Where Do We Go From Here?, Part 1

We can find ourselves asking this headlining question when we are lost, after we have achieved a goal, or when our limit has been reached. Regardless of how you arrive at this question, the situation is the same and there is a feeling of being stuck or stalled.

This feeling is a common issue among indoor cycling instructors, but not for the reason one might think. When an instructor teaches class after class, week after week, without a plan, at some point they can feel as if all of their options have been expended. They can either continue to wing it, risking mind-numbing boredom, or try to take it to another level that doesn’t really exist. Some instructors have resorted to “antics” on the bike in search of this next level, to combat boredom or out of sheer lack of knowledge and training. The sad reality is that many instructors have hit their classes with the best and most intense profiles they possess within the first twelve weeks of the year (January through March), and now they have nowhere to go.

The reality of the situation is that our environment changes throughout the year regardless of whether or not we do. In general, we have the beginning of the year: the return to fitness for many. This is followed by spring; nice weather shifts our numbers. Finally, the ghost town of summer. When fall arrives, we anxiously await a member reunion until the assault of the transient newbies as another year arrives. Due to the nature of indoor cycling and the call of the outdoors (when the weather is tolerable), our class size will experience flux.

Do You Have an Annual Profile?

Just as we create (or should create) a class profile, we should be deliberate with our annual profile. There are times within class that we warm up, build, peak, recover, and cool down; this pattern should be mirrored in the big picture. Throwing everyone into a high-intensity flurry every class, regardless of the time of year, is flat-out irresponsible. A respectable trainer would never slam a new client with a max training session on the first day, yet some indoor cycling instructors feel this is appropriate. I’ve heard the argument that because everyone arrives in our class at different fitness levels every week of the year, we do not have to adhere to sound training concepts. That is a load of…and only demonstrates laziness, lack of knowledge, and a lack of professionalism.

The general public within the health and fitness community will experience a need to re-condition themselves, build on their strength, strive for peak fitness, and enjoy a time of mental and physical recovery. What about those folks who like to stay in “peak fitness” all year? Who should cater to them? Nobody. Why? Because they have no clue about fitness and how to train; they will eventually plateau, burn out, get frustrated, or get injured. It is sad, but we can only help those who are interested in being helped. The bottom line is that we are health and fitness professionals, and as such, must follow proven scientific guidelines for developing and maintaining a healthy body. So, coming full-circle, our classes should follow a pattern throughout the year that allows riders to develop fitness and achieve goals, while leaving their body and mind healthy and refreshed.

If you are asking yourself the question “Where do I go from here?”, it is time to take a step back and examine how we are approaching the classes and training we are dishing out. How does this affect your riders as a whole? How does this affect outdoor riders in your classes? How does this affect you as the instructor?

The Endorphin Junkie

Instructors that have adopted the “one intensity fits all” approach to class design often find themselves likened to a drug dealer. Their job is to deliver the next intensity fix for the fitness withdrawn. Putting the obvious safety and periodization propaganda aside, if this is the purpose a class serves, riders will move on once they have either overdosed or sampled a “better” product somewhere else. Similar to those who try to sustain peak fitness all year, riders who experience every class “to the max” will eventually find themselves with no place to go.

An instructor with a plan to progressively develop fitness, strength, and mental toughness over the course of the year will continue to lure junkies in with a method to the madness that leads to greater madness. Think of it as a well-designed TV series. The entire year builds to a season finale. No one will dare risk the torment of not knowing how it will end. Let your riders know there is somewhere to go and you will take them there.

Nature Calls

Although riders will leave your class from time to time to use the facilities, I am referring to the call of the outdoors. Outdoor riders (and those who enjoy the outdoors in general) are often just using you and indoor cycling classes as a substitute anyway; they would rather be outside. In the New England area where I reside, cyclists train outside all year. That’s right. We puff up our chests and proclaim, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”

If indoor cycling is going to have a hope and a prayer of attracting these pedaling Klondikes once the temps rise above freezing, it needs to not be more of the same. Although outdoor cyclists will spend a greater percentage of their time on the road or dirt come spring, you can still offer them a reason to return as a supplement to their training. In order to achieve this, a plan must be in place and there must be somewhere to go from here. I discuss the specifics of what the spring and summer can bring in the form of specific rides and classes in part 2 of this article.

Where Does Our Personal Motivation Go From Here?

