Becoming a cycling or spinning instructor…

Nearly ten years ago, after my running days started to diminish due to injuries, I took my first indoor cycling class. As a competitive runner (I was heavy in the national scene from the age of 6-7 years old), I was drawn to cycling. And, cycling seemed drawn to me.

Around the same time, I picked up outdoor cycling with a cycle-cross bike. Though, I admit that I have never used it for its full abilities.

I started my cycling classes at Wilson’s Fitness in Columbia, MO. At the time, classes were 45 minutes or 60 minutes, with the longer classes being extensions of the 45 minute classes. My first instructor – Carla – was an immediate inspiration. She did themed rides. One week, we’d ride through Ireland with Irish music set to scenes of the Irish countryside. The next week, we’d ride the beaches and hills of the California coast. She changed the music each week – at least several songs. She was fun. She was challenging. She remembered people. She took musical requests. Class was a family. There were regulars and it developed into a community. After my first week of classes, I knew I wanted to provide this same experience to others later.

For several years, I attended a variety of spin/cycling classes at Wilson’s Fitness. Some instructors were more challenging than others. Some had us do a lot of standing. Some kept us in the saddle. Each class was unique to the instructor and I liked that. That was the appeal.

Then, I took an RPM class at Gold’s Gym. Initially, I didn’t enjoy it. It felt like it didn’t challenge me as much as my other classes. The music didn’t resonate with me. So, I didn’t touch an RPM class again for a few more years. I took classes at the YMCA and was met with fair reviews. I didn’t come in with high expectations, but did enjoy the diversity in music.

But, then, out of necessity, Gold’s Gym became my only viable option for classes. This time, when I tried a RPM class, I loved it. I was challenged. And, that’s when I realized it would be about the instructor with the RPM method. The music was the same from class to class, but not the instructors. It was heavily dependent upon a quality instructor. And, currently, I have my go-to instructor. She’s challenging. She remembers us each by name. She has regulars. It’s a small community. She’s fit. She only does moves on the bike the benefit the outdoor cyclist in  me.

So, after a ten year journey of cycling, spin, and RPM classes, I saw a special to take a 6-week cycling training course at Resolute Fitness in Austin, TX (meeting twice a week for 3 hours a time…so 6 hours just of training a week). A few years ago, I had looked into a certification course, but could not find anything offered nearby. So, when I saw it located locally, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’ll also admit that I had steered away from the boutique cycling studios that were growing in larger, urban areas around the U.S.

When I first stepped foot into Resolute, I realized it was one of these boutique cycling studios. You could only were bike cleats on their bikes and all bikes had weighted fly wheels. If you did not have shoes, you could rent shoes for $3 a class. For $3 a class, you could also rent yoga mats for their yoga classes.

In my years at Gold’s and Wilson’s, I had become oblivious to another  movement in the cycling industry – one much more commercial and one with a heavy dance and entertainment value.

This was my largest takeaway during my 6 week journey from cycling student to instructor.

After my experience, I felt compelled to assist others in this journey – both the realities, the benefits, and the considerations.

So, first – the course: The cycling training course was 6 weeks with twice-a-week meetings of 3 hours a piece. In addition the the two days a week of training, we had to attend an additional 12 cycling classes, two of which had to be done outside of the Resolute Fitness Studio. The price was about $400, which seemed fairly comparable to other courses. At the end of the course, it was implied we could audition for cycling jobs at the studio.

Second – the content: We spent time each class practice teaching. This was a learning curve. The hardest part was the amount of time that went into planning the songs, but more on that later.

Third – the class design: Our first class was an actual class so we could observe and participate. I immediately realized the class was heavy on rhythm. In my time focusing on RPM, I did not realize how many boutique studios like Soul Cycle had emerged. All of these are heavy on beat and dance. In fact, the primary quality studios like those desire is an entertainer, someone who can ride the beat. The class included “jumps” for several songs and one weight song for a 40 minute ride, with five minutes for stretching.

Fourth – the assessment: Throughout the 6 weeks, we gradually taught more songs for our fellow instructors-in-training, leading up to a buddy ride. The buddy rides were a typical class split among three instructors-in-training. Each person took a section of the ride – beginning, middle, or end. After the buddy rides, we each received written feedback. After the smaller class rides, we received verbal feedback from classmates and from our teacher. And, at the end of the course, we received AAPE certification.

The auditions: On our last class day, our teacher went through various tips for getting into the industry. We were told to send an email to her and we would schedule an audition. She also told us to try places that “fit us.”

That’s where the fun began and that’s where this blog post stemmed.

After our last class, two of the ten students were approached to teach. And, only one of the ten students was allowed to audition. This created controversy and “bad blood” between many of the students and the teacher.

  • Most boutique studios like Resolute guarantee auditions to their students after completing the course. We were not given that same guarantee so, many were out of a lot of money since other studios expect you to earn certification through them or have experience. This is something many of us did NOT know. 
  • Our feedback throughout the course never indicated we were not ready. In fact, the feedback was only positive. Mine, in particular, offered no ways to improve. So, when I asked for an audition and was told she “didn’t feel as though I was ready to audition at this time. Try again in 6 months.” While I am fine with rejection, the issue is in the feedback. If I was not ready, my feedback certainly did not indicate that. And, if I could try again in 6 months, what would suddenly make me ready then without feedback? It gave the impression that I should not try again. And, while I have no intent to do this, more accurate feedback would be helpful. It felt as though the course was offered to say we did something, but leave us with nothing – a money steal-er. So, be sure you check with this throughout your course. 

So, what to look for:

  • Class style – first of all, what type of class do you like? Personally, I believe indoor cycling should be just that – indoor cycling. I understand the need to appease all audience with more “entertaining” classes, but it should also be our job to give students quality fitness instruction. In our Resolute classes, we were doing weights and jumps. In the book, Keeping it Real, the author, Sage, suggests that indoor cycling should be about increasing the power output. When you add in jumps and weights, you decrease power and you increase the risk of injury. Plus, you decrease the number of calories burned. Pay attention the the temperature of the studio or class. Many boutiques like Soul Cycle raise the temperature to give off the appearance you are burning more calories than you actually are. Bottom line – know what you like and what you believe in.
  • Auditions – are you guaranteed one? Ask this before you commit. If you are not, you may want to follow-up with questions regarding the type of certification you’ll receive. If the certification is just for that studio, that may be a risky monetary investment. 
  • The atmosphere – check this out before you commit. I wish I had done this and I’m ashamed to admit I did not and many of my peers did not. If you want to learn, you need to be at a place you have chosen and you understand. 
  • Time – How much time do you need to invest in this?
  • Music – each place has their own rules and feelings about the type of music you choose. Know this information upfront.
The largest learning curve comes in the form of pairing songs with workouts. Every studio is different in this. Some use the music as motivation do their workouts while others ride specifically to those beats. If it is the latter, you will need to spend time figuring out what those beats are and what workouts go with those songs. This is where the bulk of my time is spent. As a participant, you underestimate how much time is spent with songs. 
Would I take the class again? Not sure. I am thankful I was able to land a cycling job and a gym where I am comfortable. Did that class help me get that job? I don’t know. It did help me get more comfortable teaching and, for that, I’m thankful. It did, unfortunately, teach me several things – like jumps and weights – I want to unlearn. So, if I were to take it again, I’d want to do better research on classes that support the type of teacher I am. 
So, who are you as a cycling student? Who are you as a cycling teacher? What do you like? And, where do you like? Go there. 

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