keep it real

Ask the Expert: How Do You “Keep it Real” Where It’s Not Supported?

Tom and I get a little more serious in this video, discussing how to build up the confidence so that you can continue to teach an authentic class where you “keep it real” in spite of being in an environment where other instructors tend to use techniques, or students ask for moves that you know to be ineffective, possibly even unsafe. It’s a tough position to be in when you are one of the only instructors at a facility that adheres to safe and effective techniques in your Spinning® or indoor cycling classes. It’s especially tough when you have students who start to ask for the specific moves that you know are not only silly and ineffective, like lifting weights, doing push-ups, or hovering.

The solution lies in educating your students slowly and surely and treating the other instructors with respect. It also lies in building your own confidence, the ability to stand your ground. Your classes may not be as large as some of the other pedal-to-the-metal super-high-cadence crazy-fests, but over time, your students will start to see the difference. As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come!”

I’ve heard so many stories from instructors who have fought this battle and have succeeded. They have a core group that “get it.” If you are one of these instructors who has a following of students who understand how important it is to Keep it Real, and/or if you are still struggling to teach your students how to Keep it Real, please, tell us your story in the comments below. Other instructors can learn from your experience!

Watch as Tom and I give you a few tips to be more successful in this challenging environment.


  1. Maybe off topic, but considering relations between management and instructors, is there a pattern at all of instructors not being able to use copyrighted music or music they themselves put into playlists? Did that issue go away? No problems where I teach but . . .

    1. Author

      this is a great topic Richard, and one that we plan on covering in much more depth. but basically, instructors are covered IF the studio/club has paid the fees for music rights, either BMI or ASCAP. This is not something new to studios…they should all know about it. If they aren’t paying the fees, it’s the studio or club who could face fines that will more than likely shut them down.

      1. Author

        I should also point out, that doesn’t mean instructors are covered if they steal music via Youtube scrubbing or other means. They still need to legitimately acquire their music, either by purchasing it, or paying the Spotify or Apple Music monthly fees.

        1. I was wondering something similar per Ramiro’s Hounds of Halloween “it’s not legal to provide this recording as a download” disclaimer.

          Its a great mix. Would I have to show documentation that I am covered for him to share it with me? Or would I have to personally buy all the tracks and do it myself?

          1. Author

            You would have to purchase the tracks yourself.

            There is a remix site called Legitmix where DJs can sell their remixes. But the software scans the purchasers existing music purchases to determine that they already own the legal version of that song. That way they know the artist has been remunerated (well, there’s a greater chance that they have…it’s possible the song was acquired illegally).

            For example, say you want to buy a remix of Paint it Black on Legitmix that a clever DJ has remixed by changing the bpm, looped the verses again, or whatever. Legitmix scans your files, finds that you already own the original, and allows you to purchase the remix. If it doesn’t find the original, it gives you the option to purchase it right there PLUS the remix.

            This is a great way that DJs can legitimately sell their cool remixes while honoring the artist.

  2. Jennifer, Tom and Others,

    I hope this finds you well, and I’m sorry in advance for the rant, but For the Love of God WE NEED TO TAKE indoor cycling back!

    I’ve been following ICA for some time now and this post piqued my interest so much so that I IMMEDIATELY purchased a membership to get the full scoop. With a deep passion for indoor cycling and firm believer in “keeping it real,” I made it a point when I began instructing to provide fun, engaging workouts rooted in traditional cycling biomechanics.

    I never subject my class to crazy high cadences
    I have NEVER been asked why I don’t do hovers, ab work or push-ups in my class.
    I have NEVER been asked to be more like SoulCycle

    In my opinion, the rise of entertainment based classes can be attributed to one thing..Experience. I took a few classes in NYC last weekend and there was a clear focus on visual, motor and auditory stimulation. I’ll be the first to admit they were unbelievably fun — but they were also horrendous technically and I’ll never step foot in those studios again!

    Though trained in Watts/Power, I’ve never taught a class using them as I accepted early that a lot of these riders could care less about education or performance based metrics. They want (and pay for) a challenging, engaging, heart pounding experience and that is OKAY. As long as WE know their wattage or endurance is increasing our job is done. I guess it could be comparable to teaching young kids math problems via developing games to play. Wouldn’t the only thing that matter in the end be them knowing 2 + 2 =4? I do have riders however that get what I’m trying to do and are perfectly fine measuring their output individually. Using the same analogy, these are the kids in the class who don’t require games to do the work. Teachers don’t isolate/pay extra attention to these kids as they don’t need it. Shouldn’t we treat our classes similarly?

    Music matching the workout was by far the biggest motivation for me as a student so the solution I found as an instructor is cadence changes. I carefully mix tracks and vary the BPM/RPMs according to desired terrain so that every pedal stroke is accounted for. Granted it took me 2-3x longer to design classes before I built my 100+ track catalog, I make my music work for me and it has garnered praise from both sides of the fence.

