An indoor cycling class experience should be more than just pedaling on a stationary bike while listening to high energy music and getting in a great workout. Don’t get me wrong; these are big reasons why your riders show up, but once they are there let’s put some purpose behind their ride. By establishing and communicating specific goals it can take the ride to a different level and experience. Goals provide focus, give purpose and outline a direction for both the rider and the instructor.
So what’s the best way to integrate goals in an environment that fosters all levels of experience and fitness levels? Set yourself, the instructor/coach, and the riders up for success from the beginning even before you step foot in the studio. Take the time to map out your ride in advance with specific goals in mind for your riders. Regardless of the “type” of cycling class (performance-driven, rhythmic/choreographed, or cardio combined with upper body strength), a clear, well-thought-out road map is essential for every ride.
Here’s a brief description of the 3 different types of cycling classes and what to consider when it comes to planning and structuring rides:
1. Performance-focused classes
These classes are designed with the athlete in mind. They typically simulate an outdoor riding experience and are coached to heart rate zones and, if available, power (wattage: the amount of force placed on the pedals). The rides are designed to 1) improve strength (simulate climbs); 2) increase speed and power (High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)); and 3) develop endurance/increase anaerobic thresholds (simulate time trialing).
Even though it can be challenging in a group fitness class to structure a program around the scientific principle of periodization training over the course of several months, think smaller periods for specific training. For example, structure the classes around 1 to 2-week blocks. Focus the rides around either strength, speed/power or endurance for two weeks (or a specific number of classes) at a time and then change the focus.
2. Rhythmic-focused classes
Riding to the beat of the music can bring a lot of energy to the studio. Music is the main driver when it comes to effort on the bike. A slower beats per minute (BPM) song would require more resistance and a slower pedal cadence on the bike, translating into strength conditioning and vice-versa; a higher BPM increases the heart rate and faster pedal speed, providing a cardio driven section of the ride. Structure of the class to have a good blend of both. Unlike the performance classes, no ‘periodization’ of the ride is needed.
3. Cardio and Upper Body Strength-Focused Classes
This hybrid cycling class incorporates a piece of equipment (i.e., dumbbells, resistance bands, bar) for upper body strength conditioning. The class structure can vary from being on and off the bike to switching between upper body, lower body, and cardio conditioning. Like rhythmic riding, classes do not need to be periodized. Just provide a blend of all 3 efforts.
Now let’s go over how to plan and communicate specific goals for each type of class, keeping in mind that riders have different levels of experience and fitness. Indoor cycling class goals can be communicated to the individual rider and the entire group. Using the principle of S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based) goal setting, is a great guideline to structure your class goals around.
Let’s look at some specific ways to do this. Keep in mind that not all components of the principle may apply to every ride and format, but at least one or two will and sometimes that’s all a rider will need to keep them focused on the objective of the ride.
When communicating the goal, make it very specific. For example, heart rate (HR) zone training is a great way to do this. You can coach to specific zones for the overall performance of the entire ride or just sections of the ride. If the rider doesn’t have a heart rate monitor, then coach to the rate of perceived exertion (RPE).
Make the goal quantifiable (reference a specific number). For example, use an HR monitor, a computer on the bike, and reference the revolutions per minute (RPMs) or distance the rider needs to cover over a specific period of time; and for the hybrid cardio/strength class reference the weight of the equipment. Another measurable goal is making changes on the bike. For example, if it’s a climb, the goal would be to increase the resistance five times.
Make the goals realistic. If distance can be measured and used to communicate the goal, then make sure it’s attainable. For example, if you want the class to reach a certain number of miles/distance over a period of time then you should make that number reachable. Just be careful and try not to set a false expectation when it comes to mileage. A lot of riders like to use mileage as a measurement of their success. If the ride is going to be focused climbing then the total miles will typically be less for a speed/endurance ride. Make sure to communicate that to your riders.
Does the goal make sense to the structure of the ride? If the objective of the ride is to focus on strength, then the profile should include several sections where the resistance is challenging and RPMs are slower and the rider should make the appropriate changes to facilitate this.
Time can be measured over periods of short to long intervals during one ride or over a period of several weeks. For example, if the goal of a specific section of the ride is to keep the heart rate just below the anaerobic threshold, let the riders know the goal is to hold this effort for 2 minutes. Another example is to communicate with your riders that for the next 4 classes, the rides are going to focus on building strength, therefore the goal is to ride with a slightly higher resistance than they would if the profile was to simulate riding on a flat road.
There are several benefits to letting the riders know what the objectives/goals of each ride are:
They provide credibility to you as an instructor, showing that you have a genuine interest in helping them reach their own personal goals.
They provide a focus and reason for each ride.
They give the rider a WHY behind the ride.