Tag: Rockstar instructors

The making of a rockstar

Glen Ostergaard

Les Mills programme director – SPRINT, RPM, BODYPUMP

When you’re talking about rockstar instructors, it’s important not to be too elitist. As our Les Mills training system proves, by focusing on the key pillars of great instruction – technique, choreography, coaching, communication and performance – it’s possible to teach someone to become a world-class instructor.

There is a deeper layer, whereby you know who’s going to be a real rockstar even before they train as an instructor. They just have the X factor, and it tends to come down to soft skills. However, for me the secret is to dive deep into each individual to work out what their superpower is – because everybody has one, and sometimes more than one.

“The faster you identify your superpower and focus on what you’re really good at, the faster you’ll become a rockstar”

You may find your superpower immediately, for others it takes longer, but it’s all about understanding your personality type. Why do you want to be on stage? What is it about you that will draw others to you?

Some people are natural connectors, communicators and community-builders. Others are performers who really connect to the music. There are some whose natural athleticism draws people to them. And then others are natural motivators who can make people really push themselves in class. Over the years, I’ve found these to be the broad areas of superpower: communication and connection, performance, inspiration, and athleticism.

Once you find your superpower, play to that strength: you should always teach from your strongest point. Don’t feel you have to copy others. Work out what you can do better than others, dial that up on-stage, be authentic to who you are and the rest won’t matter so much. People will be drawn to you when you dial up your superpower.

Your superpower may influence the classes you instruct; SPRINT plays to the strengths of motivators

That said, you can’t totally neglect your areas of weakness: you’ll need to be able to bring elements of coaching, connection and motivation into any class. But it is OK to accept that you don’t have to be equally strong in every area. Me personally? I’ve never been great at connection, however hard I work at it, but my superpower is motivation. Know what you’re really great at and have it in your back pocket at all times, ready to pull out whenever you need it.

You may find your superpower influences the classes you choose to instruct, too. I’m programme director for SPRINT, RPM and BODYPUMP, and I’d say SPRINT plays to the strengths of athletes and motivators. For RPM, performance comes to the fore. And then flipping into the digital world, it’s more about coaching, inspiring and motivating; connectors may find it harder to play to their strengths via a screen.

In general, though, the faster you identify your superpower and focus on what you’re really good at, the faster you’ll become a rockstar.


Noël Nocciolo

Cycle master trainer, boutique thought leader, consultant

Hear from Noël on how superstar instructors…

  • Are authentically themselves on-stage, but in a heightened way
  • Are enter-trainers, marrying experience and training needs in every event
  • Can absolutely be taught, with superstardom something that can be nurtured and trained


Renata Jarz

House of Workouts CEO, presenter, speaker, GX consultant

Even those with the greatest charisma still need the basics in place: being fit themselves, good technically, preparing their choreography well and so on. Superstars can’t rely purely on their X-factor to carry them through. It’s like baking a cake: you can’t put all the icing on top if the cake itself isn’t baked properly. Discipline is key.

Empathy is also hugely important, as it underpins genuine connection. Too many instructors want to shine on-stage, whereas the best instructors are motivated by making the people in their classes happy and healthy. They really get to know their participants. They teach as the participants want to be taught, not as they would want to be taught. They get on participants’ level and pitch the class perfectly to those in the room, and to how those in the room feel on any given day. They make every participant feel special and seen.

They use words that activate participants’ right brains, rather than just technical words that activate their left brains, focusing on happiness and feeling good to stimulate endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, ensuring people come out of class on a high.

“Too many instructors want to shine on-stage; the best are motivated by making those in their classes happy and healthy”

They aim to surprise participants every time, making each workout feel different – even if it’s a class they’ve taught before. Every class is scripted, and scripted differently if it’s a re-run, putting the accent somewhere new to avoid falling into the same-old teaching patterns. This inspires participants and helps the instructor stay fresh. I also recommend teaching no more than 14 classes a week, so it remains a pleasure and not just a routine.

Using words to activate participants’ right brains stimulates endorphins and ensures a feelgood factor at the end of class

But even then, with all these boxes ticked, there is an X-factor that marks true superstars apart, and this is even truer for digital superstars than for live superstars. For digital channels, where you can’t fall back on in-person interaction, you need that extra twinkle in your eyes, that special smile, that ability to ‘make love’ to the camera.

I’ve been in the room while classes are filmed and felt a real ‘wow’ factor during the live performance, but then seen it played back on-screen and not felt the same. It can happen the other way round, too – great on-screen, live not so good – although generally I find digital superstars are more likely to also be great in-person than vice versa.

It’s also the case that superstardom doesn’t necessarily cross disciplines. You can be great on a bike but terrible in another class format. Your natural style of movement has to fit the programme if you want to be a real superstar.


Sue Wilkie

Head of instructor support, EMD UK

What makes you stand out in a crowd? There will be numerous instructors in your area, many teaching exactly the same release as you. Some might have taught for longer than you, too. They might be more qualified. So why does someone choose to come to your class specifically?

Quite simply, it’s YOU. It’s your innate ability to connect and communicate with participants, building a rapport that makes them want to come back – something I don’t believe can be taught.

It’s your true love for what you do that shines through whenever you teach. Your vibe attracts your tribe; that’s true wherever you teach, whatever type of class you teach.
It’s also about preparation. Being a superstar is a hard role to keep on top of – charisma alone doesn’t guarantee it – so it’s the hours you put in behind the scenes to keep the choreography fresh and the session plans relevant, all while trying to maintain your love of the job.

Teach to the entire class, not just those at the front, so all feel welcome

It’s the time invested in recording your delivery of a class, then watching back and evaluating yourself on the three key areas of teaching: Instruct, Coach, Motivate.

It’s the time you take to really know your content and choreography, so you make it look effortless on the day. I’ve spent many hours listening to tracks in the car so I knew every change in tempo, every block, every chorus by heart before putting the choreography to it. You make sure everything flows so you enjoy teaching it, because that shines through and inspires your participants.

“There will be some who just don’t click with you in class. Know not to take this personally. You are who you are. Embrace your uniqueness.”

And of course, it’s about building a community. As a superstar, you teach to the entire class, not just those at the front, so everyone feels welcome and valued. You make time to chat with participants before and after class, too, so they feel part of the community. And you use the insights from those chats – understanding what music or track your community likes out of the latest release, for example, or what goals they have – to make your class experience even better.

And finally, you’re happy to be yourself. Not everyone has the same abilities or attributes, and there will be some who just don’t click with you in class. You know not to take this personally. You are who you are and you embrace your uniqueness.

Nothing is impossible

Nuno, tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Nuno Ribeiro, I’m 31 years old and I’m from Barreiro in Portugal.

I was born with cerebral palsy, a deficiency related to the central nervous system. The best way to explain it: my brain doesn’t send the correct commands to my body, so I have problems with balance and walking.

In fact, when I was born, the doctors told my parents I would never walk.

However, we were referred to a physiotherapist who offered hope, telling my parents I would indeed walk. The first stage was surgery to stretch my tendons. This was an innovative surgery at the time – only a few places in Portugal offered it – and the doctors didn’t know what the outcome would be. But it was a success, and at the age of seven I took my first steps.

“When I was born, the doctors told my parents I would never walk”

Then began a long process of recovery until I was eventually able to walk alone, without needing support.

But the journey didn’t stop there, because around the age of 16 or 17, I’d grown tall enough that I needed more surgery; my tendons hadn’t stretched in line with my growth and we needed to stretch them again.

