The Ones Who Don’t Want to Work Hard…Or Do They?

We see all kinds of participants in our cycling studios, ranging from eager beginners to  hardworking regulars and outdoor cyclists, to name a few. There is a type of rider, however, who I bet annoys the heck out of you—that’s the one who just doesn’t seem to want to do much. The level of annoyance rises with how frequently they attend your class!

If they don’t put out the effort that would bring about fitness results, I might worry that they would blame it on the class or the instructor, possibly spreading the word that indoor cycling doesn’t work or, worse still, that your specific classes are not effective. But when that person shows up week after week, you start wondering why they are there. What on earth are they getting from your class?

Let me relay a cautionary tale about one experience I had with a woman who came to my classes and seemed like she didn’t care to work hard. It is an example that became a revelation to me and highlighted the importance of not judging my riders and of giving one-on-one attention to them whenever possible.

This woman would come to all my classes but she never seemed to be doing any work. On multiple occasions when walking around the room during my class, I would encourage her (off the mic) to pick up her cadence or increase her power, explaining what it should feel like (RPE), how her breathing should be, and more. There was a language barrier so I would use hand gestures—exaggerate heavy breathing, point to the heart, etc. Nothing worked!, Not even a bead of sweat, for that matter, and a permanent smile on her face proved that the RPE remained steadily between 1 and 3.

But yet, she would be there like clockwork.

After a month or so I just labeled her as The One Who Doesn’t Want to Work Hard and admittedly I gave up on her and just let her be. I had all my other faithful regulars who were there to work hard and who followed my lead…they needed me.

Then one day, she was the only person who showed up for class. I asked her if she was fine with a one-on-one training session and she agreed. I decided to teach completely off the bike. I tried all my tricks of the trade in the first 10 minutes, using various kinds of motivation, cues, and explanations. I gave her more personal space, I came into her space…but still, she was at a very low intensity smiling happily at me. I was at my wit’s end.

I noticed that when I asked for 80–90 rpm, she would get there for a few seconds then drop back down to about 60. And her RPE stayed at “easy.”

I had had enough so I said to her, “We will crack this! I will make you sweat today!” I covered the console with a towel and asked her to give me what felt like a fast pace. To my surprise, her cadence picked up and she held it there. After doing this for a while, it occurred to me that she must not be goodbe hopeless at eye-leg coordination. In other words, watching the number on the console and then translating it into leg speed just didn’t compute. In addition to that, she was likely intimidated by the console.

Furthermore, if I asked her to relax her elbows and shoulders, she would literally relax EVERYTHING, including her trunk and her legs, resulting in a cadence below 50 rpm. She completely lacked coordination out of the saddle and had no rhythm, so she could not follow the beat of a song.

I was flabbergasted by my discovery. I knew all these skills were necessary for dancing or rowing but never expected the barrier that the lack of these skills would create in indoor cycling.

I changed my approach by asking her to look at the console briefly and get her leg speed to an rpm target, such as 85. I gave her a moment to focus on how that leg speed felt, then covered the console so she wasn’t distracted and didn’t have to multitask, and asked her to steadily add resistance until she felt that her legs and lungs were working “hard” on the RPE scale. Then I asked her to hold that intensity. And BINGO! I peeked under the towel at the console and saw that she was able to keep the pace steady; she was never able to do that previously.

She held steady tempo and intensity for a series of 1-minute intervals. Then we tried 15 seconds as hard as she could go, and for the first time ever she was breathing heavily, her forehead was covered with sweat, and she was killing it! I was so proud of her. Her face beamed and I could see it was a definite achievement for her.

My initial judgment of her as “lazy” or “uncaring” couldn’t have been more wrong. The skill of interpreting rpm numbers on the console and translating them to how fast my legs are going is something that I take for granted; for her it is a skill she has yet to master. I am telling you, the moment she discovered what a challenging ride felt like, was a personal success not just for her, but for me as well. We both left the room with big grins on our faces!

