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Get the wheels turning again

Even as clubs and studios re-open, it is with significant restrictions on group exercise participation, as well as continued nervousness among many members. So, how can we maximise the number of people enjoying our indoor cycling offering? We ask the experts.
Published 28. April 2021

Amir Behforooz
GX manager, Abu Dhabi Country Club – Les Mills presenter – Reebok ambassador

Amir Behforooz

Adhere to the protocols to build trust. We have 3m spacing between our bikes, and 30 minutes between each class to clean thoroughly. We’ve increased our cleaning routine from three to 12 times a day and everyone is visibly involved – even the boss. 

Consider additional measures too. Our members must wear gloves during class, and masks to enter and exit the studio. They can take their masks off while they cycle if they choose, or else keep them on and just take their workout gently. 

We give all our instructors a free COVID test every month, which has given members a huge confidence boost. 

Connect with your community on social media. Share videos of everything you’re doing to keep them safe. Do live Q&A sessions and don’t try to hide anything. Be honest and open. 

Tell your instructors not to push people too hard in class. Many will be less fit after lockdown and most will be feeling stressed. Encourage members to take it at their own pace and just enjoy it. Our job is to make it fun and social for them.

Linked to this, my motto at the moment is ‘no more army’. You might usually enforce a ‘no mobiles in class’ rule, or turn people away if they arrive late. Drop all that for now. Relax. Make the studio as welcoming as possible. If there’s an empty bike and someone wants to come in even just for the last five minutes, I’m OK with that.

We don’t do testimonials – it could so easily backfire if a member caught COVID – but our members tag us in lots of posts and stories themselves, which helps spread confidence. Importantly, we ask members to never post photos of anyone without a mask. 

I’ve instructed our trainers to choose their music very wisely, so it’s all upbeat and super-happy – the sort of music that doesn’t make you think at all, but just makes you feel good. Members want to come to the studio and leave all their cares and stresses at the door.

Don’t force instructors to come back if they aren’t ready. You want whoever’s on-stage to exude confidence, not fear.

Engage your superstar instructors to create a vibe that draws people in, but don’t force them to come back if they aren’t ready. You want whoever’s on-stage to exude confidence, not fear, so your members feel safe. I currently have a reduced pool of instructors as a result of this policy, but we’ve focused on energising and upskilling this group and it’s creating the right mindset in the studio.

Keep paying your instructors as well as you always did, even if your finances are stretched. Happy instructors = happy members.

Live stream every day, and take it seriously with a well-executed timetable. COVID isn’t going away any time soon, plus I’ve found members return to the club having tried new things and wanting to know more. 

In-club, don’t be tempted to launch new programmes to entice people back; now is not the time to risk anything new. Instead, improve and maintain what you have already. Key to this is helping instructors understand it isn’t just about how they coach, but the way they are with members before and after class. It’s about building connection and trust, so I’ve made it compulsory for our instructors to stay at least 30 minutes after every class. They stay on their bike for social distancing, but members can then chat and ask any questions they like.

Have fall-back plans in place – a regular online timetable, for example, and small group outdoor classes – to keep members in their routines if the worst happens.

Hilary Rowland
Co-founder Boom Cycle + UFB ambassador

Hilary Rowland

For us, getting customers back into most studio locations will depend mostly on getting them back to offices. Our customers generally fit into the low-risk categories anyway and were happy to come back to studios near them between lockdowns. In fact, our most residential location traded better whenever we were allowed to open in 2020 than it did pre-COVID. 

Education around, and execution of, strong COVID safety protocols – as well as the sharing of undeniable, positive stats – should be enough for people to come back to your studios if there’s one near them. I’d also suggest it wouldn’t hurt to push out content showing people are visiting your studios.

But it’s also about positioning your studios as places to safely be around people – something so many are  craving – while also being good for physical and mental health.


Show how you’re making up for the things everyone’s been missing during lockdown. We’ve reworked our schedules to make a Boom Cycle class something to do after dark, for example – an even more authentic than usual nightclub theme with the great tunes they miss and the ability to see other people at a special, later-than-usual time. It gives our community that feeling of going out, where otherwise they’d be sitting at home in their PJs, going to bed early because there’s nothing to do but watch box sets.

