Tag: Indoor cycling academy

Recovery at work

What is Training Stress Score?

Training Stress Score (TSS) is something I invented in 2002 in collaboration with Dr Andrew Coggan. It’s a composite number that takes into account the duration and intensity of a workout to arrive at a single estimate of the overall training load and physiological stress created by that training session. 

Put another way, it quantifies the training stress on your body after a workout and is applicable to power-based cycling or rowing. [For a briefing on power training, see RIDE HIGH issue 16.]

“TSS lets you track the cumulative stress of each workout on your body to ensure you’re resting enough”

It was a measure I knew I needed to help my athletes accurately understand how hard each workout was compared to others. I also knew I could use this data to shape a plan to peak them at exactly the right moment for big events. Dr Coggan provided the science! 

Instructors will sometimes need to ‘fake it’ in the saddle rather than hitting all the %FTPs in class

Why is it important?

Before we invented TSS, kilojoules (kJ) – how much energy you burned – were used to quantify the stress of a ride. The problem with this was, it didn’t acknowledge ride intensity: you can ride for longer at a lower intensity and burn the same kJ, but the physiological stress on your body will be nowhere near the same. 

TSS gives a far more accurate picture of how much stress you can create. Most important of all, it lets you cumulatively track this stress, allowing you to build a picture of your chronic training load (the cumulation of everything you did between 15 days and six weeks ago, and with it your overall fitness) and acute training load (your workouts over the last two weeks, and with it your current fatigue) to understand the Training Stress Balance in your body today.

This information, in particular the chronic training load, tells you exactly when you should push hard in training and when you should rest. It allows you to continually strike a good balance between fitness (which results from training stress) and freshness (which results from rest) to keep improving – and, where relevant, to hit top form for your event.

As an indoor cycling instructor, it allows you to track the cumulative stress of each workout on your body to ensure you’re resting enough – most injuries are down to insufficient recovery – without losing fitness. 

TSS is scaleable, meaning pros like Bradley Wiggins will score 100 for an hour at FTP, the same as a deconditioned rider

How do you calculate TSS?

As I say, TSS takes into account both workout duration and intensity, with intensity based on the individual’s FTP (functional threshold power).

The easiest way to understand TSS is that you score 100 points if you go as hard as you can – that is, if you cycle at your personal FTP – for an hour. From that benchmark, it’s easy to relate it to other workouts.

“After six weeks of instructing two cycling classes a day, your chronic training load could be 160: the same as a pro at the end of the Tour de France!”

Basing it on FTP makes it scaleable, too: Bradley Wiggins cycles at his super-high FTP for an hour and gets a score of 100. A deconditioned individual cycles at their 80-watt FTP for an hour and gets a score of 100. All you need is an accurate personal FTP.

Some software – such as TrainingPeaks, which you can download as an app – works out the TSS of each ride for you, and there are a few bikes that include this score on their console. If you don’t have access to that, though, it isn’t too hard to calculate the TSS of a ride yourself. 

The equation is TSS = {[(duration (s) x normalized power (W)) x IF]/(threshold power x 3600 s)} x100 – but don’t be put off by how it looks, as it isn’t actually that complicated! 

Even just two classes a day, if cycled ‘properly’, can lead an instructor to max out and increase their risk of illness and injury

First, take the workout duration in seconds and multiply that by normalised power (which in the context of studio cycling is almost always average wattage), then multiply all that by the intensity factor (see end of this article: What do we mean by intensity factor?) This is the only bit of guesstimating you’ll need to do, as this figure won’t be in your bike. However, you can get a pretty good idea of the intensity factor simply by dividing your average power (wattage) throughout the class by your personal functional threshold power. 

“As a basic guideline, I’d advise that if your chronic training load hits 115, you need to rest. That could just mean taking it easy in class.”

You then divide this figure by your personal FTP x 3600 (seconds, to get it up to an hour). Finally, multiply all that by 100 – just because we wanted to present scores as full numbers!

What does TSS mean in practice?

If your score is less than 150, we categorise that as low stress – that is, it should be relatively easy to recover from that workout by the following day. Note that recovery is not the same as being totally fresh: you may still have sore muscles. However, it’s likely you could produce the same effort again the next day, or at least get very close to it. This is how we define recovery.

A score of 150–300 is medium stress: you should have recovered by the second day. High stress is TSS 300–450, where residual fatigue is likely to be around for a few days at least. And then epic is a TSS of more than 450, and here you’re looking at anything from a few days to a few weeks before you can get on the bike and do the same again. The muscular soreness might be gone, but your cardiovascular system still needs more time to recover.

Hunter Allen is a world-leading endurance coach and power training expert

You talk about cumulative load…

Yes, and this is where TSS becomes really valuable. Let’s move away from elite road racing examples and focus purely on indoor cycling instructors to bring this to life.

Every single ride has its own TSS; a typical hour-long indoor cycling class – with its sprints and climbs but also its recovery sections – will have a score of around 65–90. So, let’s say TSS 80 as a rough average.

Now let’s assume an indoor cycling instructor teaches a class a day. Six weeks later, their chronic training load is 80. That’s do-able. Even TSS 100 a day is do-able. Your body adapts to training stress after all – it’s how we get fitter – and a load of 80–100 is a moderate yet solid level of stress. 

But what if they’re instructing two cycling classes a day – not uncommon – and they’re cycling them ‘properly’, by which I mean they’re in the saddle hitting all the %FTPs they’re telling the class to hit. Do that every day for six weeks and all of a sudden, chronic training load is 160 (plus any other workouts they happen to be doing).

Now let’s consider that cycling pros, when they reach the end of the Tour de France, have a chronic training load of 160–180 – and then they rest!

Now we can begin to understand why indoor cycling instructors get injured or sick when they’re doing too many classes, and why it doesn’t actually take much for class load to tip over into being too much.

Indoor cycling instructor at event Velthoven
Instructors must learn to rest, including taking it easier in the saddle during class

So, when does an instructor need to rest?

First things first, as an instructor, you should absolutely be logging the TSS of every class you instruct, so you build up an accurate picture of your chronic training load (CTL). You then listen to your body and identify what your CTL is when you feel you can’t perform any more. As soon as you see yourself approaching this number in the future, you know you need to start thinking about building in some rest.

“Remember it’s about chronic training load: one day off doesn’t immediately undo the last six weeks of effort”

As a basic guideline, I’d advise that if your chronic training load hits 115 – if you add up the TSS of all your rides over the last six weeks, divide by 42 to get an average daily score, and that average is 115 or more – you need to rest. 

(Note: Specialist software will weight more recent workouts higher than workouts six weeks ago. However, for the purposes of simplicity, calculating an average daily TSS as above will suffice.)

Rest could mean taking it easy in class, whether that’s ‘faking it’ rather than actually cranking it up in the saddle, or getting off the bike and walking the studio floor to offer encouragement and motivation.

It could mean taking a break altogether, if schedules allow. But even here, remember that it’s about chronic training load: one day off doesn’t immediately undo the last six weeks of effort.

Intensity factorRead more: Hunter’s previous RIDE HIGH article – on why he believes indoor cycling classes should always be based on power – can be found here.

@peakscoachinggroup
/peakscoaching

Future-proofed instructors

Tash Marshall Bean

Founder, Authentic Instructor Training Inc.

Delivery methods have no doubt diversified within indoor cycling, encouraging all of us to keep learning, growing and challenging ourselves. 

Yet particularly as our sector re-opens from the pandemic, bringing a wave of new clients into fitness, I believe it’s critically important that we take classes back to basics; while we’ve all had time to research our trade, now may not be the best time to introduce all sorts of next-level moves into your classes. 

Indoor cycling event Velthoven
“People fall in love with riding together to the beat of great music,” says Marshall Bean

As an instructor, your role is to make every participant feel successful, but I’m currently seeing far too many instructors making things too complicated for their riders and leaving people behind. So, my first observation from an education perspective: instructors must (re)learn how to integrate new riders with well-versed riders to maintain client success. Practise next-level choreography at home or post-class with fellow instructors, but only slowly introduce new moves and combos so you build your class together.

“our instructors learn to ‘tap’ every song using a BPM app so they know how to use it in class”

Second, let’s be honest, very few people fall in love with a stationary bike. They fall in love with the experience of riding together to the beat of incredible music in an inclusive community. It’s why we love doing music workshops – because, from boutique studios to big box gyms, music is key to instructors scaling up their class experiences.

All the instructors we train learn to ‘tap’ every song – using a BPM app – to register the beat. Once they have the BPM, our tempo guidelines tell them how and where that track could be used in class. Only then do we look at musical rhythms, big beat drops and lyrical connection to give their riders goosebumps.

