I teach for a big chain gym where I have four classes a week. Two at 6:30 a.m. and two evening ones at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. I have been teaching there for a few years.
Recently, I heard through the grapevine that other indoor cycling classes there are not as busy as mine, whereas in order to get a bike in my evening classes, people come in 45 minutes before the start. My morning classes have also been hugely successful, bringing in 30 to 45 riders (full capacity).
Last week one of the managers came to take my class to do some reconnaissance in order to figure out my secret. She got there nice and early so she had a chance to see a few things that I know from my riders’ feedback contribute to the success of my classes.
Let me tell you why I believe I fill my classes…
15 Reasons Why I Have a Full Cycle Class
- Be Early
I know it’s not always possible but I make a point of only taking on classes where I can be sure I will get there at least 20 minutes early. I want my bike set up, sound checked, etc., before the first riders arrive. I check pedal straps (at one gym they have a funny way of being undone or even disappearing), make sure the bikes are arranged the right way, and in some gyms I put towels on the handlebars and wipe the consoles.
- Screening for Injuries
I make a habit of always asking my class whether they have any injuries or issues I should know about. So many times I see instructors asking about injuries when they have already started the warm-up. How is anyone going to tell you anything at that point? Do you expect them to shout about their medical issues? If someone has an injury, I discuss the problem, adjust the bike (if needed), and I give them permission to modify the ride by avoiding high cadence, resistance, or intensity.
- Bike Setup
I make an effort to help people set themselves up. If I leave it to the last minute, I guarantee many people will not see me from the back or even listen to what I say. And those who have no idea about setup will just sit on any bike without adjusting a single thing. That’s why I keep an eye on people during the warm-up, and approach and adjust those who need it.
- Start on Time
One of my regulars told me that an instructor who teaches a 30-minute 6:30 a.m. class does not start it until 6:37, leaving only 20 minutes to warm up, work, and cool down. Because I come in early to check bikes and the stereo system, I pride myself on being able to start (and end) on time. I spend a lot of time creating my profiles and I don’t want my riders to miss out on any of the hard work I’ve planned! Not only that, but I know they pay good money to be there, so they deserve every minute of the class time to be devoted to their workout. This is not lost on them when they compare me with other instructors…I know they appreciate it.
- State the Rules Clearly Before the Start
I am all about rules and state them clearly before we start. If you bring a jacket or your bag with you into the studio, it has to be put in a specific area. There is no texting, no internet, no excess talking in my class. If you like my playlist, I can share it with you after the class so there is no need to Shazam anything. If you’re an outdoor cyclist (or not) and want to spend the whole class in the saddle, feel free. I have found that people like and respect my directness.
- Always Be Prepared
My riders know I am always prepared and I want them to be prepared for the upcoming workout. I always describe the outline of the profile in the warm-up: the terrain, the goal, the number of intervals, etc. I am also prepared with a “plan B” in case I have to switch class profiles, as I might do if I only have 10 riders that are all new faces. You never know when you need to switch gears.
- Know What You Are Talking About. Keep Learning.
I will never tell my riders to do or not do something without giving them the “why” behind what I am asking. They also know they can approach me before or after the class with questions…and they do. I carry handouts with power zones for the coach-by-color system. People can follow my FB page and find information on indoor cycling there.
Continuing education, live or online seminars, taking other people’s classes, using resources like ICA—this is how I stay educated. I always encourage all instructors to keep evolving.
- Don’t Feel Forced to Bow to New Trends
I have heard instructors say members won’t come if it’s just cycling—you need to spice it up with push-ups and other moves. I guarantee you, once they experience how hard the so-called boring classes (i.e., no gimmicks) make them work, they don’t have time to think about funky moves.
Gain knowledge on why the simple and basic (note: not easiest) techniques work and share it with your riders.
It’s about translating the language of science into digestible, easy-to-understand phrases:
“What are watts? Have you seen watt numbers on light bulbs? 60 watts is not very bright. 200 watts is blinding. If I stuck a light bulb onto you, how bright would it shine? How much energy are you producing? Everyone is different, and it’s important to remember that a larger person can produce more than a smaller person, but everyone in this room can shine their own bright light. Make sure you are putting out your best effort.”
