So You Think You Can Teach Indoor Cycling?

Find out what's really involved so you can see if it's right for you.

You know the idiom “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”? Well, it doesn’t apply to indoor cycling! Not one bit. To be a good cycling instructor, you need to be able to ride well and model good cycling form and smooth pedal strokes throughout the rides (this may sound obvious but just last week I took a class from an instructor whose butt was bouncing all over the saddle). You also need to be able to design interesting, safe, challenging rides that will appeal to people with various fitness levels.

In other words, there are lots of skills involved.

People become indoor cycling instructors for different reasons. Some are indoor-cycling junkies who relish the idea of designing and leading their own classes or want the opportunity to help people get fitter. Others are current fitness professionals who want to add a new format to their repertoire; still others are outdoor cyclists who want to bring some of their training indoors and make it challenging for themselves and their fellow road-riders. Then, there are people who simply like the idea of being paid to exercise.

In my case, I had become a regular at the indoor-cycling classes at my gym, typically taking four classes a week. One day, the new group exercise director was subbing for the usual instructor and we started chatting after class. She asked if I’d ever thought about getting certified to teach indoor cycling because my energy and enthusiasm were palpable and I had excellent form.

Naturally, I was flattered. But initially I found the prospect daunting (in part because I had a mild fear of public speaking and in part because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to ride well and talk at the same time). Over several months, the idea gradually grew on me, especially after I took classes with lackluster instructors, less than inspiring music, or contraindicated moves.

It turned out that getting certified was fairly simple: I ordered the book and took a 9-hour Spinning® Instructor Training at a nearby YMCA. (Alternatively, you can get certified as an indoor cycling instructor through Keiser, Schwinn, Les Mills’ RPM®, G.E.A.R., and other programs.) During the Spinning® Instructor Training, we learned about how to properly set up a bike for a given rider, what the target heart rates are for different goals, how to perform cadence checks and different moves on the bikes (and which ones are taboo and why), how to select motivating music and give good coaching cues, and how to create effective ride profiles. It was a lot of information packed into a long day (that included two rides led by the Master Instructor—one 60 minutes, the other 90 minutes). I loved every minute of it!

After that day, we were encouraged to practice teaching, using the plans in our instructor manual, which I did with the help of some friends who were willing guinea pigs. The next step was to take and pass the online Spinning® Instructor Exam.

No problem. My gym also required me to get certified as a group exercise instructor—through the American Council on Exercise or the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America®—and become certified in CPR. Check!

Getting certified was easier than I thought it would be. But there was a steeper learning curve once I began teaching classes. That’s when I discovered that it’s easy to become an indoor cycling instructor but not so easy to become a great one. After all, being a stellar indoor-cycling instructor requires you to be able to perform the activity well, motivate and inspire your riders (the newbies and the seasoned cyclists), and give good, clear instructions during the entire class (including stretching). And even though it’s a high-intensity, sweat-inducing form of exercise, it’s important to make it feel fun and fresh, not like a chore or bore. As an instructor, you want people to walk out of the studio with a spring in their step and a smile on their face.  

Once I hit my stride, I began to really enjoy teaching. I love mapping out the arc and progression of the rides, creating drills to build strength or stamina, and choreographing the rides to energizing, upbeat music. I also enjoy coaching people, encouraging them to push themselves beyond their comfort zones until they discover that they’re stronger and more capable than they thought they were. These days, I teach four classes a week and each one of them has its own crowd of regulars, who often tell me how inspiring my classes are. In response, I tell them that they inspire me as much as I inspire them—and it’s true. Through indoor cycling, I have seen people transform their bodies and their lives in remarkable ways. It never ceases to impress me.

If you’re interested in becoming an instructor, I encourage you to give it a try: The one-day training is a small investment in time and money, and you may find the experience incredibly gratifying. 

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