Next, teach instructors to be comfortable on camera: they’re going to need it in this hybrid world. Our experience is that instructing online is harder than in-person, so we actually train people to deliver online first. This builds a solid foundation before we move on to in-person.

Tash Marshall Bean
Tash Marshall Bean shows cycling instructor trainees how it’s done

Online instruction requires a very different skillset from in-person to ensure those on the other side of the screen feel engaged and seen. At a minimum, your energy should be at least 25 per cent higher online, with a good balance struck between showing great technique on the bike and being off-bike, connecting with clients individually and checking their form.  

Finally, my firm belief is that you can’t teach someone to be an elite indoor cycling instructor in eight hours alone. There are so many levels to creating a great experience, and it takes time to build people’s confidence to get out there and deliver. I’d like to see a governing body in place to monitor the industry and ensure consistent standards are maintained.   

Yet however much indoor cycling evolves, I believe one requirement remains unchanged: whether newly qualified or highly experienced, instructors must forge a genuine connection with their customers, and that requires an ongoing focus on building next-level engagement skills. Emma Barry said it best: “If clients like you, they’ll leave you. If they love you, they’ll stay.”  

@trainingwithtashie

 

Noël Nocciolo

Cycle master trainer, boutique thought leader, consultant

Noël Nocciolo

Big box gyms must decide if they wish to be known for great instructor talent. With other departments competing for budget, this is not always the case. If they do, a new approach to investment is required, countering the lure of high-promising boutique studios by rewarding talent financially and investing in continuing education, hosting regular workshops for free or at a reduced price.

Meanwhile, boutiques must move away from the ‘one big training pre-opening only’ approach, and/or knee-jerk training only when competition arises, instead investing in regular growth and mentorship. Talent is the product; riders may come for the luxe amenities, but they stay for the connection forged in class by the instructor. Internal curricula and continued up-levelling of skills has never been more essential.

But what should that continuing education look like? For me, nothing will replace quality continued education that’s rooted in exercise science, evolving over time with new research and conclusions and not adding a move just because it was seen on Instagram. Alongside this, however, as gyms and studios increasingly compete for riders’ time, money and attention – including at-home – instructors must also hone their training for personality, vibe and inclusion.

“When coaching those unfamiliar with power training, I show the impact of efficient pedal-stroke speeds even when still riding to the music they love”

I myself hit the jackpot in that I completed the entire SoulCycle instructor training in 2011: less about anatomy and physiology, more about music manipulation, energy and performance. I then took the Schwinn Classic certification the following year with Rachel Buschert Vazaralli, who blew my mind with her personality and musicality when delivering scientific principles. She made pure riding fun: on the beat as well as with a purpose. Both sides of that training coin have helped immensely in the way I’ve delivered education myself since 2014, showing how every style of cycling class can be made captivating and ‘entertraining’.

Soulcycle, Noël Nocciolo
Nocciolo completed SoulCycle’s instructor training as well as the Schwinn Classic certification

As co-creator of PEP For FitPros, I also believe the way we use our voices is key to being captivating and ‘entertraining’. In our course, we teach instructors to preserve their voices and protect their careers, but also to authentically differentiate themselves vocally from other coaches. Personality, energy and attitude can all be traced back to how we use our voices healthily and as performers: screaming on microphones, losing our voices and risking longer-term voice injury are out; compelling coaching is in.

My training always supports technology too. When coaching those unfamiliar with power training, I aim to get a demo bike with a power meter to tangibly show the impact of efficient pedal-stroke speeds, even when still riding to the music they love and whose beats they want to ride.

Indoor cycling instructor
Instructors must learn to differentiate themselves vocally, says Nocciolo

In short, I like to see continuing education as a buffet we take from and budget for annually, taking the best of the certifications, and the best of the internal trainings and performance workshops, to help new and veteran instructors to grow and become more rounded. I’m interested in what we can add to our educational lives rather than take away.

@noelcycles
@pepforfitpros

 

Zack Schares

Fitness consultant & talent agent

Zack Schares

As indoor cycling evolves, there are many instructors – whether newly qualified or in it for years – who are looking to upskill to meet the emerging, predominantly boutique-driven expectation of a true performance in the saddle. 

It’s why I run multi-weekend instructor training workshops that dedicate a full weekend to getting each participant up on the podium, running a class and taking feedback. I want everyone to really understand what it takes to be up there, engaging the room, being a great coach and mentor rather than just a good rider.

“Lack of leadership is the greatest impediment to us having the instructor workforce we need”

I also encourage people to find their own style; it’s not about going online and watching the top brands and influencers, then trying to copy them. It’s great to be inspired by others, but these brands do so much behind the scenes to lead people in the way they do. It simply doesn’t work if you try and copy them. You have to find your own style.

If you want to run a studio yourself, you also have to be a great leader. You have to set your team up for success.

I’ve sadly seen too many examples of instructors leaving their employers to set up on their own, thinking they can do better but without any strong leadership skills. Their mindset isn’t right: they push to make it all happen quickly, putting pressure on their teams, so focused on doing better than the local competition that they haven’t properly thought through how they want to run their own businesses, build their own brands, lead their own teams.

Indoor cycling workout
Schares encourages all his students to find their own style, rather than trying to copy online influencers

Meanwhile, head instructors don’t really know how to manage those teams, especially when they’re filled with creative types as instructors tend to be. 

I believe this lack of leadership is the greatest impediment to us having the instructor workforce we need, which is why leadership is the focus of my new workshop. I believe this is the most important way in which education can evolve to give us the indoor cycling instructors we need. 

Launching in September in Mexico City, I’ll be delivering the workshop in partnership with Christopher Chandler from The Nutrition School – a specialist in health and life coaching. With a basic premise that strong leadership starts from within, we’ll define what leadership means at different levels of a business and cover topics such as building credibility and trust, giving feedback, problem solving, empowerment and effective listening.

Zack Schares
Head instructors need to know how to lead their creative teams, says Schares

We recommend that at least two people attend from each organisation – owner, head coach, instructor – so teams can take away their shared learnings and grow together.

I believe this workshop has the potential to make a real difference. I believe the instructor workforce we need will result from strong leaders setting that workforce up for success.

@zax_fit

 

Jennifer Sage

Founder, Indoor Cycling Association

I have enough to say on this topic that I could fill pages! Instead, I’m going to deep dive into how in-person and online education can combine to produce the highest quality instructors.

During lockdown, we saw an explosion of online training courses, certifications and virtual classes. Yet for me, the hands-on guidance of in-person education – so valuable especially when just setting out as an instructor – is hard to replicate online. I firmly believe original certifications should be delivered live. 

Where online can add real value is in continuing education – something many studios didn’t insist on pre-pandemic for cost reasons. Online is a cost-effective way to broaden knowledge: while your primary certification should be on the bikes you teach on, you can upskill by taking online courses from other providers.

It’s important to understand power, whether your bikes have meters or not, says Sage

Online courses, e-books and indoor cycling membership sites can also be excellent ways to enhance your knowledge of cycling science, technique, coaching and cueing, communication skills, motivation, power training, profile design, sourcing music, using the power of music to match the message of your profile, working with older or less fit riders, teaching virtual classes and so on.

Indeed, more complex subjects such as exercise physiology and teaching with power are arguably better studied online, simply because of the ability to repeat the content.

And even virtual cycling classes, while not a course per se, are a fabulous way to improve your coaching skills. Subscribe to your favourite master instructor’s virtual rides and write down their inspirational cues. It’s not much different from being at a conference!

“Expand your knowledge of the science of cycling, not just the entertainment aspect. You’ll become a more rounded instructor.”

But proceed with caution: there are some very poor instructors out there sharing sub-standard ‘education’. Thoroughly vet your sources and be wary of free content. Just because it’s popular, doesn’t make it good. 

Other tips for online education include ensuring it’s based on proper exercise science. Seek to expand your knowledge of the science of cycling, not just the entertainment aspect that’s so popular at the moment. You’ll become a more rounded instructor who can create classes with a purpose and more confidently answer riders’ questions. 

Look for a course on teaching with power. Even if you don’t have power meters on your bikes, you’re still producing it. When you understand the elements of producing power (cadence and resistance/force), you’ll have solid foundations to create safe, effective classes that produce results for your riders.

Study virtual indoor cycling classes
Study the virtual classes of your favourite instructors and note their inspirational cues, advises Sage (photo: Siclo)

Seek courses in teaching across the entire intensity spectrum, so you don’t fall into the common trap of only ever teaching high-intensity intervals. Consider taking a course or reading a book on working with elderly riders. Seek courses in how to be an empowering, motivational, inspirational, engaging instructor (riders will flock to your classes!)

Finally, when choosing your online courses, ideally find someone with prior experience of training instructors in-person – they will have a greater understanding of relaying information than someone who’s never taught live workshops – and make sure there’s a way to contact them with questions. Check they provide transcripts and/or handouts, too. 

Done well, online continuing education can play a major role in improving the quality of our instructor workforce.

@indoorcyclingassociation
@ridewithjennifer

 

Louise Ager

Fitness education consultant

In Denmark, the last couple of years has seen a shift away from specialist cycling classes – larger timetables of differentiated classes catering specifically for beginners versus intermediates versus the ‘go hard or go home’ brigade – and towards smaller timetables of signature classes where the instructor has to try and cater for all levels and needs in one class.

This is particularly evident at larger gym chains, and for me it’s a great shame. Of course, I appreciate the desire to deliver consistent experiences. I appreciate that many instructors are sadly not sufficiently qualified nor experienced to choreograph their own excellent workouts – I’ll come on to that in a minute. I appreciate that having too many cycling classes on the timetable may mean they aren’t all full. 

Ørbike
We should let instructors be true to themselves and focus on their strengths, says Ager

However, I believe we must offer diversity in class styles to bring a broader audience to indoor cycling: classes for beginners, for overweight people, for seniors, for endurance enthusiasts, for those short of time, for fans of different music genres. The more generic the experience, the less likely you are to really engage someone.

Education has a major role to play here. Five to 10 years ago, cycling certifications in Denmark took between five and eight weeks to complete. Now many have dropped to three to five days – a dramatically condensed timeframe that I believe offers little scope to explore the wide range of possible class styles. I think this is a major contributor to the shortage of really good cycling instructors now, and in turn to the timetables clubs can deliver.

“I’d like to see certifications take longer again, to allow new instructors to really get into the detail of different class types and audience needs”

I’d like to see certifications take longer again – 50–70 hours as a guideline – to allow new instructors to really get into the detail of different class types and audience needs. Newer topics like technology and online delivery need to be covered too, and there must be plenty of time for practice in the saddle. New instructors have to learn how to capture an audience.

They must then continue to develop themselves, attending workshops to keep building on their initial certification, fine-tuning their craft and getting better and better at engaging people, making it fun, reading the mood of the room and instantly adapting to it in their delivery and even the shape of the ride itself. Mastery is an ongoing process.

Put bluntly, we need to make instructors good enough again that they don’t have to rely on templates. We need to push standards back up. 

Indoor cycling event Louise Ager indoor cycling instructor
Instructor training should explore numerous styles of class, says Ager, and this requires more time (photo: Boom Cycle/UFB)

We must then let instructors be true to themselves, focusing on whatever they’re really good at and the audiences they’re really good with. They don’t have to be able to do it all – being different is good – but they do need to be better at delivering whatever they choose to specialise in. 

Of course, the next step is educating studio managers and supervisors to start scheduling for a broader audience, with targeted classes that have a purpose and an intentional audience. This will be a process, but I do believe it’s the right thing to do.

 

Angela Reed-Fox

Course director, Indoor Cycling Institute

Angela Reed-Fox

I believe the quickest, easiest way to upgrade a cycling studio experience is not through hardware, but through supporting instructors to improve their knowledge and skills.

Let’s start with technology. With the growth in wearables, riders are now far more informed about their bodies’ response to exercise. Instructors must upgrade their knowledge accordingly; weaving things like heart rate into a workout, boosting effectiveness for riders who have that tech, is easy to do without cluttering your instruction if you know how. The same goes for bikes with accurate power meters: instructors must upskill to design and deliver effective sessions.

Because ‘effective’ matters: people want fun, but they also want results, and just pedalling on a bike isn’t guaranteed to deliver them. I spent 10 years as a nurse and met so many people who felt they’d tried everything and nothing had worked. Instructors must learn to design and deliver sessions with specific goals rather than just filling 45 minutes, helping gyms build a reputation for quality.

“Instructors must learn to design sessions with specific goals, rather than just filling 45 minutes”

With a growing incidence of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other lifestyle conditions, there must also be more emphasis on closing the gap between fitness and health. Done well, indoor cycling is safe and accessible for a large proportion of the population, so instructors must be trained to recognise this – and to instruct in a way that attracts, retains and boosts results for this wider cohort. This will include effective communication: nurturing, challenging and encouraging people rather than just shouting.

Indoor cycling class
Re-train in the basics, such as using people’s names, says Reed-Fox

Safety is also key. I see the same mistakes being repeatedly made by instructors who don’t understand – or have forgotten – the basics about resistance, cadence and the safe interplay between the two. That’s a massive training issue and can easily lead to (avoidable) injuries and even litigation. Instructors must be able to lead safely and spot unsafe cycling in class.

They must also remember – even be (re)trained in – the basics of customer service: arrive first, leave last, know names, address riders by them. As remote offerings proliferate, every gym must identify where they can excel over online and really go for it. Community and camaraderie will be crucial. 

BODY BIKE indoor cycling app
Riders are hi-tech these days; instructors must upgrade their knowledge too

I also think there’s a growing and overdue need for studio management and lead instructor training. It doesn’t require much, but they should certainly know how to maintain safety and best practice, how to recruit and support instructors, what to keep an eye out for. As tech and bikes become more advanced, and riders come to expect more, this is becoming a discrete set of responsibilities that needs to be covered within training.

Indoor cycling
Cycling is accessible to all fitness levels, provided instructors know how to coach appropriately

Finally, many instructors just want to excel at indoor cycling: the discipline is heading into its own space, and that’s entirely right. I believe it’s outdated to expect instructors to also have a certificate in gym instructing, PT or exercise to music. Cycling shouldn’t be CPD on top of one of those qualifications. Rather, there should be regularly updated, indoor cycling CPD on top of a dedicated, entry-level indoor cycling certificate.

Power Play

What’s the difference between heart rate and power training?
Put simply, power is the ultimate training dose, while heart rate (HR) is a response to the training dose.

What do I mean by that? Heart rate training has been around for many years and it’s an important and valid metric. It shows the intensity of your intention – how hard you’re trying to push yourself. That’s very useful for instructors in particular, allowing them to read the room and understand the effort each participant is putting in. With the addition of colour zones, it’s also easy to understand and can be very motivating in a class environment.

Power training aficionado Allen is founder of Peaks Coaching Group

However, the issue is this: there are many factors that can impact someone’s heart rate. It isn’t exclusively a response to training. Yes, your heart rate could be high because you’re really pushing yourself in your workout. However, it could also be high because the room is too warm and you’re over-heating, you’ve had lots of caffeine, you’re stressed, or because of a number of other external factors.

In short, HR training tells you how fast your heart is pumping, but it doesn’t tell you why. It can also vary quite notably from day to day. Plus, heart rate zones are based on your max HR – a figure that doesn’t change as you get fitter. It means you can’t easily track or build on your progress.

How is power different?
Whether you’re in a studio or on the road in the rain, 200 watts is 200 watts. This is why I refer to power as the ultimate training dose: you can very precisely specify a number.

Let’s take the analogy of weight training. Month one, you might have 20kg on your bar. Next month it’s 30kg, a few months later it’s 50kg. The weight is your training dose and the rising number reflects the progress you’ve made. It’s the same with wattage: you can see your improved performance on the power meter of your bike as your output rises from 200 to 220 to 240 watts over time.

FTP % is a great tool in a class environment, allowing clubs to run classes with very specific objectives

Then there’s a measure called FTP – functional threshold power – which is a great tool for a class environment. Every individual can calculate their personal FTP, which is directly related to their fitness level. Rather than specifying a wattage, an instructor can then specify an FTP percentage they want the class to ride at. In turn, this ensures every individual is working according to their current fitness level – but also at exactly the right load for the training goal.

I say ‘current’ because your FTP will rise as you get fitter. If there’s a day when you’re tired or stressed, you may not hit the same output as on a day when you’re fresh, but overall – over time – your FTP will increase as your fitness improves. That provides a great sense of accomplishment and motivation to keep going.

How does FTP work?
Your functional threshold power is the highest average power (wattage) output you can maintain for an hour, going as hard as possible for the whole hour. You then take that average wattage as 100 per cent and build your training zones around it.

Zone 1, active recovery, sees you cycling at 55 per cent or less of your personal FTP. It’s an important zone in every class and for every cyclist: it stops you training too hard and ensures you’re ready for the next effort.

“Every individual can calculate their personal FTP, which is directly related to their fitness level. An instructor can then specify an FTP percentage they want the class to ride at.”

Zone 2, endurance, is where you could spend all day cycling. You’re at 56–75 per cent of your FTP, and as the name suggests, it’s about improving your endurance.