    In the following drill RPMs increase +10 for ~20sec and then decrease -5 (85–>95–>90)

    This very engaging drill is very popular in my classes. Another HUGE benefit of my method is that the riders HAVE to add resistance to reach slower climbs or it simply doesn’t feel right with the beat. Take one of my warm-ups for example finishing off a 110 RPM flat and adding gear to slow down to 74RPM

    As my style has garnered great reviews from both indoor/outdoor enthusiasts, I have recently started choreographing/mixing tracks for instructors/studios who are interested in fun yet safe and effective technique. I want to create a format for the masses so if interested I’d love some feedback on the learning materials I’m drafting: — I provide written notes, an audio track with my voice guidance, and a blank track that is class ready.

    Whatever your method is, Keep on Keepin’ it Real! I truly think there are ways to bridge the gap and if we don’t get creative I’m fearful this fad will take over uncontested.

    With Cycling Passion,
    Brian Jackson

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

    1. Author

      Hey Brian, thanks so much. Sounds we’ve got a whole lot in common! We should chat on the phone sometime. I’ll send you an email early next week.

      1. No problem Jen,

        Actually had to cut myself off as I could have written a short novel on this 🙂

        I’d absolutely love to further discuss however–please feel free to reach out!

  3. As a multi level certified indoor cycling instructor and avid outdoor rider for decades I see this crap all the time. At one of the studios I was told “you will do hovers, isolations, push-ups, and numerous and sundry others nonsense” or not teach here.” I told these charming folks that I “had been run out of better bars than the one they ran” so I quickly exited the place. Jennifer/Tom/everyone else we just have to keep our collective noses to the grindstone and not let this discourage us from doing what is right.


    I recently had a long discussion about push-ups on an indoor bike (my club starting a disco-light AMP cycling class). Of course, my stance was not to do them & other craziness on the bike. But I found an old ‘Hi, I Johnny G & I’ve developed a new program called Spinning’ video hoping to see what the creator…The Godfather of Spin…does/says about the subject. OMG…I was stunned when I saw him do the high cadence, jumps, hovers, push-ups (video above)…definitely NOT ‘keeping it real’. All this coming from a former RAAM participant. Granted this video was circa 1995…were those moves just a way to entice people to get to the Spin Room? Do you know what his opinions on the subject of jumps/push-up/hovers/etc are today?

  5. Or too slowly for that matter.

  6. How about posting an example of a periodized indoor cycling training program? Perhaps the one you mentioned in this video? I would be interested in one that addresses the “off season”, roughly Oct-Dec. Then one or more programs that have a gradual buildup from about Jan – April. Once May hits most of the participants are back outside, including myself. I think one of my biggest safety concerns is progressing too rapidly. Thanks

  7. Thank you for your comments.
    Renee, that is a tough one. Something I’ve been pondering long and hard. One of my dreams is to present at a fitness conference for the DIRECTORS and OWNERS, not the instructors, to give them the reasons why science and correct training should prevail if they care about their members. I am sure some will fall on deaf ears. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I do think I can get through to some of them if only I can find the means to do so…

    Shari, awesome to hear!

  8. Sometimes, we all need a little pep talk. I’m glad I finally got to watch this video today. I know my riders get it; I want that knowledge to start spreading among other instructors where I teach, and among the riders who take classes from the other instructors! It might be useful to expand on this topic by offering some suggestions on how to talk to our colleagues about the benefits of Keeping It Real.

    Comments like this from my participants are what inspire me:

    “Shari, I really appreciate the way your spin sessions are focused on very specific goals and skills. I’ve been an outdoor cyclist for many (over 40) years, but I still learn something new from you in almost every class!”

    I couldn’t do it without the knowledge I gain as a member of ICA. THANK YOU!

  9. Thanks Jennifer and Tom,
    I follow through with all you’ve suggested as part of my program and am thankful to say that majority of my riders recognize and appreciate the obvious time and effort I’ve put into each class. With that said, the biggest hurdle are the directors and the issue they have with wanting packed classes. I was just at an interview and once again the director strongly stated the expectation of participants wanting nothing but high hard intensity all the time and anything less than 30 riders the class and it would be cancelled. This is what i find so frustrating and somewhat isolating and why i think some instructors veer from what they know is right to what expected in order to keep their class and job.
    How and where do you find clubs and then directors who don’t have that HIT philosophy? That’s where i want to land.

  10. Hi Jennifer & Tom,
    I run into this issue all the time. My attendance has dropped because the members want “Soul Cycle”. I’ve tried to educate them, my director, and president of a local YMCA as to why this doesn’t work.

    When I got certified, I was talking to the trainer and she said absolutely NOT, weights, pushups, etc do not belong in the class. So I got my validation, even though I knew I was right in the first place, but the members just don’t get it. A few do, but most don’t.

    So, even if I have 5 people that show up, those 5 people are going to get a great workout and those 5 people know that I Keep it Real!

    Melissa Bowshier

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