Author: Pernille

Beating the downward cycle of dementia

Over recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in the way society has approached dementia.

Previously, options for the care of those with serious cognitive issues were limited, with daycare centres or full-time care homes catering for older people really the only choices. However, the latest research findings suggest a more active approach is needed – one that focuses not just on palliative care within care homes, but on rehabilitation and improving the quality of life for dementia sufferers.

A rehabilitative approach

Even though dementia is a progressive disease with no cure, many treatment centres have therefore begun to introduce a rehabilitative element into their treatment of dementia – and physical activity is an important part of this.

A number of studies have found strong correlations between brain health and levels of physical activity: inactive people have an increased risk of dementia, while on the other hand, regular physical activity can slow – and even reverse – cognitive decline. Among those already suffering from dementia, exercise can also enhance some cognitive functions and improve quality of life.

inactive people have an increased risk of dementia

Studies suggest this is due to the excretion of the neurotrophic protein BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) during exercise. BDNF plays an important role in maintaining our nervous system, including the formation of new nerve cells and nerve connections. Excessively low levels of BDNF are thought to be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Danish National Health Service has therefore produced a training guide for people with dementia, including suggested training activities and practical advice. Its recommendations around the level of physical activity are very similar to the recommendations made to the public as a whole: 30 minutes’ activity a day, including at least 20 minutes’ high intensity exercise twice a week.

In combination with other types of intervention – cognitive training, music therapy, sensory stimulation and so on – this level of activity is able to help alleviate the symptoms of dementia, and thereby improve people’s quality of life.

The positive impact of cycling

In practice, indoor cycling is often the chosen activity for dementia sufferers, as it requires no advanced skills and can be performed even by those with a severe degree of dementia.

We have to help people live with dementia, not just suffer from it.

In a recent Danish study – ADEX – researchers took a group of 200 people with Alzheimer’s. They were asked to train three times a week, for 16 weeks, with each session comprising one hour of moderate intensity indoor cycling.
The study showed these cycling sessions had a significant and positive effect on wellbeing and people’s quality of life, with a clear dose-response to exercise frequency and intensity: the subjects who exercised most, and hardest, experienced the best results. These positive results were not only physical, but also cognitive.

Similar results were also observed in a meta-analysis of 30 studies – a total of 2,020 subjects – with significant improvements noted in cognitive function as a result of exercise.

Furthermore, working out in small groups – with the social interaction that brings – has a positive impact on the effect of the training.

An interdisciplinary approach

In Frederikshavn Municipality, Denmark, we’ve therefore been putting together a programme to help citizens with dementia, seeking to improve their quality of life.

Over the last five years, a specialist team has been working together as part of this multi-disciplinary project – a team that consists of dementia co-ordinators (nurses with diploma-level education in dementia), a music therapist, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist (myself) and a psychologist.
We work both independently and as a group, helping local citizens suffering from all forms of dementia – both mild and more difficult cases. Operating out of activity centres, care centres and people’s own homes, we not only work directly with dementia sufferers, but also offer a number of services to the relatives of those with dementia.

dementia group workout cycling
A Danish study of Alzheimer’s sufferers reported both physical and cognitive benefits from regular cycling

We have, for several years now, based our approach on results from proven studies. Given our focus on rehabilitation, physical activity – such as indoor cycling – plays a key role in our programmes. We clearly see that this enhances people’s physical functionality, social life and overall quality of life.

However, although a lot of research from around the world has already observed a positive impact of physical activity on cognitive function, within our own programme the impact of exercise on cognitive function remains unclear.

This is why our team is now planning a pilot project, starting at the end of this year. We will encourage local citizens with mild dementia to take part in indoor cycling sessions, and will monitor its impact on their cognitive functions – functions such as maintaining attention, remembering, learning and solving problems. The project will last a period of 14 weeks, with three weekly sessions – each session being one hour of indoor cycling, done at an intensity equivalent to 75 per cent of HR max.

Our aim is to prove and clarify the impact of aerobic exercise, such as cycling, on cognitive function – and, of course, to establish whether such an offer is attractive to the participants. Ultimately, the more we can do to improve people’s lives, the better. We have to help people live with dementia, not just suffer from it.


Dementia is an overall term that describes a group of conditions, marked by a decline in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. The term ‘dementia’ covers not only impaired memory, but also other symptoms such as reduced initiative, orientation, language, language understanding and motor skills. And there’s still no cure. All that can currently be done is alleviate the symptoms, and sometimes slow the decline, through medication… and exercise.

10 key signs of dementia are as follows:

  1. Memory loss, disrupting daily life
  2. Difficulties in planning or solving problems
  3. Finding it hard to complete familiar tasks
  4. Losing track of date and time
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. Problems with words, both speaking and writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Diminished or poor judgement
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Change in mood and personality




James Balfour

The co-founder of London boutique operator 1Rebel talks to Kate Cracknell about its ground-breaking new cycling amphitheatre

“We’ve created three distinct types of class at 1Rebel,” explains James Balfour, co-founder of the London-based boutique operation. “We have cycling concept Ride, bootcamp-based Reshape, and boxing-focused Rumble.

“Our first four clubs are dual-discipline, with the line-up shaped by the location of the club and the interior design opportunities within each building: we have three Ride / Reshape clubs and one Reshape / Rumble club.

“But at 1Rebel Victoria – our latest club, which opened in the newly-constructed Nova building in June of this year – we knew we had an opportunity to do something really different.”

BALFOUR: I believe what we’ve created is the best cycling studio in London – possibly the world – setting a new bar for the sector.

