My Cycling Class Today: Why Didn’t They Understand My Direction?

In my class this morning, I had some moments that gave me pause that I want to share with you. These are coaching reminders to help you recognize that not everyone hears or understands what you tell them—even if you say it a LOT—and my suggestions for resolutions.

(Note: Because these cues were related to teaching with power, they’re fairly technical. But keep reading, as you’ll see the advice I give you applies even to non-technical, non-power-based cueing.)

I was teaching a power-based class this morning and had a rider who was confused about a basic element of understanding power, something I’ve repeated quite a few times. At first, I found myself frustrated that she still didn’t get it.

We were about to do a ramp test to estimate FTP (functional threshold power). This required that they start at an easy effort equal to 50% of their previously tested FTP. The test involves increasing power every minute by 10–15 watts (depending on their estimated FTP) until they can barely squeeze out the final minute. I give them the direction to ride at a moderate cadence in the 80s that they can maintain through the whole ramp test.

I was walking around the room getting everyone prepared for the start of the test (I always teach it off the bike). I had music queued up for the next 25 minutes that was 80–85 bpm. One of my riders, Annie, who is in her 60s and is a novice outdoor rider who wants to do her first century this summer (though she can climb some of the big mountains around here, albeit slowly), said she couldn’t get her power any lower than it was. She was at 80 watts and needed to get it down to 65 watts to start the ramp test.

Now, I’ll be honest—in my head I was thinking, “Huh? How could you not know how to do that?” But then I realized that when I’m up on the bike explaining things, or when I hand out or email written explanations of how power in watts is based on the product of force times velocity, translated to resistance and cadence on our indoor bikes—to them, that is just theory. It doesn’t always make sense until you demonstrate how it applies to them on their bikes with their cadence and their resistance knob and their power output right there in front of them.

So I stood in front of her and gently explained power (again). But I posed it as a question to help her figure it out on her own.

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