Tools such as power meters and gear numbers on bikes are extremely beneficial if they’re used properly. They do require some knowledge on the instructor’s part in order to be helpful. When used or coached improperly, they serve only to confuse, confound, and mislead. This kind of misguided coaching can lead to sabotaging our riders’ potential for improvement, teaching them the wrong thing to focus on, and perhaps even resulting in injury.
One glaring example of misguided cueing is to tell a rider how many watts to add. I recently took a class where the instructor urged us to add 10…20…30…40…50…60 watts, regardless of the age, size, or ability of the rider.
Another ill-advised cueing technique is to describe the resistance using geared bikes (e.g., Keiser) as “base plus X gears.” This form of cueing resistance is completely off base.
The first time I heard an instructor use the term “base” was many years ago on an original Spinner® bike. He started the class at “base plus two turns.” I had recently been certified but was unfamiliar with the term, so I asked the riders next to me what “base” meant. One said that it was no resistance on the bike. The other said that she didn’t know. That made two of us who had no idea what our base was—three if you include the clueless instructor. As a rule, if you’re going to use a term as a reference for an entire workout, it should be well defined every class. Make sure that everyone understands it, especially new riders. Some concepts, like “easy recovery” are inherently obvious. Since “base” isn’t well understood, it should be explicitly explained if you’re going to use it as the basis for cueing.
Better yet, I’d suggest refraining from using it at all*. As you will see, perceived exertion and training zones are a sound way to describe how hard the riders should be pushing. The term “base” is not associated with perceived exertion and doesn’t offer any description of how the effort should feel. (*Note: Jennifer Sage has an exception where the term can be used for a specific profile, described at the end of this post.)
Even if an instructor chooses to use the term “base,” they should never cue “base plus X gears,” “base plus Y watts,” or “base plus Z turns.”
The following examples illustrate why.
ICA has many resources that teach you how to use cueing to describe what your riders’ intensity should feel like.
- The Talk Test to Determine Heart Rate Training Zones
- RPE Chart
- Our four-part series covers cueing for high-intensity efforts, including how to use perceived exertion to describe what they should be feeling.
- This Visualization and Imagery series covers endurance cueing, with descriptions of effort described in this post.