Sub Standards, Part 3: Be The Sub

In part 1 we discussed how to prepare our riders for a sub. In part 2 we threw out suggestions for finding an ideal sub for your class. Welcome to part 3—where you are the sub. It can be nerve-wracking to walk into a party not knowing anyone. My strategy in this case is to find someone who also appears uncomfortable and introduce myself. Eventually I build a posse that allows me to move freely about the cabin. This tactic doesn’t work when your goal is not to mingle, but to command the room. I’m going to share my strategy to increase your chances of success and potentially keep the jitters down to a dull roar.

Get It From the Source


  1. Reading the comments and of course Tom’s part three it seems we all agree it is imperative that as the ‘sub’ we make an ally, to the extent possible get some intel from the regular instructor and check our ego at the door.

    Easy to say but hard to do if you don’t naturally have that skill set. While it is hard to believe that any of us sitting on the lead bike is very shy some of us are more extroverted than others.

    Moreover, for you newly minted instructors, subbing is likely your only way to gain experience and perhaps, regular classes. So for you the subbing experience can be daunting on many levels.

    Here is my two cents aimed mainly at the new instructors out there.

    First arrive VERY early. Like 30 minutes rather than our traditional 15. This way – unless there is another class in the studio – you, the sub, can overcome tricky stereo systems, have your pre-class music playing softly and be ready to greet and meet.

    Next, choosing your ally is key. I look for the person who is staring me down rather than the outgoing front row rider. Win them over with a semi serious conversation about class size, content and generally what the studio is like. Then take Tom’s advice and use the intel during class in a positive way.

    Next, we all had mentor instructors.. That instructor who seemed to just naturally get in front of the room and captivate their riders. Draw on those experiences. Try to emulate. It is how we learn.

    As a pilot we say, “Plan the flight, fly the plan.” With indoor cycling the class leader need not be so rigid. Try to remember when your mentor instructor suddenly changed things up a bit. They were feeling the room and rolling with mood rather than stubbornly forging ahead with the plan. The best of the best do this all the time.

    Finally, at the end of the class remember, you were the sub not the regular instructor. Unless the regular instructor has given you specific instructions on what the class is doing and to continue with that specific training, you are under no obligation to hit them with a training ride of any specific nature. I’d say it is far more important – for them and you – to give them great sub experience. You will be called back more often and such positive feed back from riders usually lands one a regular class.

  2. My tips come from my experience as a college basketball player and a person who had the great good fortune to learn from the techniques of many of the game’s greatest college coaches of the 60’s and 70’s who attended my father’s basketball camp including such icons as John Wooden [he stayed at our camp for a week], Bobby Knight [learned a lot about what not to do from him], the late Jim Valvano and Chuck Daly. I also learned some things from refereeing many games. All of these great coaches had a confidence about them that allowed them to “take charge” of the situation without being condescending [except for Knight at times]. They imparted what they knew in any easily understood way. But most of all they were master motivators. While many people in our classes have the ability to intrinsically motive themselves, others need our help to keep them going. So the first tip is “Be Confident without being condescending”. The second tip is to “Motivate Your Riders” One thing that I use is science. For example, I remind people about the mitochondria and how with exercise the rider can not only increase the size of these fat burning ovens, but also the number per cell. Once folks learn that the ride will help them to speed their metabolism and better burn fat, they are all in! This is just one of many ways to motivate, of course. You can do it with music and you can also do it with your attitude, which leads to my third tip: “Have a Positive Attitude”. If you are not positive in your body language and actions, how can you expect your class to be? My fourth and final tip is to “Be nice”. You know, sometimes people come to our classes to escape. They may be escaping a nasty boss or as the last poster had referenced, a failing relationship. A kind word, a nice greeting, a shake of the hand or a positive comment after class goes a long, long way. And as Tom says, just as you bring your best when it is your class, you must be even better when you are subbing. Take care, Tim S

  3. My most difficult subbing situation was a 6 a.m. very small, 3 rider class. Previous instructor gave me no intel so i went with the plan of keeping it light (fun) for that time of morning with some pop which i assumed was the usual genre. Arrived early as always to meet and greet and was greeted by a beautiful young woman with a big attitude and her first, strong words to me were “i hope you play great music because if not i don’t ride.” Hello and good morning, how are you was my reply. So i explained that music is personal and varied but i was certain she would find some songs she would like and to let me know which ones those were. she left after 30:00 of the 60:00 class. 2nd young girl, at the end is in a full out sob the kind where you can’t catch your breath. Now what did i do, i thought. I gave her kleenex, walked to the back of the room with her to find out that her boyfriend had broken up with her. whew! Then the elderly lady, so sweet says to me ” don’t worry baby, it’s not you it’s just 6 a.m.” well, that felt better, i guess. So as the story continues, the first girl with the attitude, she is my new BFF. she comes to all my classes, emails me, has gotten a HRM, i’ve given her a talk test and she is so into the data. she has come to realize I truly care and her music preferences have grown with a new understanding of how other types of music can inspire and move you. The distraught girl moved and the elderly lady still sweet as ever.

  4. I love this article the best. I have realized that everyone has their opinion and that some have tastes that fit you and others do not. I have a few riders that really don’t care about learning and just want the fun songs and a good workout, while others really appreciate my teaching and training techniques. Most of those riders are also outdoor riders. I teach regularly at one gym and sub in a few others. You have inspired me to continue teaching and training to make them the best, but in your “carnival is in town” I will be doing this very soon. I teach specifics but hadn’t thought of doing a fun class that incorporates what they have learned! I love it! And I love the ICA.

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