Food For Thought: Does “Picture How You’ll Look In That Dress!” Motivate Riders?

I read an amazing blog post I’d like to share with you. It got me thinking about how some instructors, both men and women, inspire (or think they are inspiring) their riders in their classes.

Some instructors will motivate their students to reach the top of that hill because of the way it will make them feel, for the confidence it will inspire in them, for the realization that if they can do that, they can do anything they set their minds to.

Others yell at riders to push to the top of the mountain because by doing so, they can fit into a certain dress for the summer, or because they’ll look good when they go out at night.

There’s some food for thought, eh?

First, I’ll reprint part of this blog here, and then give you a few of my thoughts on it. I’d love your input as well. To read this blog post in its entirety on the blog Wellfesto, click here.

Ten Things I Want My Daughter To Know About Working Out
By Brynn Harrington

Mid-way through a recent group exercise class, the teacher lost me.  She didn’t lose me because of some complicated step sequence or insanely long set of burpees; I mentally checked out because of a few words she kept saying over and over.  “Come on!  Get that body ready for your winter beach vacation!  Think about how you want to look at those holiday parties!  PICTURE HOW YOU’LL LOOK IN THAT DRESS!

THAT DRESS?”  My brain couldn’t focus on an image of some random dress hanging in my closet.  All I could think about was my three-year-old daughter hearing and trying to process those words.

My daughter’s little brain is making sense of the world every single second, taking in verbal and non-verbal cues about how things work and what things mean.  And when it comes to exercise, I want her to grow up seeing it as a joy, and not a utility…as a gift, and not a chore…as an opportunity, not an obligation.  I want her to do it for the love of it, not to fit into a dress.  I want her to grow up knowing that…

  1. Strength equals self-sufficiency.  Being strong – particularly as a woman – is empowering.  It will feel good someday to be able to carry your own luggage down the stairs if the airport escalator is broken, and it will be important to have a solid shot at outrunning a stranger should you meet one a dark alley.
  2. Fitness opens doors.  Being healthy and fit can help you see the world differently.  The planet looks different from a bike or a pair of skis than it does from a car or an airplane.  Out in the elements you have the time and space to notice details and meet people and remember smells and bugs and mud and rain and the feeling of warm sunshine on your face.  And those are the moments that make up your life.
  3. The bike is the new golf course.  Being fit may help you get a seat at the table.  Networking is no longer restricted to the golf course, and the stronger you are – and the more people you can hang with on the road and trail – the more people you’ll meet.
  4. Exercise is a lifestyle, not an event.  Being an active person isn’t about taking a class three times a week at the gym.  It’s about things like biking to the grocery store and parking your car in the back of the lot and walking instead of taking a cab and catching up with friends on a hiking trail instead of a bar stool.
  5. Endorphins help you cope.  A good sweat session can clear the slate.  You will have days when nothing seems to go right…when you’re dizzy with frustration or crying in despair.  A workout can often turn things around.

To continue reading, click here.

Did you enjoy that post like I did?

I don’t have a daughter. While Brynn is thinking about how her daughter (and all the daughters of the world) is affected by the way society motivates women, her message goes far beyond just that.

This is not what inspires me; personally I am inspired by the things that fitness brings that Brynn writes about in her blog—the lifestyle, the confidence, the strength, the doors fitness opens, the endorphins, the relationships, etc.

I’m not going to say it’s wrong to motivate someone along those lines. Sex—and sexiness—sells, there’s no doubt about that. Our society and the media place an inordinate emphasis on the shape and size of the body as the ultimate goal, and it does bring people in the door. Sure, if it can help you increase your attendance, it’s certainly one way to sell out your classes or find clients. However, I’m hoping that this article will inspire you (and your studio) to think outside of those lines.

As a personal trainer and coach, I’ve always found it important to ask my clients their goals. Why do they want to work out? What is their why for being there? (If you are an ICA member, you should be familiar with my audio profile called How Big Is Your Why, in which you inspire your students to peel back the layers to uncover their deepest desires for being fit. It’s a New Year’s Revolution ride, but truly can be used anytime to inspire your students to achieve even more.)