Zone 3, tempo, is a zone most people could stay in for perhaps 30 minutes to a couple of hours – or eight hours if you’re a pro cyclist! You’re now working at 76–90 per cent of your FTP, and the benefit here is improved aerobic capacity and muscular endurance.

Zone 4 is your FTP zone, and this is the measure that really defines your fitness. It’s a bit like the one rep max in weight training: you quote your FTP to someone and it’s a shorthand for how fit you are. In this zone, you’re working at 91–105 per cent of your FTP, and translated to real world cycling it’s about how fast you can ride outside: with an FTP of 180 watts, you might be able to maintain 15mph; 220 watts and you’re looking at perhaps 20mph. Physiologically, it’s about improving overall cardiovascular fitness and the body’s ability to handle lactate in the blood.

BODY BIKE’s new app features two different FTP tests that you can do on your own (photo @julie.duverger.buissiere @lifestudio_orleans)

Zone 5 – 106–120 per cent of FTP – is the VO2 max zone. We’re talking three- to eight-minute all-out efforts, as if you’re riding up a steep hill. You’re training your body’s ability to bring oxygen into the lungs and from there to the bloodstream and the muscles; your VO2 max is the efficiency with which your body can do this, and it can be improved with training.

Zone 6 is anaerobic capacity, spanning 121–300 per cent of FTP. We’re talking very intense intervals of perhaps 30 seconds to two minutes only, and it’s about improving your ability to produce energy without oxygen. Working in this zone brings a rounded approach to fitness.

Finally, anything above that is zone 7 – neuromuscular power. Think of it as your very best sprint for five to 15 seconds, which might typically be anything from 700–2,500 watts. This is pure muscular strength building.

How do you calculate FTP?
As I say, FTP is about going as hard as you can for an hour, but not everyone wants to do that – not even pro athletes! There are a few shortcuts, but I believe the best is a 20-minute test that you can run as a class.

You start with a 20-minute warm-up – or 10–15 minutes if you want the class to fit neatly into an hour’s slot – including 3 x one-minute fast pedals to wake up the legs.

Then you do five minutes cycling as hard as you possibly can to exhaust the body’s anaerobic capacity – something that could otherwise skew the results – before 10 minutes of recovery, cycling at around 65 per cent of your capacity.

“Test your FTP every eight weeks; fitness generally changes in eight-week cycles. To keep progressing, re-set training zones around your rising FTP.”

Only then do you do the 20-minute time trial, striking up a strong, steady wattage that you think you can maintain for 20 minutes; you can tweak as you go, because we take an average reading, so don’t start too hard! Your FTP is your power average for the 20 minutes, minus 3–5 per cent to even more accurately estimate what you could do in an hour.

The class ends with a cool-down of 10–15 minutes’ easy pedalling.

People often object – they say they’re tired by the time we do the time trial – but that’s the whole point. We’re trying to approximate what you could do in an hour, so you have to be a little fatigued when you begin the 20-minute test.

Crucially, you should re-test your FTP every eight weeks, because fitness generally changes in eight-week cycles. To keep progressing, you need to continually re-set your training zones around your rising FTP.

FTP training allows people of varying fitness levels to train together in the same class

Do you always favour power training?
In a word, yes. It’s a great way to scale for everyone in the room, so they can train in the same zones and progress together but without having to achieve the same wattage.

It’s also possible to create classes around specific training objectives. “On Monday, our class will train the cardiovascular system with relatively low force; on Tuesday we’ll focus on improving our FTP, with 4 x 10 minutes at 95–105 per cent of FTP; Wednesdays will be all about improving anaerobic capacity, with short, hard efforts of 30 seconds to two minutes; Thursday’s class will focus on VO2 max, with three- to five-minute intervals, but we’ll throw in five muscular strength intervals first.” And so on.

Not every FTP zone is suitable for every level of fitness, though, so classes should be clearly labelled for their training objectives, benefits and level of experience required. Unfit beginners should focus on zones 1–3, for example, but note that it doesn’t get progressively harder from zone 1 up to zone 7: fitter beginners could do zone 7 and even zone 6, provided intervals aren’t too long and there’s plenty of variety in the class.

On the other hand, if you put a beginner straight into an FTP intervals class, I can pretty much guarantee they’ll never come back!

This is the beauty of power training, though. You know exactly what energy system you’re training – VO2 max or threshold power, for example – which is something other modes of training don’t allow for.

“How you create your wattage is important. In a general-purpose class, aim to push people out of their cadence comfort zones.”

Where does cadence (RPM) fit in?
Cadence can be a challenge for many people in a class, especially beginners who aren’t used to moving their leg muscles in a pedalling motion. At first, people generally want to pedal slower – perhaps 70–80 RPM – until they get used to it.

However, cadence is a very important metric, as power = force x cadence. You can produce 1,000 watts by cycling at a slow 40 RPM with the resistance cranked up to 20, or you could cycle at 150 RPM with the resistance at 5 and still produce 1,000 watts.

At face value, that may seem like the same outcome, but how you create your wattage is important: in this example, the 40 RPM approach is about producing the watts through force, which means you’re training muscular strength; the 150 RPM approach produces watts through speed and trains cardiovascular fitness.

When you teach a general-purpose indoor cycling class, you should aim to balance load between the muscles and the cardiovascular system. You need to push people out of their cadence comfort zones, helping endurance runners build muscle and weight lifters improve their cardiovascular fitness. You should also move people through the different FTP zones to work on strength, cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance. This is how you use power training to improve all-round fitness.

 

Get in the zone

Monitoring your % FTP

If the key to effective indoor cycling is working to specified percentages of your personal FTP – well, how exactly do you do this? Easy, says Allen: with indoor cycling bikes now boasting advanced computers, you simply enter your personal FTP at the beginning of class and the console will show you what % FTP you’re hitting throughout the workout.

BODY BIKE Smart+ goes a step further. Believing that exercisers should have clear ownership of their personal data, and that operators should have future-proofed bikes, BODY BIKE got rid of integrated consoles around five years ago. In their place, an app that links seamlessly to any BODY BIKE Smart+ bike, transforming exercisers’ phones into portable consoles that can be upgraded with each app update, and that let exercisers carry their data with them.

The latest app update, launched in April, features in-saddle installation: simply pedal for 30 seconds and the upgrade is installed on your phone, bringing your previous training history across with it. Alongside a host of new features, including achievement-based status updates, are all the old favourites – not least a number of FTP features.

There are two FTP tests you can do on your own – a five-minute test and a burnout test – which, as BODY BIKE CEO Uffe A Olesen explains, “allow people to easily do a test themselves at any point, rather than having to wait for their club to run a class as Hunter suggests”. Alternatively, if you already know your FTP, you can simply store it in your personal app settings.

You then monitor your % FTP during class by tapping the middle of the wattage ‘target board’ to reveal your % FTP figure.

% FTP is just one of numerous metrics that can be tracked through the BODY BIKE Smart+ app, alongside % max HR, cadence, kilometres travelled, calories burned and workout duration.

Go the extra mile

Indoor cycling. It’s a great workout with fantastic cardiovascular and metabolic benefits, and all with low impact on the joints. But it also puts our body into quite an unnatural position: hunched, forward-flexed, doing a repetitive movement.

Sarah Ramsden, owner of Sports Yoga, explains: “Repetitive sessions on the bike can shorten your hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves, groins and ITB; stiffen your ankles; and cause chronic over-lengthening and weakening of the lower and upper back.

“Mostly this shows up as back, knee, neck and wrist pain – but crucially, all that shortening of muscles also makes you less comfortable, less efficient and less powerful on the bike.”

Fortunately, there is an answer: yoga and pilates. These complementary disciplines not only reduce pain and risk of injury from extended periods in a cycling position, but can actually improve your performance on the bike.

Our experts share their views, and it makes for interesting reading whether you’re an indoor cycling enthusiast or a club looking to advise cyclists on how best to structure their training plans.

Glenn Withers

Co-founder, APPI

The APPI’s Glenn Withers

I coach a training course – Pilates for Cyclists – which is actually designed with road cyclists in mind, but which also has relevance for regular indoor cyclists.

The course covers three key areas: endurance, which is more relevant to road cyclists than those doing 50-minute indoor cycling classes; strength, and how pilates can build this in a relevant way to improve cycling performance; and flexibility, looking at how pilates can improve mobility and ease common areas of tightness among cyclists.

The course is designed to help cyclists understand what the posture they adopt on a bike does to the way their body functions – the tightness it causes in the hip flexors, for example, and the tension it can cause in the mid-back if they’re over- or under-reaching – and how pilates can help. It also looks at how specific, at times modified, pilates exercises can strengthen the muscles used in cycling to improve output.

