Susan? or Bob?

It’s a given that different people come into our classes with different expectations, needs and goals.  How can we as instructors/trainers accommodate their individual needs without alienating any single group?

Let’s take two hypothetical participants — Susan and Bob.  They’re the same age, but Susan is interested primarily in weight management, arguably the most common fitness goal, while Bob is interested in getting stronger, fitter and faster on the bike because he rides outdoors frequently and races regularly.  Can these two find happiness in the same indoor cycling class?

I’ve resolved this with a reasoning that works for me.  First, I needed to define my professional role as I see it, which may differ from how the fitness industry sees it.  As an instructor/trainer, my job is to create a situation and an environment in which members can experience the benefits of physical exercise, and nothing more.  Which benefits these are will vary with the individual, and it’s important that I never assume what they could or should be.

Even though Susan tells me she wants to lose weight and Bob says he wants to race bicycles, I know from experience that what the members want is often far removed from what they need, regarding the benefits that training has to offer.  Here’s an easy trap, though:  I have to be careful not to presume to know what they need.

The goal-oriented approach to training has a built-in limitation.  I have known many members who, after 10 years of trying to “get something” out of exercise (e.g., weight loss), were frustrated and disheartened.  Maybe they had some limited success from time to time (that I even helped them achieve), but it didn’t last.

If a workout session has to produce a result, you have a paradigm for unhappiness.   Instead, my current approach is to create a training session that allows a person to get whatever he/she needs from the workout without interference on my part.  I keep in mind that the average member will not understand this approach right away, so the training has to be about something they can understand and offer them some fundamentals of training.

So I teach indoor cycling.  This is because the bike has brought balance to my life.  It has been a source of both hardship and delight, but the practice of cycling has made me happier.  I look forward to riding my bike, whether indoors or out, every day.

I explain early on that I will ask them to ride as if they were riding a real bike outdoors because there are excellent reasons for everyone to train that way, no matter who they are:  greater enjoyment of the class, for example, and good technique that will prevent them from wasting energy, so they can apply the energy to creating power.  (The last point will clearly help Bob, but it helps Susan as well.  The stronger the trainings make her, the more power she can generate, and the more calories she’ll burn.)

Now my job in class is simple:  Teach the bike.  Completely.  Offer my students structured trainings that have helped me and never assume what they need.  If it’s in my heart to lead a training on riding big gears in the hills, that’s what I do.  What the students get, they get, and I don’t over- or underestimate my influence on it.

Sure, a student with a specific goal may need individual attention.  If Susan really wants to lose weight, I can make recommendations and/or referrals.  The same goes for Bob.  My job as an educator is to show them how to modify what I teach — which is a valuable skill they can use in any class they may take in the future.  I offer suggestions but recognize that this is their path.  I can’t overshadow it with what I think they should do with, or gain from, their training.  That’s not my job and would be a misuse of the trainer role.


Originally posted 2018-11-14 06:00:01.

Jim Karanas
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