Some comments in some of the online forums have made me realize it’s time to re-post this article. Please feel free to share it!
Have you ever heard anyone mention that cycling-specific indoor cycling classes are boring? Yeah, I have too. But it’s not the style of class; it’s the instructor. Let me tell you why. A few years ago I was talking to Peak Pilates master trainer Clare Dunphy in Boston. We were comparing the two disciplines of Spinning® and Pilates. I hadn’t realized there was the same tendency to eschew what was taught in the Pilates certification and make things up because instructors got “bored” or they thought their students were bored with biomechanically correct techniques. I asked her what her response to these instructors was. This is what she tells them:
If they’re bored, you’re boring!
Bingo! I’ve never forgotten this, although for the longest time I didn’t have the gumption to say this outright to instructors who bastardize proper cycling technique in the name of entertainment or to avoid being “bored.” But now I do. So here goes… Do you shy away from the term cycling specific because you think your students might be bored? Do you feel the pressure (real or self-imposed) to add constant movements in and out of the saddle, multiple minute-long standing “sprints” at high cadences, hovers, squats or isolations, tap backs, pushups, crunches, or lifting weights because you think that without them your students would be bored? Well, I have a question for you. Maybe it’s not the “moves” (or lack of them) that are boring…could it be that it’s you? One reason why students get bored is that the instructor hasn’t learned the skill of keeping the audience engaged. Just like a public speaker must learn to deliver a speech in an engaging and interesting manner, so too must a fitness and cycling instructor. You must learn to use your voice to your advantage and not just rely on yelling commands. The key is to learn to be a captivating instructor who puts students first. It’s also important to take a serious and in-depth look at yourself and your own attitudes toward “cycling specific.” Many years ago, as the Spinning coordinator of my club, I was auditing one of my instructors. The scheduled class was an “Endurance” profile, and (no kidding) this was how she introduced the class as she rolled her eyes: “Ugh, it’s enduuuuuurance. OK, prepared to be bored!” You can imagine, she and I had a pretty major discussion after that class. Even if you don’t go that far, your body language, word choice, and tone and inflection of voice will reflect that you are bored by a specific kind of ride. It’s impossible for the riders not to be bored as well. Here are 13 ways you can be sure to keep students engaged without resorting to silly gimmicks on the bike.
- Lack of variety will bore anyone. But if your idea of adding variety is to take “movements” and mix them up like you’re rolling dice, then you are missing the point. Each class must be different at its core. You do this by starting with a specific objective based on the desired adaptations you are seeking. It can be a technique-oriented purpose, it can be music based, it can be an outside ride simulation, it can be a theme class, and so many more. Every day they walk into your class, your profile should be different from the previous class. New ICA members receive the free e-book How to Create Profiles, which includes many suggestions for different objectives and how to successfully put new rides together.
- Give them structure. When everything you do in that class is tied to the objective you set at the beginning and not just a haphazard collection of movements, you give students a specific structure to follow. When students know there is a structure, they are going to be more likely to listen and to focus on what you are doing.
- Inspire your students to think. When you can encourage your students to move beyond the superficiality of a workout, you’ve gained their participation for life. Technique drills are an excellent way to do this, but also asking them specific questions during the ride or empowering them to focus on one or two specific things as they ride engages their minds as well as their body. But like so many things, don’t overdo it.
- Education is key! If your students know WHY you are doing what you are doing and how it will help them meet their weight loss, fitness, or performance goals, they are much less likely to be bored, and hence, they come back again and again. There’s a fine balance here, because reading a few paragraphs on physiology at the start of your classes is a surefire way to bore them to death. You must learn how to deliver the science in the right amounts and in interesting ways sprinkled throughout your ride. (The team at ICA is skilled in taking complicated subjects and making them easier to understand as well as fun! One example is Tom Scotto’s Audio Master Class Betwitched, which teaches students about muscle fiber types while keeping them begging for more!)
- What about you? How can you keep them captivated if you yourself aren’t constantly striving to improve? Education is key to being a good coach. While being educated isn’t always a guarantee of being the most exciting, it is an important foundation as a fitness instructor. Know your stuff, and you are more likely to be able to answer your students’ questions wisely. That student will be less likely to be bored.
