Group cycling instructors can rely on the principles of individual difference, overlaod, progression adaptation, use/disuse and specificity to help create fun, motivating and safe group cycling programs.

A physically active lifestyle offers significant health benefits, and is now recognized as one of the most important behaviors for health and well-being. Regular physical activity helps individuals of all ages to build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, control body weight, reduce fat, and develop efficient functioning of the heart and lungs. Physical inactivity is recognized as a critical health issue, and is related to many preventable diseases. While these health benefits are long term, your members want results now. Their goals are related to weight loss, greater cardiovascular efficiency, stronger muscles and bones, more energy and less stress. They are looking for encouragement, direction, a varied workout and feedback from a knowledgeable instructor. What better environment than group indoor cycling to provide members with all they want, and more? Be mindful that it is not safe or physiologically sound to perform activities on a group cycling bike that do not customarily take place on a road or mountain bike. Cyclists would not ride without a seat, use rubber bands or dumbbells, or ride without hands. Sticking to the basic principles of biomechanics, bike fit, nomenclature and conditioning will allow for a fun and safe environment, with minimal risk of injury and attrition. To help members get results, instructors should adhere to some general principles of sports conditioning to allow participants to get the most from their activity.

The principle of individual difference

Each individual's response to exercise will vary. A proper program should be modified to take individual differences into account. Generally consider these known facts:
  • Fast or explosive movements require more recovery time than slow movements.
  • Fast-twitch muscle fibers recover quicker than slow-twitch muscle fibers.
  • Women generally need more recovery time than men (due to heart size, stroke volume and muscle size).
  • Older individuals generally need more recovery time than younger individuals.
  • The greater the load/intensity, the longer it will take muscles to recover.
A good instructor will be able to conduct a class, maintain everyone's attention and give each participant the ride they came for. Remember, it is not the instructors' ride; they are there to provide encouragement, entertainment, instruction and fun for the participants. Teaching off the bike is a good way to provide individual attention, and an opportunity for the instructor to interact with each participant in a meaningful way.

The principle of overload

The principle of overload states that a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for training adaptation to take place. The body will adapt to this stimulus. Once the body has adapted, a different stimulus is required to continue the change. For a muscle (including the heart) to gain strength, it must be gradually stressed by working against a load greater than it is accustomed. To increase endurance, muscles must work for a longer period of time than they are used to. With this in mind, instructors should select music that reflects the type of training they are offering. Music selection is critical to motivate members to gain the level of performance outlined in the class structure. Instructors are encouraged to put together their own playlists to accomplish the goals of the ride. With the increased popularity of MP3 players and music websites, this process is simple and will motivate the participants to be more engaged in the ride. Personalized music, a heart rate monitor and knowledge of individualize heart rate intensities will ensure the "perfect" ride.

The principle of progression

The principle of progression implies that there is an optimal level of overload, and an optimal time frame for this overload to occur. Overload should not be increased too slowly, or improvement is unlikely. Overload that is increased too rapidly will result in injury or muscle damage. Exercising above the target zone is counterproductive and can be dangerous. This fact alone should encourage all instructors to familiarize themselves with the latest technology related to physiological testing and heart rate training. One product that is interesting, engaging and motivational and that will provide intrigue, safety and fitness enhancement into group cycling classes is the Suunto Team POD. The POD allows instructors to monitor the heart rate and physiology of up to 30 participants simultaneously. It wirelessly gathers performance information from participants' heart rate belts and displays it in real time on a computer screen. The principle of progression also indicates the need for proper rest and recovery. Continual stress on the body and constant overload will result in exhaustion and injury. Instructors should caution class participants against repetitive intense sessions. Providing variety in the class schedule will keep members motivated and injury-free.

The principle of adaptation

Adaptation is the way the body "programs" muscles to remember particular activities, movements or skills. By repeating a skill or activity, the body adapts to the stress, and the skill becomes easier to perform. Adaptation explains why beginning cyclists are sore after the first session, but, after a few classes, they have accommodated to the ride and the seat pressure. Proper bike fit and appropriate clothing will enhance enjoyment and keep participants coming back, as well. Bike fit is a critical factor. Seat height should allow for a 15-degree flex in the rider's knee when the foot is at the bottom (dead center). A good rule of thumb is to align the bottom of the seat with the greater trochanter of the hip (bump at the top of the outside of the thigh). Then have the rider "mount up" and look for the appropriate flex in the knee.