This time, the surgery was divided into three phases, and the short version of the story is that it was once again a success. Rather than continue to go through endless physical therapy, though, this time I decided to go to the gym to continue my recovery.

Ribeiro (far right): “When I’m on the bike, I can switch off from my disability. It’s as if I don’t have it.”

When did you discover indoor cycling?

I was about 19 when I first went to the gym and met the personal trainer – José Campos – who would change my life.

Exercise has always been part of my life – it’s had to be, as without it my physical condition would deteriorate. It’s also so crucial to giving me the mental strength to deal with more challenging days. However, training with my PT was something else again. I soon started to feel notable improvements in what my body could do, including improved strength thanks to muscle gain. I also felt better mentally, with greatly increased motivation.

In one of our sessions, I asked José if he also instructed group classes and he said yes: indoor cycling. What he then described to me sounded so wonderful, I asked if he thought I’d be able to do it. He said it would be difficult, but my whole ethos in life is to change mentalities and demonstrate that the word ‘impossible’ should not exist in the human dictionary.

“The fact I have cerebral palsy and yet I’m an instructor… I’m sure it encourages people to leave the studio thinking differently”

So I tried it, and my passion for indoor cycling has been burning strong ever since. I love the energy of these classes. I also love the fact that, when I’m on the bike, I can switch off from my disability. It’s as if I don’t have it. It’s a truly incredible sense of freedom.

And you’re now an instructor?

After a few years, just taking part in classes wasn’t enough. I wanted to teach!

It was then I was introduced to Pedro Maia, Spinning® master instructor, who had already trained others with some kind of limitation. After an evaluation to assess the feasibility of me doing the course, he suggested I do the training and then re-evaluate the possibility of a career as an instructor.

I completed the international Spinning instructor certification, as well as a few modules of Spinning Continuing Education: Strength Energy Zone, Profile Designs, Heart Rate Games and Becoming a Rockstar Instructor.

Receiving my instructor’s certificate was a breath of fresh air and a huge boost to my already growing motivation. I’d achieved something I never thought would be possible.

Receiving his instructor’s certificate was a huge boost to Ribeiro’s already growing motivation

Where do you instruct classes?

Portuguese law says I can’t teach full-time in a gym – I can only cover other people’s classes when they aren’t available – so I don’t have regular slots, but I do teach in a number of gyms close to my home.

Mine are always freestyle classes, designed and built by me in accordance with the rules of the Spinning programme. I believe having fun is very important, but training with awareness and purpose is even more important, so I always have a clear training objective in mind and I choose the music accordingly.

I also make sure I use popular songs from the radio and I factor in participants’ music preferences; I tend to cover afternoon class slots when people are tired from their day’s work, and great music is an excellent way to keep them motivated.

What’s your secret to motivating members?

I’m very much myself on stage. I think that’s so important, because members can really see and experience the passion I feel. That’s the most important thing any instructor can bring to a class: passion. When you have a passion for what you do, half of the work is done already, because participants feel it and it boosts their own motivation.

“When you have a passion for what you do, participants feel it and it boosts their own motivation”

I also invest in regular Continuing Education. It’s very important to keep learning if you want to inspire people.

Another tactic I have is simply to say: ‘If I can, so can you!’ The fact I have cerebral palsy and yet I’m an instructor… I have no doubt that inspires members who attend my classes. I’m sure it encourages them to leave the studio thinking differently.

Because indoor cycling can be tough. When people try it for the first time, they don’t think they can take it. When they attend my class, though, it changes their way of thinking. They realise they can take it and they become regular attendees.

Music is key to motivating members, giving them energy after a day’s work, says Ribeiro (photo: Ørbike)

How do members respond to you?

What I try to bring to the gym goes far beyond the workout. It usually starts right at reception, when they tell the members I’m going to teach. People’s reaction tends to be a question: “You’re coming to work out?”

I don’t find it strange – it isn’t every day members have an instructor with cerebral palsy leading the class – but what I want is to open people’s minds and show them that limitations need not render anything impossible in our lives.

What’s your advice to those with similar conditions to yourself?

Indoor cycling is a great form of exercise for people with physical limitations, but do first seek advice from a properly certified instructor, to discuss what adaptations may or may not be necessary.

Then, when you start, never give up, no matter how hard it is. Even the things you find difficult at first will become easy over time.

Whoever you are, if someone tells you something is impossible, substitute the word ‘impossible’ for ‘possible’ and prove them wrong!


Are you vocally fit?

“As fitness professionals, we learn about almost every muscle in the body,” says Susie Millen, cycle master trainer for Third Space and founder of My Vocal Fitness. “Rarely, though, are we taught how to use our voice or a microphone effectively.

“The result: instructors across the planet aren’t vocally ready to teach the volume of classes they’re timetabled to deliver each week. Their voices are tired and they’re finding instructing an effort. They’re struggling to project their voices and be heard. In some cases, they’re developing vocal injuries such as swelling of the vocal folds, nodules or polyps. Their voices are unreliable, deteriorating, even lost.

“There’s no reason why, vocally at least, you can’t teach 20 classes a week. You just need to do the right things for your voice. ”

“As a freelance instructor – as so many are – that’s a massive issue, because it’s impossible to work if you’ve lost your voice.

“This is why I created My Vocal Fitness: to teach instructors to look after their voices, helping them achieve longevity in their careers as well as providing a better in-class experience for participants.”

Adding ‘light and shade’ into vocal delivery prevents shouting and creates a better experience (photo: Third Space London)

A universal problem

She rewinds the story: “My own vocal journey began seven years ago, when I was working at the dynamic XYZ cycle studio in Hong Kong. After a while, I noticed that colleagues were complaining of vocal strain, or even losing their voice, and were having to take time off for vocal rest. Instructing up to 15 classes a week as I was, I was beginning to feel the same.

“But there was nobody to go to for advice. If you’re a singer with voice issues, you can go to a singing teacher. If you’re an actor, you go to an acting coach. But there was nobody providing vocal education for fitness instructors. I realised there was a gap in the market.

“I began working with Amanda Restivo, a voice coach who taught me how to warm up my voice before class, as well as giving me an insight into what’s vocally safe to do as an instructor if you have a healthy voice versus an unhealthy one; even if you have voice issues, there’s generally something you can do to help.

“I then applied this new knowledge, plus the skills I’d learned during singing training at dance college, to my own vocal fatigue. The results were dramatic, so I created a workshop for my colleagues in Hong Kong and the feedback was incredibly positive.

“You shouldn’t have to speak at more than a normal conversational level in class. Your mic is your best friend!”

“My next step was to find mentors who could help me develop my concept, and after a year – by which point I was in London – I finally found The Vocal Process. These two individuals, Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher, had a background in singing, but were able to explain the differences between preparing to sing versus preparing to speak. They helped me understand what was going wrong in the GX studio and how to address it.

“Bringing together their singing expertise with my group exercise experience, we developed a range of exercises, warm-ups, tools and skills to create an interactive workshop specific to the needs of GX instructors. My Vocal Fitness was born.”

Be vocally ready

She continues: “At My Vocal Fitness, I create personalised vocal plans for instructors to help them prevent vocal strain and injury. Equally, if you already have vocal problems – if you have nodules or polyps, for example – I can give you techniques that are safe for your voice.

“We talk about vocal warm-ups and cool-downs. About how to use a mic. We talk a lot about volume control. I make it relevant to the instructors’ classes and the type of language they use.