I’ve had a few female training clients who had short-term goals such as fitting into a certain dress for their daughter’s wedding, or even into their own wedding dress. If this was their goal, then I wasn’t going to deny that—I wanted to help them reach their goals and that “carrot” helped get them into the gym. However, fitting into a dress or trying to live up to an impossible standard of so-called beauty are short-term and superficial goals. This is why I always tried to infuse my training sessions with these clients with additional long-term, life-enhancing benefits of working out, so that they would want to continue on this wonderful lifestyle path of fitness long after the wedding was over.

As an indoor cycling coach, I rarely ever use this type of superficial “inspiration” in my coaching. I prefer to inspire my riders to get to the top of that challenging mountain or make it through that field test because of what it will do for them inside, not outside. I want them to know how much stronger they will be mentally, and how it will transfer to other areas of their lives.

I’m not saying it is wrong to inspire someone physically. I’d be lying if I said I never coached this way; I think there is a time and a place for it. This past winter was an especially long, cold, and snowy one here in the Rocky Mountains. In late April after an especially depressing dump of snow (the week after our ski mountain had closed), I told my class something along the lines of “Who’s tired of this snow and of wearing so many clothes? Let’s all imagine a beach, and we’re lying on that beach with the bodies we want. This next hill will help us get there!”

Like I said, a time and a place…at that moment, everyone was dreaming of beaches!

What works best may be dependent on your target market. I live in the mountains where most people are less into their physical appearances than they are their physical abilities. Not that they don’t care how they look, but it is not out there on a silver platter like it might be in New York City or Los Angeles. How many of you who teach in big cities find that your students are more attracted to this type of motivation?

Here’s a challenge: examine your own methods of inspiration.

  • Do you find yourself using words like the instructor Brynn described in her blog, motivating your students primarily by the clothes they can wear, or the “booty” they can have, or the men (or women) they can meet?
  • Does this type of cueing motivate you when you take a class?
  • What if you started changing the way you inspired your students, little by little? If you find yourself using the physical body, or wearing certain clothes (or lack of them!) as the primary way you motivate, why not start sprinkling in more mental strength cueing? Instead of 75% superficial, 25% mental strength and confidence, change the ratio to 25% superficial and 75% mental?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you coach? Can you envision yourself changing your style, even just slightly? Are you fine with superficial inspiration? How about your students? Here’s the most powerful question…if you answered that last question with a “yes”…how do you know? Are you just projecting what you think onto them, or are you fearful of the work it might take to change the way you teach?

Just some food for thought! 😉


1 Comment

  1. The “Dress” post got me thinking. As a personal trainer and cycle instructor for the past 14 years, I can recall using “superficial” coaching techniques in my earlier years. As I gained more experience, I learned that it was SO not about looking good in a bathing suit or dropping a dress size. Cycle class should be inspiring and empowering. Each person, no matter what their fitness level, should leave feeling accomplished and proud. Cues like, ” This next hill is a big one, what does your hill look like, feel like? Make yourself proud on this one.” I can see how effective it is when their hands go to the resistance knob or lever and turn it up. When you see on their faces, “Oh man, I am going to take this hill, this is going to hurt, but I will do this because I am strong.” What man in class is thinking about a dress in HIS closet??? At the end of big efforts, during recovery, I like to have them reflect for a second on the way it made them FEEL to accomplish a big effort like a monster hill. Questions like,”Take a second to acknowledge what you just did on that hill. Doesn’t that just feel good? Is that why you come to class?” As instructors, we all know that people just want to feel good when they leave. “Superficial” motivation may work for some, but I believe that for most people, the feeling of accomplishment, pride and satisfaction will stay with them throughout the day and motivate them to come back. It changes the way you think about yourself and the way you relate to others. That is the greatest reward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *