By ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas

Building a class profile can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of teaching Indoor Cycling.  Instructors sometimes find it stressful because they feel they”™re “out of ideas.”

There are many approaches to class design.  A few possibilities are:  music as the road; duplicating an actual ride profile with which you”™re familiar; fully interacting with selected videos; teaching cycling principles and philosophy; and eliciting specific training adaptations.

A general approach can become static over time.  That”™s what”™s so much fun.  Because of the many training elements that indoor cycling utilizes, any general approach can remain fresh and inspiring.  Indoor cycling lends itself to structure, so it”™s easy to formulate new and exciting variations on common training formats.

Intervals are a perfect example; every instructor uses them.  There are thousands of ways to put a class through intervals.  But the creative instructor is the one who comes up with an interval format you haven”™t experienced before.

Once I decide on my approach to building my class for the day, my mind searches for an organizational format that supports the approach.  For example, I decide that my approach to today”™s class will be to teach a cycling principle.  The principle will be cadence.  With my approach and underlying principle selected, I need a structure to support that principle — and make the class enjoyable at the same time.  It”™s that last part that may take some creativity.

Having planned thousands of classes over the years, I frequently return to four basic organizational formats:  Intervals, Ladders (or Ramps), Pyramids, or Steady State.  These four organizational formats form the backbone that supports any indoor cycling class.  The key to creative instruction is to find new ways to use them.


Interval training is a common training technique designed to improve strength, power, aerobic capacity or endurance.  It alternates periods of higher-intensity work with periods of recovery (i.e., lower-intensity work).  Depending on the length of the work and rest periods, intervals may be aerobic or anaerobic.  The higher-intensity periods instructors typically use are at, or close to, an anaerobic level of effort, but they can actually be of any intensity.  That fact alone can generate a great deal of variation in a class.

The ratio of work to recovery will usually vary with the intensity of the work effort.  Max-effort intervals, for example, are necessarily short, with recovery periods of equal or greater duration than the work interval.  Aerobic intervals may be longer and require much briefer recovery.  The recovery periods may permit either complete recovery (full drop in heart rate) or limited recovery of lower, but not resting-level, intensity.

Sample interval workout:

  • 5 minutes of warm-up:  light ride, low intensity, gradually increasing at the end of the warm-up period
  • 1 minute of moderate or high intensity, followed by 1 minute of low intensity.  Repeat six to eight times.
  • 5 minutes of cool-down:  light ride, low intensity, gradually decreasing by the end of the cool-down period

The above is a standard interval format that every indoor cycling instructor has used in his or her class at one time or another.

How can the intervals be varied?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Use different durations for the work and recovery efforts.  A 2:1 format, with 2 minutes of seated climb at 75 RPM and 1 minute of recovery spin at 100 RPM is a good rollers simulation.
  2. Alternate the difference.  2:1, 1:2, 2:1, 1:2.  2 minutes moderately hard with 1 minute of recovery, followed by 1 minute very hard with 2 minutes of recovery.
  3. Vary the recovery.  2:1, 2:3, 2:1, 2:3.  2 minutes very hard with 1 minute of limited recovery, followed by another 2 minutes very hard with 3 minutes of full recovery.
  4. Vary with no pattern.  This is called “fartlek.” The name is Swedish for “speed play”.  It consists of hard-effort bursts of different durations, followed by recovery of different durations.  The lack of predictability increases overall intensity, compared with standard interval training.  2:1, 4:1, 2:5, 3:3, 1:2, 4:3.


A ladder, also known as a ramp, is a training technique that involves progressive, incremental increases in one or more training variables, such as duration, resistance, cadence or heart rate.  The progression can either increase or decrease.  The ladder can be continuous or in interval format.

Here are some examples of a ladder, using an interval format:

  1. Increase the work duration, keeping the recovery constant.  1:1, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1.
  2. Decrease the work duration, keeping the recovery constant.  4:1, 3:1, 2:1, 1:1.  These “descending intervals” are a commonly used form of a decreasing ladder.  As the interval duration decreases, some other training variable increases.
  3. Maintain the work duration while decreasing the recovery.  1min:1min,  1min:45sec,  1min:30sec,  1min:15sec.
  4. Increase the work and decrease the recovery.  0:2min, 30sec:1min,  45sec:45sec, 1min:30sec, 2min:0.  Easy for 2 minutes, followed by 30 sec hard with 1 minute easy, followed by 45 sec hard and 45 sec easy, followed by 1 min hard and 30 sec easy, catch your breath quickly and hammer the last 2 minutes.


A ladder can also be continuous.  My favorite is a 10-minute, 4-3-2-1 format:  4 minutes easy, 3 minutes a little harder, 2 minutes a little harder, and 1 minute hard.  These are done with no recovery between them.  The often-used song Mojave by Afro Celt Sound System is perfect for a 10-minute, 4-3-2-1 ladder.

The next post will cover variations in pyramids and steady state training.


Originally posted 2012-04-09 06:51:30.

Jim Karanas
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