I understand that if you have 10, 20, or 40 riders, giving one-on-one attention is not always an option. Still, walk around your class and keep your eyes peeled for anyone who may need more of your attention. Show them you care; tell them that you will keep an eye on them to make sure they get the best they can out of the class.

Also, don’t be so quick to judge those who seem like they don’t want to work hard. Perhaps there is a deeper reason. It could be intimidation by either the console or the numbers, and/or an inability to translate that into physical movement. A little one-on-one attention, maybe before or after class (if your classes are too large to devote time during the ride), might be all that individual needs to discover the joys of exertion.



  1. Thank you for sharing this story. It is true that we do not always know the client’s story in a group setting and once we do, the light bulb goes off for them as well as us as trainers. One strategy that has worked extremely well for our indoor group cycling program is to offer indoor group cycling workshops throughout the year. This provides, those who are interested, an opportunity to attend an instructional workshop prior to participating and for those that may be struggling to completely understand all of the elements that are an integral part of indoor group cycling, an opportunity to have access to information and providing them with a greater understanding of this type of training. We just held our first of this year recently, and my attendees were all clients who were regular participants interested in improving their understanding and they had excellent questions that really shed light on areas that were unclear to them. Well worth their time and mine! Cheers, Jacqueline A. Wright

  2. Ciao Izabela, ti scrivo in italiano tanto lo capisci molto bene, la tua esperienza è davvero interessante, qualcosa di simile mi e ‘capitato un paio di anni fa, un allievo si alzava più volte durante la lezione e pedalava a cadenza più lenta come se non gli interessava lavorare davvero, a un certo punto alla mia domanda (senza microfono) se ci fossero dei problemi particolari, mi ha risposto semplicemente che essendo a dieta stretta si sentiva molto stanco e frustato e ogni tanto aveva bisogno di riposare, mi sono sbagliato anch’io giudicandolo preventivamente come un lavativo perché spesso essendo lo sbruffone della classe sembrava che non avesse voglia di lavorare duramente invece ero io che non avevo capito niente di quello che gli stava succedendo e mi sono ripromesso di non avere più prepuzi sbagliati.
    Grande articolo, grazie!

    1. This is from Davide (translated from Italian): Your experience is really interesting. Something similar happened to me a couple of years ago. A rider in my class would stand up often during a class and he would pedal a ta slower cadence giving the impression that he wasn’t really interested in working hard. At some point I asked him (with the mike off) if there was anything wrong. It turned out that he was on a very strict diet which made him feel low on energy and he needed to rest quite often which he found very frustrating. Clearly I made the mistake of prejudging him an labeling him as lazy. I simply didn’t know and understand the circumstances. That day I promised myself not to judge anyone without knowing the full story.

      Grazie Davide, mi fa piacere che ti ha piacuto l’articolo. Sempre spero di fare un dei tue classi quando sono in Italia la prossima volta. Baci

  3. Thanks for a terrific and insightful story. People come to our classes for many reasons, some that are not always known to us. You did a nice job understanding her needs.

  4. I do believe you have touched on something important here.. sometimes I feel like we become too dependent on attaining those console numbers & not focused enough on the actual feel/ effort…there may be a certain level of intimidation and for some a disconnect with those numbers

  5. I like this. (WORK HARD). I teach a class for seniors and beginners. Some really work hard, some just pedal with very little resistance. Some are in rehab, one lady just had heart surgery and she is slowly getting back to where she can “work hard”. I encourage every one to do the best they can, but don’t get discourage if they can’t keep up with the rest of the class. I like to get off my bike and walk around the room, visit with as many participants as possible during a movement, which I did to day and was pleased to find out most of the class was doing what I had ask them, i.e. the resistance and cadence was where I had ask for. I even got a compliment from one of the new participants. She said she liked my class because I did not holler or scream out my instructions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *