Indoor cycling should have a broad appeal: there are no tricky dance moves and most people are familiar with bikes. It’s also a low impact, joint-friendly cardiovascular workout that can be adapted to all fitness levels. However, the way indoor cycling is delivered in many health clubs means it’s often perceived as being too hardcore and too cool for all but the most confident members to try.
So how can we broaden the appeal of indoor cycling, helping ensure a wider range of people feel drawn to give it a go? We ask the experts…
The instructor needs to make participants feel safe and let them know they’re there for them, not to work out themselves. Staff must be well trained and there should be an annual audit, making sure instructors’ certificates are up to date. Clubs should continually invest in training to keep classes fresh. Sarah Morelli
Classes tend to be taught by high-energy, fit, young, athletic instructors who feed into that ‘give me more’ mentality, which tends to feed the vicious cycle of intimidation in the eyes of less fit potential participants. We recommend club owners hire a diverse teaching staff, mixing up the schedule with seasoned instructors, both female and male, who can relate to the various stages of life.
Establish some instructor protocols that make the cycling room feel inclusive. Instructors should truly care about members’ goals and get to know everyone in the room. It’s refreshingly helpful when an instructor takes some time to walk the floor before and during class, offering support where needed.
Finally, instructors should also be able to teach a variety of formats, so they can cross-promote indoor cycling classes during their dance, strength and yoga classes to recruit new riders. This skill can also be leveraged to incorporate fusion classes onto the weekly schedule. Jackie Mendes
Instructors must strive to be ‘cue-municators’: indicating their intentions in numerous ways so everyone gets it. They need an excellent beginner’s perspective, appreciating what it’s like to experience indoor cycling for the first time, and need a higher degree of empathy than the average instructor. Cameron Chinatti
It must be fun and friendly. I always think about how my mum would feel and what would make her comfortable. For people who are new to the class, it’s a nice touch to welcome them personally at the door and show them to the bike, help them set it up and explain the structure of the class. Instructors should also encourage people to feel comfortable in leaving after a few tracks and to gradually build up to a full class. Laura McStay
Offer shorter classes of 20–30 minutes during off-peak hours, labelled as Express classes – no-one wants to be called a beginner, even if they are one! If you offer shorter classes and have your best instructors teach them, new participants will gravitate towards them.
The key to making this work is to label your classes well and offer informative and enticing class descriptions. ‘Introduction to indoor cycling’ is not selling the dream! Think ‘Indoor cycling for real people’, with a description explaining the class. To recruit more out-of-shape riders, market a Beat Ride – using heart rate training as a guide with fun, upbeat music – or Empower Ride, which aims to lift members’ spirits using positive motivational cues and emotionally-driven music. Jackie Mendes
Before launching new programmes to appeal to a wider audience, work hard to understand your non-indoor cyclists’ training habits. Discovering more about the exercise formats and services they like, and critically why they like them, will provide context to your marketing plan, assisting conversion and avoiding mismatched programming. Gary Warren
Fusion classes are good for entry level: classes that include a mix of elements are fun, like boxing and cycling. However, don’t do weights or yoga on the bike as this does neither discipline properly – run consecutive sessions instead. Sarah Morelli
Change the schedule every quarter and keep the fun factor in mind to lessen the fear for unfit riders. Ask instructors to come up with theme-based rides and market them around holidays and club events. Overweight or obese members have a challenging time sitting on an upright bike for a full hour; we’re finding many people prefer 30-minute classes.
Clubs could also market a six-week challenge asking members to attend at least two classes a week, with a specific start and end date, and track their progress week-by-week. This is an excellent way to get new people to sign up, as there’s a do-able commitment and an end in sight, but in the process they will build relationships with each other as well as the instructor. Jackie Mendes
The studio environment and choice of instructor play a huge part in turning the dark and sweaty boom-boom room into a welcoming, beginner-friendly space. If people can hear and see what’s going on prior to attending, there’s less apprehension with that first class experience. Ideally the instructor should be able to make eye contact with every spot in the room. This tends to be most easily accomplished with the stadium-seating set-up. Cameron Chinatti
Aesthetics are important: not too white and bright. A cinema-like atmosphere is more forgiving for those who don’t want to feel so exposed and visible. Also it’s important not to have bikes pushed so close together that people can hardly squeeze through – you need to make people feel comfortable. Laura McStay
One far-too-often forgotten ingredient in studio design is a fresh scent. Smell is proven to elicit strong emotional responses, and influences our rating of people and places. It’s key to making your studio appealing to newcomers. Gary Warren
Virtual classes are good way in to cycling for those who haven’t tried the concept before: 55 per cent of those who attend virtual classes are first-timers, testing out a class and building confidence before they go into a live class.
Les Mills is releasing a bunch of new cycling programming, including our immersive class – The Trip – which we believe will engage new audiences, drawing people in thanks to its wow factor and helping ensure the experience is as entertaining as it is hard work. Phillip Mills
Virtual reality, where you control what happens on screen, really engages the brain. Add in an element of group interaction and competition (managed, so as not to demotivate people) and you create an environment where people want to keep participating. We’ve found this keeps even those people who don’t normally like to work out on bikes exercising for longer: ladies who don’t exercise much prefer to be given a course to complete rather than a set amount of time or distance. Duncan Lawson
MYZONE’s heart rate-based system creates a level playing field in classes by giving feedback to individual participants based on how hard they’re working – which is in their own control – rather than power output.
If anything our approach favours the more unfit, because they hit the higher heart rate zones faster. Rewarding people for the effort they’re putting in is very motivating. Jonathan Monks
Data can improve both motivation and efficiency of the workout. Although initially it can be confusing and intimidating, if instructors and PTs educate members on how to use the data, it helps more people understand the benefits of cycling – teaching them how to work more efficiently, achieve better results and track their progress. Richard Baker
Schwinn runs special populations training, teaching instructors to feel confident with people who might be nervous in their classes. There are courses for coaching under-18s, mature people and pregnant/post natal women. One key benefit for clubs is that classes for these groups of the population can be run in off-peak hours.
Put on classes for families: public health research shows families who are active and eat together are healthier, but there’s a shortage of opportunities for families to be active together.
Offer classes with a variety of structure and intensity, such as a recovery class for those getting over an illness or injury, or a rehab class for sufferers of stroke or cardiac disease. It’s advisable to hook up with local programmes, physios or sports injury specialists to make sure classes are safe. Lou Atkinson
Children love acknowledgement and recognition of their successes – that’s key to getting this group involved. Expresso’s HD Youth bike targets the youth community by incorporating fun, tracking goals and reinforcing accomplishments. The bike provides an interactive and virtual experience, including video games that encourage exercising to attain higher level status. Tracy Morrell
Reaching out to other locations beyond the club can be a great way of spreading the message. We’ve taken WebRacing to the Tour de France in Yorkshire; to Bloomingdales; and to the Nuffield Orthopedic Unit Oxford, to introduce cycling to children who fear exercise due to long-term chronic pain. The entertainment aspect meant the children saw it as play rather than exercise and overcame their fears. The physios saved their personal bests and challenged the children to beat it on the next visit. Duncan Lawson