How to Break the Ice in a Cycling Class

How to Break the Ice in a Cycling Class

Have you ever walked into a cycling studio and felt the lack of energy or enthusiasm in a room and tried to figure out how to break the ice with your class?

Perhaps you have subbed or took over a popular instructor's class and now people don't know what to do with the "new" instructor.

It happens. Sometimes the energy is simply low because the weather has changed, they are stressed at work, it's a holiday season, or people are simply tired.

Our jobs as instructors is to create energy, but it isn't always an easy thing to do, especially if you are a new instructor.

In my 18 years, I have been there a few times where I would look around the room and think to myself "oh boy" what am I going to do to pump them up? I used to struggle with this until I figured out a few things that made a huge difference in my classes.

The low energy isn't always an easy fix either. You can't always walk into class overly happy and expect them to respond positively, especially when a change of instructors has occurred. But what you can do is use drills and humour to break the ice. 

An Unexpected Visualization 

Before you start the class, ask them to visualize, but it's not what you may think. Most of the time, us instructors love to ask people to "think of their goal" or "ride towards their goal" which certainly has a time and place, but sometimes we need to keep classes fresh and fun.

Ask them to think about something funny that they witness but they can't tell anyone about it and they have to try not to laugh (I usually do this in the warm up). It only takes a few seconds before the first person chuckles, and soon enough, the whole class is having a good laugh. Next up, use a drill that will liven the crowd up.

The Ice Breaker Interactive Drill

I have found that I keep "ice breaker" drills ready to go that connect the riders with each. An ice breaker drill is one that is interactive with your riders.

I personally find it amazing how a 3-5 minute simple interactive drill can change the energy of the group. I also have a "in case of emergency" strategy that has yet to fail me 18 years later coaching that I will save for the end.

Begin by partnering up riders in twos. Ask them to introduce themselves to each other (if they do not already know one another). Next, ask them to decide who rider 1 is and who rider 2 is. Once they have established which rider is which, set the scenario.

The SCENARIO: Each rider's job is to coach the other rider on their "work" phase. As their instructor, you decide what their "work" phase is (standing runs, standing climbs, standing attacks, power sprints, fast flats, seated climbs etc).

For example: If rider 1 is doing standing attacks, rider 2 is coaching and encouraging their partner while they are on a recovery for 15-20 seconds. Then call out switch, then rider 2 becomes the "athlete" and rider 1 becomes the coach

The simple interaction and motivation between each other changes the energy in the group almost instantly. You can feel the fun, the encouragement, and the connection they have now created with one another. 

Song selection is key to this drill. You want an upbeat, faster cadence song that is going to help change the energy in the room. If you don't know a good song, I will lend you my favourite song this month, "Bring the Beat" by Machel Montano (3:20) . Here is the video below.

In Case of Emergency

Sometimes the energy is low because you have a class full of new people who are nervous to be in a cycling class or new to the facility and that's okay. Our job is to connect the members with each other. 

I learned this at a conference a few years ago. In a room full of 7000 strangers, I witness from sober to the beginning of new friendships being formed, all because this technique did away with all the barriers of insecurities and intimidation that people experience when they do something new.

The TECHNIQUE: Have riders set up their bikes but don't get on them. Get them to stand next to one person and introduce themselves, which usually looks like a hello and a handshake. The problem is all this does is create a soft connection - you want them to be engaged. Once they have done that, ask them to once again turn to their partner but this time imagine they realized that this is their long lost best friend, their "person" they did everything with as a kid and they haven't seen them in 10 years!! Get them to turn to each other and greet each other with enthusiasm and excitement. What you will see from most people is instead of a handshake, they go into full on hug mode! It's the coolest thing.Then get them back on their bikes and have a great ride.

Remember, teaching comes with challenges. It is up to us to take on those challenges and meet them with creativity and enthusiasm. When do you this, things that once bothered you no longer become an issue. When you once feared "that time slot of people" now has become your favourite time slot to teach by simply changing the energy in the room using an easy drill. You are doing a great job keeping people healthy and active by teaching classes, keep up the awesome work!

Happy Teaching!

Rachel Seay,

Schwinn Certified Cycling Instructor, BCRPA Certified Group Fitness Leader and Educator since 1999 and proud owner of Inner Fit Studios "Teaching Ideas for Indoor Cycling Instructors"

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