The Experience Economy
Balfour continues: “At 6,500sq ft, 1Rebel Victoria is a good size: our five clubs range from 4,500sq ft to 8,500sq ft. However, the space in Victoria lent itself to the creation of an amazing cycling studio, so we opted to make it our first single discipline club.

“I believe what we’ve created is the best cycling studio in London – possibly the world – setting a new bar for the sector.”

He continues: “The building has amazing ceiling heights, so we were able to put horseshoe balconies into the studio: the riders above look down on the activity below. We hadn’t seen it done anywhere before and it was a big risk. We weren’t sure how it would work with Ride choreography – would people like being up on a balcony, looking down on the instructor? Right up to the last minute of the huge £2m fit-out project, we weren’t sure if we were going to do it. But we did and it works brilliantly, creating the sense of a cycling amphitheatre.”

1Rebel interieur london

Of course, if you have a space this huge, with so many cyclists – the studio features 83 Technogym bikes – you need to create an experience that’s big enough to fill it… and 1Rebel has proved it’s more than up to the challenge.

“As a business, we see ourselves as operating in the Experience Economy, and this new Ride studio absolutely delivers on that,” says Balfour.

“We have a 3D sound and AV system that’s currently only used in one other place in the world: the Sydney Opera House. We have laser shows, smoke machines, a huge LED screen, a sensory shower system that creates incredible special effects and lighting, and a remote-controlled scissor lift that raises and lowers the instructor platform throughout the class.
“Crucially, we also have amazing instructors who bring the whole thing to life. The music and overall choreography are set by 1Rebel, but our instructors are encouraged to inject their personality into every class, giving everything a sprinkle of their individual brand of fairy dust.

1rebel instructor

“We don’t want to rely on tech to motivate riders in our clubs: we believe the words that are spoken to you in class are as important as anything else. With our best instructors, the performance is akin to that of a rock star on-stage at Glastonbury.

“We therefore we look after them. Our pay is very competitive – that may well be why instructors come to us in the first place – but they stay because it’s a great place to work. It’s really fun, really social, with a great sense of team. In fact, 30 per cent of our instructors are home-grown – they might previously have been on reception, for example. It’s just a great place to work.”

our instructors are encouraged to inject their personality into every class, giving everything a sprinkle of their individual brand of fairy dust.

Continual evolution
Balfour continues: “Across all 1Rebel clubs, we ensure the experience extends beyond the studio too – and it has to constantly evolve so there’s always something new on offer for the demanding, Experience Economy audience. You can’t just put in eucalyptus-scented towels and a Smeg fridge when you first open and hope that will be enough.

“We have live music events, we take members on adventures, we have Prosecco Fridays – free, drink-all-you-can prosecco for a bit of Retox, because life isn’t all about training. The social spaces at our clubs are very important.

“Less exciting but equally important, we’ve also addressed some of the pressure points you commonly find in boutiques. For example, people in the UK expect all gyms, including boutiques, to offer showers. The Rebel Army – our loyal customer base – is 70 per cent female, so at Victoria we have 15 ladies’ showers. There’s a light outside each that shines red or white to show which are available.”

He adds: “We constantly reinvest in the business too. I believe, when you set out to open a boutique, you should double the budget you think you’re going to need. You have to constantly reinvent yourself.”

1Rebel Victoria cycle studio C102
At 1Rebel Victoria, a scissor lift raises and lowers the instructor platform throughout the class.

Ride again?
Design-wise, too, the club is equally eye-catching outside the studio as in it. “Studio C102, the architect we use across all our clubs, is great at adapting to the space and the location of each club,” says Balfour.

“For example, 1Rebel Southbank takes its inspiration from the Tate Modern, while 1Rebel Victoria takes its inspiration from the theatres that surround it – the whole design of the club is very dramatic. It’s quickly gained the nickname of ‘The Spaceship’ thanks to its modern design: its reflective reception desk, galvanised steel staircase, wall of light and exposed white lacquered brickwork.”

So, will 1Rebel open more standalone Ride studios? “At the moment, we’re looking at three new sites for London next year. These will all be standalone clubs, but they’ll be Rumble or Reshape,” says Balfour.

“In London, the challenge is always finding the right locations – we want ground floor retail frontage in iconic locations, with great landlords – so we have to adapt the offering to the building.

“However, if the right site were to come up, we’d absolutely do another standalone Ride club.”

The spaceship is flying

Prices at 1Rebel Victoria – nicknamed The Spaceship – are the same as at all 1Rebel clubs: £20 for a one-off class, down to £16 per class on a package, and with membership options also available.

“We currently run around 25 Ride classes a week at 1Rebel Victoria, but that’s because we always start lower and build up the timetable in response to occupancy,” explains Balfour. “We’ll ultimately offer around 50 classes a week.”

If the performance to date is anything to go by, things may need to be ramped up quite quickly. “The club only launched a couple of months ago, but our peak classes are already full,” confirms Balfour. “If I look at this week, for example, all 83 bikes for Friday’s 6.30pm class were booked up by Monday. I believe this will be our most profitable club.”

The best of all worlds

I started out on my indoor cycling journey in the early days of Spinning®, as a master instructor for Mad Dogg Athletics and Spinning. That was 1997 – 21 years ago. I’ve since travelled the world and trained thousands of instructors, presented at dozens of conferences and live workshops, written some of the continuing education curriculum for Spinning, and taught thousands of classes.
I discovered early on that I have a knack for inspiring others while on the bike. There’s no greater feeling than hearing from instructors who told me I changed their lives as they learned how to become better and more inspiring coaches.

However, I began to spot new trends in indoor cycling that I found concerning…

Keeping It Real

In 2003, I created a workshop for a Spinning conference called Keep It Real, which addressed some of the emerging trends in the industry that seemed a bit, well, troubling. That session soon became a continuing education workshop called ‘Contraindications in Spinning’ – by which we meant “just don’t do it”. It challenged many of the techniques that had been popping up in classes; moves such as push-ups, crunches, squats and lifting weights while riding the bike.
The thinking was this: none of these non-traditional moves add to your fitness in any appreciable way, nor do they increase calorific consumption. But they do detract from the effectiveness of pedalling the bike. They may also cause discomfort and, in some cases, injury.

In 2007, I put this thinking into an e-book called Keep It Real, which focused on the idea that indoor cycling should stay true to ‘real’ cycling techniques, cycling science and proper training principles – even if you don’t ride outside.

This resonated with instructors around the globe, with hundreds contacting me to find out how they could get their riders to understand how important it was to ‘keep it real’.

How could we get more of that magic on the keep-it-real side?

The great divide

However, not everyone agreed with this ‘keep it real’ concept. I noticed a large schism was forming in my beloved industry.
On one side were the ‘purists’ – the instructors who kept true to cycling technique, sometimes even to a fault. One of their mantras was: “If you don’t do it on a bike outside, you shouldn’t do it indoors.” (This was a step further than even my ‘keep it real’ concept; I believe there are some things you can do indoors that you wouldn’t do outdoors. You just have to ensure everything is based on proper biomechanics for an effective workout.)

On the other side was the ‘party on a bike’ brigade – those who felt an indoor cycle wasn’t like an outdoor bike, and that you could therefore do whatever you wanted on it. Their focus was on music, high energy and fun above technique or performance. It was all about dancing to the music rather than music as a backdrop. They believed a class that ‘kept it real’ was boring and meant that riders sat in the saddle the whole time.

They weren’t entirely wrong! Even though I have always been on the side of proper technique, I recognised what they were rebelling against.
I had seen the poor instruction, inadequate motivation, even downright boring classes. Classes that were technically correct, but no more.

Meanwhile, I could also see the party crowd were doing something very right. They excelled at the fun factor and drew big crowds as a result. SoulCycle had taken the industry by storm and Flywheel followed soon after. They had touched on the magic of entertainment and musicality and focused on customer service.

Off road DC Jennifer Sage

Bridging the gap

I wanted to bring the best of both sides together. I knew I could have an impact on the ‘boring’ instructors if I had an opportunity to teach them about motivational coaching, music, profile design, public speaking skills and building a connection with their riders. I also knew I could have an impact on the ‘party’ instructors, showing them how to keep it fun, motivating and on-the-beat while adhering to proper biomechanics and training principles.

I felt bridging the gap in this way could help heal my industry and vastly boost the success of participants around the world. There were negatives and positives to both sides – all I needed was a platform to showcase the best of all worlds and raise the level of instruction across all indoor cycling programmes.

That platform came in 2011, when I launched the Indoor Cycling Association (ICA) – a global online educational resource for indoor cycling instructors.

Introducing the ICA

The ICA is not a certifying agency. Neither is it attached to any one programme; it doesn’t matter the certification or the bike you teach on. We simply want to help instructors get to the next level of knowledge and inspiration once they’re certified, with online content that combines evidence-based technique, inspirational coaching, technology, entertainment, music and fun.

One of the primary missions of the ICA is to be a driving force in the industry, so that all bike manufacturers and programmes will continue to thrive, and so that boutique studios and clubs can stay in business. We want to be the rising tide that lifts all boats.

The goal of the ICA is to take the science of cycling and make it more accessible and interesting to instructors. We teach them how to coach their riders with technically correct classes, without blinding people with the boring side of science. We teach the physiology and the biomechanics of indoor cycling, but we also show instructors how to be motivational coaches who make their classes fun.

In the belief that haphazard training produces haphazard results, we teach instructors how to create solid classes based on effective training principles, rather than throwing together a mishmash of movements.

Once they’ve designed their class, it’s time to think about the music. This has to match the message and tempo of the class profile, so the ICA teaches instructors to find music based on beats per minute (bpm) in order to match the desired cadence (rpm). The ICA has literally hundreds of theme-ride ideas and playlists to keep the entertainment factor high.

Jennifer Sage bike set up

There’s also advice on how to use new technology to your advantage: apps, video displays, virtual rides and training with power meters. Used wisely, these technological enhancements can increase class participation and engagement; used poorly, it may end up deterring riders.

And finally, one of the signature features of the ICA curriculum is the educational content on coaching and cueing. Being a coach is more than just yelling out platitudes like “Find the champion within.” The most impactful instructors coach their riders to look inward for intrinsic motivation, not outward for external distraction. They inspire riders to push themselves beyond their own self-imposed limitations, encouraging them to use mantras and affirmations and helping them set and meet personal goals.

When instructors learn how to engage riders through inspirational coaching and mind-body connections, there’s no need to resort to ineffective distractions such as push-ups, tap-backs, crunches or weights. Instead, riders will excel through the mental strength techniques they learn in class.

This is the ICA approach to bringing together the best of both worlds – technique and inspiration – to ensure riders get results as well as enjoyment, and the indoor cycling sector continues to thrive.

For more information

The ICA website has an archive of over 1,000 educational articles and videos on every topic an instructor might need, from new instructors to 15-year veterans. There are also 800+ posts just on music for indoor cycling classes. New content is added weekly:

[button link=”” size=”medium” color=”default”]Indoor Cycle Association[/button]

If you’re an instructor looking to raise the bar of your own knowledge, download this free guide: 101 Ways to Be a Better Indoor Cycling Instructor

[button link=”” size=”medium” color=”default”]101 Ways to Be a Better Indoor Cycling Instructor[/button]

And, for both instructors and participants looking to understand what it means to keep it real in your cycling classes and why certain techniques are contraindicated, you can find the Keep it Real ebook right here

[button link=”” size=”medium” color=”default”]Keep it Real ebook[/button]

The perfect playlist for indoor cycling

Kim Lahn is perhaps Denmark’s leading expert when it comes to music for indoor cycling. Now aged 47, he was just 14 years old when he began working as a DJ. At the age of 18 he became a radio presenter, and when he turned 20 he started making his own music and remixing for others.

His first experience of an indoor cycling studio was, he says, frightening yet addictive at the same time. The music was loud, the instructor was demanding, and he sweated like he had never sweated before. But nevertheless, he really enjoyed it – and it proved addictive enough that he had, by the age of 30, become an indoor cycling instructor.

As an indoor cycling instructor, Kim’s key focus has always been – and remains – the music. He prepares new music for each training session, driven by a passion to create soundtracks that help him deliver the best possible workout each time.

He explains: “I always have the same three goals for all my sessions. First, it has to feel as though the time flies by. Second, it has to be efficient training. And third, 10 minutes after the training session has finished, I want the riders to want more.
He adds: “My favourite moment is when I look someone in the eye and I can see they are pushing themselves to the limit, but they are still smiling and singing along. It doesn’t matter whether there are 10 or 300 people in the class – it’s the same great feeling.”

“It’s my experience that music helps me achieve all three goals.”

Mix it up

Most indoor cycling instructors dream of putting together the perfect playlist that everybody just loves – so how do you go about this?
“Unfortunately, there’s no set recipe for a successful playlist,” says Kim. “Discussing what good music is, is rather like discussing favourite colours; it’s very hard to argue why blue is a nicer colour than red.
“There are, however, some useful rules of thumb that can help you create a popular playlist.

“First of all, studies show that the music we listen to when we are 14 is the most important in our lives – the music that means the most to us. If the majority of the people joining your class were born in the seventies, for example, they will most likely prefer music from the mid-eighties. If you prefer remixes because of their more distinct beats, no problem: many of the eighties hits have also been remixed.

“Another good idea is to think like a DJ. If everybody in the room were there to dance instead of cycle, what kind of music would a DJ play to fill the dance floor? Well, that’s exactly the music you should play to fill the cycling studio too. Mix old and new tunes and different genres – rock, pop and dance. Everybody’s taste in music differs, and your personal taste is probably also very different from your riders’, so make sure there’s something in there for everyone.”
He continues: “I do believe the best playlist is one the instructor likes. They have to put their heart and soul into a class, as well as connecting with the riders, and this is easier if the music actually touches him or her and evokes feelings in them.

“However, if you’re a skilled instructor with a good musical understanding, I believe it’s possible to use all kinds of music for your cycling sessions.”

Stay on the beat

So what are Kim’s tips for using the music tracks you’ve chosen for your class?
“Have you ever taken a Step class or a Zumba class and been asked to dance off-beat?” he asks, before answering his own question: “Probably not.”

He continues: “Music and rhythm are equally important tools in a cycling studio. Music comes in so many different speeds, from 30-40 bpm (beats per minute) to 3,000 bpm – and with
all those different beats and speeds available, you really should be able to find music that matches any number of revolutions per minute on the bike.”

And if cycling in time with the music helps riders feel more at-one with the workout, it also distracts them from the exertion by allowing them to enjoy the tunes. Kim explains: “Music – and verbal cuing that goes with the music – make the session fly by faster. The more natural and on-beat it feels, and the more the riders truly feel the music, the easier it is to forget oneself, the pain and all the hard work.”

His final piece of advice: “You also need to be familiar with the music you use. You have to know when the music peaks, when the beat drops and when it slows down. This will ensure you’re able to use the music effectively, not only to push the riders but also for relaxation.”

8 Top tips

Kim offers a few final pieces of advice to take away:
1. There is no easy way to perfection. It takes a lot of hard work to become an even better instructor and create even better playlists.
2. Learn to match your music with your ideas and the pace of your training session.
3. I spend 10–20 hours each week listening to music, finding new inspiration and new tracks.
4. I keep a close eye on international music charts.
5. I subscribe to different DJ podcasts.
6. I follow a number of users on Mixcloud and SoundCloud.
7. I use the Shazam app whenever I hear something new on the radio, at a concert or in a TV ad.
8. I check out DJ set lists.

So immerse yourself in a world of music, know what music your members enjoy, and have some fun!

Usefull resources

  1. The Official UK Top Singles Chart
  2. House music, charts and online shop
  3. DJ tracklists
  4. Charts and online shop – all genres
  5. Leading EDM record label, Spinnin Records
  6. Best free SoundCloud downloads
  7. Drum and bass inspiration: Search for ’UKF Drum & Bass’ on Youtube
  8. “Perhaps the world’s best mash-up artist,” according to Kim – “Happy Cat Disko”

The heart of the matter

What are the benefits of heart rate training?
The heart is the engine that pumps blood around the body to allow our muscles to function. The more efficient and powerful our heart, the better we perform.

