As winter approaches, outdoor cyclists typically head indoors to stay in shape. For this spandex-clad group, finding an indoor cycling instructor who meets their needs can be difficult. For more serious riders, indoor cycling as escapism or a cardio party is less important than having a structured, performance-based workout.
Many instructors don’t ride outdoors. And many classes take a non-traditional approach toward cycling — using weights, choreographed dances and stressing the emotional aspect of a ride. These instructors speak a different language which may be foreign to outdoor riders. Relationship expert Gary Chapman developed the “Love Languages” to help a person find their perfect mate, and here we offer four indoor cycling dialects to look for when finding an instructor to keep an outdoor cyclist fit during the winter.
Choose the dialects which are important to you. Don’t be greedy. You won’t get all of them.
“Most people get excited about games, but I’ve got to be excited about practice, because that’s my classroom.”
— Pat Summitt, hall of fame women’s basketball coach
Most cycling instructors take a one-day class to get certified. Outdoors, the learning curve is far tougher — and a good instructor can pass on knowledge beyond the booklet. Look for a few key signs of in-depth knowledge:
- Utilizes outside resources. A good instructor will have various references to pull from and will understand industry trends and pass that knowledge onto you.
- Discusses races other than the Tour de France. Women’s cycling is far more exciting than the men’s tour. With women being the majority of indoor riders, a good instructor is aware of the Gira Rosa and women’s Amgen Tour of California. The excitement over the women’s hour record, recently set by Vittoria Bussi, works well during endurance efforts.
- Understands the console. You want your teacher to be able to explain watts, threshold, cadence, speed and endurance/distance in layman’s terms. Yelling “Faster! Faster! Faster!” isn’t really coaching. Let the metrics guide you.
- Provides a cadence range for songs. Everyone has a preferred pedaling speed. Ranges are often much more helpful to riders, so find your own specific cadence within a provided range that fits your goals.
“The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.”
— Sloan Wilson, American writer
Class design is an important aspect of indoor cycling. An effective profile challenges both the cardiovascular and muscular systems while providing the freedom for the rider to improvise.
- Describe the ride at the start of class. A profile isn’t a bunch of songs played at high volume. Songs and drills should be purposefully arranged and allow for appropriate recovery. You should know what’s coming next and why.
- Embed a little cycling into the profile. Time trials, pacelines, hill repeats, echelons … there’s nothing wrong with simulating cycling during class. After all, indoor cycling was first invented to help train for going outdoors. This style allows you to see the road and go for it.
- Quantifies duration. “How long is the sprint?” “How many intervals?” A polished instructor tells you up front and allows you to define your intensity.
- Class doesn’t always end on a sprint. It’s good to mix things up. Most races don’t end with a sprint. In truth, a hilltop finish provides an epicness a sprint can never match.
“It is not what the coach knows; it is what his players have learned.”
— Winston Churchill, former UK Prime Minister
A good instructor imparts information that allows riders to learn about themselves. After 5–6 classes, a rider should have a deeper understanding of their cycling abilities.
- Sticks to a few main points. Research says humans can remember 5–9 pieces of information at any given time. It’s the reason telephone numbers have seven digits. A good coach gives you just enough information. Too much talk means you lose more than you keep and fail to focus on any keys.
- Describes effort in a meaningful way. Whether a numerical scale, heart rate, watts/FTP or rate of perceived exertion (RPE), a good coach knows sweat is not a metric.
- Talks about effective breathing. Cycling is not all about losing your breath on every song. A good instructor shares techniques to work hard over long durations without stopping for recovery every minute. Diaphragmatic breathing isn’t just for yoga.
“She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.”
— Frances E. Willard, “How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle,” 1895
Turning pedals without moving is a tough proposition. A good instructor eases that discomfort.
- Music that agrees with you. It’s simple: Bad music, bad workout.
- Talks about long-term goals in class. Cycling has tremendous benefits for the human body. These gains aren’t acquired in one 45-minute class.
- Brings enthusiasm to the room. Via props, storytelling, appropriate jokes or just the joy of riding … the instructor sets the tone for the group — and its personality should match yours and be part of the reason you want to attend classes.
- Provides experiential knowledge. An instructor who speaks from experience has a certain cache to which cyclists can relate. They understand sprinting is only 1% of cycling. The lead up to the sprint is far more important.
So how do you find the right instructor without going to a bunch of bad classes? Talk to other instructors or fellow riders. Scour social media. Email the facility. Once you find someone who speaks your dialect, be sure to let them know and spread the word.