The importance of Empathy and Inclusion in Rhythm Riding
Indoor Cycling is Evolving but our Mission Isn’t
As instructors, it is vital that we take a long, hard look at what’s popular in our industry and discuss how we can make it the best for our riders. It’s important to remember why we do what we do in the first place. Not for the thousands of social media followers, not to become a celebrity, but to improve the mental and physical health of the people who ride our classes.
In recent years, Indoor Cycling as an industry has evolved from classes that used to closely resemble outdoor riding to an all-out party on a bike with fun, challenging, dancelike moves such as tap backs, push-ups, elbow drops, four corners, and body rolls to name a few. The energy felt when a class is moving together like waves on the ocean is euphoric! Humans are rhythmic creatures, and we love to move to music. We also love workouts that distract us from thinking about the fact that we are exercising. This type of rhythm riding does just that: elevating our mental health while also strengthening our core and improving coordination.
As most of us know, it is entirely up to us as instructors to plan our classes. If the style of the class is in fact a rhythm/choreography-based ride, we decide the RPMs (cadence) at which we are performing and coaching the movements.
The Hard Truth
I’ll make a general statement that doesn’t necessarily apply to all Indoor Cycling markets or studios: The more popular rhythm/choreography-based riding is becoming all over the world, the more pressure we are putting on ourselves as instructors to create the most complicated, fast and crazy sequences. And we are doing it at the expense of the riders’ bodies.
It never fails. I’ll see the latest video on social media of an instructor tapping back and body rolling at 128 RPM. They look like a superstar. Then the camera will pan over to the riders, and maybe one or two of them will be able to keep up with the instructor. This cannot be helpful for the riders’ mental or physical health. To be able to perform such challenging sequences without injury, they need coaching on their form and body position. Furthermore, even with the best coaching it can feel defeating for riders to constantly be asked to do things they cannot physically do. As their leader, their trust in you starts to dwindle.
There are, of course, exceptions. Some classes are full of riders who are seasoned and well-practiced in rhythm-based classes. I’m not referring to those classes in this article. I know they’re out there! Generally, in my decade plus experience riding and teaching these classes, it usually isn’t the case.
It’s not that we have weak riders. We have STRONG riders! However, the riders are feeling differently than we are. We are pumped up on adrenaline because we are leading the class. We take for granted that some things might be easy for us as instructors but are extremely difficult for class participants. That’s where empathy comes in.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you can still do the exact same moves at a drastically slower RPM, have just as much fun, and be inclusive to more people in your class!
The above has to be at least considered if we want our riders to be lifelong participants in our classes. We don’t want them walking out of classes feeling beat up in their bodies and bruised in their egos.
As I started to teach class after class of these high energy, fast paced rhythm rides, I took a step back and started to course correct based on my observations. I also took more classes as a rider and observed how my own body felt when I wasn’t pumped up on adrenaline (EMPATHY!). I began to re-think my approach in attempts to make people feel better physically and mentally. I decided not to tap back faster than 90 rpm. I slowed down my standing elbow drops from the 80s to the 60s and 70s. For faster seated songs I tried 100-105 RPM rather than the 120s of the past. I decided to do pushups on seated flats rather than standing jogs. I transitioned from one song to the next in the saddle rather than standing. What was the result? ZERO drop in energy, ZERO complaints and more full classes. It was evident that the more successful and physically better the riders felt, the more likely they were to return to class.
All are Welcome
Do you want to be the instructor with a clique-y, exclusive following in who’s class not everyone feels welcome… or do you want to be known as the instructor where everyone from elite athletes to beginners love your classes? If it’s the former and not the latter, maybe you should scroll back up to the top and re-read the “why we do what we do” line of this article.
If you teach a style of Indoor Cycling that is rhythm/choreography-based and have not started intently observing your riders, I highly suggest you try. What you see (and feel) could surprise you.
In summary, here are some general suggestions to make your rhythm/choreography-based class more inclusive and friendly on the bodies of your riders:
if the riders are struggling with tap backs in the 90s, try the 80s. If that’s still too fast, try the 70s!
If your class has four different moves in a song and the class is struggling, try two moves per song.
Allow people to practice:
When introducing a move, stay in it for awhile before going on to the next move. And then repeat it again at some point in the ride. You won’t have to re-explain it and riders will get excited because they know the move.
Ride in other instructor’s classes:
You need to be able to walk in the riders’ shoes to plan a class that works for them. Take note of moves that are easy when you’re teaching but hard when you’re riding as a participant.
Make it special:
Maybe there will be one or two super hard sequences in your rhythm based class. You can communicate this in a way that invites everyone in class to work towards a common goal of being able to perform the move well progressively over time.
Having a more inclusive, empathetic rhythm ride doesn’t make you a less cool instructor. It actually means the opposite: you care enough about your riders to meet them where they are and make them feel more successful. No one knows your riders better than you do, but it’s up to you to watch them, put yourself in their shoes, and course correct if necessary.