Keeping it Fun while Keeping it Real

Cycling coach and indoor cycling instructor Mark Bedel and I have been trading notes on how to Keep it Real indoors while also keeping it fun. Mark took it to the next step and wrote it down! Here is some great advice if you are struggling with knowing you’re and your students are better off “keeping it real” but also wanting to satisfy your non-cyclist Mark Bedel, Owner, UpOn2Wheels Endurance Training, Level 2 USA Cycling Coach, Certified Spinning Instructor

I’ve been a USA Cycling Coach for over six years and prior to this held Johnny G Spinning and Fitness Training certifications.  I’ve also had the pleasure of working alongside a good friend and colleague, Ryan Rizor owner of Focus Human Performance who specializes in strength and speed conditioning.  I’ve also been a competitive amateur cyclist for over 15 years.

Many, myself included who have been teaching indoor cycling for sometime have always been painfully aware of how unregulated the fitness industry is and in particular, the group fitness industry. As such, it is not uncommon for us to observe classes being conducted by so-called instructors who dramatically deviate from sound, safe protocols in search of something new and unusual. I like to term these individuals and their followers as fad chasers. This is the same demographic who have to be the first on their block to have the latest whatever-it-is to hit the market. Their need to be first to try something new outweighs the real need to embrace a healthy lifestyle to which scientifically proven exercise protocols, along with complimentary cross training and diet, become ingrained.

In the search for always having something new to push out to their classes…the outrageous is deemed acceptable even if it is fundamentally flawed from a fitness development point of view and potentially unsafe for participants. The real tragedy is that many a well meaning fitness facility are complicit in this process and willingly permit these types of classes to be held.

So how does an instructor keep a returning class of clients from being bored while instituting a graduated, periodized development program which accomplishes everyone’s goals? I like to refer to my approach as “learn while you burn”. My classes from my one-hour weekday evening sessions to my two-hour weekend sessions are populated by a mix of avid to competitive cyclists as well as folks who only ride indoors. Now I will say that I do try a gently try and convert my indoor only clients to outdoor…but only gently.

Of course, music choice is always important, but the main method I use is to immerse the class in cycling culture by introducing them to cycling tactics and strategies. They learn what a paceline is and this becomes a way of doing a type of interval training.  We break into teams and work hard for the benefit of our team-mates. I always explain why we’re doing what we’re doing and put it into perspective as it relates to previous and future classes so that there is always an understanding of and an appreciation for the fitness building process. They learn the importance of pedal and breathing technique and why they are important to master even if you’re not going to ride outdoors; how important recovery is after a session and how an adjusted diet can aid in this process; why helping the immune system recover is so important.

I inject humor into my classes regularly as a temporary distraction from a long or particularly taxing movement or session.  Each class should always have an element of fun, with the primary goal always being to reach just that little bit further…push that little bit harder. Sometimes I even quiz the class on certain topics which I have repeated often. This is another form of distraction as well as an opportunity for learning.

Tempering our societies “want it now” attitude is certainly a challenge, but when you educate folks about how their bodies respond to stress and why, and remind them how long it took for them to gain those extra pounds and how they can safely and permanently remove them, you can see them develop an appreciation and an understanding of how their bodies work, and that they have to work with their bodies…not against them.

Of course to be able to have this type of dialogue one must thoroughly understand these principles and be comfortable translating them into a form that is easily relatable and retainable to the population you are engaging. As an instructor you must have a depth of knowledge in many areas and understand how to effectively apply that knowledge, while always keeping it fun.

I conduct all my classes as a type of road ride unless we are focusing of specific energy system development which I usually reserve for my two hour classes. These sessions become more focused as we move toward the later winter months and into early spring. As mentioned before, these longer classes contain a larger population of competitive and avid outdoor cyclists looking to build race/ride specific fitness for the upcoming cycling season. I do still have a surprisingly high number of indoor-only clients who enjoy the challenge of a longer class more focused class. These folks started in the one hour class format but over time felt the need for the additional challenge.

As a responsible instructor and coach the number one thing to focus on is sound fundamentals. In the end, these will always trump a fad and provide the results your clients are seeking in a safe and effective manner. The “learn while you burn” is my way of engaging and retaining clients year after year. You may have a different approach. Whatever your comfortable with and will benefit your clients is most important…forget the fads…they come and go, but in the end, what’s proven will win.


  1. I have been qualified with Spinning for 6 months and am so happy with the choice I made to become an IC coach. Teaching this class was a great challenge but my ‘why’ was BIG and I did it today and I loved the class. I have a lot to learn but it went well I got really good feedback. Thank you for providing this kind of help for us. As you suggest in your ebook on Class Design, its great to use tried and tested class with Jennifers name on it. I look forward to teaching this class again.

  2. I come through here to look for and read ideas and information on this topic and for support as i struggle at this new facility where very few are interested in knowing anything about what their doing, why and appropriately so as to ride safe and strong. so you can well imagine i don’t have the packed out house and this is not my agenda but it is a director’s when they look at numbers attending. I play games, use changing music and themes to keep things light and humorous while focusing on what is Real and appropriate but just can’t seem to get the #’s even with the start of the new year. I’m at a loss and wondering where i go with this and what else i can do differently. Am i teaching too hard, too easy? i know i can’t please everyone but certainly not feeling successful like i have in the previous 2 venues with a regular attending group of people.

  3. Thanks for the article Mark, well put. This method has worked for me as well. I can’t and won’t ride any other way. My guys love it, and we have been getting amazing results.
    Keeping it Real.

  4. Great Information! 🙂

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