“Ultimately, my belief is this: there’s no reason why, vocally at least, you can’t teach 20 classes a week. You just need to do the right things for your voice, and that starts with the following five tips.”

“If you’re a singer with voice issues, you go to a singing teacher. But there was nobody providing vocal education for fitness instructors”

#1 – Warm up

“My main piece of advice: you have to warm up your voice before class. You need to bring your vocal chords together gently in a way that’s relevant to you, playing with your range using certain sounds and words that you use in class. It really only takes five minutes – I do it while I’m setting up for class – but it’s been a game-changer for me and everyone I’ve worked with.”

You can view a vocal warm-up demo from Millen here.

Millen says she wouldn’t work for a club that didn’t provide a reliable mic

#2 – Avoid shouting

“Shouting should be avoided at all costs, as it places huge strain on the voice and isn’t sustainable. It’s easier said than done – shouting is a natural instinct in a noisy environment when the music is pumping, and/or you’re delivering a class via Zoom and you’ve stepped back from the screen – but you shouldn’t have to speak at more than a normal conversational level in class.

“With that in mind, your mic is your best friend! Let it do the hard work. Personally, I wouldn’t work for an operator who didn’t provide a reliable mic, but if you do find yourself in that position, I’d suggest it’s worth buying your own.”

Millen is cycle master trainer for Third Space and runs vocal training for its instructors

#3 – Speak melodically

“Inject melody into your voice – highs and lows, light and shade – rather than speaking on only one or two notes, which we call monotone. This isn’t just better for the member experience, making your words more engaging, but also makes you less likely to shout. Because when we shout, we shout in monotone.”

“Instructors aren’t vocally ready to teach the volume of classes they’re timetabled to deliver”

#4 – Know when to speak

“This one sounds so obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it gets ignored: know your music. Specifically, know when the lyrics kick in and avoid speaking at the same time. There are definitely good and bad times to speak in class, and trying to speak over the top of lyrics makes it more challenging to be heard and puts more strain on your vocal fold.”

Your mic is your best friend, says Millen, and suggests instructors consider purchasing their own (photo: Ørbike)

#5 – Keep drinking

“Drink plenty of water. Take some with you into class. Your vocal chords need to be moist to vibrate properly, and they won’t be if your whole body isn’t properly hydrated. Drink water to save your voice.”

Redefining fitness

What has been your personal fitness journey?

I first became interested in fitness when I was at drama school, training to be a musical theatre performer. I started sharing fitness content online in 2013 and decided to qualify as a personal trainer when I graduated in 2014.

At the time, I imagined I would also audition for musical theatre roles, but fitness really took off for me and I loved what I was doing. I found myself in that fortunate position where I had a hobby, a passion, that became a career.

In hindsight, though, my relationship with fitness was quite disordered. I over-exercised and didn’t eat enough, because that’s what I understood fitness to be based on everything I saw online. I thought fitness had to be a weight loss journey. That restriction was unavoidable.

I now know that doesn’t have to be the case. Fitness has been a constant for me, but my approach and my relationship with it has changed dramatically.

“We need to move away from a set image of what fitness looks like and focus on what fitness feels like” – Tally rye

Healthy relationship with yourself
Rye’s honest, accessible posts on Instagram have won her 107,000 followers

What’s your approach to exercise now?

I now focus on movement that makes your body feel good. So many people see fitness as a chore to tick off the list rather than something they genuinely want to do. They think they have to endure a painful workout that’s going to exhaust them, all in a bid to look a certain way. They think that’s what fitness is all about.

But fitness isn’t weight change. Fitness is physical strength, mental strength, improving stamina and co-ordination. It’s the physical and psychological benefits of regular movement.

This is what I encourage people to focus on. In the process, I help them take the pressure off themselves and have fun again, so they actually enjoy their workouts.

Tell us more about your exercise philosophy.

I found myself becoming really disillusioned with the way fitness was positioning itself. It was the same old content all the time – all those before and after photos that implied fitness was only worthwhile if it brought about a drastic physical change.

I came across a concept called Intuitive Eating, which is a framework created by dieticians to help people repair their relationship with food. The framework does touch on our relationship with movement, too, but I felt there was so much more that needed to be said on that topic. It can be just as complicated for people as their relationship with food.

In my podcast and my book, Train Happy: An Intuitive Exercise Plan for Every Body – published in January 2020 – we therefore talk about Intuitive Movement.

Reframe your thoughts, get a healthy relationship with yourself

Intuitive Movement is about learning to listen to your body and connect with yourself so you can make the best choices for you, moving your body in the way that feels best for you. It’s about taking ownership and autonomy over your own fitness journey, rather than just doing what others say you should do. Ultimately, it’s about help people feel happy in their relationship with movement.

You have 107,000 Instagram followers. How do you use your influence?

I was in the right place at the right time – that first generation of social media influencers who have all since found our niche – and it’s meant I’m one of a small handful of people, certainly in the UK, who have the profile to talk about important topics like intuitive movement.

I’m trying to show people a path to feeling free of pressure and I get a lot of feedback telling me how much my message resonates with them. How they didn’t realise they could think about things this way, and that what I’ve said has made them feel so much better about their body, about food, about exercise.

I’m not saying everything i post is original thinking, but i do have the platform to say it louder than others

I’m also quite vocal about therapy and mental health, and I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’ve decided to go for therapy after hearing what I have to say. That’s so cool, because I believe the way we think about food, movement and our bodies is underpinned by our mental health – by what’s going on in our brains.

There aren’t many people out there with my approach, and while I’m not saying everything I post is original thinking, I do have the platform to say it louder than others. I’m very conscious of the voice I have and find the more I stay true to my values and passions, the more people seem to come on-board.

I think people follow me because I’m open about my own experiences, honest about my own struggles. I’m not just an online expert telling you what to do: I bring a humanness to it and people can relate to me.

What would you like to see happen in the fitness sector?

It really frustrates me when trainers suggest it’s just a small group of people who have risk factors that may develop into a disordered relationship with food and/or exercise. That just isn’t true. The fitness sector has normalised disorder. Restrictive behaviours are almost recommended, to the point that people think this is what fitness is.

It isn’t though. Those behaviours are dieting. Fitness is separate and should be non-restrictive. It can’t just be about burning calories. It has to be about engaging people in movement in a way that makes them feel good about themselves.

We have to stop centring on the narrative of weight loss and instead focus on the many, many other benefits of fitness. Stop the before and after photos where all the praise is heaped on the smaller body. Stop using the same buff fitness models. Stop assuming everyone wants to lose weight, and indeed making them feel they have to.

Fitness needs to be more fun and it needs to be more inclusive: all sizes, ages, ethnicities. We need to move away from a set image of what fitness looks like, and instead focus on what fitness feels like.

Indoor cycling fun and healthy
Participants in Rye’s classes are encouraged to see exercise as self-care

Let’s talk about your role at Digme…

I’ve been instructing indoor cycling classes for six years and have been with Digme for three. I’m delighted by how supportive they are, how on-board they are with my approach. The owners are fantastic: they live and breathe it and are great at taking on feedback.

My language when instructing has subtly changed over the years, just as it has on my social media. My goal now is to ensure everyone enjoys themselves and leaves the room elated, high on endorphins.

I make no assumptions about anyone in the room, instead encouraging participants to trust themselves to make their own decisions on how hard to work that day, to take a moment whenever they need it, to choose the gears and the intensity that feels right for them. I’m not there as a sergeant major. I tell them: “I’ll guide you, but you be you. It’s your workout and you know your body best.”