When you train your heart to be more efficient, it’s usually measured in terms of intensity or effort: at what percentage of its maximum capacity is the heart having to beat to carry out the activity or exercise? The benefit of this sort of effort-based training is that you can
easily measure your progress – how efficiently is your heart performing compared to previous workouts, and how much have you therefore improved in response to the task at hand?

What’s the science behind all this?
There are two main methodologies to training. The first is MILO theory, which involves progressive overload. The second is the SAID principle: the Specific Adaptation of Imposed Demand.

The latter is based on the notion that, when a demand or stress is placed on the body, it responds by adapting to it. So, for example, say you did a 50km flat bike ride at a certain pace. If you continued to do this regularly, after a period of time your heart would adapt to it and it would feel easier.

It therefore follows that, if you want to keep progressing, rather than focusing on distance over time it’s better to focus on effort over time (through heart rate training). The by-product of this approach is that riders progress and are able to cycle further and faster.

At this point, it’s important to note one of the greatest misconceptions when it comes to heart rate training. Many people believe the determinant of fitness is how high someone’s heart rate goes during training. That’s incorrect. The true indicator of your fitness is your resting heart rate, and how quickly your heart rate drops after exercise.

If we use a car as an analogy, rather than focusing on how fast the car is going, the focus would be on how many revs it’s producing.

How precise does heart rate training allow you to be?
The deeper science of heart rate training dives into the energy systems of anaerobic thresholds and lactate inflection points, which occur when your heart is beating so fast that there isn’t enough oxygen to feed its function. At this point, the body begins to use the glycogen in the muscles as an energy source.

As long as the heart rate monitor is accurate – which many are not – then heart rate training allows riders to find, and then train at, precise heart rate intensities for a highly efficient workout.

Heart rate training always feels rather elitist. Is it suitable for everyone, whatever their fitness level?
Working at percentages of maximum heart rates – better known as ‘intensities’ or ‘effort levels’ – makes it easier for everyone to understand their training, whatever their fitness levels.

If that information is displayed using simple colour zones, it simplifies the principles of heart rate training so that anyone can understand it. In the Myzone system, for example, someone who’s extremely fit and riding in a pack might be able to cruise along in the blue zone (60 per cent of their maximum heart rate) – but someone who’s less fit might move into the yellow zone (80 per cent of their maximum heart rate) if they try to achieve the same pace.

Most heart rate systems these days are structured around intensity zones linked to colours – but some also attach points associated with those different colours, adding gamification to the process. Again, this helps engage people of all fitness levels as it adds an element of fun.

For example, Myzone allocates one point per minute spent in the grey zone (50–59 per cent of maximum heart rate), two points per minute in the blue zone (60–69 per cent), three points per minute in the green zone (70–79 per cent), and then four points per minute spent in the yellow (80–89 per cent) or red (90–100 per cent) zones.

How do you set heart rate training goals?
An easy way to do this is to set yourself a simple points target per week or per month. How you achieve that is then down to you and how much time and effort you’re willing to put in

– but the points add up with each workout, which is very motivating.

How do you track your progress?
In our system, each workout is shown as a bar chart at the end of the session: you can see exactly which intensity zones you’ve been training in, as each bar on the chart is coloured according to the zone you were in during that minute of the workout.

When you compare your latest graph to previous sessions where you did the same workout, you’re able to see where the colours differ – that is, where the effort levels required were different (and hopefully lower) for the same exercise.

In addition, we always advise doing a consistent one-minute heart rate recovery test every two to three months. This gives a clear picture of your fitness levels, which you can then track over time.

Myzone app visual

What are the benefits of heart rate training in a group cycling environment?
Effort-based training adds an important dimension of inclusivity to indoor cycling.

Indoor cycling is often seen as rather elitist and intimidating, with extremely competent cyclists instructing the class and an array of people – often well-established regulars – trying to keep up. Focusing on effort (through heart rate training) means that even beginners can be rewarded for the effort they put into the session.

But in fact, it’s not only beginners who benefit from this focus on effort. It’s also crucial to the effective implementation of heart rate training in group classes generally.

The issue with heart rate training in a group exercise environment is that it’s only relevant if a consistent metric – such as intensity percentage – is applied. Training at a definitive heart rate number has no bearing if it isn’t related to each individual’s maximum heart rate: if you ask a 42-year-old to train at, say, 150 beats per minute, they will likely be training at a very different intensity than, for example, a 22-year-old in the same class… or even another 42-year-old.

On the other hand, if heart rate training is delivered based on percentage of maximum heart rate, and applied in simple colours, then it doesn’t matter how fit or unfit participants are, or how old. It’s all about effort – how hard each individual is having to push themselves based on their own fitness levels. For this reason, it’s a much easier metric for an instructor to coach to.

Do you have any examples of group cycling studios where heart rate training has been applied particularly well?
One great example is LifeFit Center @ The Beach, located at Long Beach State University in California, US. This club offers membership to adults aged 49+ years old and uses Myzone in all of its cycling classes, including the cycling portion of its signature ‘Strength for Living’ small group training programme – a programme that includes cycling and resistance training.

Not only do LifeFit Center instructors coach to the live heart rate feedback Myzone provides – essential to delivering a safe and effective cycling experience, especially as the membership is older – but they also use Myzone as part of their progressive cycling programming, moving clients from endurance, to tempo, to threshold, to HIIT training.

Members gain a richer cycling experience, spurred on by the accountability and gamification of heart rate training. They’re also better able to understand their progress, because they can see how their heart responds to exercise in real time, and are encouraged by fitness staff to monitor improved heart rate recovery.

Myzone group cycling

From a club perspective, using heart rate training has lent itself to member retention generally, and in particular within the cycling classes. ‘Strength for Living’ participants sign up again and again; many members have been in this programme for several years.

