You Never Know

Have you ever walked into class and just known it was going to be one of those days? At the front of the room sit the fitness warriors, donning serious faces as they set their heart rate monitors and fine-tune their bike setup. At the back of the room a small riot brews. There is tons of chatter, laughter, and a couple of folks whose voices project more than is tolerable. The front row is noticeably annoyed.

I start class, but the cacophony of voices continues from the back. I throw out a few choice words—not the ones you are thinking. “It is now time to FOCUS! As class begins, let’s direct our attention to our breathing. Let’s take a SILENT assessment of where our body is today.” Everyone in the back has turned to the task at hand except the two projectors. Their voices cut through the heaviest of fog to the dismay of many in the room. To no avail, at one point I say, “If anything other than heavy breathing is coming out of your mouth, you are not working hard enough.”

There is a row of bikes that is practically pressed against the front mirror of the room. This row of bikes is in line with my instructor bike so that only the first two riders are completely visible; the remaining riders in the row just look like bobbing heads. A rider in the front row, right next to me, says, “Clearly they know the last twenty things you said were directed at them.” My response over the mic was, “Clearly.” The riders in the two front rows chuckle at our unfortunate inside joke.

Now, I could have easily gotten off my bike and addressed these two individuals directly, but instead took sadistic pleasure in constructing creative cues that amused thirty-four of the thirty-six riders in the room. While I was relishing in my onslaught against the two Chatty Cathys in the back (sorry, Cathy), a rider in the front row against the mirror gathered his belongings and hastily left the room. He did not appear to be in physical danger as he juggled his towels, water bottle, and a lit smartphone while maneuvering through the gauntlet of bikes to the back door, so I plowed ahead. Thankfully, I successfully stopped the two people in the back of the room from talking without using words: I turned off the music, took off my headset, and held it out to them as an offering. Done.

After class, one of the residents of the mirrored front row informed me that the guy who left was constantly on his phone. The rider to his right told him he was being very distracting. That appeared to have been the catalyst for his quick departure. The chatty sisters had left halfway through the cool-down, but could still be heard down the hall. The remaining riders in the room unified over their disgust in how self-centered and disrespectful people can be. They also expressed being entertained by my passive-aggressive approach.

As I was leaving, there were a few riders still buzzing at the front entrance of the club. The guy at the front desk yelled out to me, holding a piece of paper. It was a note from one of the riders in class. I figured it was either a complaint, feedback on how to better handle the situation, or a paper pat on the back. Instead…


What a thoughtful note; a great reminder of what others may be dealing with. Fortunately, I did not respond negatively or otherwise to the rider who left early, but honestly, I could see myself reacting with little compassion, especially if I consider everything else that was going on that heightened emotions. The two verbally combustible individuals in the back of room certainly created an environment where everyone was testy. I could have fed off that energy and responded accordingly; I’m so glad I held back.

You never know what people are dealing with. You just never know.


  1. I’ve experienced this a few times with regular riders whose conversations continued after the warm up song. On each occasion I either asked them politely to stop talking or motioned to them by putting my index finger over my lips to say shhhh. Each time they apologized right then and after class because they were embarrassed. I can tell the other riders are thankful I addressed it and I keep it light by making a joke after calling them out. I say something like” I’m glad you’re so excited to be here.” Everyone laughs. Clearly these are respectful people that didn’t realize they were being disruptive. I know there are straight up inconsiderate people out there. Haven’t encountered one of them yet. As for the texters and magazine readers(seriously) I ignore them even though I shouldn’t .

  2. I teach a “chatty” class at my local Y – they are a great bunch of people, dedicated, long-time riders of various ages and abilities, but they are a challenge.. I remember when I took the time slot, there had bean a lot of clashing between the class and the previous instructor, who was justifiably shushing them a lot. I eventually came up with a solution that seemed to work: once every 6-8 weeks (often on “holiday” rides), I do some type of ride that incorporaties a lot of dialogue, like a “name that tune” ride (song and artist), trivia, some kind of prize (like a $1 lottery ticket, a holiday trinket, or some other kind of joke gift), or a crazy surprise that gets everyone talking (I once had a friend dress up as a “zombie cyclist” and dance “Thriller” in front of the class for a Michael Jackson ride). I find that it gives the chatty folks a chance to blow off some steam, so to speak, and to get their chatter on in an atmosphere in which it isn’t resented by the rest of the class or the instructor. In some cases, tt also makes them generally direct their chatter at ME, rather than at each other, except sometimes to rib each other in hilarious ways that make the whole class laugh together. At the same, when we get down to business in other classes — which is like 90% of the time — the chatty folks tend to shut up and respect that there should not be much dialogue in class. The non-chatty folks generally don’t seem to mind that once in a while we do a sort of goofier class with a lot of banter — they seem to get that I am just trying to diversify the format just enough to placate certain segments of the class without compromising the general integrity of the class. And it has honestly lent itself to some of the most memorable classes I have taught. I know this isn’t directly applicable to the situation you faced, but I thought someone might find that approach useful in the right situation, particularly with an entrenched ridership.