I also make a point of ending each class by congratulating participants for making time for themselves, encouraging them to be very proud that they did that for themselves. I really want to emphasise the view that exercise is self-care, not self-punishment. That we aren’t there to feel less guilty, but to feel good.

Tally Rye at Digme
Rye has been an instructor at Digme for three years

people ultimately choose a class for the instructor, so be confident and enjoy finding your unique style

Any advice for other instructors?

Be yourself. Even if you instruct a set class format, you can still bring your own take to it. Participants ultimately choose a class for the instructor, so be confident, put your own mark on the workout and enjoy finding your unique style.

What do you love about indoor cycling?

I fell into indoor cycling by chance, when I was PT-ing at a gym and was asked to cover a class, but I grew to love it.

I instruct rhythm classes, which means letting go and moving to the music. There’s no data on-screen, no competition, no need to take it too seriously. You don’t always even realise how hard you’re working. I know cycling isn’t for everyone, but I find it a fun way to do cardio. I often take myself to the gym to get on a bike and try out my new ideas and playlists.

I think it’s the musicality, the ‘move to the beat’ choreography, that really does it for me. Especially in class, it brings out the musical theatre performer in me: once I have my Britney headset on and the lights are going… that’s where I get my kick!

What’s next for you?

I never really know what’s coming next – I never expected to write a book, for example – but I will certainly continue to spread the intuitive movement message. I want to keep growing my podcast and my online presence so I can present even more people with an alternative, helping them establish a more positive relationship with fitness.

Heart & soul

What’s your background?
My background is in musical theatre. I went to the BRIT School for years 10–13, which is when I started to perform. I focused on dance, which I’ve always loved, with a bit of singing on the side. That was followed by a three-year musical theatre degree at the Urdang Academy in Angel, north London.

And then, five years ago when I graduated, I was suddenly out into the big wide world of performing. In fact, my first gig was a TV ad for KFC, but as a dancer/singer I was always aiming for the big West End shows. I kept getting close but would never quite land the role – not until I changed agent. My first audition after that, for Hairspray, I got the job. We toured the UK for 10 months starting April 2017.

I learned a lot about myself on that tour: I felt I found my voice. And I absolutely loved the whole experience. I knew it was what I wanted to be doing.

So, how did indoor cycling come into the mix?
One of the things I loved about Hairspray was the buzz of being on-stage. The adrenalin, the sweatiness, the excitement of being part of a big cast. When the tour finished and I didn’t have another show to go into, I started looking for something else that would give me that same feeling.

Some days I’ll feel like I’m Oprah. Other days I have to let the music speak for me!

I decided to train as a fitness instructor, and then I did a group cycling qualification too. I’ve always loved cycling classes: they can be tough, but if you find an instructor who’s on your wavelength, who chooses music that resonates with you, if you’re in a room full of people whose energy you can feed off… I love it. Especially the music. It’s 100 per cent about the music for me.

Once I’d done that qualification, I sent my CV to Core Collective and ended up joining its team in South Kensington, as a cycling instructor. I worked with some great people there, learning from them, finding my vibe, building up my community.

How did you juggle this alongside your musical theatre commitments?
At the end of July 2018, I started a three-month run in Eugenius! The Musical. It was off the West End, but right around the corner from Wicked in the Victoria area of London. It felt like I was getting closer to my dream.

Eugenius was eight shows a week, and I was also doing five classes a week at Core Collective. I’d get home from the show at 11.00pm and then, Saturday morning, I’d have classes at 9.00am and 10.00am. But I love to be busy, so that was fine!

In a way, being a cycling instructor… it’s like having my own show

I carried on doing classes at Core Collective throughout the three months of the show and beyond, but I was also doing auditions for the West End, and this time I was getting so close. I got into the final casting round for Book of Mormon, 9–5 The Musical, Tina the Musical… I had four potential roles and my agent was so convinced I would get one of them – but then it didn’t happen. I didn’t get any of them.

It was devastating. Heartbreaking. My confidence was knocked and I started to question my goals in life. If I’m honest, I’m still trying to decide if I want to keep trying for the West End – I’ve certainly taken a break from auditioning for now.

It’s hard to stop when it’s something I’ve trained so hard for, when it’s always been my dream. But equally, I’m learning to accept that it’s OK if my dream has changed. And in a way, being a cycling instructor – it’s like having my own show. I’m on a podium, in the spotlight, and it’s up to me to capture and hold the attention of the 65 people in the room. I have to perform.

You’re now an instructor for SoulCycle London. When did that happen?
It was when SoulCycle was getting ready to launch its first UK studio in the Soho area of London. There was an audition of course, but honestly, after my experiences in the West End – all those blunt rejections – everything about SoulCycle felt so positive. The compassion I was shown even during the audition… it just felt totally different. And it felt right.

I ended up being offered one of the three UK instructor roles and I absolutely love it.

What sort of coaching did SoulCycle give you?
I was part of the first UK team to train as SoulCycle instructors, ready for the Soho launch last summer. As the first team, we would become the faces of SoulCycle in the UK, representing the brand and helping to build its name in a new market.

We were flown out to New York for training, which was a fascinating process. SoulCycle talks about it as peeling back the layers. They challenge you to keep digging, to keep peeling back the layers, to explore who you are. And then you’re put back together again, still true to yourself but everso slightly different, able to hold yourself a bit prouder.

As part of that process, I learned how to open up to the class, talking about my life: friendships, relationships, something interesting I might have heard in a podcast… SoulCycle is absolutely about soul. You’re there to be yourself, to bare your soul. It’s the SoulCycle way to be more personal in class than at other places.

During class, I’ll talk about my mum, my cat, what happened to me on the bus that morning. You’re encouraged to be yourself – and people do respond to personal stories. You start chatting and their heads go up.

I found it difficult at first – I had never talked about my feelings as openly as perhaps instructors in the US had – and even now, I don’t always find it easy. Some days I’ll feel like I’m Oprah. Other days I have to let the music speak for me!

What would you say is your style of instructing?
I’m both strong and soft. I want people to work hard, but equally I make it clear you don’t always have to be perfect, and that ‘working hard’ looks different for everyone. Whatever you’re able to give to the class on any given day, that’s enough. Don’t compare yourself to the person next to you. Just know how you feel in your own body.

I read the room, making it challenging for all levels but also accessible to everyone who’s in there with me. In the end, I just want people to walk out at the end of class feeling proud of themselves, feeling stronger as a person. Our mission is to move people to move the world.

I also make sure I put myself out there, absolutely every class. People think what we do is easy, but it isn’t. It’s blood, sweat and tears. You have to make others feel good even if you’re having a bad day. If you show up for your community, giving your all every time, they will show up for you.

I’ve evolved so much as an instructor during my time at SoulCycle. I’ve become far more confident, both in my instructing skills and in my own skin. I’ve learned to take the space, to be true to myself, to put myself out there every time and not apologise for what I do. And that’s what I encourage in my community too. I want more for myself and I want more for them.

What does your role at SoulCycle involve?
Before lockdown, I was doing 11 classes a week: six at Soho and five at Notting Hill, SoulCycle’s second London studio which launched in November last year.

I’m now back instructing at both of those locations and am keen to continue working across different SoulCycle studios as the portfolio grows: I’m hoping to get up to 12 or 13 classes a week when our next London studio opens.

