Teaching Across the Spectrum of Ability and Effort

According to a survey conducted last August by one of the gyms in which I teach Spinning® classes, Spinning students generally tend to be divided into two groups when it comes to characterizing the difficulty of classes: those who think classes are too easy and those who think the opposite. Interestingly, the length of a class, its instructor, or the age range of the students had little to no effect on the overall findings of the survey, which indicated that this difference in opinion exists among all of the students in all of the Spinning classes taught at the gym.

More than likely, these findings don’t surprise you. You’ve been there before—looking out over your class and seeing half of your students lounging on their handlebars, attempting to give their legs some rest, taking a water break every minute or so, sweating profusely, and giving you the look of death. They’re not keeping pace with you, possibly because they can’t—and there are 25 more minutes to go. What do you do? You want to help these folks out, but making your super-fit students work up a major sweat is equally important.

This may sound surprising, but you can actually accomplish both objectives, as long as you give both groups of students serious consideration. Here’s how you can construct a class that is both challenging and rewarding for everybody:

  • Explain how to make workouts fit individual, daily objectives and fitness levels, and reiterate that it is up to each person to control the intensity of his or her ride. Remind everyone to ask you questions if something is unclear.

Example: “Remember, everything I say in this class is a suggestion. You can use more or less resistance to work on strength, and you can move your legs as fast or as slowly as you wish when we work on speed. A ‘small hill’ or a ‘70% effort’ is what you perceive it to be, given what you want to do today.”

  • Always ask whether anyone in the class is a first-time participant. Explain terminology, bike setup and adjustment before class begins.

  • Don’t sprint like a cheetah in the first half of class unless you know everyone can keep up, which is rare. You don’t want to burn them out too early.

  • Remember—the class will mimic you, so set a good example. If you don’t require recovery, pretend that you do. When you tell the class to turn down the resistance and slow their legs for recovery, do the same. When you ask your students to drink up, swig some water yourself. Save your hardest workouts for when you’re a student, not when you’re up front.

  • Focus on the students who seem to be taking the class at a higher intensity level and show them a drill or sequence. Once you’ve shown them the speed you’re aiming for, come down a notch. Demonstrate a second speed and explain that the main objective is to go faster than you were going before. Remind students to base this on their fitness level, or how they’re feeling on that day. The higher-intensity folks will maintain their fast groove even if you lower yours to speed #2. If the drill lasts several minutes, you can turn it up to the higher pace, but be sure to demonstrate both paces and clarify the objective.

  • Finally, ask people their names after class. Though you probably won’t remember them all, you will remember the folks at the two ends of the spectrum, and they’re the ones you should periodically ask for specific feedback about difficulty, time spent on speed versus hill climbs, etc.

Spinning instructors cannot please everyone. They can only hope to foster some enthusiasm for the Spinning program and fitness in general, and leave the legwork and attitude to those looking up at them—maybe that reminder should have been first on my list.  

Julie DiMauro is a Certified Spinning Instructor and an avid runner living in Boston. She currently works as the managing editor of a publishing firm and teaches Spinning classes at a health club and a local university. She can be contacted at julie0970@aol.com.

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