Objective. Purpose. Content. Clarity. Direction. Mission outline.
Whatever you want to call it, it is essential for any indoor cycling class or training session, or any workout whatsoever, to have a clear purpose that is known to the participant at the outset of the class.
It’s not only essential for the participants, it is also essential for the instructor in the profile-creation process. Knowing in advance what you want to accomplish for the class and what the focus will be sets you up mentally, helping you to manage your own expectations and how you will deal with the expectations of your riders. It will determine the warm-up length and intensity, and interval and recovery durations.
Regardless of whether your class is 30 or 90 minutes long, it must have a purpose that you can state in a short sentence or phrase: speed endurance, muscular endurance, aerobic endurance or capacity, cadence drills, pedal stroke drills and technique work, threshold improvement, climbing skills, anaerobic endurance or capacity, explosive power, etc. Some classes might have multiple goals, especially the longer ones.
The class goal should never be a secret. If a rider comes in early and asks, “What are we doing today?” the answer should not be, “Oh, you’ll see. Just follow me.”
You can mention your planned objective for the ride a few times as people are filing in and setting up. The reason is simple—if you mention endurance to me, I will go and get a second bottle of water and an extra towel. And since I came in early, I may start my own warm-up based on what we will be doing later.
You do not need to explain all the drills in detail at this point or even at the very start of the session unless the structure is simple; for example, three rounds of 9 minutes in the tempo zone, each one at a different cadence, with 3-minute recoveries in between.
If you have multiple shorter drills that vary from one to the other, you can outline the basic structure. For example: “Today we will do pyramids of 1, 2, and 3 minutes from Zone 3 to Zone 5 with recoveries in Zone 2.”
Do not begin your class without mentioning your plan. Even if you build your classes around music, you can still say, for example, “Today it will be a two-track warm-up followed by rolling hills; one song will be a climb and the next will be a fast downhill or a flat road. The songs will increase in length each round. There are four rounds in total.”
And categorically, I urge you to never start a drill like this:
“Let’s do 20/40s. Twenty seconds and 40 seconds. Three, two, one, go! Twenty seconds in Zone 4!”
First, how long will we be doing this—is it the only round or will there be more? How many more? What will be the recovery between them? After the 20 seconds in Zone 4 are we going to Zone 5 or Zone 3 or Zone 1? Will the 40 seconds be at higher cadence or with more resistance? Seated or standing? Can I choose? What am I supposed to feel and achieve? What if I can no longer hold the target cadence or power—do I skip one or finish early?
It can be extremely frustrating from a participant’s point of view not to know where the class is going and why they are doing what they’re doing. It makes it impossible to gauge intensity (especially in longer classes) without knowing the overall picture. Your riders can’t judge if they have achieved the purpose without knowing the purpose. Even having a display of heart rate or power zones doesn’t replace that element. If anything, it adds to the frustration, as you have all the data in front of you but cannot analyze it properly without direction.
Think back to when you had to write a paper for a school project. You were taught to have an introduction that explained what the paper was going to discuss, followed by the body of the paper, and, finally, the conclusion. Without that introduction, the reader was left guessing what they were about to read or what to expect. Here’s a challenge for you: treat your classes like your school papers with a proper introduction. No one will be left guessing and everyone will have a greater chance at success.