Improved flexibility is a benefit however often you’re in the saddle. Even if you only do one indoor cycling class a week, pilates can help balance out the tightness this can cause, improving mobility and flexibility to increase comfort and efficiency on the bike.

For example, a good pilates for cyclists programme will incorporate some thoracic mobility exercises, because when you’re on the bike, the mid-back is held so stiff that it can cause tension and pain. Similarly, your hip joint never fully extends when you’re on a bike, so you can get very tight at the front of the hip and need to open this up.

“The more core control you have, the more likely you are to get power out of the legs and avoid placing stress elsewhere on the body”

Core strength is also important even at the one-class-a-week level: the more core control you have, the less likely you are to have ill effects from the bike position, and the more likely you are to get power out of the legs and avoid placing stress elsewhere on the body. Even just doing one indoor cycling class a week can cause problems if you have a weak back. By developing core strength, pilates can help you avoid injury.

If you’re doing a class every day, however – or if you’re using indoor cycling classes as part of your road cycling training – then it’s a different story. It’s still about injury prevention, because you’re holding an unnatural cycling position even more regularly, but pilates can also help improve your performance and output.

If you look at which muscles need to work during a pedal cycle, it’s your glutes to start off, with power coming from the back of your hip; then at the bottom it’s your foot, ankle and calf mobility; and to pull back up and over it’s your hamstrings. So, if you want to use pilates to improve your performance, you need a combination of exercises that strengthen the cycling muscles: the core, glutes and hamstrings predominantly.

Withers demonstrates
Withers demonstrates how pilates exercises can be modified to train the muscles in the right range to enhance performance on the bike

Crucially, you need to train these muscles in the range that they’re required to produce on the bike. That means tailoring pilates exercises to the bike position – training the glutes to produce power from a flexed hip position, for example, and the hamstrings to activate in a bent knee position – so there’s carry-over to improve performance on the bike.

Cycling isn’t just about leg strength, though: you need a strong core to transmit the power into the legs, and to protect the spine so it doesn’t lose efficiency in the way you ride a bike. In fact, research shows there’s a significant decrease in power output through the upper or lower limb with just a 20 per cent decrease in your core strength.

However, if you rely on cycling classes alone to train these muscles – or if, even outside your cycling sessions, you only train them within the range that cycling allows – then tension and tightness will ensue. It’s why a good pilates for cyclists programme will incorporate lengthening and mobility as well as strengthening.

 

Sarah Ramsden

Owner, Sports Yoga – UK

Sarah Ramsden

First of all, it’s important to note that flexibility gains are performance gains. Stretching your hip flexors, for example, allows you to get your hips forward when out of the saddle and drive even more power through the whole length of the leg. Good hip flexor length also allows you to drive more power through the full range of the quads when seated.

Meanwhile, better pelvis mobility – groin, ITB and hip flexors – increases efficiency by reducing wiggle on the saddle, especially when you’re tired, and better ankle mechanics allow pain-free hitting of power through the whole ankling pedal motion.

Performance gains can also come from a strong core and glutes. Good torso control keeps your sitting bones solid on the saddle, so power is driven straight to the pedal. It stops your hips swinging when you’re out of the saddle, too, driving all power straight through the pedal. Strong glutes also add power to your pedal stroke when standing.

“The multi-directional movement of yoga, plus all that stretching, helps you recover faster. Your ride the day after yoga will feel easier.”

But your glutes and abs aren’t really trained during a cycling class: the forward hunched position means your abs won’t fire, and sitting on your butt means you don’t use your glutes much. You’ll need to train these muscles elsewhere, and yoga is the perfect solution.

Then there are the recovery and injury prevention benefits of yoga. Its multi-directional movement and stretching helps you recover faster. You flush out metabolic waste, pump fresh blood through, untether tissues that have become stuck and tight, and re-set the length of your muscles. You feel less fatigued and your ride the day after yoga will feel easier.

Regular stretching
Regular stretching helps cyclists maintain an ability to move freely in everyday life

By lengthening shortened muscles, a good yoga class also reduces niggles and chronic problems. Free from pain, you’re then back to adopting efficient positions on the bike, able to increase your time in the saddle and continue cycling for years to come.

On the flip side, fail to stretch alongside all your cycling and you’ll develop loads of compensatory ways of moving; you’ll get too stiff to move with good posture. This will injure you in unpredictable ways and make living a full life difficult. You might still be comfortable on the bike – that fixed position ends up being the most comfortable – but your everyday movement gets less and less.

And, of course, a hunched, rounded upper-back position on the bike eventually becomes a hunched, rounded upper-back position in life too: probably not the look you’re after!

In short, yoga as a complement to cycling works. You’ll feel easier and freer. You’ll injure less and chronic problems will slowly subside. Your efficiency and power output on the bike will improve. You’ll increase your training and go on for longer. Your body and your cycling will love you for it.

Sarah Ramsden is a registered teacher with www.yogaallianceprofessionals.org

 

Shelly Zehari

Co-owner, Fit House – Israel

Shelly Zehari

At Fit House, we believe people should be able to do cardio, stretching, stability, strength and core work all in one place, so we have four studios under one roof: cycling, pilates reformer, barre and functional.

We also mix and match as part of this approach. For example, one of our signature classes – Arms Booty Core Cycling (ABC Cycling) – combines pilates and cycling in the same class. You do an interval on the bike, then come off and do some pilates arm exercises before getting back on the bike, then off again for pilates core work, and so on. You get your cardio hit from cycling, but you also train your arms, core and glutes in a series of pilates exercises.

People love it, because in 60 minutes they get a full-body cardio and strength workout. It also introduces cyclists to pilates, and pilates enthusiasts to cycling, which is great. We run our ABC Cycling class six times a day, it’s so popular.

“We’re very clear in our belief that all our disciplines are deeply connected, and that doing a bit of everything will get you better results”

But importantly, this isn’t just for a novelty factor. We’re very clear in our belief that all our disciplines are deeply connected, and that doing a bit of everything will get you better results. For example, the data gathered by our BODY BIKES shows that people get more out of their cycling workouts if they also do pilates: better RPM, better power output, better calorie burn. We have hard evidence to prove this.

Why? It all starts with the way you sit on the bike. If you do pilates, you know how to hold your body in the various positions you adopt on the bike. You know how to engage your core, you know how to breathe, you have the strength in your shoulders to stay high. Your chest is open, everything is open, and you’re stronger in every position so you’re supporting your body properly. In turn, you feel better, stronger, and can work harder. You maximise everything you do on the bike.

Body awareness
The body awareness you get from pilates helps you hold your position when you get on a bike

You also don’t get to the end of a cycling class feeling like you’ve only worked your quads: you’ve engaged your body properly, so you feel it in your glutes and hamstrings too. You’re also less likely to suffer pain in your lower back after an hour on the bike, because you’ll have engaged your core throughout the class.

Pilates and cycling really is such a great combination. Cycling isn’t just about getting on a bike and moving your legs; the body awareness and strength you get from pilates helps you get so much more out of it.

The pain-reducing power of VR

Group exercise. The entertaining, engaging, dare we say it even fun part of a gym’s offering. The community creator. The loyalty builder and retention booster. True before COVID; still true even in these strange days of social distancing.

Yet even without social distancing and its resulting capacity issues, group exercise throws up obstacles to participation, not least the intimidation factor of being the newbie among a group of regulars. And that intimidation factor is arguably never more evident than in group cycling – so often perceived as a hardcore workout led by gung-ho instructors exhorting regulars to crank it up in a ‘who can work the hardest’ battle.

“Our cycling classes aren’t like that,” you say. Quite possibly not, but this is all about perception. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that this perception hasn’t come from nowhere. For many years, that’s what so many of these classes were like. Instructors would see it as a badge of honour if participants wobbled out of the studio on jelly legs at the end of the class.

For those exposed to the interactive VR, the pain intensity was 12–13 per cent lower

Perceptions are now shifting, in part thanks to the growth in rhythm cycling – the SoulCycle-esque, ‘party on a bike’ classes which have broadened the appeal of group cycling, making it as much about the mental feelgood as the physical results. Where people don’t feel beasted through every pedal stroke.

But there is another tool at your disposal: one that’s reportedly drawing new audiences in to give cycling a try, and which research shows then seals the deal by making the whole experience more enjoyable, reducing perceived effort levels – even when it is a tough workout.

That tool is virtual reality.

Interactive VR lowers perceived muscle pain

Interactive VR versus muscle pain
High-intensity cycling is less painful when combined with virtual reality, according to a study published last year by University of Georgia researchers.

