New participants to indoor cycling (or group exercise for that matter) typically fall into one of two categories: the 'show up early' types or the 'sneak in the side door' crowd. At Stages® Indoor Cycling we have two mantras when it comes to starting class:
That may seem like a no-brainer but as our experienced instructors know all too well, this is easier said than done, especially during 'Tourist Season' (see post on 1/2/14).
So what's an instructor to do? Your front row regulars keep glancing at the clock, chomping at the bit to get started, yet you can see out of the corner of your eye that new folks are still filtering in to the back of the room. Quite the conundrum…
For our purposes, we're not going to focus on the veterans-- they'll succeed with or without your guidance. We're not really going to focus on the 'show up early' new folks either because once you've provided them with a quick tutorial on bike fit they're going to flourish. These individuals, just by the nature of their personalities, are likely to feel successful once you've provided them with ample information and resources, and since they arrived early you can dedicate that time to specifically to them.
Instead, let's focus on the later group -- our wallflowers trying to sneak in undetected. Now what I am about to say on the subject might surprise you, so hold onto your hats…
I want you to ignore the wallflowers..
Yes, you heard that correctly. The tourists-- the one's sneaking in the side door once the lights are low-- leave them be. ...At least let them believe that's what you're doing.Indeed, this totally flies in the face of everything you have ever learned as a fitness professional: Identify and introduce yourself to all the new participants, be sure to tell them to go at their own pace, remind them that everyone feels sore after their first indoor cycling class… blah, blah, blah. We must ask ourselves if this 'attack the new people' tactic is really working. Let's look at this from a psychological angle.
Why are the new folks showing up AFTER class has already begun in the first place? Is it because they can't or didn't read the studio schedule? Unlikely. Is it because they're trying to disrespect you and your masterful class plan? Also unlikely. MAYBE, just maybe it's because they don't want YOU to approach them at all! No one likes to be called out as the new kid in class, let alone adults with egos and pride and incredible skills and gifts in other areas of their lives. It just so happens that in the group exercise realm they are novices. This beginner feeling makes just about everyone uncomfortable.
Is she gonna pick on me?
At this juncture, empathy and emotional intelligence are critical to your success as an instructor. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you are that new guy or girl courageous enough to sneak into the back of your very first indoor cycling class.
"Phew! I don't think she saw me. Those weeks of watching and listening to class from the elliptical trainer have paid off. I'm really nervous. I'm going to be extra observant and learn whatever I can to survive this first one. It's 6:04 so I think I'm in the clear. ...Wait! Oh no! She's seen me and she's headed straight for me. "Uh,… am I new?" She clearly knows I'm new because I'm out of shape and wearing an oversized t-shirt. I look new, don't I. Does she have to talk to me while wearing that microphone? It's like I'm being interviewed on national television in my worst outfit, by the most fit person I've ever seen. Should I lie? Should I tell her I've done lots of indoor cycling classes so she'll leave me alone? This is so humiliating…"
Perhaps that scenario plays out as a bit dramatic, but this happens all the time. We as professionals can unintentionally sabotage our new participant' best intentions by falsely assuming that they ALL want our time, attention and assistance. Instead, we need to put our efforts towards getting them to come back a *second* time. Once that happens, then we stand a chance of helping these individuals make crucial steps towards an exercise and activity rich lifestyle.
So the big question, how do we get them to attend more than once, get class started on time, make everyone safe and still have a rockin' class? Here are my top 5 picks:
1. Think like a flight attendant: Communicate to the entire group
Fly attendants know full well that the business class cabin and frequent flyers aren't really paying a lot of attention to their FAA mandated safety demo. Nonetheless, the expectation has been set that for every flight the safety demo and script will be shown pre-flight no matter what. Frequent flyers aren't annoyed by this fact because they know it's a requirement in order to fly. More than likely, they themselves have much of the script memorized.
On the flip-side, first time fliers are often apprehensive and are listening to every word with baited breath. They even pull the safety features card out of the seat back pocket and read it cover to cover. Clearly, they are observant and benefiting from this verbal instruction.
2. Provide unlabeled choices:
Once class has commenced it is imperative to provide options. However, the moment you start labeling your options as "beginner," "intermediate," or "advanced," human nature, competitiveness and ego kick-in for even the most novice participants. Remember, no one wants to be the new kid or the beginner so try offering up choices that allow for individual decision making. Here's an example:
Based on that cue, you'll find that many of the veterans will attempt to push hard the entire 3 minutes, the more tactical types may try a 30-seconds on 30-seconds off approach, and new folks will feel at ease because you gave them the opportunity to do what makes them feel successful in that moment - whatever that might be.
3. Be multi-lingual:
At Stages® Indoor Cycling we teach 4 primary languages of communication in order to help get our point across, usually in regards to finding the appropriate intensity. The first language, and the one than anyone can comprehend, is that of comparison or analogy.
The next language, that of RPE (rate of perceived exertion), allows us to communicate time and intensity on a fixed 1-10 scale. I could talk about the value of RPE for days, but suffice it to say it works very well so long as you speak to it consistently.
Our last two languages -- that of heart rate zones and power zones-- assume that the rider has done some preliminary benchmark assessments, known as Functional Threshold Heart Rate Benchmark and/or Functional Threshold Power Benchmark. With individuals that have gone through this evaluation we can say things such as,
Clearly understanding this language requires precursory knowledge and will definitely sound foreign to your new riders. Hence why it is so important to be as multi-lingual as possible in each and every class.
4. Acknowledge bravery:
At or near the conclusion of class, make it a point to acknowledge just how difficult it is to walk in the door for the very first time. No need to call out individuals, just make a point to truly show that you recognize that the hardest part isn't the class, it's walking in the door that truly requires guts.
5. Make yourself available after class:
Immediately after acknowledging their accomplishments let the entire class know that you are available afterwards to answer questions, address concerns and to accept feedback. If there are back-to-back classes in the studio space, designate a meeting area outside of the studio where you can chat with your crew. It's during this time that many of the barriers that once stood in the way of the newbie participant can be broken. It is our hope that they are proud of themselves, elated in fact, that they took a leap of faith and attempted this crazy category called indoor cycling-- you can capitalize on this moment.
Of course, use your best judgement. They might not be ready for a face-to-face with you just yet and that's okay! Allowing people the space, time and consideration that they personally need does wonders towards growing a unique population of riders. Let's empower them to show up for that second class and hopefully stick around long after tourist season has come to a close.