There’s a lot of prep work: we’re not just instructors, we’re curators of the experience

In between the classes, there’s a lot of prep work. We’re not just instructors, we’re ‘curators of the experience’, and the experience we curate is unique to each of us, driven by the energy we give out, the moves we do, the music we choose.

Music is one of the most important aspects of a SoulCycle class: we create different playlists for different classes, which also means different choreography for each class. As you can imagine, then, we all spend a lot of time looking for new tracks and remixes: you can be deep-diving for six hours and only find three tracks! But you might find a track you think would suit the teaching style of someone else in the SoulCycle community; we all send songs to each other.

Finally, we also represent the SoulCycle brand on social media. That means being accepting, friendly, real, authentic.

How does Notting Hill compare to Soho?
Again, I’m looking back to pre-COVID here, but Notting Hill was always very different from Soho and a great learning curve.

Soho always had the passing trade, with lots of offices nearby and tourists walking past the studio and trying a class. Notting Hill is very residential, so I had to build a community from the ground up.

Some classes I had to work really hard to do that. I did things like themed rides, for example, and I worked hard to understand the nuances of the market to get my music choices right. One class, on a Thursday lunchtime, I started doing Soul + Abs: 15 minutes of ab work at the end of the class, for free. Lululemon gave me some mats for the foyer area – as of February this year, I’m also a Lululemon ambassador – and we made the space look really professional.

As an influencer, do you run any online fitness programmes?
I started doing an Arms & Abs series when COVID-19 put us all into lockdown, going live on Instagram at 1.00pm every day. But at that point, everyone was doing the same. In the loveliest way possible, social media became a bit over-saturated with fitness content, and as a freelancer – hoping for a few donations where possible – it was hard to compete, especially when some of the big studios were putting content out there for free.

I’ve had people complain or leave early. That’s OK. You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea

Plus, I actually find it quite hard to create good fitness content through Instagram. For me, it’s all about feeding off the vibe of the room and the people in my class. I’ll see someone in the back row trying to keep up, or I’ll see someone upfront really pushing hard, and I’ll respond to that. On Instagram, it’s just you and a camera. You get nothing back other than the occasional emoji. As a result, I find I struggle to deliver in quite the same way. 

What would you say is the secret of your success?
Being myself. Being open to new opportunities. Not being stubborn – not sticking to plan A if a great plan B comes along. After all, all of this has happened in just five years since I left the Academy. I think that’s because I always try and look at things with a “what have I got to lose?” attitude.

What advice would you give to other cycling instructors?
You can’t please everyone. I’ve had people complain, leave class early, not like my music choices. That’s OK – you can’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

In the end, you have to like what you’re doing, because you’re the one who has to do it. And you will find your tribe of people – the people who keep coming back because they like what you’re doing, who connect with you because you’re being your authentic self. So that’s my advice: just be yourself.

Get the world grooving

“It all started when I was six years old, dancing to Kylie Minogue’s The Locomotion in our front room while watching Top of the Pops on TV,” explains Sarah-Jane (SJ) Aboboto, indoor cycling superstar and founder of GrooveCycle. “Little did I know that years later I would be dancing with Kylie on tour!”

She rewinds the story: “I always loved being active, playing rounders and netball and running the 100m when I was at school. But dance and performing were always my passion.

“I was essentially self-taught – my parents came to the UK from the Philippines with very little money, and there were other priorities that came before expensive dance school fees – but I had a natural skill and musicality and I just loved to dance.

“I loved making up my own dances too. I was very lucky to be at a school where the teachers were so supportive, investing their own time out of school hours to rehearse and prepare for shows. By the age of 11, I was choreographing all the shows; you normally had to be in year 11 to be allowed to do that.

“The thing is, I’ve always been able to not only dance myself, but to direct others in a way that they can dance too.”

An unexpected journey
She continues: “All that said, when I left school, I went to work at Heathrow and on the Heathrow Express for a couple of years. I was on the verge of applying to be a train driver when, aged 21, I went to an open audition to be one of Kylie’s dancers. There were hundreds of girls there, and four places up for grabs, and I got one of them. I was with her for about a year and a half, doing things like Top of the Pops and her European tour. I learned so much, really training on the job.

I choreographed the opening of the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary concert

“After that, I danced on-stage at awards ceremonies – for the likes of Gwen Stefani and Kanye West – before properly getting into the choreography side of things. I choreographed the opening of the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary concert at the O2 London, and I worked with the creative director to choreograph the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics closing ceremonies, teaching the moves to the army of volunteers.

“Since then, I’ve done quite a lot of mass movement choreography – for Buckingham Palace, for example, and the UEFA Champions League. For me, everyone can dance. If your body responds when you hear music, that’s dancing. That’s the message I focus on when it comes to mass choreography.

“The Olympics had an extra layer of challenge, in that the volunteers were of course all putting in their time for free – and we’re talking months of preparation. I really had to earn their support, make it fun for them, make it achievable whatever their age or dance ability. That was a great lesson for me.”

Finding a groove
SJ continues: “So I guess my journey has taken me from dance, through choreography to movement; the last time I danced myself was in the Olympics closing ceremony. And it has brought me to an unexpected place: indoor cycling.

I don’t even miss dance because in a way I still do it. I just do it on a bike now!

“It’s funny because, as a professional dancer, I always said you would never see me in a gym or on an indoor bike. I danced for the love of it; fitness was just a by-product. I never wanted to have to try to get fit – that looked like a lot of hard work and not much fun!
“But in fact, indoor cycling has all the energy and musicality of dance – or at least, it can have, and that’s the way I approach it. I don’t even miss dance because in a way I still do it. I just do it on a bike now!”

She continues: “I first fell in love with indoor cycling about six or seven years ago, when I was introduced to SoulCycle in NYC. I loved the energy of the instructors: how engaging they were, how on-point with the music, how they took you on an emotional journey. Of course, the lighting and sound systems were great too, but having an awesome room isn’t enough – it’s the energy of the instructor that will always make or break a cycling studio.

“So, this is where my indoor cycling story began, and it soon led to me creating GrooveCycle – a dance-based cycling class that I guess is a bit like Zumba on a bike, in that it’s fun and opens the audience up to non-cyclists.

“About five years ago, I started renting the 90-bike studio at what was then The Reebok Sports Club in London’s Canary Wharf, now The Third Space, to run classes under my GrooveCycle brand. The studio had mirrors, so that was a big tick in the box: mirrors are important for my classes, because you need to see yourself moving alongside everyone else. It gives you real body awareness, not to mention a great energy boost.

“However, back then the studio had no lighting, so I would turn up to each class with my own lighting in a suitcase – five lights and five extension leads – which I would control via remote control: red when I wanted people to push harder, yellow when I wanted them to reflect, circulating all the colours when I wanted them to let go.

“And people did let go. There’s always a perception, especially in areas like Canary Wharf in the high-pressured environment of the City, that people are very serious. My experience though: if you give people an opportunity to let go and express themselves, they will.

“We were doing some quite new stuff, with upper body movements and choreography on a bike – bear in mind that SoulCycle was nowhere near the brand it is now, and if I recall correctly both Psycle and Boom Cycle had opened just one studio each – but people kept coming back. They liked what we were doing. The classes were open to non-members as well as members and were very popular. We were doing seven or eight classes a week – me, plus other instructors I trained – and they were full.

