My Cycling Class Today: What I’ve Learned Teaching Off the Bike

Back in April, which feels like an eternity ago, I started experiencing hip discomfort. It kept getting worse and by the end of the month I was forced to practice some self-love and self-care by teaching my cycle classes off the bike and canceling my next session of GRIT.

Don’t be a hypocrite

In May, advised by my physical therapist, I started practicing what I preached every morning to my class—listen to your body. I needed to acknowledge that this pain wasn’t going away despite two sessions of PT every week and easing up on the resistance when I taught. It was time to stop stressing my body. This wasn’t the first time I had to teach off the bike, but it was the first time I needed to do it for an extended period—three months and counting to be exact.

Humble yourself or life will do it for you

The first week wasn’t too bad. I humbled myself and explained to my class what was going on. They were totally on board, some even eagerly committing to call me out if I so much as thought about putting on my cycle shoes. I was also able to show them some new stretches at the end of class that I had picked up from my therapist.

Sleep is your friend

As the weeks passed, we moved to our summer schedule and I was only teaching two cycle classes a week. I was still committed to my students and knew I needed to keep a routine, but I was growing frustrated with accepting my new limitations. It was during this time that I realized just how tired I was and how stress was taking a toll on me. Prior to the summer schedule, I was teaching every day at 5:45 a.m. while preparing for a large event to be held at our home. Since I was no longer able to “work out the crazy” (as I like to put it), the ability to sleep longer a few days a week gave me back some much needed energy. This reminded me that the old adage is so true: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Let me tell you what it feels like

One of the hardest things to adjust to while teaching off the bike is explaining to my class what a given level of intensity should feel like. Yes, I could tell them the rate of perceived exertion and how hard or light they should be working, but not doing the work with them, I was unable to easily tune into “how does that impact your breathing and make your heart feel?” I mean really, what is the difference between very hard and very, very hard other than just another “very”? And if you’re wondering, then you should check out this RPE chart that Jennifer and Tom put together. I printed it out and began using it to describe the level of effort, while also referencing the Schwinn cycling intensity descriptions.

Yo, microphone check one two what is this?

Admittedly, the technology in our studio is messy. Teaching on the bike, I’m wired to the sound system via a 6-foot AUX cord while balancing my phone on the handlebars. The idea of manipulating the microphone, another corded object, which is older and doesn’t fit my head well, was something I’ve attempted but never without a technology fail. The headset would slide off my head, the AUX cord would get caught on the bike, and don’t get me started on what a mess I’d make while stretching. The cycle studio is small, seating a maximum of 20 people, so I’ve prioritized reducing technological failures over hearing my lovely voice over the sound system.

Now that I am teaching off the bike, I am still watching the time on the phone to count down the seconds to a surge or a spin-up, but I no longer have to worry about my personal teetering act, which allows me some freedom to use the microphone with fewer issues. (Remember, this is still 6 a.m. before coffee, folks.) What a game changer! My class can really hear me now. The cues I had so painstakingly planned are now being received loud and clear. I can see the lightbulbs going off for some, as well as one in my own head. Lesson learned—I will use the mic from here on out.

Note: Since writing this article, I’ve gifted our Y a Bluetooth adaptor and will be purchasing a handlebar mount.

And while we’re on the subject of cues…

Not riding with my students allowed me to focus more on them and what they were doing. I was able to read them better, and I now have a better understanding of my regulars’ learning styles and who in my class is more receptive to visual cues over auditory or kinesthetic. As a result, I make it a point to find different ways to explain things. I also know who needs a hand placed on their back or shoulder (after asking) to bring their awareness to themselves as a reminder to release the tension from their upper body.

Form follows function

I also began noticing improper bike setups and some sloppy form that had slipped my gaze in the past. Yes, I can now see you, Ms. I-Hide-in-the-Back-Corner. Spotting this poor technique reminded me to go back to the Face of the Clock drill, pulling up my trusted whiteboard and sketching out what muscles should be working at each turn of the pedal. And slowly but surely I’ve been taking time to check everyone’s bike setup.

Know their personal best

On a monthly basis I conduct a power test where we sustain half of our max wattage for 10 minutes and then record it on an index card. The goal is to meet or exceed your personal best. Now that I have the freedom to walk around the room and note the wattage on a rider’s bike, I take a moment at the start of class to check these cards and remind myself what my riders are capable of so I can encourage them to push a little harder (if appropriate).

While teaching off the bike has been challenging at times, it has taught me to be a better coach to my students. I strongly encourage every instructor to try it from time to time and learn to get comfortable with it. You’ll be amazed at what you learn, not only about your riders  but about yourself as well


  1. I hope you feel better soon Karen. When you are used to ” working out like crazy” it can be a tough mental adjustment, kinda like withdrawal….

    When my class is full and I give up my bike, I have found it helps me to really concentrating on the riders and it enables me to see problems and make corrections. I do get off the bike in my classes-usually for small amounts of time, especially when there is someone new.

  2. Karen,
    Great stuff and trust you are getting better. I follow your very informative posts routinely and they are always “spot on”. Another handle bar mount you might like that you can use on any bike is from RAM Mounts and is available through Amazon. The description is: RAM Mounts (RAP-SB-187-UN7)EZ Strap Rail Mount with Universal x-grip
    Cell Phone Holder. Price through Amazon is $36.99 and this dude will last FOREVER. Don’t buy the cheap junk because they don’t last. Check it out….

Leave a Reply

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