talk me off the “pure cycling” ledge at least 20-30 times just in our few months of working together at Cycling Fusion. I refuse to give an inch on anything that does not conform to absolute purity in the realm of form, technique, biomechanics, physiology, training and racing strategy. I entered indoor cycling as a coach and was never swayed by contradictions and false teachings. I was different (good or bad) from day one.
To Amy’s point about being “approachable”, are we? If we go around and criticize everything people do in their classes, we may have our following, but everyone else will be talking behind our backs – including the other instructors who we are bad-mouthing.
A true professional knows how to show people that what they are doing is correct WITHOUT telling everyone else they are wrong. This is truly a valuable skill and essential if we desire to be more than mere instructors but aspire to the realm of coach and educator.
Hold on to your strong convictions – please! Just be wise in how you use your knowledge and expertise. Correct through careful instruction and not by leveraging the faults of others. You will be liked, considered humble and professional and highly approachable.
Just let be clear I am not the one who talk down, I just do not care what other do, I have enought work to do prepare and give my classes for what I am paid ! I am working with people taking my classe and always give free advice to other instructors who ask for it.
Shirin Where ?
I had a new member take the Saturday morning “popular” class which is full of contraindications. (I cringed – of all classes her first introduction to cycling was a class full of what you shouldn’t be doing!) Anyway… she mentioned that they were doing a climb and the instructor told them to stop mid-climb (is this considered a freeze?) Trying to keep my eyes in their sockets, I asked her how how she felt when she did this. She said she got a sharp pain in her knee. (Yeah! She could verbalize the contraindication!)I tried to explain why we don’t do that “move” for that very reason. As mentioned in the posts above I have learned to explain the “risk and return” (from a 2010 (?) post) of certain moves so that if members CHOOSE to follow an instructor going 130 RPM then hopefully they understand what they will and won’t get out it(i.e. they will get risk without much return).