“We had two styles of class: Groove was a bit SoulCycle-esque, but with more groove to it; and GrooveCycle Dance had real choreography going on. But it was all accessible to everyone, and a big part of that was the tempo. My view is you can’t go too fast: it makes it too hard to follow and people’s technique falls apart, plus you can find your groove better at a slower cadence.

“I generally aim for about three-quarters of our classes to be no more than 65–90 RPM, and when we’re adding more choreography we’re riding at the lower end of that range. We then work at a higher resistance for a good workout.”

Life’s twists & turns
She continues: “The logical next step might have been to have taken that success and open my own GrooveCycle studio, but that’s incredibly expensive to do – and equally important, that ended up simply not being the route life decided to take me.


“I became ill a couple of years ago – I just wasn’t getting any balance in my life – and I took a step back from things for the best part of a year. I’m back in the saddle again now, but for now I just run one GrooveCycle class each week, still in rented studio space. That in itself is a challenging model: you never get peak slots, because clubs have their own signature classes they want to run at peak times, and it’s hard to protect your programme and your brand. But I do enjoy it and I will look to scale it up again in the future.
“That may even involve me finally opening my own studio, although if I do, it might simply be a space where I and a few selected instructors can record classes to release online – a way of scaling and at the same time controlling the quality. It takes a lot to train someone up as an instructor, especially with all the elements in our classes, and in any case, online is a very popular way for people to consume fitness now.

“As part of that, I’m thinking about creating shorter – five- to 15-minute – programmes to make it even easier for people to make the shift from inactivity to activity.”

But SJ hasn’t ruled out expanding the live offering. “I’m considering launching GrooveCycle courses to train instructors. Alternatively, I might design off-the-shelf programmes – Les Mills-style – that instructors can take and use, complete with playlists and choreography. We’ll see. I always have so many things I want to do, but I would love to be able to take the joy of GrooveCycle out to more people.”

Love what you do
The enthusiasm flows, undiluted, as SJ continues her story: “In the meantime, over the last year or so, I’ve found myself getting more and more into consulting and education. I’m a master educator for Stages, for example, coaching instructors in its Beats training. And I’m consultant and head trainer for David Lloyd Clubs as it rolls out its Rhythm and Cyclone concepts across its estate. I also created the cycling programming for Another Space, before Third Space sold those studios, and I consult for a number of other boutique operators.

“Throughout that process, I’ve worked with a lot of people from very different backgrounds, from fitness instructors who know cycling but who aren’t necessarily natural performers, through to dancers who may never have been on a bike before but who have musicality and performance running through their veins. I coached one cycling newcomer, Leanne, who has gone on to become one of Peloton’s main London instructors. Meanwhile, for those coming from more of a fitness background, I’ll work with them on musicality – teaching them how to select music that creates the right energy, and how to then work with that music to get people to respond in the way they want.

purists may not like my style of programming, but as Long as it’s safe, I think it’s good to offer a fun alternative

“Ultimately, I believe it can all be coached, with one caveat. You have to genuinely love cycling and love helping other people. You have to want to connect and find the best in each and every individual in the room. Being an indoor cycling instructor isn’t about being a one-(wo)man band. You have to love every aspect of it, and that can’t be faked. You have to bring real energy and authenticity to the room.

“My personal mission is to get the world grooving – letting go, having fun, enjoying life. Yes, also working out, but under no pressure to do it any way other than your own. It’s about having a good time and leaving the room with a smile on your face. Cycling purists may not like my style of programming, but for me, as long as it’s safe, I think it’s good to offer people a fun alternative. It’s certainly a way to broaden the audience and get more people moving.

“And if you want to challenge me on results, that’s OK too. We do give people a really good workout. But equally my view is this: if someone who originally turned up to my class tense and stiff and shy gets to a point where they’ve let go, have more confidence, are enjoying movement and leave class happy – quite honestly, that’s the sort of progress and results I like to see.”

Ralph Butzin

“I used to be a professional handball player, competing in the first division in Germany,” says German cycling legend Ralph Butzin. “In 1993, I injured my knee and went to Switzerland for rehab, and it was there I first came across Spinning – the phenomenon of indoor cycling to music.

“I liked the look of it so I did a class, which just happened to be with Mike Michaels – master trainer for Johnny G, the creator of Spinning. That’s a great way to do your first class!

“I spoke to Mike afterwards and explained that I’d like to do these classes back home, but he told me there were no Spinner bikes in Germany – so I decided to start my own class.”

He continues: “I teamed up with another master trainer, Keith Howells, to launch in the basement of a club in Bielefeld, Germany. We had a squash court space with 11 bikes and a ghetto blaster – and that was it. There was very little structure: we just played music and got people to ride the bikes as hard as they could! But it was really popular: with just 11 bikes, we had to run around eight classes a day to keep up with demand.

“For a long time, this was essentially what I did: instructing Spin classes, creating education for Schwinn, building a national team for Schwinn and later Star Trac. But then a crunch point came when the team split: Johnny G went with Star Trac; most of the other trainers went with Schwinn. And the whole thing just started to move along a path I wasn’t happy with: it became more about selling bikes and merchandise, when really all I wanted to do was train people.

“In 2003, I therefore left to set up my own company: the National Cycling Academy, or NCA for short, which was created as a supplier-neutral organisation.”

NCA instructors
The NCA has created a strong and loyal team of instructors

You can’t buy personality
He continues: “At the NCA, we aim to do things a bit differently. Most cycling instructor qualifications take place over the space of one weekend, for example, whereas ours takes two weekends and is always run by two master trainers. There’s just so much you need to know when you’re starting out as an instructor.

“We focus on training – on the science – rather than gimmicks, and encourage our students to always do the same in the classes they go on to deliver. Gimmicks quickly lose their appeal; training is relevant for a lifetime.

“We invite an array of experts to speak to our students too: cardiologists; theatre directors to speak about performance and the delivery of classes; someone to talk about music; someone to talk about muscles, stretching, recovery.

“And we help them find jobs afterwards: we approach clubs to tell them about instructors living locally. This is a free service, firstly because we feel it’s the right thing to do, and secondly because it helps us build a strong network of clubs and trainers.”

Butzin adds: “One thing all of our participants leave our courses with is this simple message: it isn’t about them. They work for the members. If there’s nobody in their class, there’s no need for them as an instructor. They learn to leave their egos at the door and focus on creating a great experience for members.

“In fact, this is partly why we don’t sell other qualifications. In our view, just paying your way through lots of courses doesn’t make you a great instructor. It doesn’t matter if you’re a master trainer or a newly qualified instructor: your personality is the way to people’s hearts.

“If people do feel they want to learn more further down the line, though, we invite them to attend our events for free to chat to our master trainers. Sharing ideas and knowledge is, we believe, the best way to learn, and we give a lot away for free: whatever they want to know, our master trainers share it with them at no charge. We aren’t interested in getting every last Euro out of people.”

He adds: “What this does, of course, is build great relationships between the NCA and the instructors – so when we need to ask for their help, they’re happy to give it.”

ralph butzin training talk
A training talk for instructors at an outdoor event in 2018

Pursuing a dream 
The help Butzin refers to relates to public events he runs under the NCA banner: instructors are invited and encouraged to bring members and other cycling enthusiasts along with them. So, a favour perhaps, but not a huge one – especially as good trainers are invited on-stage to run some of the classes. “I don’t believe in making it just about master trainers,” explains Butzin. “These are events for trainers and their members.”