What do you think will be the next big trends in this area?
Formats like Zone Match classes are, I believe, the future of indoor cycling and heart rate training. Zone Match is a game where participants have to match their own heart rate to the colours shown on the screen. This is all based on effort: how hard they should be working based on their own fitness levels. It’s easy to understand, easy to follow and good fun.

Anything that’s simple, inclusive and fun will win in the world of group cycling, and group training generally.

Meanwhile, I believe power and wattage will go into decline due to the complexity of this form of training for the average group exercise cyclist.

What are your top tips for an operator wanting to set up a heart rate-based group cycling offering?
Don’t use the term ‘heart rate’. Focus instead on ‘effort’ or ‘intensity training’. Everyone can understand a percentage or a colour, but not everyone can understand numbers such as beats per minute.

What are the commercial opportunities in heart rate training for club operators?
First of all, there’s the obvious revenue model of selling devices such as heart rate monitors. But even more important is the impact on member satisfaction and retention. In particular, if you have a heart rate points collection system and connect this to your club’s rewards scheme, then the boost to member retention will easily cover the investment needed to install a heart rate system in the first place.

Johnny G the inventor of spinning

What did the indoor cycling sector look like before Spinning came out?
The sector simply didn’t exist before Spinning. When I came up with the idea, I had to design and build my own bike, which I did by hand. This was in 1987 and there was nothing like it on the market.

How did you come up with the idea of Spinning?
I was a professional athlete and cyclist, and I’d done the Race Across America twice – the longest, most gruelling cycling race in the world, stretching for 220 hours with just 18 hours’ sleep.

I was passionate about cycling and I wanted to share some of the principles I’d learned on the road with people working out in a gym environment. 

But as I say, there was simply nothing like Spinning on the market, so when I came up with the idea I also had to work on everything around it – the bike, the concept, the patent applications, the programming, years of testing the classes, finding and training instructors. I did all of this myself, essentially creating what is now known as the Johnny G Method.

Race across america Johnny G spinning

I then joined forces with Schwinn in 1994 and we built the Johnny G Spinner by Schwinn, which was launched at IHRSA San Francisco in 1995. It received an overwhelming response from all the operators at the show.

Over the years that followed, the bike evolved cosmetically – including when Spinning moved from Schwinn to Star Trac – but essentially the mechanics, the method and the programming remained the same.

What is the essence of the Spinning programme?
The programme is pretty robust, based on my martial arts training as well as the training I developed on the road. It was very effective as a competitive cyclist, and when I brought it indoors it was equally effective.

Importantly, my programming always had a mind-body component. Of course, the stationary bike is a tool to get yourself in good physical condition, but I honestly believe anyone can do the physical part. It’s the mental side of the programme – the philosophy – that’s key, because the body follows the mind.

Engaging the mind allows us to express and develop ourselves as human beings. This approach has proved very popular over the years: by 2004, we had trained 70,000 instructors around the world, in many different languages.

It goes back to what Bruce Lee once said: that movement without philosophy is mechanical, but movement with philosophy becomes art.

How has the broader indoor cycling market developed over more recent years?
It’s become a very competitive sector, both from a supplier and an operator perspective. Most recently, we’ve seen the boutiques – SoulCycle, Flywheel and so on – popping up everywhere and creating a successful niche. I’ve been very impressed by the indoor cycling studios I’ve seen around the world. I feel people have got it down to a science.

We’ve also seen Peloton taking gym training and moving it into the home. Technology has moved things on dramatically in gyms too: colour zones for heart rate training, leaderboards, tracking progress, virtual cycling and so on.

I’ve seen choreographed classes, leaderboards and graphics and movies, different environments, different inspirations… Some people like stats, leaderboards and competition and there are apps and studios that cater for that. Others like singing, dancing, partying, entertainment. Others prefer stillness, darkness, candles. It’s all out there and that’s great. The more avenues we explore, the more people will get involved.

But although the ways in which cycling is delivered and expressed and packaged are multiplying, it still basically comes down to the same thing: riding a stationary bike, getting a sweat on, and playing on imaginary terrain.

Provided this is delivered with sanity and variety, putting thought into the different styles of training – from strength rides and hills, through HIIT and time trials, to recovery rides – it’s a great, safe, non-impact way to get results fast while working at your own level. This is why indoor cycling isn’t a fad. It’s a staple, and indeed a way of life, for many people.

Do you think full-service health club chains can compete with the cycling boutiques?
I do, because of the numbers of people they’re servicing. If you look at the bigger chains, they have hundreds of thousands of members – far more than the boutiques.
There’s a perception that boutiques are the powerful ones, but boutiques are brands. That’s where their power lies: brands can be very powerful, and a boutique chain with 30 or 40 clubs is a strong statement.

But in terms of sheer numbers, it’s all about the mainstream clubs. This is where the financial power lies. And this is where the majority of people will still get fit.

For any clubs that want to up their game, I’d suggest focusing on education and training, making sure the programming is as good as it can be, investing in great equipment and instructors and creating special events to keep members engaged and reaching to achieve more.

Spinning club programme

What’s your view on the shape of the indoor cycling market right now – is it getting close to saturation?
I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day who said it isn’t about new members any more. It’s about recycling the same population within gyms and making sure we have the programmes in place to take care of people as they age. There has to be something programme-wise for everyone.