    1. Anthony, this is a really great idea. Do you mind if we post it as an article for ICA members?

  3. great stuff here! Most people can take a hint if they get too loud. I love Nancy’s comment about asking if they are discussing what to get me for my birthday. Gonna use that one (hopefully I won’t have to though).

  4. Author

    The comments on this post continue to be tremendous! I love our members and their vast knowledge, experiences, and willingness to share.

    I want to emphasize that many of the approaches and ideas we share need to be done in a way that allow for more than one right answer. The scenarios are as numerous as the differences between our riders multiplied by our individual teaching styles.

    One instructor’s action to cater to individual riders in an effort to please everyone may have a different result by another instructor not pleasing a number of riders because they catered to one. An instructor that allows talking is not less effective and an instructor that does not allow talking is not less fun.

    Let’s continue to help each other become more aware of the various options and methods at our fingertips.

  5. I have a couple of approaches that usually work for me: I will either do what kindergarten teachers do to get kids attention: flick the lights on and off really fast a few times OR I will ask them if they are discussing what they are getting me for my birthday/Christmas. It usually works!

  6. When I first began teaching at the Y, conversation among cyclists during class was common. I explained to the classes I taught that my request for silence would not only benefit them in the long run as they learned how to participate in a class with purpose, but was also for their safety. My ears have to be on alert during a class. I need to be able to hear if someone calls out my name because they are in trouble(I always say my name before class). I feel fortunate that I have never had to respond to a call for help but have been in a class where a new rider did feel she was in trouble. The instructor heard her name called and immediately made her way to assist the distressed rider. I still think about what might have happened had the instructor not heard her because others were chatting.

  7. Thanks for the comments Dana! I agree, my handling was not a positive approach, but based on the way the talkers answered me, I don’t think there was ever going to be a positive way out with those 2. They wanted things their way and if all the others didn’t like, too bad. I’ve had people talk, text etc in other classes and was able to handle it without anyone feeling bad afterwards. And like Tom, some of them have known me for a while and I can give them a little crap in a playful way, and they like me enough to take it with good humor, and get the point.

    I have have also had people not join in “the fun”, but they are focused, and working hard and not bothering anyone else. I have no problem with that either. But, yeah, chatting is just plain disrespectful to everyone. I can live with them disrespecting me, but not my riders.

  8. Sunday mornings at 9:15 a.m. we offer 45 minute ride in a 1 hour time slot.

    Family friendly format. Ages 9-14 allowed to attend with a parent if the child meets the height requirement for the bike (4 feet).

    Cycling with children is a whole different ballgame.
    Back to basic for everyone to feel invited and welcome including the fitness enthusiast, recreational cyclist or serious racer.

    I allow extra time for setting up new riders, giving the explanation of form & safety cues, etc.

    Adults should know better, dealing with the youth is fun and fresh!
    The kids are there to learn and have fun (plus go fast!).
    For what it’s worth the noise and distraction is unpleasant and disruptive.

    We just need to keep an open mind!

    God Bless.

    1. Author

      Michelle, this sounds like such a fun format and with a much different energy that what many instructors might experience.

      I used to coach a juniors team (ages 12-17). They were riot and would often attend my classes. I felt like a high school lunch monitor much of the time try to keep their energy at bay, but they were a great bunch of kids.

      Rock ON! What a blast!

  9. Author

    Thank you for all of the great comments!

    I would like to clarify something that I understand was not obvious from this article and experience. I’ve taught this specific class for 10 years. Approximately 90% of the riders have been with me for 6 or more years. I do not allow talking in any of my classes (with the exception of during the warm-up and cool-down). The 2 people who were talking are long-standing members and this was uncharacteristic of them. They are somewhat hecklers (in a good way), so there was liberty taken on my part to mess with them.

    I’m in agreement that we need to allow people to enjoy ‘their’ class as they wish, but it strongly depends on the purpose of the class and how it is presented. To eliminate confusion and frustration from all, the clubs I teach at label the classes based on their focus. One may don a fun title like “Cycle-Detox”, while another may be called “Performance Cycling”. Each of these titles is accompanied by a short description. While it is appropriate (and expected) to chat and whoop it up in Cycle-Detox, Performance Cycling is a coached training session for those more serious about their specific workout and ensuing results.