Of course, cycling has the advantage that the equipment can be spaced. In our studios, there’s also nobody facing anyone else head-on except the instructor, and they have a screen in front of them. Combined with a powerful air exchange system, it means we can deliver a great social experience very safely.

Social distancing will likely take some time to phase out, so we’re getting creative outside of class too, in our community-building social events. We ran candle-making workshops when we were allowed to open in 2020, for example, with everyone seated at their own workstation to which they could order beverages.

The final thing we’re doing to future-proof our business, which I appreciate not everyone will be able to do, is creating economies of scale and driving new business through a collaborative venture. 

For a while we won’t be able to pack our classes as full as we used to, but we’ve just done a deal to create United Fitness Brands – founded by myself, my partner and the founder of KOBOX, Joe Cohen – to accelerate growth and drive economies of scale for our brands, and the other brands we’re looking to acquire into the group. 

The identities of all UFB brands will stay separate and, from a consumer perspective, will run just as they always have to preserve hard-earned brand loyalty. However, there’ll be one head office team to drive efficiencies, while cross-pollination will be enhanced by building a Boom Cycle studio in the Kings Road KOBOX location and a KOBOX studio in the Waterloo Boom Cycle location. This will help us sweat those assets in a more efficient way, and will also give each community a view of, access to and endorsement of the other brand. 

Finally, how about your instructors? Will they come back to you? This will partly depend on whether you supported them through the pandemic; all our instructors were fully employed, so they could all be on furlough. However, no matter what, nothing beats the feeling of being on the instructor bike in a live class. Digital classes will never take the place of that.

Overall, I’d say customers and instructors are craving that live class feeling. That social escapism and collective effervesce. I don’t think we need to change too much other than to be open!

Doyle Armstrong
UK business manager, Intelligent Cycling – Head coach, Newark Cycle Coaching

Doyle Armstrong

It’s time for operators to take a really critical look at their practices and provisions, to weigh up how they will attract customers back from the safety, comfort and convenience of their home set-up. What you used to do may not be enough to get members back. Be prepared to flex and change.

Cleanliness and hygiene has to be a top priority, with a very obvious extra (and continued) effort. Make sure your ventilation is up to scratch – nobody will appreciate the lingering smell of sweat – and space your sessions to allow for a proper clean between rides, possibly employing specialist cleaning staff to ensure procedures are followed with care. Always a welcome sight even pre-pandemic, members will certainly now notice where proper cleaning is – and isn’t – in place.

Armstrong: “Considered studio design goes hand- in-hand with quality of the experience”

Give real consideration to bike spacing within the studio, too. I truly hope that selling as many bikes as possible, for a shoulder-to-shoulder experience, will be a thing of the past – a positive long-term consequence of COVID. Considered studio design goes hand-in-hand with quality of the experience; every indoor cycle manufacturer or software provider should be advising on bike numbers, placement and orientation to guarantee the best possible experience for every rider, including their ability to engage audio-visually. 

And let’s talk about experience! Exposure to world-class instruction over a variety of digital platforms throughout the pandemic has made gym-goers more discerning. If you’re simply packing old-school bikes into a room and leaving non-specialist instructors to deliver an on-the-spot session to generic music – with no consideration of your space, the programming or the experience you’re providing – you’re going to find things tough. 

The discerning gym-goer has spent lockdown running, riding and working out in a clean, well-appointed space at home, at whatever time they choose. They’ve ridden Zoom sessions, tried Peloton’s app, taken up Les Mills On-Demand’s free trial offer, dabbled with Zwift, taken FTP tests, and picked the brains of a variety of online ‘experts’ to unpick their data and move forward meaningfully. They’ll be looking for at least that, and more besides, when they come back through your doors.

So, what does that ‘more’ look like? What do you offer that they can’t get riding their Peloton at home or Zwift-racing friends from the local cycling club? 

During lockdown, your members are likely to have tried out digital offerings such as Peloton

The answer should be a high-quality experience that starts at the front door. Think going to the cinema, with all the trimmings, versus watching a film on Netflix at home. Greet them with a smile and by name. Start on time, shout them out, have great light, great sound, great atmosphere, great instructors, great bikes, great air con. Give them the sense of community they’ve been missing. These are just a few things you’ll need to get right.

