Before we talk about how to get a beginner class started, the first question you need to answer is why? Not, why does my club need a beginner class, but why do YOU want to lead one (if this is your plan)? As an instructor starting a beginner class you need 3 main criteria: (1) The absolute desire to work with new riders, (2) the ability to teach appropriate classes for beginners and (3) excellent foundational knowledge of bike setup and form and technique.
Working with beginners is very gratifying but it does take a special individual to have the patience to work with those who may not have the conditioning or who arrive needing all kinds of help and have tons of (basic) questions. Many people never enter indoor cycling classes because they are intimidated by what they”™ve witness through the class door of the studio (instructor yelling, riders sweating profusely and everyone limping out of the room). You will need to help beginners feel comfortable and confident that they will not only survive the class, but actually enjoy it. These classes REALLY need to be designed for beginners. This does not mean we do the same drills as our regular classes, just at a lower intensity. Some riders may have trouble (or are not confident) standing, while others may find pedaling above 60 RPM a challenge. Many beginner riders I”™ve witness struggle to remain comfortable on the bike regardless of how hard they are working.
One of my biggest pet peeves is bike setup, particularly when working with beginners. This is often their first experience on the bike and it should be positive and pain-free. A few months ago a new rider entered my class (not a beginner class). I asked if she needed help with her setup because I saw her sitting in a very odd position. She told me she was experiencing some knee pain after a few classes. Once I corrected her position and gave her some pointers on proper posture, she confessed that she had taken 2 other classes earlier in the week and those instructors setup her bike in a much different position. She was also given some incorrect instruction on form, including straddling the stem of the handlebars when standing (she used a blunt sexual reference inappropriate for most audiences). So whether you are a fitness director recruiting an instructor for a beginner class or THE instructor, please make sure you are grounded in the fundamentals so we start our aspiring riders the right way and the safe way.
So now that we”™ve got that off the table, what is the best way to start a beginner class at your club? I”™m going to present a few tips to put you on the road to success, but also look forward to our indoor cycling community (YOU) to share experiences.
(1) What I the best time of day?
I”™ve seen late morning indoor classes (9 — 10am) receive good attendance. However those who attend at this timeslot are often stay-at-home parents that do not have a desire to join the primetime classes. The best conversion rate (beginners who become indoor cycling enthusiasts) has been seen from classes that are offered just before the primetime class. For example, a 6:00am beginner class before the regular 6:30am class or a 5:30pm beginner class just before the 6:00pm evening class. The back-to-back beginner to regular class combo has proven successful for a number of reasons: (1) most do not require a separate instructor since the instructor for the regular class is often able to arrive early (for some extra $$ as well), (2) beginners who become confident and conditioned can stay and try to take the regular class and (3) “advanced” riders can take the beginner class as a warm-up and for more saddle time. NOTE: please advice advanced riders (especially those who dress in full pro-team clothing) to sit in the back so they don”™t intimidate the newbies.
(2) Advertise with the Right Words
When you promote these beginner classes, it is important not to insult nor frighten people. Make sure you don”™t advertise the class as “for those people that can handle a regular class”. Instead focus on what they will learn and/or experience. Also, don”™t send them running in fear because the flyer posted at the club lists “Threshold Management” and “Anaerobic Capacity” as some of the benefits they will get from this neuromuscular, cardiovascular class. What da....?? Yeah, those training terms may arouse us, but a beginner will assume that if they don”™t understand the description of the class, they will certainly not understand what is going on once they get their. Use general fitness and cycling terms. Keep it simple.
(3) Dress Down. Make sure the photos and advertising you use to promote the beginner class is not littered with pro cyclists or riders digging into “the suitcase of pain”. It doesn”™t need to include pictures of people in lawn chairs on the deck of a cruise ship either, but just take time to consider the apprehension people can have to the perceived intensity of a class and lean towards a “fun workout”. On a side note, the instructor teaching the class should also dress down. I do recommended cycling shorts, but maybe a non-cycling top (but still athletic) to put new riders at ease.
(4) At Cycling Fusion, we have found that 30 minutes is the perfect amount of time for a beginner class. 30 minutes is long enough for those without the conditioning to feel like they”™ve received a good workout while keeping them from fatiguing (physically or mentally) in a position they are not yet used to.
So, go and start that beginner class. Give them a good workout, start them off the right way and have fun!
Originally posted 2011-07-15 07:00:00.
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Lots of good suggestions. I really support the “schedule the intro class first” concept. I do that, leaving 15 minutes between classes. That accomplishes several things in addition to the points you noted. It means that the people in the intro class don’t have to see all the sweaty bodies leaving the room and worry that I’m going to “do that to them.” They also get to listen as the regulars start to filter in – excited and looking forward to the work ahead of them. But most important, I have some longer profiles in my pocket and I can stretch the half hour to 35 and 40 minutes to make the point that they are now ready to move on.
I often have people at various stages of learning in my intro classes. When that’s the case, I define the seating arrangements – total newbies up front and most experienced at the back. I can then coach the different groups slightly differently (and the ones up front can’t see and emulate what’s happening behind them).
Yesterday I had a wonderful moment in an intro class with two 72 year old women. We got their bikes set up and I could see the anxiety starting to creep across their faces. When I told them “I don’t want you to go home today and tell people how hard you worked. Instead I want you to tell them how much you learned.” their faces softened and their bodies relaxed. In spite of three fire alarms (false) they made it through and as they left were discussing how to change their schedules so that they can return twice a week.
Great article Tom!
My intro class is one of my most favorite classes for the same exact reasons you listed.
We all realize that it takes some courage for a rider to walk into their first indoor cycling class. I have a lot of respect for this rider. I do my best to teach them the fundamentals of indoor cycling, make their experience a successful one, and help them understand and love my sport as much as I do!
Thanks for bringing this very important subject up on the forum Tom.