Bringing the “group” back to group cycling
The key to a great group exercise class is the feeling of being one of many participants all experiencing the same thing at the same time. Crossfit workouts are an excellent example of mass participation workouts that allow a group ethos and encouragement to shine through. After all, working out and understanding exactly what your fellow participants are experiencing on a physical, mental and emotional level as they struggle through the different phases of the workout culminating in the ultimate satisfaction of completion and the unbridled sense of achievement that “we made it”, is the truest sense of empathy. This is foundation for the cornerstone of comradery that we all feel from a great group exercise experience.
The issue with some group exercise formats is a feeling that the workouts happening within the space are all very different. The feeling that maybe you got it wrong because everybody seems to be working harder than you, or maybe vice versa whilst you look around the room and think “Come on people! Catch up!”.
The indoor cycling class is a tricky group format to get right as there are so many moving parts that feed into intensity. Standing rather than staying seated will make certain sections more difficult. Adding resistance is a simple way to make things harder. A higher or lower pedalling speed can change the workout completely. The obvious addition of extended time to lead to greater stress during a workout section is also an easy tool for changing the feeling of a class.
So how do we (try to) manage these factors to really bring everyone together? As a coach there are things we can do to help everybody in our class “understand” what we need them to do to achieve the prescribed workout.
Managing cadence (RPM) is fairly easy and we have a few ways in which we can do it. Traditionally we’ve used rhythms within the music to dictate or suggest a pedalling cadence. Nowadays we can support that with clear digital numbers displayed on the bike console. A simple 5RPM range around the supporting music speed is a good guide for most people.
Riding position is also very simple from a coaching perspective. We’re either sat down or stood on the pedals. Don’t get me wrong, technique is a whole other conversation and I’m not suggesting that the action of standing itself is easy, but providing the coaching cue is fairly straight-forward it should be easy to understand what the coach is requesting. A simple “Ok guys, we’re going to take this one out of the saddle for a minute.” is a clear enough cue. Those who decide to remain seated are clearly electing an alternative intensity pathway and that’s just fine.
The trickiest part for participants to understand has always been the level of resistance. You all know it. You’ve looked around the cycle studio and seen that guy grunting and sweating his butt off during the warm up and I’d guess you’ve also seen the rider coasting during a supposedly tough section. We try to describe it. We use percentage scales. We use perceived exertion (RPE). We tell them how many turns of the dial or which gear to be in (*holds head in hands*) but we consistently miss the mark. We either provide something that lacks an individual reference point (gear numbers or numbers DEFINITELY DO NOT cater for the individual) or we ask for something that lacks an absolute value (such as a feeling or an RPE value).
Power works wonderfully in addressing this as it’s an absolute value representing the force and speed with which you’re moving the pedals. Using FTP (Functional Threshold Power) addresses the individual aspect of this as every person in the room will have an FTP value specific to them. It doesn’t matter whether you are a world champion or a first-time rider, your FTP value is a definition of how powerfully you can cycle for a long period and that’s a great way to manage the work output of a group of riders. Suddenly we can say with some confidence the position, cadence and % FTP (or Power training zone) and know that every rider should be working at a fairly similar intensity in terms of their abilities.
If we take the time to discover somebody’s FTP it’ll not only help them to understand the requested work from the coach but also to confidently track their improvements and have a tangible outcome from all of their hard work and toil during your classes. If you have bikes with Power and you don’t use it to transform at least some of your timetable, providing a different format of indoor cycling training, then you’re definitely missing a great opportunity.
In the end, we all want the same thing, to engage as many riders as possible in our group cycling classes and to do that it might help to provide different indoor cycling formats. There is nothing wrong with a beautifully crafted ride with a strong musical backbone. There is also nothing wrong with a fitness-outcome based interval set with structured recovery periods. In fact, if you can do both, there will be a lot right with your offering and you’ll likely see some new faces in your crowd of riders.