My dream, when I first set up the NCA, was to run the biggest cycling event in the world

He rewinds to the early days: “My dream, when I first set up the NCA, was to run the biggest cycling event in the world. I started small: my first event was in 2003, with 70 bikes in a sports club in northern Germany. It was an overnight event – eight hours, from midnight to 8.00am – and people had to pay 30 Deutschmark to take part. I did absolutely everything myself: I organised the bikes, drove the lorry to get them to the venue, instructed the classes, gave out water… But it went well, so I decided to scale things up.

“For the next four or five years, I ran two events each year: in the winter, the event took place in a Mercedes Benz centre with around 200 bikes; in the summer, we could go outdoors so had more space, so we ran events with 500–700 bikes in a village called Bad Zwischenahn. The events would go on for anything from 12 to 24 hours, with lots of different sessions and instructors on-stage. Participants could vote on how good they were, with an award at the end for the best trainer. It was a bit like all the reality TV shows nowadays!

“People would also pay to attend these events, and I got lots of sponsors involved too: they liked the fact that, once we’d covered our costs, all the rest of the money raised through these events would immediately be donated to charity… children’s hospices and so on.

“In between these events, I’d travel around the country talking to sports clubs and gyms and running small cycling events for them. I got Erdinger, the beer brand, to sponsor what became known as the Erdinger City Tour: smaller in-club events, where clubs would get alcohol-free beer to give out.”

ralph butzin charity
Butzin’s events have raised thousands of Euros for charity

Breaking records
Butzin continues his story: “At this point, the NCA was still just a hobby for me – I had a full-time job working for the government – but in 2006, I decided to leave my job and live my passion full-time, pursuing my dream to create the biggest cycling event in the world.

“I identified the venue I wanted to rent – the AWD Dome in Bremen, northern Germany – and knew I wanted to fill it with 3,000 bikes. I scheduled the event for August 2007 and spent the next 18 months travelling around clubs, running classes for them for free, talking to them about my dream and asking: ‘Please could I borrow your bikes?’ However many bikes they agreed to lend me for the day, that’s how many tickets they got for the event, which they could then offer to their members.

“When the day came, we had a real mix of bikes coming from all over the country, all of which had to be brought to the Dome and taken out again in the same day – because it cost €70,000 to rent the venue for one day but also, obviously, because the clubs needed them back.

“But it worked. We had thousands of attendees, great classes over the space of eight hours, a live band, hot food for everyone, water and fruit delivered regularly to every bike… And it was just a great feeling: everyone was on an emotional high afterwards.

“Admittedly I lost €70,000 on the event, but that wasn’t important to me – I just wanted to make my dream come true. That said, the bank didn’t feel quite the same way: I had to run a subsequent smaller event to make the money back!”

Butzin’s mass participation events attract thousands of participants

Cycling for energy
Fast-forward to today and the NCA is still running events, with the current wave adopting an energy theme, as Butzin explains: “In 2015, 2016 and 2017, we ran 24-hour events where we attached dynamos to the bikes to capture the human energy being generated, using this to charge the battery of an electric car.

“We actually set a Guinness World Record: 2,500 people – just normal people, not athletes – rode 100 bikes and generated enough energy for the Minister of Economy to drive the car for 130km.”

He adds: “We also continue to raise large amounts for charity: over the last three years alone, we’ve donated around €45,000 to good causes.

“Our next event is scheduled to take place in November 2019. Volkswagen is launching a new car and wants us to run an energy-harvesting event – much like the recent ones we’ve organised – to help promote it. So, we’ll be looking for teams of cyclists to take part!”

The German challenge
But when I broach the topic of new trends in indoor cycling, the exciting boutique studios appearing around the world, and what the future might look like for indoor cycling in Germany, Butzin falls uncharacteristically quiet. “I hate to have to say this, but indoor cycling is dying in Germany,” he says. “Most club operators question the return on investment: they have bikes to buy and maintain, and instructors to pay, but only run perhaps two classes a day. The rest of the time, the studios – and the bikes – are unused. As a result, operators are starting to pull indoor cycling off the timetable.”

He continues: “The NCA does what it can to keep the momentum going, but in the end we do what we do for fun. Meanwhile, very few of the world’s big, powerful cycling brands have a strong presence in Germany. The positive spirit around indoor cycling has gone in our market.

Heart attacks remain Germany’s biggest killer, so encouraging cycling is a great message

“But it isn’t too late. We simply need new inspiration. My idea would be for someone – a pioneering supplier – to buy a lorry and put 50 bikes on it, along with a great sound system, a good sponsor and fantastic instructors. Get out there and show people what great indoor cycling looks like.

“There are 40 major cities in Germany, so spend a year touring. Bring it to the people – let them try it for themselves, then tell them where they can do indoor cycling locally.

“Talk to the operators about their challenges and propose a new model: one where the bikes are on the gym floor rather than tucked away in a studio. There’s no reason at all why indoor cycling classes can’t take place on a gym floor, with the bikes then available for general gym use the rest of the time.

“Get health insurance companies involved as sponsors, so the costs are covered. Get in touch with the local authorities to find a neutral space where all club operators will be happy to go: you’ll get the authorities on-side by promising to donate every cent of the €10 participation fees to local charities. Get the Health Minister aware. And secure TV and other media coverage to create a buzz around the whole thing; heart attacks remain Germany’s biggest killer, so encouraging people to cycle is a great media-friendly message, as is donating all proceeds to local hospitals.

“If we get the right people on-board, we can do this.”

portrait photo ralph butzin
Ralph Butzin


James Lamb

Because not only is James a good team player, but he also had the drive to jump in and do what not many other indoor cycling instructors were doing: he started to train on indoor cycles that measured power. “It was tough training, but the power profiling allowed me to learn my capabilities from different energy systems,” explains James.

Lightbulb moment

A few months after this, James had a lightbulb moment. As luck would have it, a new facility opened on the northern side of Sydney Harbour with 20 indoor cycles just like the one he rode those few months before. He took up a position as an instructor and that allowed him, he says, “to install a training system from the beginning”. The learning curve was steep at times, relying on trial and error, but as he smoothed out the bumps his expertise was growing – and he knew it.

During this time, he was offered and took up a position as head coach for one of Sydney’s high-end cycling training facilities. Here he was set free to play with all the latest gadgets. He also had the opportunity to work with elite athletes and inspired individuals, all looking for that one-on-one service with an aim to get stronger, fitter and faster. His approach was to use the science of training with power to help them achieve these goals.

“It is so important to test your riders and program their training zones.”

“Power training can be used as a part of any fitness plan,” he says. “Indeed, two riders could be in the same studio, riding next to each other, yet training in a slightly different way for completely different goals – and they would still both enjoy the challenge, the energy, the motivation, the great music and the expertise of their power training-savvy indoor cycling instructor.”

Functional Treshold Power

FTP is the highest average power a rider can sustain for an hour, measured in watts. It’s used to set training zones when using a power meter and allows improvement to be measured.
James gives really clear advice for people who are thinking about training with power: “It’s so important to test your riders and program their training zones.”
He continues: “Training with power throws up as many numbers as it does opinions on what’s important, but I believe the starting point is the same: Functional Threshold Power. FTP will now program your training zones and quantify your level of fitness. That is the best starting point in my books.”

Hammer or nail

When people are interested in the numbers – perhaps they have read about FTP, seen it or been told about it – there is, says James, a responsibility to help them understand the basics as soon as practical, so they build a level of competency and instructors feel they have some buy-in from the participant.