Past studies have shown that exposure to virtual reality (VR) can help medical patients better manage their pain. This latest study wanted to explore the topic further, investigating whether the use of virtual reality during high-intensity cycling could reduce pain from exercise.

The study tested 94 healthy adults, specifically selecting those who didn’t have a high likelihood of motion sickness – one of the potential drawbacks of using a VR headset.

Wearing their VR headsets, all participants completed three 30-second cycling sprints, each followed by four minutes of recovery. Half of the participants were shown a dynamic virtual cityscape: a changing VR environment which made them feel as though they were actively cycling through it. The other half – the control group – viewed a non-interactive, static picture of the same cityscape and were asked to mentally imagine cycling through the city while they completed the same cycling workout.

The study found that, among those who were exposed to the interactive VR experience, the perceived pain intensity in their quadriceps was 12–13 per cent lower during the second and third sprints compared to participants in the non-interactive group.

Meanwhile, cycling performance was the same across the board; pain relief was not a side-effect of reduced cycling performance among those engaged by the interactive VR experience.

In THE TRIP, people don’t realise how hard they’re working

Immersive experience versus RPE
Research conducted in 2017 on behalf of Les Mills International – exploring the impact of its immersive cycling class THE TRIP – reached similar conclusions, particularly among novice cyclists.

Rate of perceived exertion and fatigue were a lot less when doing an immersive class

Carried out by associate professor Jinger Gottschall and her Penn State University research team, and published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise – the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) – the study compared THE TRIP’s immersive class with an audio-only class, both among experienced and novice indoor cyclists.

Heart rate data (percentage of time spent in the 80–100 per cent maximum heart rate zone) was tracked during the class to establish exercise intensity, while a survey conducted immediately after each class looked at rate of perceived exertion, satisfaction and enjoyment.

Among experienced cyclists, the impact wasn’t too dramatic. However, for novices, the immersive audiovisual experience was enough to distract them from the pain of the workout – this in spite of the fact that only 19 per cent of a TRIP class is spent in either a light- or very light-intensity heart rate zone. Moderate intensity work comprises 32 per cent of the class, with 26 per cent being high intensity and 23 per cent maximum intensity.

“The results showed the novice group’s rate of perceived exertion (RPE) – how hard they thought they had worked out – and perception of fatigue were a lot less when doing an immersive class in comparison with the audio-only class, when in fact the intensity was exactly the same,” says Dr Gottschall.

Anecdotal feedback reinforces these findings. One study participant summed it up perfectly: “I got so lost in the visuals that I had no idea how hard I was working until I saw the pool of sweat below my bike when the lights were turn on – super cool!”

It’s never too late

Exercise is good for you – that much is all but undisputed. But could it be that it actually gets better for you as you get older?

This was the fascinating question at the heart of a study – published in the journal Cell
Metabolism and reported in The New York Times – which looked at the impact different forms of exercise can have on a person’s body, and at different stages of their life.

health of cells importance indoor cycling
Among older adults, interval cycling activated almost 400 genes, helping produce more energy for the muscles

the activated genes influence the ability of mitochondria to produce energy for muscle cells.

Old versus young

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the United States conducted an experiment involving 72 healthy but sedentary men and women, all of whom fell into one of two age groups: 30 years or younger; or older than 64. All participants were randomly assigned to a particular exercise routine.

  • Group 1 undertook vigorous weight training several times a week.
  • Group 2 took part in 30 minutes’ moderate intensity indoor cycling a few times a week, interspersed with light strength training on other days.
  • group 3 took part in interval training on indoor cycles three times a week (four minutes flat-out pedalling followed by three minutes’ rest, repeated a further three times).
  • Group 4 was the control group, doing no exercise at all.

Tests were conducted before the experiment began and again after 12 weeks, measuring aerobic fitness and blood sugar levels, as well as gene activity and mitochondrial health in participants’ muscle cells (mitochondria being the powerhouses within our cells that, among other things, turn the food we eat into the energy we need to function, and that typically dwindle in number and strength as we age – in turn causing our bodies to weaken).

Boosting cellular health

Many of the study’s results were unsurprising. Improvements in fitness and ability to regulate blood sugar were observed across the board. Meanwhile, group 1 experienced the greatest gains in strength and muscle mass, while group 3 saw the most marked improvements in endurance and stamina.

Things became less predictable when it came to the results of the muscle cell biopsies.

Among participants aged 30 and under:

  • Group 1 – activity levels changed in 74 genes
  • Group 2 – activity levels changed in 170 genes
  • Group 3 – activity levels changed in 274 genes

Among participants aged over 64:

  • Group 1 – activity levels changed in 33 genes
  • Group 2 – activity levels changed in 19 genes
  • Group 3 – activity levels changed in 400 genes

And why does this matter? The New York Times concluded: “Many of these affected genes, especially in the cells of the interval trainers, are believed to influence the ability of mitochondria to produce energy for muscle cells; the subjects who did the interval workouts showed increases in the number and health of their mitochondria – an impact that was particularly pronounced among the older cyclists.”

HIIT training on an indoor cycle could, it seems, be the best form of exercise to improve the cellular health of our muscles – and the good news for those of us getting older is that it’s never too late to benefit from this form of exercise.

The appliance of science

What makes for a great group exercise class? Pose that question to a group of class enthusiasts and you’ll no doubt be offered a wide range of answers: great instructors, inspirational music, engaging choreography, exciting AV… 

But to focus purely on the experience is to miss one vital factor – and that factor is RESULTS. You might be able to make a class fun, but how many people would do it if they weren’t also likely to get fitter, lose weight, improve their health?

That’s why, even with its decades of group exercise expertise, Les Mills International continues to invest in extensive research – research to prove the effectiveness of new programmes and establish compelling ways to speak about them, but also studies to help it continually improve existing programmes.

Within this, cycling has been a key focus – and the research has paid dividends, leading to the successful expansion of Les Mills’ portfolio of indoor cycling programming. Now, alongside RPM, cycling enthusiasts can also benefit from HIIT cycling concept SPRINT and immersive experience THE TRIP.

“Our research has highlighted that, by offering a variety of different programmes, cycling can accommodate people of very different levels of fitness and exercise experience,“ confirms Bryce Hastings, head of research for Les Mills. 

And Hastings believes such research shouldn’t be left behind the scenes. “Clubs should always be looking for new ways to promote the benefits of cycling to members, and sharing these kinds of research findings is one way to do that,“ he says.

We take a look at some of the research that shaped RPM, SPRINT and THE TRIP.

ADherence to training was more than 95 per cent – really high for previously inactive people

research les mills programmesRPM: Lowering the risk of heart disease

“We wanted to investigate whether group cycling could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in a group of sedentary individuals,“ explains Hastings. “In particular, we were interested in the
effects of what we call cardio peak training – varying levels of intensity off a sustained aerobic base.

“We were also interested in whether cycling in groups could improve compliance.“

The study was conducted at Loughborough University in the UK in 2015, and set out to study the effectiveness of an eight-week studio cycling intervention – conducted in a group environment – on improving the cardio-metabolic health of previously physically inactive, overweight adults.

“We hypothesised that VO₂ max, blood lipids, blood pressure, body composition and glycaemic control would be improved following the intervention,“ adds Hastings.

The methodology

Eight overweight, physically inactive – defined as doing less than 1.5 hours’ activity a week before the intervention began – but otherwise healthy volunteers completed eight weeks of supervised studio cycling lasting 20–50 minutes, three times a week for eight weeks.

Participants underwent assessment for maximal oxygen uptake (VO₂ max), body composition, blood lipids, glucose tolerance and insulin resistance before and after the intervention.

The findings

First and foremost, adherence to training was more than 95 per cent – and participants reaped the rewards. VO₂ max (aerobic fitness) increased by 12 per cent, while body fat percentage was reduced by 13.6 per cent. Total cholesterol was reduced by 12.5 per cent, and LDL cholesterol – the type of cholesterol that contributes to plaque formation in the arteries – was reduced by 30 per cent.

“The compliance rate – attending 95 per cent of the prescribed workouts – was really high for this type of group,“ observes Hastings. “This was possibly due to the group environment, but crucially, it was instrumental to the success
of the intervention in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.“

“A nearly 10 per cent increase in VO2 max for a group who are already fit is impressive“

sprint research

SPRINT: Get your cycling HIIT

“We had seen great results from Les Mills GRIT, our series of HIIT workouts that combine high impact bodyweight and resistance exercises,“ explains Hastings. “We wanted to investigate whether we could achieve similar results with a non-impact form of HIIT, namely Les Mills SPRINT, which is carried out on a bike.“

Conducted at Penn State University in the US in 2015, this study was based on a hypothesis that a six-week intervention – where trained individuals replaced one 60-minute bout of moderate cardiovascular training with two 30-minute bouts of HIIT cycling – would improve health and fitness more than maintaining their moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise routine.

