Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Coaching off the Bike

Often as an indoor cycling instructor we revel in our ability to coach from the bike. We find comfort when we are on the bike. The bike provides us a safe haven that keeps us in front of the class while we coach the entire class. When we see someone with bad form, we often use the microphone to correct the form of one individual by making a general announcement for all to hear. Some times it works, some times it doesn't. When it doesn't work, what do you do? Do you ignore the form problem? Do you make another announcement? Do you call out their name? Or worse yet, do you get off the bike?

Getting off the bike is something that can be a very rewarding experience for your class. I have had the pleasure of teaching several classes where I have spent the entire ride off the bike. I really mean pleasure. I can interact with each rider. Coaching off the bike takes a group cycling class and makes it an individual experience.

A friend of mine posted a great thought on the pedal-on forum: "You lead a class while on the bike. You coach an individuals off the bike." AC said it brilliantly.

When should you coach off the bike?
This is one of the most asked questions I get when we discuss coaching at an Orientation. The simple answer is it depends. There are times when you need to get off the bike and times when you want to stay put. If you are coaching an experienced class, you may never need to get off the bike. Conversely, if you have a lot of newer students in your class with little experience you'll need to spend more time on the floor.

You will need to get off of the bike to correct form whenever the general announcement doesn't work. Ignoring the problem will only create more difficulties in correcting the form as the rider spends more time riding with poor form. I have an individual that continues to ride with his knees spread out. I get off the bike, explain the next segment and then eventually head over to him and talk with him with the microphone off. He's getting better, and now recognizes that those general announcements may apply directly to him.

By getting off the bike, you can evaluate the bike set-up of every student. You may be able to identify someone that is too high or too low from the front of the class, but you cannot view those students with an inproper fore and aft saddle position. Unless your room is filled with mirrors, evaluating the fore and aft saddle position can only be done from a side view of the rider.

Another time to get off the bike is when students are excessively chatty. You can stop their talking just by standing between their bikes or directly in front of one of them. Sometimes you may need to say something to them if their behavior is disruptive to the class.

I get off the bike to check on my new students. They are the ones that need the coaching the most. I'll see how they are doing, watch their pedal stroke, evaluate thier form and double check their bike set-up.

Get off your bike to emphasize a point or instruction. I often emphasize a point or describe the next segment that we will be doing while off the bike. Most people know you're off the bike and pay attention to you. As time goes on, they know that an important point is coming and their attention is focused on you. For example, I will get off the bike during the recovery phase during an interval ride and explain the next interval.

An additional benefit of getting off the bike and walking around the room is your ability to check the volume of your voice and music from various parts of the room. I teach in some wierd shaped rooms and the sound doesn't sound the same when I'm on the bike as when I'm in the back of the room. You can see if you need to change the volume of your music or microphone.

What should I say when I coach off the bike?
This is a great question that we all want to know the perfect answer. I can say sometimes you don't need to say anything, your body language or hand signals may be enough. The key is to be positive. You don't want to tell someone they are riding incorrectly and just leave it at that. I often watch the people I'm going to correct for a few minutes. I watch for their strengths during those few minutes so I can make the rider feel good about what they are doing.

Going back to my example of the bow-legged rider. This guy can push a big gear (lots of resistance) and for a long time. During the recovery segment between two climbs, I went up to him and said, "Wow, you're really powered up that last hill. While I was in the front of the class, I noticed your knees are pointing out. If you bring them toward the center of the bike, you can be so much more powerfull on the next hill. I know you can do it, you're strong rider." The compliment-correct-compliment leaves the student feeling good about themselves and lets them know you're concerned about their well being.

In Summary
Coaching off the bike is not always necessary when you are riding with a group of experienced riders. However, most of our classes have participants with varied experience and skills. You'll have to decide when to get off your bike and how often. Some studios may even require that you get off the bike. Don't hide behind that bike, get off and mingle amoung your riders and see what that does for your attendance.