- Get to Know Your Riders
First a confession: I am rubbish with names but I know my regulars’ goals, injuries, a bit about their family situation, if they are competitive, what races or events they train for, etc. It helps me to give them individual options for some profiles and they feel like I customize the class for them rather than single them out. I celebrate their outdoor successes when they come back into the class. I acknowledge other events in their lives (unrelated to cycling/fitness). All of this brings me closer to my riders and helps them feel a connection to me.
Starting to make sense now? You can see why they want to keep coming back!
- Try Teaching Off the Bike
I walk around a lot and sometimes teach entire classes off the bike. This style of teaching suits me. It helps me connect with everyone in the big studios. It helps me to get that one-on-one moment with a new rider. It helps me adjust class goals for someone who set their threshold too low on their console. It allows me to notice things I wouldn’t see from the instructor bike, and in doing so, I can have a much bigger impact on my riders.
A previous studio manager told me once that I was not allowed to teach off the bike as I have to “lead by example.” Hmm…I am the only instructor there who teaches that much off the bike, yet my numbers are the highest. This just proves that it doesn’t matter if you are on or off—it’s about your skills as a coach and the connection you make.
I’m also more than happy to leave the studio to refill someone’s water bottle so they don’t have to compromise their workout, but I only do so when we do long intervals (10 minutes).
- Call Their Bluff
Since my classes are so popular, I often have to turn people away. When this happens, I make a point of saying to my class, with a smile and a wink, “Now that you’ve got a bike, you need to earn it! If I see you waste your time on the phone or not giving your best, I might have to give away your bike to someone from the waiting list!” It’s an empty threat (my riders know that), but it makes a point.
You might hear me say during a high-intensity effort: “Look around—everyone is panting and sweating. If you are still looking fresh and your breathing is steady—unless you’ve let me know you have a valid reason to ride easy—do not kid yourself, you are simply not working hard!” Harsh? Maybe, but in my classes it’s always followed by smiles or laughter.
- Always Take Care of Special Populations
If I have a pregnant rider, someone over 50, or someone with a severe weight issue, I will spend time with them before we start, making sure they understand they have permission to take breaks, stand up, or even leave after 15–20 minutes if the saddle bothers them too much.
- Use RPE
Even when you teach on bikes with power, teaching with perceived exertion cues is key. The IC7 bikes we have are the best thing since sliced bread with the coach-by-color system, but if your threshold is not set up right, these are only pretty colors. (The console indicates which zone you are in through a color system.)
RPE is still one of the best things you can use with any bike. Just make sure you are descriptive and don’t just shout “7 out of 10!”
Play to your strengths. If you love the song you will find it easier to coach to it. However, you also want to be adventurous with your music choices—a bit of classical never hurt anyone. Sometimes music is at the forefront of the ride; sometimes the focus on the job at hand is so intense that people don’t even realize what music is on and it recedes to the background. Get ideas from instructor forums, join ICA for countless music ideas and how to use them, follow other instructors on Spotify, or even ask your riders for ideas. They will feel more a part of your community when you incorporate their favorite songs.
- Be Yourself
What works for me may not suit your personality, your sense of humor, or your coaching style. I recommend that you only take from other instructors what works for you naturally. You must be your authentic self and develop your own style.
I will be there to high-five a new rider but I will not adhere to a policy that insists I stand at the door and high-five everyone as they leave. I feel I should devote those few extra minutes to someone who struggles with their pedal stroke or who has a question for me.
I sometimes use “colorful” language, but this is who I am. I might say, “You have 10 intervals to do. If you need more recovery than is given—take it. I’d rather you give me 6 or 7 really good ones than 10 shitty ones. Quality over quantity.” People have never been offended—they laugh, but they listen to me.
As of writing this, I am still waiting for the manager’s feedback following her visit. I hope she walked away with a few pointers that could serve as guidelines to those instructors who struggle to get bums on seats and cannot figure out why. I believe the manager was happy with what she saw and the feedback she got from the riders. I would be more than happy to help any instructor who needs it. In the end, numbers don’t lie.