Group Cycling Stands the Test of Time

By John Baudhuin Despite the growing number of group exercise programs, group cycling is still among the most popular. This is no surprise to Master Spinning Instructor Sherri Crilly of Elements Health Club and Wellness Center in Toms River, N.J. Crilly, who has taught Spinning since 1999, believes the program has longevity and is not just another trend because, among its benefits, it offers a mind/body connection. In fact, she credits the mental component of this particular group exercise for changing her life. One of the advantages of group cycling is that beginners and pros can be in the same class and not even know it. This creates a comfortable environment for students because they never feel embarrassed, since they go at their own pace. "It's not about pedaling as fast as you can, it's about going at your own pace and creating a workout that's ideal for you," says Crilly. As many fitness instructors know, keeping students motivated is one of their biggest challenges. When students don't feel inspired, they fail to meet their goals and ultimately drop out of exercise classes. Crilly says she feels it's important for herself and each of her five Spinning instructors to keep up with their continuing education classes. "Maintaining credentials keeps instructors on top of new trends," she says, "and also gives them the coaching skills that helps them make that connection with their students."
John Baudhuin is president and CEO of Mad Dogg Athletics, an international fitness education and equipment company based in Venice, Calif.
With the seat appropriately adjusted, have the rider get on the bike, clip in (or get into toe cages) and assume the 9 o'clock/3 o'clock position with the feet. With the feet horizontal to the floor, adjust the seat fore/aft position so that the knee aligns just behind the big toe of the foot at 9 o'clock. With the rider seated in the saddle and the hands resting on the tops of the handle bars, adjust the handle bar fore/aft position so that the rider's back is flat, the elbows are flexed about 15 degrees and the neck is in a neutral position. The handle bar and seat height are usually the same to start off, but seasoned riders will lower the handle bars, and those with neck/back issues will raise the handle bars, as a general observation. Also, these basic adjustments are subject to revision based on individual anatomy, prior injury or personal preference. An appropriate "bike fit" should be performed for each individual rider to ensure their enjoyment, optimal performance and safety. Clothing is equally important. Cycling shorts make the ride more comfortable, protect the anatomy, prevent chaffing and provide safety (loose clothing will get caught in the pedals, cranks, seat and handle bars, resulting in serious injury). Cycling shorts with synthetic or real chamois is a "best fit." A cycling jersey or snug fitting top with "wicking" material will add additional comfort to the ride. Cycling shoes with clips give optimal performance. If sneakers are worn, they should have a stiff side wall to minimize "toe squeeze" when secured in the toe baskets with toe straps. Be sure all laces are tucked in to avoid getting caught in the crank or pedal. Don't forget the water bottle and towel. Encourage class participants to drink early and often for optimal hydration, which will allow maintenance of the desired heart rate, minimize cardiac drift, decrease dehydration and enhance enjoyment. These recommendations are open to interpretation, but safety, comfort and performance are the desired outcome.

The principle of use/disuse

The principle of use/disuse implies "use it or lose it." Simply stated, muscles hypertrophy (grow) with use, and atrophy (shrink) with disuse. It is important to find a balance between stress and rest. There must be periods of low intensity between periods of high intensity to allow for recovery. The periods of lower-intensity riding, or the rest phase, are a prime time for education, concentration on pedal cadence/contact and pearls of instructor wisdom. A good instructor will set up an annual plan of periodization for class participants. Some additional tools will enhance the delivery of the workout, and give the instructor additional information about each rider. A heart rate monitor is basic, essential gear for group cycling. If participants know their heart rate levels, this will allow for optimal performance, efficiency, safety and enjoyment. Knowing anaerobic threshold (AT) will allow the rider the appropriate numbers to achieve success in a safe environment. There is no need to go to the max or theorize what max is. AT is the magic number, and class structure can follow this scale:
  • AT-20 = Warm-up and recovery
  • AT-10 = Optimal "fat" use and fitness improvement
  • AT= Optimal in overall aerobic (cardiovascular) improvement
  • AT+10 = Anaerobic endurance improvement
  • AT+15 to 20 = High-intensity intervals used to improve anaerobic metabolism and sprint performance, and raise VO2max
This is a simplified chart. For more detail and explanation, see Figure 1 (Heart Rate Rationale Chart). There are several commercially available devices to monitor heart rate and cadence. Polar offers several monitors for heart rate and other variables. Caloric expenditure is the hot item these days, and everyone is on the march to accurately calculate caloric expenditure. Other options include the Star Trac Spinning computer, which provides cadence, heart rate and elapsed time, and the LeMond Rev Master cycling computer, among others.

The principle of specificity

The specificity principle simply states that training must go from highly general to highly specific. The principle of specificity also implies that, to become better at a particular exercise or skill, that exercise or skill must be performed. To be a good cyclist, a person must cycle. Therefore, just because instructors are good at instructing yoga, dance or strength training doesn't mean they can teach group cycling. There are many valid and credible cycling certifications available, but there are also a lot of poor/anecdotal offerings in the industry. Some credible programs include Mad Dogg Athletics, Schwinn, Rev Master and Body Cycle, to name a few. Programs based in the science of cycling and sound physiology will be credible and worth study. Specificity of training in cycling should incorporate the principle of power. As cyclists become more efficient and look to improve their performance, measuring power is imperative. Power is the measure of force produced over time, and is expressed in watts. Power tells riders how they are responding to a given load (intensity). By measuring both power and heart rate, the individual and the instructor have a clear picture of intensity vs. response. Measuring these variables provides a solid foundation for cycling performance and enjoyment. Indoor cycles that measure power are limited in the fitness market. CycleOps offers an indoor cycle that has position variability and ability to measure power and heart rate.

Variety is contagious

Providing variety in the cycling studio will cultivate participation, from beginners to proficient cyclists. A varied offering of programming will keep participants engaged and motivated, and allow for progression as they advance in fitness level and proficiency. Once put together, the most logical cycling program involves a periodized approach that varies the intensity and training objectives. The program must be specific not only to cycling, but to each individual's abilities (tolerance to training stress, recoverability, outside influences, etc.). The training load must increase over time (allowing some workouts to be less intense than others), and members must cycle often enough to keep a detraining effect from happening and to force a positive training adaptation. Group cycling is contagious! With the right environment, instructor and equipment, the program will grow in members, popularity and profitability. If you are considering starting a group cycling program, talk to manufacturers and attend trade shows where there are a variety of group cycle vendors and instructional programs. Try the bikes, talk to the professionals, make your selection, get certified, practice and launch the program. Cycling is a fun, low-impact, easy-to-do activity that can be done at any level. Children can ride, as well. The Jr. Cycle by Millennium Fitness is designed for youth cyclists. Don't wait! Initiate or enhance your cycling offerings today.