That will be the next big trend I think, not just in indoor cycling but in fitness generally. As people age, we need to help them take care of their bodies so they’re in as good a condition as they can be for their age. A lot of the programming now is suited to younger people, but what about programmes – stretching and so on – for someone in their 70s? How can we support someone’s 75-yearold body so it’s functioning and performing to its own maximum potential?

So we need to look at longevity of training. We also need to look at the mental side of fitness – the peace of mind it gives you, the sense of empowerment, the ability to deal with the emotional activity of life. The focus needs to be on helping people grow as human beings so they’re fitter, healthier and happier.

What have you been working on recently?
I have two big projects at the moment. The first is the Johnny G Spirit bike, which is being manufactured by Dyaco. I believe there are still untapped opportunities in the indoor cycling market, so we’ve put our hearts into developing a bike like no other.

The Johnny G Spirit bike includes some new innovative features: a battery-less generator, for example, and electronic shifting. You don’t turn a knob to increase and decrease resistance. Instead, our electronic system is very specific and quantified, so you’re able to accurately replicate your training. We have a console too, which has been designed to clearly focus the mind on five key metrics: resistance, time, distance, watts (power) and heart rate.

I will keep pursuing this hobby and passion of mine for as long as it keeps
giving me and my family joy.

This focus on distance and time links in with my other project, Ride of Truth. This is an eventbased programme for cycling enthusiasts, where you come along for five hours and do lectures and workshops, you take part in various cycling training methodologies – hills, endurance, intervals, recovering and so on. But crucially, you do a time trial. This is at the heart of the event.

Importantly, Ride of Truth isn’t about having an instructor in front of you telling you what to do. Instead, you’re given a goal and a challenge and you go for it. So, for example, we know that fitness enthusiasts – if they push themselves and ride at a good pace – will cover 5 miles in 20 minutes. We might therefore give someone the goal of riding 5 miles in 15 minutes.

We therefore have a performance aspect based around time and distance. But we’re also tapping into the emotional aspect of being a human being; self-development starts when you taste challenge, adversity, when you have to face yourself. It’s very liberating.

In fact, this is why we’ve called it Ride of Truth: because at our events, everyone has to face their own ability, the intensity they can handle, their power to focus their mind. It’s about tenacity, courage… all the things that make athletes athletes. It’s about exploring not only your physiological limits, but also where you can take yourself in terms of self-motivation and inspiration.

Finally, what role do you personally intend to play in the future of indoor cycling?
I intend to keep pushing and moving fitness forward. I’m passionate about what I do, and I want to keep inspiring people of all ages and mentalities, sharing fragments of information with those who are like-minded and who are looking for mentorship – people who are looking to excel and who want to reap the best of what health and fitness has to offer.

Ultimately, I’ve grown over many years – both as a professional athlete and as a human being – and I love what wholesome, mindful activity can do for you.

The future of indoor cycling

Let’s set the scene: what is digital fitness, and what’s driving this trend?
Put very simply, digital fitness is fitness that’s enabled by technology.

At the heart of it, it’s about choice and convenience. In today’s increasingly digital world, consumers want – and expect to be able – to engage with fitness experiences when and where they want. It may be that they’d like to get to a health club or gym, but in practice there can be so many barriers that stand in the way of this happening. We have to look at ways of making fitness easier to consume, and the only cost-effective way of doing this is by embracing technology.

Importantly, this technology is already out there.

“Technology should never be the strategy in itself” – Paul Bowman

What does digital fitness look like in practice?
At the moment, digital fitness is predominantly taking the shape of third party apps and online fitness providers. These providers have identified and seized the opportunity quicker than traditional fitness providers, which is of course a challenge to the health club model as we know it. It’s why many operators see technology as a threat.

But it needn’t be this way: in fact, technology hands operators the tools they need to strengthen and future-proof their businesses. It allows health clubs stay relevant in a digital world, both by extending their appeal to a broader audience and by better serving existing members.

Let’s look at this specifically from an indoor cycling perspective. Say someone walks into your club and they’re interested in having a go at cycling; they might even have been into cycling before, but not been on a bike in a while. Your live instructor-led classes might be a bit intimidating for them at first – all those regulars on their favourite bikes. However, they’ll probably feel a lot more comfortable doing a virtual or live streamed class; we have a lot of data to show how these classes act as confidence-building feeders into live classes.

Even better, imagine having bikes on the gym floor, away from the studio space altogether, each with personal screens on which you’re able to run a live streaming channel. By streaming high quality indoor cycling classes direct from your studio – which could be at any club in your estate – you’re giving members a chance to take part with no sense of pressure on them at all. You’re also giving everyone access to your very best instructors.

With our technology, all of this is already possible.
Even better, our data shows there’s only a 15 per cent drop-off between levels of attendance at live streamed classes versus live classes, so there’s huge scope for operators to play with the balance – live, live streaming, virtual – to create the perfect schedule that most cost-effectively delivers the experience members want.

If you can live stream between clubs, can you live stream into people’s homes?
Absolutely – and of course, given the success of Peloton, it isn’t too much of a leap to see how all this could translate to the at-home fitness market.

Operators could quite easily partner with a supplier to sell bikes for at-home use – they don’t need to be as robust, or therefore as expensive, as commercial bikes – and live stream classes run by their very best instructors for digital members to do at home. Even if you only had one or two amazing trainers, you could get them into every living room.
It would be a win-win-win scenario: giving consumers the convenience they want, extending the reach (and revenue streams) of a club, and helping the supplier sell more bikes.

You mention digital members. What do you mean by this?
Digital members can be digital-only – people who only ever tap in to your expertise and programming remotely – or hybrid club/digital members, who still want to come to the club for the social aspect, but for whom technology offers the convenience they need to be active more regularly.