    If someone doesn’t want to join in the revelry of a fun class, they can remain sour-puss and it doesn’t affect others. However, chatting in a class when someone is coaching and the rest of the class is focused, is inappropriate, rude, and disrespectful to everyone, instructor included.

    1. Tom, I have experienced this kind of disrespect to the other members and to me on occasion (fortunately not often, as most of my members know I’m there to guide them on a serious work-out). But when I do encounter a few “chatty cathys” I will try to use humor first saying something like “Oh I see you guys haven’t seen each other in a while.” That usually nips it in the bud, but there was one time where the young ladies said, ” Yes, your right!” I replied, “Yes we can all see that!” They remained quite for the rest of the ride, but decided to exit early. I never want to make a cycle class a bad experience, but I feel a big responsibility to my loyal, consistent members, to provide them with the most professional,distraction free,spin class I can give them.

    2. Thanks for tackling a challenge that many of us face quite regularly.

      I have to agree that generally the best way to get everyones attention is the positive/hint-hint way, rather than the head on confrontational. However, it really depends on the circumstances and each class and every day is different, so I try to feel out the situation before reacting. Thank you Tom for reminding us that “you never know what may be going on with one of your participants” so be careful how you react. It is VERY IMPORTANT to have focus and a lack of distraction during a cycling session, though I do like and even ask for audience participation within limited parameters whenever possible, it makes for a funner class :o)

    3. Tom-

      You’re fortunate that your facility has a breakdown of classes for everyone from the avid cyclist to the recreational group fitness enthusiast. Most of us aren’t that lucky. I’ve been teaching for ten years and I’m also a roadie who rides on a local team. My big take away for group fitness is that everyone is there for a different reason. My current class, which I’ve taught for a couple of years, is a weird mix of die hard athletes who are there to train. Who truly appreciate the time I put into my training plans. And then there are some who are there for a different reason… They come to work out physically but, honestly, they come more for the group fitness experience and interaction. I have two women in particular who talk a fair amount. One even sings the chorus if I play a song she knows. She sits right in the front and there’s not a doubt in my mind that she will never understand the concept of a tempo workout or any other workout. But she’s there. She’s a member of the facility and I truly believe that my job as a group fitness instructor is to meet the needs of every member. Not just the ones that I perceive as athletes. Sometimes the people who are hardest to love need it the most. I understand that your article had the background story of your class dynamics and the rules that apply to your “Performance Cycling” class, but since it was aimed at the masses I believe we need to take the average facility into account. Cycling is an intense group fitness class, but it is a group fitness class. And, as instructors, we need to give a solid class and not let it knock us off our game even when the dynamics aren’t ideal. I will never quit encouraging “the talker” to strive towards her best, but her talking doesn’t rock me because I know she’s not intentionally being rude. Since taking over the class a few years ago the group attitude towards the talker has changed. When she gets too loud, I’m very direct and tell her that I need a little less volume, but she has been embraced for who she is by the other 16-17 people in the class. My attitude towards her has spilled over and, generally, members are staying after class talking to one another, sharing stories about their lives and fitness goals. I’ve learned a lot about the people who take my class… Some really important things such as life struggles, medical issues and events they are training for. Early on I was asked by a few people if “the talker” made me crazy and why didn’t I tell her to be quiet. My response was that everyone who walks into my class is there for a different reason on any given day and it’s my job to meet their needs. I’m always in control of my class, but I won’t crush anyone’s spirit for talking. Oddly enough, in the process of learning to accommodate the needs of one another my class has bonded and shares their lives with one another. I’ll take that any day over teaching a class of silent Spin Warriors. My class is usually full and often I have to teach off the bike. I’ll take that as success.

  10. Well…I might be the only one to say this, or even think it, but passive aggressive isn’t actually “holding it back”. While how you handed the situation might not have been *openly” negative, it wasn’t exactly a positive response either.

    The main time slot I teach is full of “fitness warriors” but there is a time slot I sub frequently that is a mixed bag. There is one VERY LOUD and disruptive gal, some loud chatters, some fitness warriors, and some who I think come just to get out of the house but couldn’t really care less what class they are taking. That class is a CHALLENGE to teach. I used to react the way you described until I remembered that everyone comes to class for a different reason. Now when I sub for that class in my pre-ride “briefing” I spend a few minutes talking about how we all have to remember why we are there. I say something along the lines of “This is an opportunity to work on getting past distractions-whether they are the thoughts in your own head, or maybe your Spin neighbor isn’t here for the same reason you are. Maybe you came to work HARD but the people around you came to have a party in the Spin room. One reason isn’t any better than the other but I think if I wanted to have a chat I’d go to the coffee shop-but that’s just me. WHY are you here? Use this time to focus on YOUR reason.” Through class I remind them “remember why you are here, are you getting what you came to get? Don’t let anything get in you way!”

