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Coaching Off the Bike: How and Why

By Sabrina Fairchild

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Spinning® classes are a group exercise, therefore we are group exercise instructors. However, when we compare teaching Spinning to other cardio conditioning modes, such as step or dance aerobics, there are significant differences. Teaching Spinning is more akin to coaching a sport due to the equipment being used, the wide variety of fitness levels in the riders and the typical atmosphere of a lowly-lit room. As fitness professionals, we have the option of instructing a ride by physically modeling technique and form and sweating along with the participants, or by taking the role of a coach and directing the ride from the floor. Both have benefits, but when we coach from the floor, we connect with the clients on a deeper level, creating a longer-lasting impact.

While there are many benefits to coaching from the floor, it is a technique that should be used carefully. Instructors who teach on the bike are able to offer their participants a role model of form and technique. They feel what their riders do when they cue to accelerate, increase resistance or change position. They provide encouragement, not just verbally, but visually when the participants look at how hard their instructor is working. However, always teaching on the bike can mean that the clients may never know what it is like to have one-on-one attention, personal feedback or assistance with goal setting. The clients may be so dependent on having the instructor in the saddle that they do not grow beyond being extrinsically motivated, which is ultimately important for exercise adherence. Teaching on the bike also limits instructors in a number of ways. It puts an unnecessary pressure on them to perform, can lead to overtraining and can limit the amount of money instructors make due to fatigue. The worst offense is when instructors use their teaching position as personal workout time, causing them to ignore the needs of their clients. It is good for all instructors take inventory of their teaching characteristics, keep what works best and consider developing new qualities to feature through floor coaching.

Though there are some downsides to coaching on the floor, there are many benefits for both instructors and clients. Coaching the entire class from the floor may leave a void when it comes to modeling form and technique, so it may be prudent to combine floor coaching with on-the-bike instructing. Coaching from the floor allows us to give one-on-one instruction that is specific to a rider’s fitness level, as well as feedback on form that can often be ignored or simply not seen from the instructor’s bike in a crowded studio. Clients also benefit from having a coach that is focused solely on them and not on their own training, which leads to better classroom management. Instructors who coach from the floor can more quickly nip behavior in the bud that is not conducive to a respectful, group exercise atmosphere. This brings up the level of performance and concentration for everyone in the room. An instructor who can cleverly weave techniques for coaching on and off the bike can generate a productive environment where people feel valued and they will be motivated to return. This is also the ultimate situation for instructors because it allows us to balance our physical energy in order to increase our teaching load without injury. There are some steps to consider in order to transition from teaching solely on the bike to incorporating some coaching from the floor.

In order for floor coaching to be purposeful, instructors must prepare in advance just as they would for any other training session. The following steps will assist those instructors who would like to step off the bike and venture onto the floor.

Prior to class

  1. After planning the ride profile and music, choose one or two songs to teach off the bike. The best length songs will be around five minutes or longer depending on the typical number of participants. Create an objective for each song that fits the overall goal of the ride (ie: Goal = Strength Energy Zone™; Objective #1 = form for Standing Climb; Objective #2 = break away on the hill).

  2. Listen to the songs that will be used during the floor coaching sections and take notes on musical elements that may be utilized for cueing.

  3. Review the Spinning Instructor Manual and take notes on descriptions of positions or techniques to be used during floor coaching.

  4. Collect any tools to enhance floor coaching: clip board, note cards, whistle, clock, metronome, sticky notes/pens, deck of cards, flash light, etc.

Tools and games
  1. Clip boards can be used for anything from names of participants to teaching notes.
  2. Note cards may be easier to handle than a clip board and they can be tucked into the back pocket of a jersey.

  3. Whistles are classic tools for referees and coaches. They can be used to start or stop a drill as opposed to yelling.

  4. Clocks are terrific tools and can be held right in front of a rider to encourage him or her to work hard for 10 more seconds.

  5. Metronomes may be purchased at any music supply store and in lieu of a cadence computer, may be set to any cadence range. Choose one with a light that blinks and hold it up to a student so he or she may strive for the correct cadence.

  6. Sticky notes may be used to create name tags for the bikes, to give out speeding tickets, to write down compliments or to play the “Least Favorite Position Game” where students write down their most uncomfortable position, like Jumps, and attach it to the bike. During floor coaching, the instructor gives feedback on that position.

  7. A deck of cards may be used by attaching a position, cadence, or technique to certain cards and having riders choose a card from the deck, which in turn decides what will be performed next.

  8. Flash lights may be used not just for safety, but to signal drills and for instructors to see pedal stroke form up close in a darkened room.

During class
  1. Give an overview of the ride and explain that it will include floor coaching for the particular objectives chosen, as well as the benefits members will receive from having one-on-one coaching.

  2. Give a signal for riders who do not wish to be approached for one-on-one coaching.

  3. Just prior to getting off the bike, remind students of the purpose of floor coaching, as well as the intention to coach every rider unless signaled otherwise. Consider muting the microphone while attending to individual students.

  4. During the cool down, review the objectives of the floor coaching sections and give some group feedback on the observations made. Answer questions that riders have. For example, a student could ask why her feet go numb and the answer could be shared with the whole group, as it is relevant to bike comfort.

Lastly, instructors who are as energetic with their body language during floor coaching as they are while riding the bike are the most successful at combining the two methods of teaching. Instructors who are well versed in off-the-bike coaching will have more options for employment and will be less likely to get injured or burnt out. Take advantage of this possibility and enjoy the benefits that floor coaching has to offer.

Author: Sabrina Fairchild

Sabrina Fairchild has been involved in the fitness industry since 1983, teaching, personal training, presenting, writing, editing and managing. She studied at CSU, Chico earning her teaching credentials in English and Health Science and her masters in Physical Education where she now lectures in the Kinesiology Department. She also teaches at Butte Community College also in northern California. She has been a master instructor for the Spinning® program since 1997 and a master instructor for the Bodyblade® program since 2010. She holds certifications from ACE, ACSM, Yogalink®, and Resist-a-Ball®. She has been a frequent blogger and an author for numerous online articles, books and educational materials published by Mad Dogg Athletics.

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