How to Get Riders to Follow Your Instructions with the 3-2-1 Approach

There’s always one in every class—a rider who doesn’t follow your instructions, and just does what she wants to do. Even worse is when you are subbing a class and everyone seems to be doing something you know to be contraindicated. It’s enough to thwart your concentration for the entire ride. What’s a weary instructor to do? Today we’ll help you help your riders follow your instructions with the 3–2–1 approach.

First, a few “least helpful” things to do.

  • Don’t get frustrated and/or angry: If you feel frustrated or angry, it could be a sign that you might be taking it personally. If you feel that the rider is disrespecting you or not listening to you, you risk tainting your awesome coaching with your defensiveness. Your annoyance with one rider will likely come across to all of your riders. Chances are good that the rider is not trying to ignore you. Well, maybe they are, but don’t jump to that conclusion too quickly.

What to do instead: Take a deep breath before you jump in. It’s not about you or your ego. It is about their safety and class cohesion.

  • Don’t badmouth the regular instructor: If you notice, for example, that all riders seem to have their saddles too low, or that many of them pedal too quickly with little to no resistance, or that they all tend to drape their forearms over their handlebars when you say “sprint,” you may be onto something. It very well could be that the instructor you’ve replaced for the day promotes techniques you know to be unsafe or ineffective (or they are just ignorant about proper form due to lack of training), but your challenge is in front of you, right here, right now. You can formulate a plan later to speak with the other instructor or management, but highlighting this for the riders would be unprofessional and possibly create workplace resentment rather than growth opportunities. You have choices, but flagging the absent instructor is not one of them.

What to do instead: Set your own personal/professional ground rules for when you’re subbing a class. Let them know from the beginning your top three things that you expect from them in this class and frame it in a positive way. Example: Just for today, I’d like to encourage you all to be open to the new instruction I may offer, I’d like you to commit to riding your best with high expectations for yourself, and I want to encourage you to ride safely, under control, with resistance, taking any breaks you need along the way.

  • Don’t fight with a cannon when a flyswatter will do: Many contraindicated movements are simply not so horrific that it would warrant you stopping the class or sending someone out. Pick your battles. Indoor cycling is, at its foundation, a safe activity for most people to participate in and the unsafe things are not akin to climbing a vertical cliff without a rope. They are, by and large, unsafe over time…except for maybe riding with no resistance while standing with no hands. You can get the cannon out for that.

What to do instead: Weave your corrections in throughout the class if the problem is small, easily addressed, and not too urgent. No need to make a big announcement and disrupt the class. Determine what is for the greater good of the many and save correction for a time when it can be received well.

Corrections: The 3–2–1 approach

Your approach to the problem is every bit as important as your solution for the problem. The 3-2-1 approach may help you make crucial decision before confronting the problem.

While the cycling studio is a place where riders are free and encouraged to ride to their individual capabilities and aspirations, there are certain parameters that help keep the instructor in charge of classroom management to ensure that safe and effective exercise takes place under their watch. Clarity in expectation goes a long way toward class cohesion and is a luxury of a long-term relationship with riders. Investing the time to make your expectations known is always worthwhile. What and why to correct are usually immediately obvious—the behavior may be disruptive, distracting, or dangerous. When, who, and how to correct becomes a little more apparent using the 3-2-1 approach.


  1. Absolutely correct! Angry can’t bring any good thing that’s why patient is so necessary during riding. I agree with you, shouldn’t badmouth to instructor. Moreover, another point is also logical and I love your post. This is extremely valuable post which is required when anybody rides any equipment. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  2. Nice article, Cori. You make clear that there are levels of response and that one of our jobs is to find the appropriate level for a given situation. I’ve enjoyed your last several articles.

  3. Thanks so much, Cori. I remember information best by being methodical in my approach….having a pattern. The 3-2-1 analogy will help me tremendously….not only in remembering, but in how to approach the class. You’ve given me some ideas on how to change the way I handle these issues. Never too old/experienced to learn a better way! Thanks again. 🙂

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