How to HIIT on Outdoor Cyclists

Regardless of whether you are an indoor cycling instructor, the director of a large fitness chain, or an indoor cycling studio owner, the goal is always to attract clients. To date, the indoor cycling industry has yet to attract the outdoor cycling masses. I’m going to use the example of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to illustrate the challenge we face in attracting cyclists in addition to making programs more enticing and effective.


  1. Why incorporate/accommodate outdoor cyclists in our classes? I think the best reason relates to our role as instructors. I appreciate the additional richness that occurs when the outdoor people mix with the ‘indoor to outdoor’ crowd and with the strictly indoor people. Everyone learns more when there is a wide range of points of view represented and it is definitely more fun to teach to a heterogeneous group. For example, when I discuss energy systems the indoor-exclusive people often ask the best questions. I can see the outdoor crowd, who thought they knew that stuff, sit up and listen when they realize that their understanding has been incorrect all along.

    I don’t explicitly market to outdoor riders although I do take my indoor people outside, which in turn makes them outdoor riders. But the proportion of “serious” (in my population-sparse region this implies serious recreational cyclists – we don’t have many local racers) outdoor riders in my classes rises every year. That is a direct by-product of the results achieved by the few serious cyclists who found me years ago and of their observations of the strength of the indoor people. Word of mouth works (perhaps because I live in a small city) and every winter a few more outdoor people filter into my classes.

    I receive at least one email a week, complete with data files, from outdoor cyclists who are able to make a connection between their summer performance and the work they did with me in the winter. I now have a long list of testimonials which I plan to put on the website when I am well enough to teach again. I am sure that the data presented by the outdoor folk will encourage other outdoor cyclists to attend. And, when they do, they will be surprised by the capacity of the strictly “indoor” people and by how much they understand about their bodies and physiology.

  2. Chuck, Thanks for your comment! I’m going to provide a response to the great points you made in a separate article published later today.

  3. Tom,

    You say, “Remember: Real Training. Real Cycling. Real Results. Present this in an exciting and fun wrapper, and the outdoor cyclists and fitness enthusiasts will be flocking to your class in droves.”

    Your tenacity is admirable. Sadly – the underlying truth of this post is that outdoor cyclists are not coming inside anytime soon. The attendance that keeps most studios open is – for the most part – at the opposite end of the training spectrum as you so aptly tell us.

    Why are we even discussing bringing outside riders to indoor cycling classes?

    The reason posts like ‘Ascension to Elysium’ and ‘Training Aerobic Capacity’ have brought my fingers back to the keyboard, are because they go directly to what we can do in a 45 to 60 minute class. HIIT and Tabata have their short but well placed presence in our classes, but are widely misused.

    While there will always be a few instructors that can draw more than the average number of outdoor riders to their classes, such instructors – like Tom – are far and few between. In our circles, he has a great reputation as a competitive outside rider and USA cycling coach. His recent lessons on training aerobic capacity are evidence of this. Those of us that have met him know his commitment to our industry, great personality, love of music and dedication to maintaining a very healthy lifestyle. Plus, he is great on that lead bike.

    Locally he has proven his himself as an instructor that fills classes. How many outdoor riders regularly attend his class is unknown, but would bet it is more than the two or three the rest of us get.

    Some of us are great at couching a 45-minute class as training. Others are very good at putting 60 minutes of riding to great music, others at connecting with their riders. Great cues or story telling to background music helps all of us keep it fresh. We stay away from contraindicated movement on the bike and do the best we can. The best of the best indoor cycle instructors put it all together, resulting in sold out classes.

    Nevertheless, all of us can participate in constant never ending learning. That is what we get here.

    The success of indoor cycling classes has always turned on the ability of the instructor to give their riders a good reason to come back. To create – as it were – an atmosphere of community first, fun entertaining classes that provide the sense of a hard workout (read; some heart pounding, quad popping sweat dripping efforts) in the time the riders have allocated to maintaining their weight, cardio health and mental state. It is that simple.

    The continued success of studio cycling is a matter of putting butts in saddles. That is the measure, and for instructors, unfortunately, the ends justifying the means. Just look at the success of Soul Cycle.

    Ironically, it was the outdoor rider in Johnny G. that brought us the indoor cycling we are all engaged in today. There were indoor cycles in gyms, basements and training studios long before ‘studio cycling’ became popular. What never became popular was competitive training for outdoor riding in studio cycling classes.

    Moreover, when you think about that, it makes sense. Our classes are too short. We are bound by management to teach a class to diverse skill sets. Very few classes are dedicated to the kinds of workouts that would create the stress and adaptions needed to train a competitive rider.

    So again, “Why are we even discussing bringing outside riders to indoor cycling classes?” We don’t need them in our classes. What we need – and believe Tom is aptly providing in this post – was guidance so our classes are real.

    Gene Nacey had it right. He wanted to create programming that brought the outdoors, indoors. His idea to use High Definition, well recorded and edited road video coupled with heart rate training and his own book, ‘Training with Power’ did exactly that. And the industry followed.

    Forums like this promoted the idea. Jennifer’s, Keep It Real book and her zealous defense of its virtues have made those of us who believe, better for it.

    Still, at the end of the day – if we have learned nothing else in this business – we know it is bad business, to try to make a business, of bringing outdoor riders to indoor cycling classes. Bike manufacturers like TEAM ICG and STAR TRAC are not producing indoor cycles with colorful lights to attract out door riders.

    Outdoor riders like to ride, OUTDOORS! To contrast the studio cyclist from the outdoor rider I queried my classes during the Tour de France. (TDF)

    The TDF is an epic competition by any definition. Made more popular than ever by the scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong, this sporting event was hardly seen on the radar of the younger indoor riders in classes at Google.

    While our outdoor riding counter parts were programming their DVR’s and rising before dawn to watch live coverage from Europe, many indoor riders didn’t even know the TDF had started and, in some cases, had never heard of it.

    The training such professional riders endure to compete at TDF levels are technically interesting but superfluous at the studio cycling level. We instructors can benefit from such knowledge, perhaps even educating some of our riders. However, it’s unlikely studio cycling will draw large numbers of serious outdoor riders with it. Why do we continue to go there?

  4. Thanks for the article. I have been guilty of saying we’re doing an endurance ride when it’s only a 60 minute class. I will adjust this as I do have outdoor riders in my class. I have yet to add outdoor cycling to my training but some of my students are working on me to do so.

  5. Thanks Tom, again a great article!

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