The methodology

In this study, 36 trained adults were randomly
assigned to one of two groups: Group HIIT or Group FIT.

Group HIIT participants replaced a single 60-
minute cardiovascular training session with two 30-minute high-intensity indoor cycling sessions for a period of six weeks. Meanwhile, Group FIT maintained their current training routine.

The researchers measured blood pressure, peak oxygen consumption, fasting blood profile, body composition and leg strength before and after the intervention.

The findings

The HIIT intervention significantly improved all variables except HDL cholesterol. Peak oxygen consumption and leg strength increased significantly for the HIIT group – these individuals saw increases of 9.7 per cent and 11.9 per cent respectively – but not the FIT group.

Meanwhile, there were significant decreases in the HIIT group for blood pressure (down 9.9 per cent), fasting blood glucose (down 7.0 per cent), total cholesterol (down 6.0 per cent), LDL cholesterol (down 7.8 per cent) and triglycerides (down 16.3 per cent). Fat mass also dropped by 1.1 per cent for the HIIT group.

“I’m always impressed with how fast HIIT works,“ comments Hastings. “A nearly 10 per cent increase in VO2 max for a group who are already fit – in just six weeks – is impressive.“

He adds: “The other reassuring component of this research was that you don’t need to jump around doing high impact exercise to reap the rewards of HIIT training. A class like Les Mills SPRINT is accessible to anyone who wants to take their fitness up a notch.“

THE STUDY FOCUSED ON EXERCISE INTENSITY AND PERCEIVED EXERTION

screen cycling classTHE TRIP: Immerse yourself

“We’ve previously published findings on the various motivation styles instructors might use in a cycling environment,“ says Hastings. “These findings indicate that the old ‘bootcamp’ style of instruction may not be the best method.

“One of the key factors that increases the chances of someone adopting an exercise habit is simply a sense of enjoyment. It is this that shifts novices from exercising because they ‘have to’ to exercising because they want to, which in turn makes it more likely they will keep up the habit.“

Les Mills was therefore keen to explore new ways of motivating members, and it developed what it believed to be a world-class solution: its immersive, audio-visually spectacular TRIP classes. This was then put to the test in a scientific study.

“This study was designed to explore what adding this visual experience would do to the cycling intensity, and the perceived exertion of the workout, among novice cyclists,“ says Hastings. 

“We already had good data that group cycling workouts delivered key health benefits – as noted in the RPM study above – but what effect would adding a visual stimulus have?“

Conducted at Penn State University in 2017, the study therefore set out to investigate the impact of the immersive qualities of THE TRIP – specifically, whether those immersive qualities increased the intensity of a person’s workout without them noticing how hard they were pushing themselves.

The methodology 

Tests were conducted on a group of 20 novice fitness participants. Over an eight-week period, they completed eight audio-only group fitness cycling classes and eight immersive classes (featuring digital imagery matched to the music).

The study focused on two variables: exercise intensity and perceived exertion.

The findings

The results showed the novice group’s rate of perceived exertion (RPE) – that is, how hard they thought they had worked out – was less doing THE TRIP than when doing the audio-only class, when in fact the intensity was the same.

“This investigation indicates that THE TRIP is an ideal group fitness environment for relative newcomers, to help them achieve their fitness goals,“ says Hastings. 

“Cycling studios in general are a great avenue for beginners. There is very little technique involved, so perceived competence levels are high right from the start. But what this research shows is that adding a visual stimulus can reduce perceived intensity, which we believe can also help beginners. The element of ‘exertainment’ reduces the sense of discomfort and encourages people to adhere to cycling classes in the early stages of developing an exercise habit.“

He adds: “Exercise intensity has been highlighted as a key factor that can impact compliance in early exercisers: if those new to exercise feel they have had to push themselves ‘too hard’, they may be less likely to return. With THE TRIP, they get into a higher heart rate zone to get fitter, faster, but without feeling the discomfort of this intensity level.“

And on this topic, Hastings has further advice to offer beginner cyclists – and the clubs and studios catering for them: “Starting gradually is key, focusing on frequency and consistency before intensity. 

“In fact, we’ve found that giving people the licence to leave a class when they have had enough, and slowly adding tracks as they get fitter, helps them establish an exercise habit.“

The power of the Brand

A simple but crucial question: why is it important to have a brand?
The market is so full of choice nowadays that the consumer is in charge. Why should they choose you rather than your competitor? What makes you different? What makes you stand out?

In the end, product attributes can be copied – a club could open up down the road offering exactly the same as you, for a cheaper price, and you’ll lose customers. But a brand can’t be copied; if someone tries, people recognise it as a rip-off and the imposter not only fails to have the same impact as the original, but it actually loses credibility.

So, what makes a brand? Put simply, a brand is created when you go beyond a rational, product-based relationship to develop an emotional connection with the customer – and the impact is incredibly powerful. There is, quite simply, no limit to the involvement a consumer will have with a brand they feel attached to personally – even in the face of competition.

cycle brand business touchpoint
Every customer journey is different, but all journeys will comprise a multitude of touchpoints with your business

You then need to distil the essence of this brand – what you stand for – and take it across every touch point of your business. It isn’t just the obvious stuff either, such as your logo and your advertising. Your handshake, your coffee, the invoice you send out… this is all branding too.

As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

How does Fitbrand help businesses build brands?
A brand is a comprehensive experience that communicates to your audience who your company is – and we can help with all of it. However, we don’t execute all of it: our role has become increasingly strategic over the last few years, often creating entire brand identities from scratch.

We kick off with in-depth discussions with the client to understand their needs, their goals, their target audiences. Where budget allows, we will also do some consumer research to create target market personas, as this allows the brand to be crafted around its end users.

Crucially, though, we’re there to help clients understand that it takes more than an Instagram account to become a brand. We believe the measure of a brand is its long-term visibility, which takes strategy and an ability to set clear goals.

The big challenge in the fitness sector is that many businesses have failed to realise the role of the brand. They still believe their businesses will grow through a sales-focused approach. Our mission is to challenge this mindset.

What sort of businesses do you work with?
We work with all sizes of business, from larger corporates to personal trainers who are looking to set up their first studio. Indeed, what’s interesting nowadays is that, thanks to social media, personal brands can be as strong as business brands – individual fitness trainers, for example, can become brands with huge, loyal fan bases.

We believe the measure of a brand is its long-term visibility, which takes strategy and an ability to set clear goals.

Sometimes people come to us with a clear idea of what they want to do, in which case it’s our role to challenge their thinking. Other times, particularly for the independent start-ups, our role is more of a knowledge provider. But with all clients, I like there to be a discussion – I don’t just want them to sit back and agree with us. Challenging each other makes the process more interesting and leads to better outcomes. 

But I do have one non-negotiable, and I immediately establish whether potential clients meet this by asking two important questions: what’s your motivation, and what do you see as Fitbrand’s role in all of this? If we see that people are driven by passion, we’ll work with them. If, on the other hand, we feel they’re driven by unrealistic expectations, we won’t work with them as we know success will always prove elusive for them.

Is there one universal piece of advice for all businesses looking to build their brands?
To understand what you need to do to become a better brand, you first have to appreciate what’s going on in the world. Read – and by that I don’t just mean short snippets of information on social media. Really try to understand your target market and the world in which they live.

Then, once you’re assessing your business, don’t only try to improve an existing concept. Think out of the box, embrace the new… and remember, if you aren’t online, you’ll never be the brand you want to be.

But at the same time, don’t try and embrace things that aren’t true to you. Don’t copy anyone else. Do what you’re best at and create a niche for yourself. That’s when people will believe in you and follow you, because you’re doing something credible.

One great example is the personal trainer in the south of Holland who works with dog owners, training them with their dogs. He’s been very successful in creating a strong personal brand because he stands for something differentiated, he’s found a niche he’s passionate about, and he’s good at what he does.

crowded subway brand power

How do personal brands work?
Social media has given individuals a route to market, allowing them to become brands in their own right. It’s why Equinox in the US was recently able to launch an agency for social media influencers: brands now pay for these influencers to promote their products.

This trend impacts the club environment too. Let’s take a group cycling class for example: get the right instructor in there – a star trainer – and the class will be packed. It might be exactly the same programme as another instructor delivers, but the power of the star trainer’s personal brand draws the crowds.

This is therefore the main piece of advice I’d offer all club and studio operators: Hire the very best staff you can afford, because fitness is a people business. It’s just about the worst-paid industry in the world, and the hardest part of branding is getting the right people for the right price – but if you get it right, your brand will build on the strength of their connections.