    There have been many times when a little group talks the whole time (even in the most challenging sections of work) and when I ask “are you getting what you came to get?” they always respond with a resounding YES! The people who come to that class to work hard have learned to tune them out. Everyone leaves class feeling like they achieved their own goal.

    When I used to draw attention to the chatters (much in the way you did, passive aggressively or in a round about way) it would take everyone’s attention to the chatters. It didn’t stop the chatting, it just took the others’ attention away from the work at hand and increased the general level of irritation.

    I will say I HIGHLY DISLIKE teaching that class. Mainly because it stretches me as a coach. I have to keep in mind I’m not there for me and I’m not there just for the warriors. I’m there to teach a class to everyone who shows up, and to make them love it so much they want to come back. I’m not there to make them take the class I want them to have. I’m there to teach them how to get out of class everything they WANT to get out of class. And when the main disruptive gal stopped talking one day and told me it was the first time she ever had to drink TWO bottles of water in a class I knew I had given her more than she expected when she showed up ready for another party on the bike!

  11. I had a similar experience. I was hired to take over an early morning one hour class that had become to “loose”. This was the first class that was “mine”, I had been only subbing before. Apparently newcomers were uncomfortable attending the class because of a “clique like”, feeling in the room and there were people chatting during class, the music was too soft, lights were on etc. It sounded like the inmates were running the asylum.

    Well, my first week, I just introduced myself, we started riding and half way through I could hear these guys in the back chatting away. I tried all the usual verbal cues, (pretty much the ones Tom mentioned in the article), to no avail. Well, I didn’t want the fist day to start off with confrontations, so I let it slide. But after class a couple riders who followed me there from another gym, said they couldn’t believe people were talking and the rudeness of it.

    The next week, the same thing happened, but now some of the other riders were looking at me and nodding their heads and rolling their eyes in the direction of the talkers. So I said, “let’s try and keep talking to a minimum”, no response. I said a little louder, “Can we keep our voices down?”, no response. A little louder “Can you guys please keep your voices down?” no response. I got off the bike walked up to them and said, “Look, I don’t mind you talking,(I really did mind, but I was trying to be a bit diplomatic about it, and hopefully they would just stop on their own), but can you do it quietly, or go in the corner of the room or something, it’s distracting to the other riders”. One guy looks at me and says, “Well that’s what we do here, we ride for a bit then talk.” I said, “Well it’s gonna have to stop, it’s distracting and disrespectful to the others in the room”. (never mind,me)

    One of them said he was leaving for work anyway, and headed out. The other one got off the bike and went to the corner to stretch. We finished class. I have a small box with index cards to use for comments. The one guy goes over and starts writing, so I can’t wait to see it. Sure enough, “The Music is awful. Have been spinning here since 2005. This is the worst class yet”. I just laughed, it was so expected. Meanwhile other comments were “You rocked it”, ‘Great class”, “great music” and “Thanks for shushing the talkers, very distracting and is sort of rude”.

    The next week they weren’t there, and haven’t been since. I did see them in the weight room working out, which I was happy to see. I didn’t want them to quit the gym, or even my class, but I’m not getting up at some ungodly hour, to put up with that kind of behavior. So now I have a small but dedicated group that totally kill it each week, and I’m proud of them.

    If it happens again I’ll try the “turn the music off and hand them the mic” approach, Love it !

  12. What a kind and thoughtful note. In 13 years of teaching at my local YMCA I’ve only had one person respond to my attempts at quieting riders.

    I’ve tried a variety of approaches to chatty people. First is like you did with a gentle reminder that if you can talk you’re not working hard enough. If that doesn’t do it I’ll turn up the volume of the music slightly and get out of the saddle for an aggressive climb.

    If all else fails I’ll turn off the music and say “If your not ready for class I can stop, but the rest of the people might not appreciate being late.” That has only happened once.

  13. I am amazed that you let the chatty Cathy’s go on so long. I found that this was happening in many of my classes and so now when I begin a class I advise them that it is okay to talk during the first song and after that I ask that all conversation cease. I tell the class that it can become distracting for our riders to when there are side conversations. I have been doing this for years and people normally respect the “rules of the road.” I rarely have any issues with the distracting chatter.

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