I hope selling as many bikes as possible, for a shoulder-TO-shoulder experience, will be a thing of the past.

Members’ online experiences over the past year will mean higher expectations around your digital experiences, too, so be ready to introduce more flexibility in terms of time, type and location of workout. Help members to continue the digital fitness journey they’ve been forced to embark on.

Offer a diverse selection of indoor cycling styles in-club, including virtual on-demand throughout the day, and enable app-based connectivity to in-club displays and third-party apps like Strava and Garmin. Live stream classes for those who haven’t been able to make it in, but who still want to ride with their favourite instructors from the comfort of their own homes. Negotiate a members’ price for bike purchases with manufacturers, so they can enjoy the same commercial quality bikes at home as in the gym. Get a foot-hold in your members’ at-home experiences.

Tracy Minnoch Nuku
Co-founder, FIRE Fitness -Founder, Sexy Ageing podcast

Tracy Minnoch Nuku

Hear from Tracy on the power of…

#1 Reminding people of the feeling that initially drew them to you

#2 Diving into the themes of adversity, strength and togetherness

#3 Avoiding surprises through clear communication

#4 Running countdowns and establishing engagement levels upfront

#5 Harnessing tech for team participation challenges

#6 Turning social distancing into a positive via hybrid classes

#7 Supporting instructors to transition back to in-person

Sarah Morelli
Director, Athleticum – Presenter – Distributor, Spinning UK & Ireland

Sarah Morelli

Indoor cycling has never been a more exciting space, with the pandemic – and its stay-at-home rules – pushing growth to new heights via the virtual world. Many have purchased home bikes; instructors and operators have invested in new solutions to survive financially. Manufacturers have also got creative, with the expanded home Spin® solutions – now available through retailer Costco in the UK – a great example.

Set against this backdrop of changed dynamics and changed member expectations, how will clubs and studio re-engage customers in-house?

My answer to the question ‘will members return?’ is a bold ‘yes’ – but they will do so with expectations of increased flexibility. Operators must not to fall into the same old schedules they once offered.

Demand for online will still be there. Every club and studio needs to be camera, action, ready!

Demand for online will still be there, with a year of home fitness forging new habits in your members, so you need to be offering hybrid in-person/online membership options. Every club and studio now needs to be camera, action, ready! 

Clubs and studios also need a strong commitment to specificity of programming. That means a range of bespoke classes, designed with specific groups in mind, being made available both online and in-person. These are more easily targeted and delivered with low overheads online, but even in-club, operators must remember that one size does not fit all. Programming must be specific to the fitness needs of the members.

Matching instructors to your members is also a prerequisite. There are many fantastic qualified instructors over the age of 50 out there! Like attracts like. Does your instructor base look like your member base? 

In-club, a heavier focus on community will be key. Instructors walking in and pressing ‘play’ on an un-planned or off-the-shelf class won’t instil a sense of social gathering, offer a reason to ride or provide a deeper sense of ‘in this together’ – all of which is certainly achieved by the better online providers.

Additionally, operators’ in-club schedules will have to reflect an understanding that people are, in some cases, fearful. They may not be as fit, they may be Long COVID sufferers, their mental health may have suffered during lockdown. Asking questions of your re-engagement plan is essential. Will your programming include social programmes alongside fitness? Will it include periodised training plans to help members kick-start as if new to fitness? Will your marketing invite active attendance? Who are your member champions who will help you engage others? 

Then ask questions about your instructors, too. How will you re-engage staff and instructors, with additional training to refresh and upskill? How will you attract the best instructors in the market, willing to offer both in-house and virtual workouts?

A final observation on technology. There is of course some exciting and fairly inexpensive technology that can ignite rides both in-studio and online, but even digitally, remember that keeping it simple is often best. More than anything, it’s about keeping your eye on the needs of the member, with simple individual metrics – watts, heart rate, kilojoules – and programmes of classes that allow them to see progression. This is true whether they’re training live in the studio or at home with you.

Published 28. April 2021


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