Once that has been achieved, the path riders will take will be an interesting one. James smiles as he explains: “Training with power will create as many lightbulb moments as it will pose questions. It’s a real ‘hammer or nail’ experience training with power meaning some days you will feel amazing and be on top of your training goals (the Hammer), while other days you will wonder why you even bothered going to the training session because nothing is going to plan (the Nail). You need to enjoy the days you are the hammer – and good luck when you are the nail!”

cycling training road

He also recommends re-testing every few months to see the gains that have been achieved – but even more importantly, so you can make adjustments to your zones so you continue to get the most out of every session on the bike.

Last word

A good coach with knowledge of how to train with power will help riders see improvements in their fitness and that will excite people as they feel and look better. Yet a great coach with expertise will also educating them on how and why it is happening and that gives riders that extra reason to keep going, knowing even more improvement is just around the corner.

The HIIT man

He has truly found his niche, led by his passion for all things health and fitness – and especially group fitness, where he’s spent years getting his hands dirty, working at the highest international level in two fitness programs for Les Mills, as well as at a national level for a third program. Not only that but he’s also a local, community-minded manager of a fitness facility in his home town on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.

Over the last few years, Dallas’ real strength emerged as a leader of all things HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Les Mills SPRINT and GRIT are the programs he heads in Australia, and he does this leading from the front, appearing in two international Les Mills SPRINT educational DVDs and 2 RPM DVDs.

Dallas describes HIIT as being “as beneficial as it is simple – an opportunity to absolutely test your individual fitness in real time, with the benefit of some excellent fitness gains”.
He empowers his members to find their limits in order to self-assess and self-measure. He is also a believer in allowing his participants – who range from competitive athletes to people getting back to exercise to shed some excess body fat – to make their HIIT experience as serious or as fun as they like, and he sees his job as a HIIT coach as one of engagement, information sharing, educating and motivating.

Dallas blacklaw cycling group

HIIT mass appeal

When HIIT on a bike is mentioned, his eyes light up. As much as HIIT can be done within many different spaces, using any number of fitness tools – from body weight to rowers, treadmills, kettlebells, slam balls, battle ropes, plyo boxes, barbells and the like – it is the use of an indoor cycle in his chosen program, Les Mills Sprint, that he believes will give this form of training a broader, more mass appeal. This is, he says, thanks to the minimal impact of riding a cycle when compared to the high demands placed on the body with any repetitive impact, as well as through any exercises in which movement patterns can suffer as fatigue grows.


The reward for Dallas, as a Les Mills Sprint Coach, come with the victories his participants experience when they begin to reach levels of intensity on the bike that they could only have dreamed about at the start of their fitness journey.

The physical benefits of Les Mills Sprint are well documented, including improved leg strength, body fat composition and cardiovascular health markers. From Dallas’ experience, another benefit is a boost in people’s confidence and ability to take more control over their own health and fitness.

Dallas Blacklaw HITT Group

How about technology

When asked about technology, Dallas notes that heart rate tracking is a powerful tool for a good number of his members. In addition, tracking energy expenditure is viewed positively – a good tool once members leave the gym, allowing them to later reflect on how they performed.

Technologies that can showcase data – like a rider’s power and heart rate on a screen – is something Dallas also sees as an evolving part of the way HIIT will be delivered. “Watch this space!” he adds.

Get the best you can

In asking Dallas for any advice on what makes a great HIIT space, he is quick to note that great equipment makes a huge difference. From flooring to racks to kettle bells to bikes, you need to get the best you can.
This is especially the case when it comes to bikes, he says, with more power and load and wattage being applied to cycles than ever before. Bikes need to be strong. Don’t compromise. It is only through providing high quality equipment that you can help your members get the most out of every HIIT session they do.

He finishes with this comment: “HIIT rarely gets easier, but you will most definitely get stronger, leaner and be more mentally aware of your physical capabilities.

“Oh, and remember to have fun as you HIIT!”

Bas Hollander

Millennials, like me, also call this a bucket list, or just a list, or sometimes just ‘yeah whatever’. Some write it down. Some brag about it on social media. Some don’t. The things on my list mostly tie in to traveling. Seeing something of the world. Helping people by being active. And of course, some gadgets (drones, fast cars, electric skateboards), I love my gadgets.

In the last few years I’ve been very lucky: I got the chance to travel the world and to present at the big events of Les Mills Live, meeting the coolest people.

There was just one thing on that list that I couldn’t tick off. It was just sitting there, slowly moving to the top as the others were ticked: Living in another country for a longer period.

But that was about to change early 2017. I was asked to work as a Training Manager for Les Mills Japan… Meaning that I would live in another country for a minimum of 2 years. And about to be able to tick off another goal on my bucket list.

Cultural challenges

So, I resigned from one of the coolest jobs in Holland, packed up my stuff, got on a plane, chasing the adventure…

I landed in Japan and immediately fell in love with the culture. The people here are very friendly and polite. They take care of each other and are hard workers! But not everything was great right from the beginning. Setting up a new life in another country is always challenging, but setting it up in Japan might be even more challenging. The country is not as used to foreigners as other countries are. I’ve heard that only 6% of the population speaks English. And there are so many rules here. Rules for everything. Way too many rules if you ask me. Settling in and working your way through these rules is big when you first come here.

bas hollander japan city streets

But after 6 months of being here I can say that it is so cool to be here. Working for Les Mills Japan is great! We are a small team (around 20 people), and we are in our start-up phase. Which means that whatever we do now shapes our future significantly. I’m in charge of all the Trainers. The Trainers educate and train the Instructors that teach all our Les Mills classes in gyms. When I started 6 months ago we had 12 Trainers. Now we have 60! I’m trying my best to help them as much as I can so they can be the best they can be!

Teaching in Japan

In Japan people speak Japanese. Only a few speak English as well. And it’s not like it is in Holland (where I’m from) where almost everybody at least understands English even if they are not able to speak it. I’m learning how to speak Japanese but because the company is at its early stages there is so much work to do that my Japanese practice often is the first thing to disappear from my to-do list.

So I’m not teaching classes as often as in Holland. I teach when clubs invite me to teach. Which is kind of nice because I have more time to focus on my own trainings. And it makes me look forward to all the classes that I’m teaching as there are only a few every month.

“In this young- kid-handwriting that you have when you are 8, I wrote: ‘One day I wanna live in Japan’.”

A club in Shibuya (one of the coolest places in Tokyo) has a Les Mills Immersive Studio where I can teach Les Mills THE TRIP and SPRINT. They love it here!

Cool stuff coming up

We have big plans for Les Mills Japan. We want to be in more clubs throughout Japan to be able to reach more consumers and influence their lives in a positive way. My main focus here is to create a really strong team that meets all the international standards when it comes to Training and Presenting.

Besides my work here in Japan I will also keep going to Auckland to help film GRIT, THE TRIP, SPRINT and BORN TO MOVE.

Why Japan?

In the 2 weeks before I left I was cleaning up my house, putting everything in boxes. I stumbled across a primary school project that I made when I was maybe 8 or 9 that I totally forgot about. In big letters, it said
“JAPAN” on the front.

I used to practice judo, so from an early age I was fascinated by Japan because that’s where judo is from. I skimmed through the project, and then I found something interesting. In this young-kid-handwriting that you have when you are 8, I wrote: ‘One day I wanna live in Japan’.

Happy to say that that is what is happening now. Goal on the bucket list: CHECK!

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