A bit of advice, too, for any individuals looking to develop their own personal brands: don’t use digital comms to show yourself off. There’s so much narcissism on social media. Instead, use social media to connect with people: show how your clients succeed, share knowledge, give away information to show people you have their interests at heart. Educate your followers and give them a reason to believe in you.

digital self branding social media
Don’t use digital comms to show yourself off. Use social media to build a personal brand by connecting with and educating people.

In fact, the same goes for bigger brands too. If you’re a health club chain, appoint social media managers who understand that content should first and foremost be good for your members, not good (i.e. promotional) for you.

And be patient: it takes time to build emotional connections. If you feel you don’t have enough Twitter followers, the problem isn’t them – it’s you. People won’t be interested in you until they know you and what you can do for them: you have to have something to say, and it has to be something they want to hear.

Once you’ve developed a brand, then what – is it up to the client from then on?
Fitbrand doesn’t do all the execution, but we do provide brand manuals for ongoing reference.

We’re also launching a new service next year – a brand coaching system – that will keep us strategically connected to our clients on an ongoing basis. Every month, we’ll meet for two hours to discuss their vision for the future, their goals, their challenges, anything they’re working on where we can help make them a better, more entrepreneurial brand.

This is really important, because branding isn’t something you can put in an algorithm and predict the outcome based on what you’ve done – there are always external factors at play, and you have to continually re-assess and respond to protect and progress your brand.

We’ve already been working in this way with some clients – BODY BIKE, for example – but this will be our recommended approach for all clients going forward. It will allow us to re-set clients’ mindsets on a regular basis, helping them stay on-brand even as they navigate new challenges, and encouraging them to stay thinking creatively.

 

we transformed BODY BIKE from being a factory into being a brand.

Tell us more about your work with BODY BIKE…
We’ve been working with them properly for about five years. When they approached us, they had a great reputation but were too focused on the process of building their bikes. They hadn’t really paused for breath to recognise the value of their company.

We identified some strong USPs – the fact the bikes are hand-made in Denmark, for example – and came up with slogans like “Your Bike, Your Ride”. We put together special events and support packages for the launch of their new bikes – marketing assets that were used by distributors and clubs. It was so successful that they had to bring in more people to meet the demand for the bikes.

In brief, we transformed BODY BIKE from being a factory into being a brand.

Are there any other fitness brands out there that you particularly admire?
SoulCycle is quoted so often, but it really has done a great job of telling a story and building a brand. People say indoor cycling is dead, but it isn’t at all – it’s just about branding it in the right way, making it fun and delivering a full experience around it. That’s what SoulCycle has done so well.

The other thing SoulCycle has done is recognise that the strength of its brand rests firmly on the shoulders of its instructors. They are the stars and the secret of SoulCycle’s success – and the business realises this and pays them very well.

campcycle branding

Other notable brands include Roo Cycle in the Netherlands. It’s focused on the environment – no plastic bottles sold in its studios, for example – which is something its audience cares about. It also shares lots of posts on social media around nutrition, rest, rehab and so on – they don’t talk about themselves, but instead share knowledge freely to improve the experience of those cycling with them.

Meanwhile, UK boutique operator 1Rebel did some great work in understanding its millennial target market. Its product and brand absolutely reflect this, from the lighting and music to the brand’s tone of voice and use of social media; many others are now trying to imitate it.

What would be your advice to a full-service club wanting to improve its cycling offering?
Develop club-in-club concepts. Take each individual space in your club – your cycling studio, but also your yoga studio, functional training space and so on – and make them so awesome and so distinctive that people will pay extra to use them.

But don’t just see this as a revenue driver. See it as a brand-building project too – an opportunity to broaden the appeal of your business by creating standalone brands that appeal to new target groups. Fitnesscamp Westerwald in Germany is a great example: by totally reinventing its cycling studio environment and hiring star instructors, it motivated whole new groups of people to become fans of its brand.

Ultimately, make your cycling offering a great, customer-centric experience from start to finish, so it’s something people talk about and share. This word of mouth will also play a huge part in further building your brand.

And what about the boutiques – any areas in which they could do better?
Boutiques have done a great job of finding their niche, and I believe more and more niches will open up as interest in health, fitness and lifestyle continues to grow – there will be plenty of opportunities here for studios and personal trainers alike.

However, most boutiques remain too salesfocused. They’re doing well at filling classes, but they still haven’t done enough to really embed their brands and protect themselves from becoming commodities.

My view is this: These boutiques need to do even more to build communities. This is where true brand strength and loyalty is built.

Cycling: the anti-obesity drug

Strength training and cardio exercise affect the body differently, not only in the obvious ways – building muscle versus developing cardiovascular fitness – but at a hormonal level too. This is the topline finding of a new study by the University of Copenhagen.

At face value, this may not seem overly surprising: these are, after all, two very different methods of training. But although logically we might have expected this to be the case, in fact the evidence hasn’t historically been there to prove it; surprisingly little has been known to date about the contribution of specific forms of exercise to the overall health benefits of being active.

The Copenhagen findings, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation – Insight, are therefore significant and worthy of a closer look.

A metabolic boost

So what did the researchers discover? One key finding for all you cycling enthusiasts out there is this: cardio training on an exercise bike causes an increase in the production of the hormone FGF21 that’s three times as large as the increase observed from strength training with weights. And that matters, because FGF21 has a number of positive effects on our metabolism.

Let’s first take a step back and look at the FGF family of hormones in general, which are involved in a variety of biological processes including cell growth, morphogenesis and tissue repair. Within this, FGF21 – a hormone secreted by the liver – has been shown to act as a metabolic regulator that plays a role in controlling glucose homeostasis, insulin sensitivity and ketogenesis. Indeed, treatment of animals with FGF21 has been shown to result in increased energy expenditure, use of fat and lipid excretion.

FGF21 cardio workout vo2 max
In the study, the cardio workout involved cycling at 70% of VO2 max

It’s therefore hugely important to discover that indoor cycling significantly increases the level of this hormone in our blood.

The power of cardio

A quick word about the methodology of this randomised crossover study. The researchers took 10 healthy young men, randomly divided into two groups. All 10 men did both forms of exercise – cardio and resistance – once a week, with enough time between workouts to keep results distinct. The subjects also fasted overnight before all workouts, to ensure hormone levels were not impacted by food intake.

Both types of workout lasted for 60 minutes and were relatively tough: the cardio workout involved cycling at 70 per cent of VO2 max, while the strength training workout consisted of five exercises – each repeated for five sets of 10 reps – that worked all the major muscle groups.

The impact of the workouts was then measured by taking eight blood samples from all participants: pre- and post-exercise, plus six more samples over the following three hours. The researchers monitored levels of blood sugar, lactic acid, various hormones and bile acid in the body over this total four-hour period.

And the findings were notable. Specifically in relation the cardio workout, the researchers observed a significant increase in FGF21 production; there was no significant change in levels of this hormone in response to strength training. In addition, the researchers observed a robust increase in plasma glucagon preceding the FGF21 increase. This suggests that a fairly intense, 60-minute cycling workout can result in the co-ordinated regulation of FGF21 and glucagon – a hormone formed in the pancreas which promotes the breakdown of glycogen to glucose in the liver.

In contrast, glucagon concentrations were unchanged after strength training, and gradually declined during the three-hour recovery period.

“FGF21’s potential as a drug against diabetes, obesity and similar metabolic disorders is currently being tested, so the fact that we are able to increase the production ourselves through training is interesting.”

Exercise versus drugs

“We’ve known about the effects of various forms of training on more well-known hormones – like adrenalin and insulin – for a long time, but the fact that strength training and cardio exercise affect FGF hormones differently is new to us,” says Christoffer Clemmensen, associate professor at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, and one of the researchers behind the study.

“Endurance training on a bicycle has such a marked effect on the metabolic hormone [FGF21] that we now ought to take a closer look at whether this regulation of FGF21 is directly related to the health-improving effects of cardio exercise.

“FGF21’s potential as a drug against diabetes, obesity and similar metabolic disorders is currently being tested, so the fact that we are able to increase the production ourselves through training is interesting.”

FGF hormones blood sample test
Blood samples were taken pre-exercise, and then across the three hours after the workout.

A solid foundation

The researchers point out that their results are limited by the fact that blood samples were not taken more than four hours after training – the longer-term impact was not measured. Neither are they able to comment on the effects of a full training programme on the FGF hormones.

Nevertheless, the results are so significant that they provide a solid foundation for further research, including whether similar effects can be seen in other population groups based on sex, age and metabolic status.

For now, the take-away is this: if you want to boost your metabolism and burn fat… get on your bike!

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.


DEFINING DEMENTIA

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

 

 

 

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