The key to digital memberships is the mobile phone – and specifically, an app such as Wexer Mobile. The club remains the hub of expertise, advice, content creation and (where relevant) in-person experiences; the phone provides the means to tap in to all of this away from the club.


It’s possible to programme anything into the app, so clubs can remotely deliver highly personalised training plans to groups or individuals. You might want to design cycling conditioning programmes for serious cycling enthusiasts, for example, to complement all the Spinning they’re doing. You could prescribe specific classes you want them to do (in the club or elsewhere via live streaming). You could programme an actual ride for them to go out and do on the road. And all of this can be managed centrally, with the club/trainer setting tasks and monitoring what members have completed. Wexer also syncs with Strava and other GPS-based trackers, so all data is in one place.

The phone is also the driver of personalisation for hybrid members within the club. Imagine walking into a club that, thanks to all the data it’s gathered through its app, knows you, what you like doing, what other associated needs you might have. Add in a few beacons and this then translates into personalised recommendations popping up on your phone as you walk into the club, pointing you towards a cycling class that’s about to start, for example, or a special offer on cycling apparel. It’s a great way to better serve the member and simultaneously drive revenue within the club.

Future city wexer
Intelligent Cycling lets instructors design their own programmes; the system then overlays virtual footage

Are there any other cycling-related innovations you’d like to mention?
Until now, most virtual cycling involved footage that the instructor had to design their workouts around. Now, we’re starting to see technology emerging that actively supports and engages the instructor.

Intelligent Cycling’s market-leading technology, available on the Wexer platform, is a great example of this. Instructors go to the portal to design their own programmes – the exact intervals they want to do – with the system then using AI to overlay virtual footage that directly correlates with the intensity of the workout: hit a tough interval, for example, and you’ll see the track suddenly rise ahead of you into an uphill climb.

It puts the instructor right back at the heart of things.

Intelligent Cycling can be used not only as a backdrop to a live class, but can also be saved and scheduled to run as a virtual class at any time. It allows for a more personal approach to virtual fitness, whereby people can choose to do classes designed and recommended by their favourite instructor.

What’s your advice for operators who haven’t yet gone digital – how should they start this process?
Ultimately my advice is: just start. Operators who don’t embrace digital opportunities risk being left behind.
However, don’t just ‘go digital’ without working out how it sits within your overall business strategy. Look at what you want to achieve, then look at what tech is available to enable this.

For example, if your goal is to drive revenue by attracting new members, your first toe in the water might be something like the Wexer Web Player – a password-protected portal that allows people to log in and do virtual classes from home, sampling your offering before they commit.

Digital transformation is about being relevant to every member – and every potential end user

If you want to add value to members using your facilities, enhancing your in-club group exercise offering can be a great idea. There are over 900 classes on our virtual class platform – everything from indoor cycling to HIIT, pilates to pre- and post-natal to golf conditioning – so there’s something for everyone. It’s a highly cost-
effective way to supplement your live classes and deliver a high quality, round-the-clock group exercise timetable.

My main piece of advice is this: technology should never be the strategy in itself. Digital transformation is about being relevant to every member, and every potential end user, by harnessing the delivery channels they choose to use. These channels might be physical or they might be technological, but you need to assess every single option and make the
appropriate choices for your target market.

What do you see as the future of indoor cycling?
There’s a lot of data to show that loyalty within indoor cycling – indeed, within group exercise in general – is to the individual instructor. The future of indoor cycling will therefore be about finding ways to harness the power of influencers – the superstar instructors with large numbers of passionate followers.
That might mean offering virtual classes led by world-leading names in the field of cycling. It might mean operators filming classes led by their own group cycling superstars and live streaming these across their estate, maximising the reach and impact of their best people. It might mean more technology evolving that, like Intelligent Cycling, engages the trainer in the
cycling experience.

The details will vary from club to club, but one thing will be consistent: cycling will be influencer-
led, and technology will enable this.

Cycling for a better cause

Fundraising for children with cancer

The focus and main purpose of these TRN bike events is to raise money for children with cancer. At the same time, however, TRN also sets out to create the best indoor bike events possible. That starts with the perfect location: a sports arena with suitable space and service facilities to ensure everything runs smoothly. Then add top-level instructors who create the atmosphere, supported with great sound, lighting, pyrotechnics and confetti.

The idea is to create an event – a show – that feels almost like going to a 12-hour festival or concert. The main difference: you won’t need any artificial stimulants to keep you going for the full 12 hours… just a lot of energy and BIG smiles!

TRN charity event cycling girl

Unsurprisingly it’s hugely popular, as organizer Dennis Marquardt explains: “TRN is a highly acclaimed indoor bike event. Selling all 280 seats in just four hours says it all. We are very proud.”

“No-one delivers a show like this!” enthuses indoor cycling instructor Jesper Skovhave, and fellow cycling instructor Karsten Krause agrees: “I have never experienced an event like this!”

At TRN’s ‘The BIG One’ in Aalborg, Denmark, 1,100 people clicked themselves into those pedals, generated a massive amount of wattage and got their hearts pumping for a good cause, raising €26,000 for the Danish Children Cancer Foundation.

TRN dreaming BIGGER

3 years ago, The TRN organizers where planning their first indoor bike event. At the time they are doing 2 events a year. They have come a long way. Raising money for Children´s Cancer Fund and creating a successful event of a certain scale. But that won’t stop them from dreaming of an even BIGGER event. Let’s see where they will bring TRN Bike Events in 2019?

TRN indoor cycling event

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