Progressing Your Rider’s Performance: Keep it Simple!

How do you challenge your riders to get/stay fit and ultimately perform their best on a stationary bike?

It’s tempting to think we need to do something elaborate with every profile (or even think up new moves!), but the reality is that we are working with two sets of simple truths:

  1. On a stationary bike, we sit or stand (movement), go faster or slower (cadence), and we apply force in varying degrees (resistance).
  2. Our bodies are bodies, and regardless of the myriad of types and conditions, progress occurs by doing more work (increase in power) and/or sustaining the same level of work for longer periods of time (increase in duration). Resistance demands the muscular system to apply more force. Cadence demands the nervous system to deliver more velocity or speed. Body weight demands control and balance to continue to apply force and deliver velocity while standing.

In indoor cycling, we’re overloading big complex systems i.e. cardio-respiratory (heart + lungs), cardio-vascular (heart + circulatory), musculo-skeletal (muscles + tendons + joint alignment) and CNS + PNS (central and peripheral nervous system) for a sustained period of time.

For many riders, grasping the concepts of overloading/training their cardiovascular system is more difficult to understand than strength training (or maybe it’s just more intimidating): they lift a weight that causes them to feel the contraction of their muscles and they get it, but on a bike, the formula of Force (Resistance) + Velocity (Cadence) = Power (Wattage or Work) can take time to settle in and be embraced. Hence, the riders who just won’t add more resistance no matter how many times we ask them to do so.

If your riders are into the science behind the ride, emphasize the formula of R + C = W and explain that’s how we load these complex systems to get their body to respond. If they’re not, and many aren’t, emphasize that the goal is to challenge the body to do more work, shown by increased power or wattage. “You gotta turn it to burn it!” Fortunately, power meters are becoming the norm and riders can see the effects of changing one or both of the variables that produce power.

Okay, but what does keeping it simple actually mean?

First, in your library of profiles, include rides that have clear progressions that riders can measure and track. For example, use under/at/over threshold profiles, and progress with time: 2 min. under TH, 1 min. at TH, 30 secs above x5; working recovery/2 min. under TH, 2 min. at TH, 1 min. above x4; working recovery/2 min. under TH, 2 min. at TH, 2 min. above x3; working recovery. Or, keep time fixed, but increase resistance or cadence to hit progressively higher and specific wattage output.

Second, make these profiles part of a longer-term plan. Schedule them on a specific timeline, e.g. every six weeks or quarterly, and announce it to your riders so that they can come mentally prepared to exceed their previous performance and track their progression if they’re into it.

It’s likely that you have an entire spectrum of riders in your classes from those who are obsessed with progression to those who ride because your playlists are good and they leave sweaty. Regardless, the tools are the same to progress your riders: you increase resistance, cadence and/or time, and bodies respond to meet the challenge. Keep it simple; keep it awesome!


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