Before every class, I scan the room for unfamiliar faces. If there are any, I make a point of approaching them, introducing myself to make them feel welcome, and then asking if they need any assistance with their bike setup. Several weeks ago, there was a couple that was new to me but not new to indoor cycling. During our brief discussion, they mentioned that they were experienced riders and were fine with their setup. I noted that they looked properly set up on their bikes, so I began the class.
Usually I get off my bike to check on new riders during the class, just to make sure that things are OK. But I didn’t do that this time. The ride was “Let Freedom Ring from Every Hill and Every Mountaintop—A Tribute to Martin Luther King.” I was so caught up in the moment, the music, the man, and his message that I completely ignored these new riders. I’m not proud of it, and that’s not my usual practice, but I was having a near spiritual experience on the bike that day. After the cool-down (an awesome mix of King’s speeches over “Moments In Love” by The Art of Noise), as people were leaving, the couple approached me. They wanted to ask me a few questions, which I welcomed.
They initially asked why I didn’t perform any upper-body stretches during the warm-up, which is what they were used to doing. My response was that studies have shown static stretching before exercise provides no benefits. The best way to warm up is to perform the planned activity at lower intensity for several minutes, followed by dynamic stretching of the working muscles. Since cycling is a lower-body exercise, we’d have to get off and then back on the bikes to do this, so I skip the dynamic stretching and just pedal at lower intensity levels for the warm-up. Static stretching of our upper body doesn’t prepare our working muscles for the upcoming activity, so I just don’t do it.
The couple then nodded in agreement and said that other instructors tell them what gear they should be riding in (on Keiser bikes). Why didn’t I do that? I told them that first, I didn’t know them. I don’t even know my regulars well enough to tell them which gear they should be riding in, since their fatigue and fitness levels may vary on any given day.
Even more important, everyone is different. Using them as an example, I stated that the husband was much bigger than his wife. Because of his mass, he could be capable of riding in a bigger gear than his wife at the same cadence. Given the differences between the two of them, how could I cue a room of over 20 people of varying levels of fitness, experience, and weight to all ride in the same gear? Instead of telling people their gear, I suggest the cadence through the bpm of the music. Then, I specify the target intensity by verbal descriptions or via zones. Individually, they can find the proper gear that gets them to the RPE goal at the suggested cadence. It could be different for everyone. They liked this answer, and expressed their appreciation.
This prompted them to ask one more question. They wanted to know why I didn’t tell them when to sit and when to stand like every other class that they participated in. I explained that this was more a case of style, not science. My rides are based on the experience of riding a bike outside. I’ve never been on a ride where someone yells at me to “sit” or “stand,” so I allow my indoor riders to choose the position that suits them best at that time. There are exceptions, such as when we’re working on a specific technique. There’s nothing wrong with an instructor suggesting positions in a class, as long as they are optional, not mandated.
With that, the couple thanked me for my time and I stated my appreciation for their questions as they departed.
There were some thoughts that I took away from this post-class conversation. First, I was encouraged that these people asked me questions. I shared this experience with my other classes that week and told them that they should feel comfortable asking me, and other instructors, why we are or aren’t doing something. They are the paying customers and if they don’t understand the “why,” they have a right to ask us.
The second and more important takeaway is that instructors should have answers to their riders’ “why” questions. “Because that’s the way that I do it” isn’t a proper response. “That’s how I was trained in my certification” is marginally acceptable. Being able to explain the reason using science—while keeping it at a layperson’s level—is the best kind of response. Your members will learn something and respect you for sharing your knowledge.
Even if the riders don’t ask questions, instructors should be prepared to answer for themselves why they are doing something. If it doesn’t make sense to you, if you can’t answer your own “why” question, then how are you going to be able to respond when your members ask questions?