- Are you repeating the same cues over and over and over? No wonder they’re bored! “Turn it up,” “Drop your shoulders,” “Push,” “Harder,” “Faster,” “More,” etc. Stop saying the same things all the time! How do you find ways to expand your vocabulary? Go to live conferences, and write down what the MI is saying. Read books on mental training. And of course, ICA has a large amount of articles on cueing, from endurance to increasing resistance to high-intensity efforts.
- Change YOUR attitude! Ask yourself, what message are you giving your students? If you find it boring, there is no way you’ll inspire your students to like it. Your body language is talking just as loudly as (or maybe even louder than) you are. Every thing we do on a bike (every proper thing, that is) is beautiful and full of purpose and benefits. Find the beauty in a seated flat road and share it with your students. When YOU believe it, so will they. Come to class prepared with a positive mental attitude and exude your excitement—they will catch your fever.
- Learn how to use your voice for maximum impact. How you deliver your message has a huge impact on the attention span of your audience. Use voice inflection, pauses, carefully timed cues, questions, and when the need arises, it’s OK to raise your voice for a key moment of your ride, such as during a sprint finish. But even a powerful command doesn’t have to be screamed out like a boot camp drill sergeant. Always remember, sometimes a whisper is more powerful than a scream.
- Build a tribe. Make an effort to know all of your students by name and to know more about them and their goals. Inspire them to get to know each other. This increased sense of community will work wonders on their commitment to you, to the class, and to the lessons you teach them. Boredom won’t be an issue since they’ll always be riding with friends!
- Share some of yourself with your students so they get to know who you are beyond your class. One of the rules of business relations is that customers tend to “like” you as a business and to trust what you tell them when you interact with them via social media. In turn, they are more likely to purchase your product. That sense of connection is what drives successful social media programs. It is the very same with you and your class and students. Your students are your customers and when they feel more of an intimate connection to you, they are more likely to “buy” what you’re selling. ICA has many articles that teach you how to be more connected with your students and to improve your communication with them.
- Motivate your students intrinsically. Extrinsic factors include boot-camp style motivation and pushing the rider through loud commands. There is nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation, but when it is your sole source of getting your students to do something (too common in many cycling classes) then you are missing out on a very important and exciting means of inspiring your students from within. Intrinsic motivation is to encourage them to tap into their own deeply embedded reasons for wanting to get fit, to get up a mountain, to push harder, or to lose weight. Inspire them to use the power of their minds to overcome the desires to slow down or stop. ICA has several articles devoted to becoming a coach who inspires on the deeper level.
- Inspire them to ride outside. It will be like a light bulb has gone off in their head when they see the amazing purpose of everything you’ve taught them. Once they realize how beautiful cycling is as a sport, you won’t lose them. They’ll be motivated by you and your coaching, but I guarantee that you will have fewer “bored” students if they appreciate the bicycle outside.
- Music. Ah yes, the music. One way to keep your students from getting bored is to learn more about how music motivates and be willing to experiment. The key is to offer variety. Instead of ONLY playing what they want, use music that matches the message of what you are trying to communicate through your cues and through your profile. Time your cues to the ebb and flow of the energy in the songs and to the beat drop. If it’s not a genre of music that they would play at home, that’s OK. Just like a movie score might not be your preferred playlist at home, you might walk out of the movie with your mind blown because the music perfectly matched the message of the screenplay. Your class playlist can have that same amazing impact. ICA specializes in giving you song suggestions from a wide variety of genres with tips on how to use the songs for maximum impact.
It’s important to realize that it is impossible to please everyone. Just know that you will have much more success when you keep your students engaged, even if you follow “cycling-specific” techniques that Keep it Real. You will eventually see amazing results and have your students singing your praises. Revel in the students who do follow you, don’t worry about the ones who don’t. They’re off to find that instructor who will beat them into submission and lie to them about how many calories they are consuming or that they are working their core or upper body. But your students will soon ride circles around the others! ]]>