One of the most unknowing and deadly plateaus is the motivation and inspiration of the instructor. After all of the monster profiles have been played and riders begin making their usual exit to greener pastures, instructors are often left with those that are just prisoners of their weekly routine. Many of the remaining riders are not interested in obtaining a specific goal or challenging themselves to a new level of conditioning. Your class serves as a part of their “exercise” program.

Even though all of us will stand on the mountaintop and profess our dedication to the average Joe and Joan, the noticeable drop in attendance leaves us, and class in general, hungry for energy; energy we know will not return until Mother Nature again kicks them to the curb. Not only will a plan and progression give our riders somewhere to go when spring hits, our smart and progressive annual profile will keep us salivating as we prepare to open the floodgates to the next level.

Stay tuned for part 2…That is where you will go from here.


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  1. Hit submit by accident

    I would be interesting in seeing how the Master Trainers progressively add intensity/efforts to their annual profiles in exact numbers(duration of interval/s, number of intervals, perceived exertion of each interval, and advised rest between efforts).

    Our facility’s bikes do not have power meters or cadence monitors. Unfortunately, I can not use those tools to monitor progress.

    Thank you

    Please edit accordingly.

  2. I have always hoped that ICA would provide their members with an annual profile template, maybe incorporating some of ICA’s many profiles within the annual template as examples. For instance, when Tom provided the prep series.

    I would like to see specific information regarding the lesson/profile plans used in each phase of the annual plan.For example, let’s say in Jan/Feb you based your profiles on the prep series, now it is March, ready to start to had more intensity, what should or does that look like in exact numbers. Are you incorporating more intervals but at the same length or less total amount of intervals because the interval has now become longer in length?

    I have always read increase things by 10%

    It would be great if someone, Jennifer or Tom, whoever, would share with the ICA members what their annual profile looks like in an outline format. Sort of like a quick reference guide to get us started.

    Perhaps that is what is to come in Part 2!?!?

    1. I agree. It would be helpful to those of us who would are new instructors and learning how to build an annual plan to see how it is done by some of the Master Trainers. Great suggestion Colleen! Could this perhaps be a Part 3 to this series?

  3. Thanks Tom, always love your articles and profiles! Looking forward to part 2. Juli Zweck-Bronner

  4. Excellent article, Tom. Even though I am a newbie I’m very interested in Part 2!

  5. Awesome message Tom, and so good to hear from you once again. Your words and humor always have a way of getting the message and point across. Thank you for making this a free article for sharing. I, too, am very eager to read Part 2.

  6. Loved this Tom! I have been feeling the “been there, done that” experience lately, and I like your solution – it’s always better if the leader knows where the group is going.

    1. One of the funniest comments I heard from an outdoor rider was, “Has anyone seen a group of riders pass by? I’m their leader.” I don’t know if the guy was serious, but it was sure funny. Yes it is always good to lead, but I have certainly “been there, done that.” That is usually a sign (excuse) for me to buy a new book, take a training session with another coach, or try something different to jolt my creativity. In 12+ years, it has worked every time.

  7. This info is spot on! We have created a “progressive pedaling” class at our YMCA. In this class we mirror the periodization that our outdoor riders may train with. So for summertime– we start our racing profiles, Winter is when we work on basebuilding profiles ect…
    Thank you so much for science driven info!
    Jen Schmidt
    Four Rivers Family YMCA

  8. Excellent article. Can’t wait for part 2. This is something I will present to my instructors as we are always looking for ways to keep attendance up and to try and help participants see beyond the “lose weight” goal.

  9. Great article Tom. I teach two beginner classes as well as others and am always looking for help in setting a plan to bring the newbies along as well as keeping the regulars interested and improving.

  10. i am looking forward to part 2- mainly because when i asked everyone in my class to fill out a card with their cycling goal a few weeks ago only 2 out of 21 wrote something besides to lose weight

  11. As always, great article, Tom! Look forward to part 2. Thank you!

  12. I just wanted to say – I truly appreciate this article, and am eagerly waiting for part 2. I have a Sunday class that runs from Nov. through April that I have done for years, and formulated an overall plan for those six months. I am now taking on a new class for the summer, and, as an avid outdoor rider myself (and one who is only on an indoor bike in the summer when it rains) could use a little help in fine tuning a plan for summer, or, maybe, just getting some inspiration.

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